Saturday, October 06, 2007

Masterful or Mindless: 5 Reasons why Les Miles Went For It on 4th Down Against Florida

Les Miles on why he went for it on 4th down so much: “You have to understand this, we knew that it was a possession game. The opportunity to keep the ball was something you had to do. Their offense would give every defense in the country a difficult time. They have a quarterback that can run and make you miss and good running backs. We knew that the opportunity to go on fourth down would be there for us. We kind of loaded the play so we could do that. We were ready.”

Here are our 5 reasons:

1. LSU WASN'T NO. 1 OUTRIGHT: Before the game and in the first half, Les Miles knew that LSU wasn't playing like a No. 1 team, and he actually said as much last week when they needed a furious 2nd half rally to get past Tulane (score was 10-9 LSU at the half). All through the game LSU was flagged for a variety of false starts and illegal motions and had one glaring coverage breakdown on defense. They didn't look like the best team in the country, and Miles knew they weren't. What with the Coaches Poll and the Associated Press rankings in conflict, ole Les knew that if he gambled on 4th down and lost, it would only confirm what he and many a pundit suspected: that LSU was a paper tiger. He masterfully used the announcement that USC had lost to Stanford as fuel for his Tigers to step up their play because it would settle the rankings controversy in the short term, and he knew it.

2. THE MICHIGAN JOB BECKONS: National championship or not, Miles is a Michigan man and owes it to himself to at least check out the U-M job at season's end. He saw how the U-M fans turned on Lloyd Carr after two early losses, and he knew that losing to a powerhouse like Florida would raise the ire of Tiger fans. He figured that if he was going out, he'd rather go out on his own free-wheeling terms. If his 4th down gambles would have blown up in his face it would have just hastened the fans' chants that he leave LSU and bolster his decision to return to Ann Arbor. Him going for it on 4th down 5 times was his support-me-or-else call to the fans. It was like he was looking for a reason for the LSU faithful to not stand behind him, even taking reckless chances that no sane, reasonable coach would take. If so, then it blew up in his face anyway, because all his 4th down calls, on what history will surely label one of the most historic LSU victories ever, were successful, which means he's now a Tiger For Life.

3. MILES WANTED THE LOSS ON HIS SHOULDERS: With his performance last week, the Tiger faithful would have turned against starting quarterback Matt Flynn had he lost this game. Although the fans' true ire should be directed at fishfin-handed receiver Brandon LaFell(did he have 4 drops?), Flynn didn't have a good game, and hasn't had a great one since the 40-3 thrashing of Miami in 2005. His line read like a sophomore's first game of the season: 14 of 27 for 144 and 1 TD and 1 INT. Tim Tebow on the other hand, threw for 158 yards on 12/26 yards passing (2 TDs, 1 pick).Backup Ryan Perrilloux had energized the crowd in the first half with his running but the LSU coaches refused to call a play that would utilize his arm downfield, even though Perrilloux had a herculean Rohan Davey-like game in his only start this year (298 yards passing) and the Tiger fans were ready for him to be unleashed before this game. Les Miles masterfully took the onus off his quarterback and put it on him by gambling without hesitation throughout the game (With 7 minutes left and the ball on their side of midfield, LSU passed up a punt and went for it needing nearly 2 yards.) He even challenged a spot on a Gator kickoff, saying that the player had gone out of bounds 10 yards earlier. As bone-headed as the challenge was (and it really was) what he actually did was shift an enormous amount of pressure on the referees from the players because the officiating crew knew that in LSU's biggest game of the season it was their last timeout if they lost the challenge. Masterful or mindless, either way, that's Miles.

4. MILES FINALLY RAN OUT OF PATIENCE WITH PASSING GAME: With 7 minutes left in the first half, the Tigers still had a goose egg on the score board and with so much at stake the coach saw the game slipping away early. As we mentioned, Les' trust in the passing game went away pretty early; Brandon LeFell dropped a handful of passes, and Florida defenders batted balls down (at least one of which was a crucial third down). Miles figured he'd have better success with grounding it out on 4 chances rather than 3: He needed Ryan Perrilloux to sneak into the end zone from a yard out on fourth-and-goal with 6:08 to go before halftime. That philosophy with 6 minutes before halftime set the game pace for the Tigers and dictated their plan of attack. The Tigers barely converted a pair of fourth-down runs on their last drive before running back Jacob Hester bulled over from the 2-yard line with 1:09 remaining.

5. HE LOST CONFIDENCE IN KICKER COLT DAVID'S LEG: Kicker Colt David had missed two field goals earlier (37 yards and 43 yards) in the game and the team couldn't afford another missed opportunity. The Florida defense bogged down another Tiger drive early in the 3rd quarter, and the Tigers set up to kick the field goal but Flynn hopped up out of his holder position and zipped 7 yards on a fake field goal run to convert on fourth-and-5 from the Florida 24. How good are the Gators? They nearly force a kick anyway, but Gator cornerback Joe Haden hits LSU tight end Richard Dixon a milisecond before the ball gets there and is flagged for pass interference. At that point in the game, the kicker was irrevelant with so much on the line. Three point increments just weren't going to do it against Florida and Tebow. Seen moping on the sidelines, David apparently had lost the confidence that Les wanted to see in him on the sidelines in the fourth quarter. Needing a pooch-kick field goal to tie, LSU went for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:09 remaining. The Tigers scored two touchdowns on fourth-down plays and another after pulling off a fake field goal.

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