GREEN BAY, Wis. — Everyone loves Les Miles, the unorthodox and engaging persona. But there have long been criticisms of Miles, the tactical football coach, that explained how in the world someone with his record ended up on the hot seat last November.
The following talking points invariably seem to come from Miles’ detractors:
- Les Miles is so bad at clock management that he might as well wear a sundial on his wrist.
- Les Miles cannot develop a quarterback.
- Has Les Miles ever heard of a tight end?
On Saturday, all of those traditional complaints hit home. Deficiencies in each category helped factor in No. 5 LSU’s 16-14 loss to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, the first Miles ever has suffered in a season opener.
First, Brandon Harris.
Miles advertised a new, improved Harris all August long, using the word “poise” so many times that you’d believe it was the kid’s middle name. Against Wisconsin, he proved to very much be the same shaky quarterback who can dazzle at times, look average even more times, and venture into flat-out bad at unfortunate junctures.
It was evident from the get-go as Harris’ first two throws were too high to be caught by any athlete in LSU history outside of Shaquille O’Neal.
At the end of the first half, Harris’ shakiness and Miles’ issues with clocks nearly resulted in disaster. With 25 seconds left and the ball on their own 20, the Tigers suddenly decided they were going to push the ball downfield instead of just taking their medicine and heading into the locker room with a 6-0 deficit.
Fortunately Malachi Dupre made a tremendously athletic leaping catch along the sideline to prevent a certain backbreaking Wisconsin pick-6.
However, Harris’ game-ending interception didn’t have to be the final offensive play of the game. There were still 57 seconds left, and with a full complement of timeouts, the Tigers would have had sufficient time to stop the Badgers and get the ball back with enough time to get back into field-goal range, or at least to midfield, for a Miracle on Bluegrass-style heave that left us celebrating Harris’ guile and arm strength.
Trouble is LSU only had one timeout remaining because it burned two in the third quarter to beat an expiring play clock. There was complete confusion on the first timeout as the offense didn’t even break from the huddle until there were just 5 seconds left to run the play.
“It was a first-game communications issue,” Miles said. “One of them was our headphones dropped and the guy that was doing the signaling did not have headphones and we were communicating, and the guy with his headphones off did not get the signal, because he wasn’t getting any feed.”
That may indeed be so, but it still is a wonder why the Tigers were so lackadaisical getting to the line when they were down 13-0 midway through the third quarter. Moving literally every assistant coach to the sidelines this year was supposed to improve communication issues, not make them even more muddled.
But even with all that going on, LSU still had a chance to overcome its multiple issues, only if it could have covered Wisconsin tight end Tony Fumagalli. Fumagalli had seven catches for 100 yards, with the most significant being an 11-yard grab on first-and-20 to get the Badgers back into field-goal range late in the fourth quarter right after a nearly fatal holding penalty pushed them back to the LSU 43.
LSU tight ends had a combined 214 yards for the entire 2015 season. Their lack of usage in the passing game is as symbolic as anything of Miles’ offensive conservatism, and the fact the fellow ground-and-pound Badgers were able to get almost half that yardage out of their tight end in a single game only serves to hammer the point home.
Ironically, when the Tigers finally did find their tight end, DeSean Smith, his 19-yard catch to open the final possession seemed like the first play on one of those drives that would go down in LSU lore.
Then again, that drive still might end up being a defining moment in LSU history — just not in the way Miles would hope for on a day where all of his detractors were validated.