Waking up Sunday morning, LSU head coach Les Miles – off to a 5-0 start in his sixth season with the Tigers – has to consider himself a lucky man.
After an offseason spent apologizing for 2009 through an overload of two-minute drill work, LSU officially hit clock-management rock bottom.
With the ball at their own 30-yard line, the situation didn’t call for Gary Crowton to gather up his best two-minute plays. With 5:41 on the clock, the Tigers needed 70 yards to get four points. Turns out Miles/Crowton needed all 341 seconds of it – and an untimed down.
On a drive that started out with Jarrett Lee and ended with Jordan Jefferson, the Tigers patched together a bit of everything to remain perfect.
The bright spots were conversions that kept the drive alive. Lee twice found Terrance Toliver to move the chains, once on a pickup of 14 yards on 3rd-and-13 and again for a gain of 21 yards on 4th-and-14.
Everything else seemed a bit suspect.
Faced with a 3rd-and-10, the Tigers called their second timeout at the 1:27 mark. After an incomplete pass, Lee inexplicably took a delay of game before calling the team’s final timeout.
“We used those timeouts inappropriately,” Miles said. “We could have had time on the board and moved comfortably.”
Instead, it was Ole Miss: Redux.
With the ball eight yards from the goalline, the Tigers picked up a first down with 47 seconds on the clock. That’s when things really began to unravel.
The clock started back when the ball was set, and Lee used 11 seconds to throw a pass in the direction of Rueben Randle and out of the back of the endzone.
Flag No. 1: Tennessee’s Marsalis Teague was called for pass interference on the pass, giving LSU a first down at the two-yard line.
Just as he had against Ole Miss the year prior, Crowton went to the air from two yards out. Once more, it was unsuccessful. Then, it was a pair of back-to-back fades to Toliver in the corner of the endzone. Now, it was a play-action call where the two scoring options – backup tight end Chase Clement and walk-on fullback James Stampley – were both jammed on the play. With 32 seconds to play, Lee tossed it out of the back of the endzone for a second straight time.
On came the goal line package – led out by No. 9.
Outside of an 83-yard scoring dash on the game’s opening play, Jefferson hadn’t shown any signs of life for the fourth week in a row. But from two yards out, Crowton liked his chances with the 6-foot-5, 224-pounder.
Jefferson took the snap and rushed right behind the lead block of starting running back Stevan Ridley – the name most figured would have had the ball in that spot.
“I don’t want to sound selfish, but you always want the ball in that situation,” said Ridley, an echo of the words spoken after the Ole Miss loss when he was denied the ball twice on the two-point conversion.
Jefferson’s tuck-and-run came up short, and from there all hell broke loose. Brought down with 28 seconds on the clock, a timeout-less LSU was stuck without a play call.
“We wanted to throw the ball out of a one-back personnel, so we busted our behind to get it substituted,” said Miles, who confirmed that the offense didn’t have a second play called when Jefferson was sent into the game for Lee. “When Jordan went around the right end, I said he was going to score. No question.
“We didn’t need to change personnel. We should have clocked it and/or had the other play called.”
The change was to get Terrance Toliver, Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard onto the field, but alerting backup tackle Chris Faulk, Clement and Stampley to head to the bench became more time consuming than imagined. By the time the three cleared the sidelines, the clock was moving under 10 seconds.
Jefferson went to set his line, not moving back to the shotgun spot until five seconds to play. Not wanting time to expire before the final play, backup center T-Bob Hebert – in for the injured P.J. Lonergan – snapped the ball when the clock read :03.
Jefferson wasn’t ready. The ball rolled by his feet. The clock expired. LSU was 4-1, and clock management woes had reached chaotic levels.
Tennessee 14, LSU 10 Final
Flag No. 2: In the midst of LSU’s final-second substitutions, the Volunteers couldn’t keep their numbers in order. Two men ran off, but four new defenders came on. With 13 men on the field, LSU was given a final untimed play.
Without his headset (he had thrown it down in the melee of the assumed defeat) to get Crowton in the booth, Miles sent in the final play call: a pitch to Ridley off the left side. The junior running back cut it inside and drove across the goalline to get the game’s final yard, capping off a 124-yard, one-touchdown night.
LSU 16, Tennessee 14 Final
“You just witnessed something I don’t think I have ever seen in my entire life,” said Miles in his postgame press conference.
Unfortunately, it looks all too familiar.