Les Miles has won more games in his first five seasons than any coach in LSU history, but he's also seen his team's offense falter and serious questions arise about player development over the past couple of seasons. Couple that with repeated clock management adventures and Miles has a great deal to prove this season.
LSU was predicted to finish fourth in the Western Division by the voters at media days, while former LSU coach Nick Saban's Alabama squad is predicted to be conference champs. Saban's presence in the conference certainly doesn't help Miles with a Tigers' fanbase frustrated by the team's sudden decline, but he's done plenty to raise doubts on his own. When asked about LSU's season opening matchup with North Carolina, this is what Miles had to say about the Tar Heels:
"The challenge is to make a defense ready for a very, very good North Carolina offense."
That "very, very good" UNC offense was 108th in yards per game and not in the top 75 in any statistical category. UNC's considered dangerous because of its defense which features a number of potential first round picks. It's puzzling comments like that which have increased the skepticism about how good a coach Miles actually is.
Miles says he's made changes to get the Tigers back on track. Three new coaches have been brought in, including Billy Gonzales from Urban Meyer's staff as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator. They've made changes to the strength program as well. With the clock management disaster at the end of last year's Ole Miss loss still fresh in everyone's mind, Miles has added 45 minutes of situational work on late game situations into his plan for each game week. He believes it's all making a difference.
"We're better on offense coming out of the spring. We're more physical and can run the football better. I can tell you that we're stronger, and our defense is faster and quicker to the ball."
LSU was 84th in rushing yards per game last season (11th in the SEC), remarkably poor considering first team All-SEC tailback Charles Scott was back for his senior season.
"We've got to run the football better," said Miles.
For LSU to be able to do that, they're going to need better production from the quarterback spot. Jordan Jefferson enters his junior year looking the same as he did when he was a freshman - talented, but inconsistent. Even though Jefferson struggled in LSU's spring game, Miles believes he's ready to take a step forward.
"He's starting to realize it's more than a position. It's not just call the play and throw the ball, it's a responsibility to function (sic) the offense and give us an opportunity at victory and to see the defense and understand the check and give a wider, more encompassing view of the position."
LSU's defense will be in its second season under former Tennessee coordinator John Chavis. Miles believes they will be better as a result of more time in the scheme.
"In the mechanics of getting the call, understanding the call, communicating within the 11 guys, our defense is just much better."
With the neutral site game against UNC in Atlanta followed by a pair of conference games and then West Virginia coming to Baton Rouge, LSU won't have a lot of time to ease into the season. If Miles is going to cool off the talk he's potentially in jeopardy of losing his job, he'd better be right that his team has made major progress from the end of last year.
How Much More at LSU for Les?
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