FEINSWOG: Tigers gamble as USC folds

Winners win. How else can you explain LSU, the newest college football poster child for taking chances and coming up big?

And more on this later, but is there a coach in America with bigger stones than Les Miles?


On another wacky weekend when 11 of the Top 25 went down – granted quite a few were ranked teams losing to other ranked teams – Miles repeatedly called for the improbable and his players responded.


So, as Southern Cal was upset and Wisconsin bade goodbye to the top 10 and a handful of others saw their national-title hopes dashed midway through the regular season, Miles kept on gambling and his players kept on loving it.


Like when the Tigers trailed 24-21 late in the fourth quarter and they faced fourth-and-one from the Florida 7 and Miles never flinched.


"It's a great feeling. We didn't want to see the field-goal kicker come on the field at that point," said Jacob Hester, who got the ball on that play and ran for 2 yards to extend what turned out to be the game-winning drive. "You don't want to play for the tie, especially with the offense those guys have. You don't want to give them any other chances.


"It's just an honor, and you don't want to disappoint the head coach when he calls your number on fourth-and-one."


Or on third-and-goal from the 2, which LSU faced three plays later, when Hester got the ball again and plowed into the end zone to win the game for LSU, 28-24.


After making all five of its fourth-down conversions – two for touchdowns and another when QB/holder Matt Flynn took off running on a field-goal try – LSU ensured that by night's end it would be all alone atop all the polls and Florida would not repeat as national champs.


"We deserve it right now. Don't get me wrong, it's a great feeling to be No. 1 in the country where there's no argument now," said Hester, who ran 23 times for 106 yards.


"But it's so early in the season and we're only at the halfway point. And we have so many big games coming up on the schedule, and we're going to have the SEC Championship where we might have to play a team like Florida again.


"So we can't worry about being undefeated. Week 12, being No. 1 in the country, that would be a great feeling."


Note that he said "we're going to have the SEC Championship."


Barring something really unusual, LSU will, indeed, play in that league title game.

As you look at the West standings, you see that Mississippi State, Arkansas and Ole Miss have two SEC defeats each.


Alabama and Auburn have one loss apiece and still have to play each other, giving one of them two defeats.


LSU is not going to lose twice. So basically, the only way LSU doesn't go to the SEC title game is if the Alabama-Auburn winner beats LSU and doesn't lose again. Which is highly unlikely, considering what's happened already in a college-football world gone parity wild.


Yup, things are nuts, but nothing is nuttier than Miles becoming the game's biggest gambler.


Let's face it: If you polled fans, coaches and media nationwide and asked them to name the biggest risk-takers in the game, how many would name Miles? But they should, because he's shown in his two-plus years at LSU he's not afraid to go for it on fourth down, try every trick play in the book, fake this way and that, and, for a really conservative guy, approach the game as the ultimate risk taker.


And don't think his team doesn't appreciate it.


"We talked about it as a staff," LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said. "He said, ‘Are you OK with me going for it on fourth down?' He asked the defense and we said, ‘Yeah, Coach, we got your back. If it doesn't work, we'll come in and make some plays for you.'


"It shows a lot of things. It shows confidence in the offense; it shows confidence in the defense. He understands if it doesn't work out the right way, we'll go in and make some plays for him. But he had confidence that he had the right schemes, the right plays and the right players to make those plays, and that's what happened."


And that's why LSU won on Saturday and why the Tigers are alone at the top of the college football world.




Baton Rouge sportswriter Lee Feinswog is the host of the weekly television show "Sports Monday." He's covered LSU athletics since 1984. His book "HoopDaddy" is available at www.HoopDaddy.net. Contact Lee at sportsmonday@aol.com or (225) 926-3256.

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