LSU’s Les Miles is often referred to as a coach that lives on the edge.
There was the slugfest with Florida in 2007, where Miles used five fourth-down conversions to push past the Gators and stay on course for the National Championship.
When the Tigers trailed Auburn two games later, Miles let quarterback Matt Flynn take one last shot at the end zone with the clock winding down, when the safer play would have been to set up for a potential game-winning field goal attempt.
Even in his hurricane-delayed debut, Miles gave Tiger fans a glimpse into the future. Down three points with just over a minute to play, he notched his first victory on a 39-yard touchdown reception that came on fourth down.
Toss in Auburn from 2008, where Brandon LaFell scored to take the lead with 1:03 on the clock. The same goes for Troy, a game Miles outscored the Trojans 30-0 in the fourth quarter for the comeback win.
This season, Miles needed a goal-line stand to hold off Mississippi State and a final-minute touchdown to beat Georgia in back-to-back games. Louisiana Tech, down eight points with less than 30 seconds to play, lined up for an onside kick against the Tigers with a shot – something nobody thought the Bulldogs had before the game, let alone would work their way into by the final minute.
“I'd much rather have a free-swinging game that there were successes on both sides of the ball, and it was decided by the whim of good fortune,” said Miles earlier this season.
More often than not, he has come out on top. While his critics peg his coaching philosophy as reckless, Miles’ supporters find reason in the outcome.
This past weekend in Oxford, the approval scale tipped in the wrong direction.
When Rueben Randle pulled in a 25-yard touchdown with 1:17 left in the fourth quarter, Miles was once again back in a game that his team looked all but done for.
Down 25-23, the two-point conversion call from three yards out was a fade to receiver Terrance Toliver, which resulted in pass interference on Ole Miss.
With the ball now just a yard-and-a-half out from the goal line, and minus Keiland Williams to injury, Miles went back to Toliver on the same play.
“We lost two tight ends,” he said. “That created these issues. The issues are not can you run the play, but can you have the advantage and make that play a success? Can you execute the play? Having a guy that understands the assignment is one thing. Having a guy who can go get it for a positive play is another. We felt like the receivers on the field and our quarterback being in rhythm was an advantage at that point.
“I like our quarterback. I like our wide receiver. I like the call.”
The next decision was simple. Let Josh Jasper give his best onside kick attempt and see if Miles had any more of that late game luck left up his sleeve.
When LaFell scooped the kick up at the LSU 42-yard line and the clock read 1:16, the Tigers had life. When he grabbed a pass from Jefferson two plays later and took it 26 yards and into Rebel territory, the Tigers had more than a chance.
Staring at a 49-yard field goal on 1st and 10, Miles had two timeouts and more than a minute to work with.
“As a head coach in review, that is where I want to win the game,” he said.
Instead, LSU called back-to-back passing plays that both resulted in a loss of yardage and timeouts, which backed the Tigers out of field goal range.
After Saturday’s game, Miles said that his initial thought was to run the ball, though the call from offensive coordinator Gary Crowton from the booth was to go back to the air.
At Monday’s press conference, the headman shouldered the blame.
“We discussed briefly runs and passes, and frankly the first pass is a deep ball that is one where we have great protection,” Miles said. “We have a throw away, and it also backs off the defense. The second pass is a very quick throw and one where we ought to be able to bang it in there versus virtually any coverage. It’s there. We take the sack.
“I defend those calls. Those calls come with my name on them.”
Equally as costly were the 17 seconds that ticked off the clock between Stevan Ridley hitting the ground and Miles calling the second timeout.
When asked on Monday why the timeout never came, Miles showed the same look of confusion he wore in the game’s final minute.
“I’d be the first one to tell you that I would like to think that I had called timeout before that,” he said. “I can’t imagine that I did not. I can’t tell you that I did, and that’s my issue.
“I was into the next play, what we need to do, what’s going on, and that’s my mistake.”
With nine seconds left, Miles huddled his side and discussed only one option.
“The thought process was we had to score on that play.”
When Jefferson’s pass came down in the arms of Terrance Toliver just short of the end zone, one second showed on the clock – a situation not discussed during the prior timeout.
As a result of the coaching mishap, the Tigers players stood confused and the snap never got off. Monday, Miles offered his best explanation – again taking the bulk of the blame.
“It takes 12 seconds to get our [field goal] personnel on the field; we do not have a chance to get that ball off,” Miles said. “The other [option] is to have a play called, and the mechanics of that play are this. The official walks onto the ball. As he walks away from the ball, the play clock is wound, and the second goes off.
“With one second to go, more times often than not we will not get a snap.”
For a head coach that has stolen win after win late in ball games, Miles came up empty handed in Oxford.
Still, had the Tigers called a timeout with 26 seconds to play, a first down catch would have given LSU the chance for a chip-shot field goal for the win.
“I regret the mistake,” Miles said. “It cost my team a opportunity at victory. In 48 hours I’ve gone through the pain of this, and it’s not something I enjoy.”