The “Meltdown in Mississippi” is probably all you have talked, read, written and dreamed about over the past three days.
If you scanned over the box score alone, you might have wondered what all the fuss was about.
Ole Miss outperformed LSU, right?
They topped the Tigers in total yards (426), time of possession (33:36), first downs (22) and third-down efficiency (6-14).
Most importantly, the Rebels finished with 25 points. LSU only had 23.
Seems like another grind-it-out Southeastern Conference affair, but nothing to drag into the national media and place into Tiger football lore.
As they say, don’t let the numbers fool you.
This one had some extra flavor to it, minus the kick that bayou-born Tiger fans typically order up. In fact, this one never had a kick at all.
It boiled down to the final minute of the game and the confusion that transpired.
LSU coach Les Miles, a man paid a hefty sum to manage one of the nation’s elite college football programs, looked like a lost ball in the high weeds – and the whole country was watching.
Most of it was his fault, and he certainly admitted to that more than once at Monday’s press conference. Still, there is some other blame to pass around.
First thing’s first, I didn’t want to force my fingers to labor on a keyboard for a 1,000 words about the final second of the game, so I will keep the workload to a paragraph.
I was on the sideline on Saturday, and I watched the increasingly popular YouTube video that showed Miles make the spiking motion – a move that would have effectively ended the game. On Monday, Miles reaffirmed that his hand motions were to signal that Terrance Toliver, not the Rebel defender, had come down with the football.
The debate is all the rage, but to me, it is a moot point.
As Miles said at his press conference on Monday, “with one second to go on the clock, more times often than not we will not get a snap.”
If you are wondering why the field goal team was not ready to run on after the catch, Miles had an answer for that too. In the prior timeout, he had not thought of that as a possibility. The message Miles passed to his team was that Jefferson’s throw with nine seconds to play would be the final snap of the game.
Instead, one second remained – and the Tigers didn’t get off a snap.
But, they could have gotten a snap off with 17 seconds left - the amount of time that ticked off between the third-down play and when Miles signaled to the officials for his final timeout.
Even though Miles stood in front of the media and shouldered each ounce of blame for the mishaps, what happened in those 17 seconds remains a mystery.
The blunder began two plays prior, a 1st and 10 look from inside Josh Jasper’s field goal range that resulted in back-to-back plays for loss of yardage.
If the Tigers had never gained a yard, the winning field goal attempt would have been from 49-yards out. Earlier in the game, Jasper had hit a 50-yarder with room to spare.
Common wisdom tells you to grind the football out and give the field goal a shot, and the pieces had – amazingly – all fit in time for that shot to be taken.
Jefferson drove the offense 66 yards for a touchdown before the Tigers recovered an onside kick, Miles had 1:17 to get the three points needed, and he knew he had the kicker to do it.
Brandon LaFell then moved the ball to the Ole Miss 32-yard line, and it was there for the taking. “In review, that’s where I want to win the game,” said Miles on Monday.
This is where it gets bad.
All season, opinion columns and message boards spoke of a division line between two members of the staff: Miles and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton.
To put their assumed strategic approach simply, Miles likes to run and Crowton likes to pass.
Earlier this season, when LSU trailed Georgia 13-12 with less than a minute to play, the ball sat at the Georgia 33-yard line. It was a long field goal, but makeable.
Crowton called down a pass from the booth, but Jefferson changed the play during the timeout in favor of a run. 33 yards later, Charles Scott stood in the end zone.
The Tigers won the game.
On the road, with a young quarterback, Crowton wanted to pass. Instead, his young quarterback decided it would be smarter to run.
I stored the back-and-forth discussion in my memory bank.
Saturday night, when LSU sat in nearly the exact same position, I wondered if Crowton would call for the pass once more.
He did – a few straight times.
And, three straight times, LSU gained nothing, instead losing 16 yards and moving far out of field goal range.
After the game, Miles said that he wanted to run but Crowton had what he felt were good pass plays called. On Monday, Miles defended his coordinator. “Those calls come with my name on them,” he said.
When the Tigers sat with a first down, running back Stevan Ridley was ready to carry the ball for the needed yardage. “Was I expecting a run? I would lie if I said I didn’t,” he said.
Ridley had not been called on for either attempt at the two-point conversion that came prior, both of which failed. Miles stood by those calls, as well, saying, “I like our quarterback. I like our wide receiver. I like the call.”
I don’t mind that approach. Most days, I would take Terrance Tolliver on a jump ball against most any cornerback under 6-foot.
What I didn’t, and still don’t, understand is why LSU didn’t pound the ball and let Jasper kick for the win.
When asked his mindset after LaFell’s first down, Jefferson seemed to get it.
“When we are in field goal range, we want to stay in that area,” he said. “Get the ball to the running back, let him get yards. Do something to keep us in range.”
If the Tigers would have picked up another first down on a pass play, Jasper might have set up for a winning field goal and I would be typing about Crowton’s late-game genius.
Instead, a handful of passing plays that put the offense back into a corner have me wondering if he is the right man to have in the booth.
When a team as talented as LSU is ranked 106 out of 120 teams in offensive production, you have to think somewhere along the chain a link isn’t holding strong.
Miles, or anyone for that matter, not calling the timeout between when Ridley was tackled in bounds and 17 seconds later is inexcusable.
Poor preparation born from poor coaching is the only answer. Again, Miles took all the blame.
All season, questionable play calls, poor clock management and utter confusion have characterized a Tiger offense that ranks at the bottom of the SEC.
Saturday, all that was gift-wrapped into a final-minute scramble that served as a case-in-point for critics of the LSU offense – one that will finish far from the level of dominant production everyone envisioned.