ORLANDO, Fla. – - When two sides step on the gridiron, every second counts.
The adage fits perfectly with LSU’s 2009 season, a 13-game schedule that saw its fair share of final-minute moments.
At Ole Miss, an evening that Miles shouldered the blame for, the Tigers came up empty-handed despite being in field goal range for a winning kick on the game’s final drive.
A goal-line stand at Mississippi State saw LSU come out on the winning end of the final minute, while a field goal drive to end regulation against Arkansas forced the season finale into overtime and eventually gave the Tigers a victory.
The close calls didn’t stop there.
At Friday’s Capital One Bowl, the Tigers held a lead with a minute to play only to land on the losing end of a two-point decision.
“The inability to get anything going in the first half and two turnovers led to points,” Miles said. “We’re in position to win the game late; we throw some balls and go down the field and score and take the lead.
“Unable to keep the ball, Penn State marches down the field and kicks a 3-pointer and takes the lead.”
Down 19-17 with 57 seconds left on the clock, Trindon Holliday, who finished the game with 116 all-purpose yards, returned the ball 26 yards to the LSU 41.
“I boosted the momentum, and I think the team got a big spark,” Holliday said.
After quarterback Jordan Jefferson scrambled for 10 yards, the Tigers sat with a first down inside Penn State territory.
With just over 40 seconds to play, it appeared that LSU might be headed for another final-minute comeback.
Yet, as quickly as the Tigers got themselves into good position, the men in purple and gold allowed it to slip away.
With no timeouts, offensive coordinator Gary Crowton called for a screen pass up the middle to Brandon LaFell that netted just four yards - and kept the clock rolling.
“We expected that there would be a pass rush, and the opportunity to get up the field and get a first down was what we thought we would get,” Miles said. “We get tackled short of the first down, and that cost us needed seconds.”
After the play ended, LSU was flagged for a personal foul – a call that left Miles begging for answers.
“What was happening was that our player was trying to help up the Penn State player to get him off the pile so that we could snap and clock the ball,” he said. “And that was called a personal foul.
“I certainly understand the officiating not allowing LSU to take that into their hands, but I don’t know that lifting a guy off the ground could possibly be misconstrued as a personal foul.”
From there, the Tigers managed only a 25-yard pickup from Rueben Randle on the game’s final play, seeing the season end in frustration for LSU for the first time in Miles’ five seasons with the program.
“It sucks,” said senior left tackle Ciron Black. “I hate to go out like this. We never got the offense going, and it’s really hard to explain. It is the same thing every game. When we get down and things are rocky, we step up. You can’t do that. We have to get it going from the start.”
Through the opening two quarters, LSU managed two first downs to Penn State’s 10.
Running back Stevan Ridley, who started in place of injured seniors Keiland Williams and Charles Scott, recorded only nine yards on five carries. The same lack of production followed Jefferson, who finished the game with over 200 yards passing but completed just 4-of-11 passes for 69 yards in the first half.
Derek Moye’s touchdown grab with 1:54 to play in the first quarter put Penn State out front 7-0 before both sides swapped field goals. Penn State kicker Collin Wagner added a second field goal with four seconds before halftime to move the Nittany Lions lead to 13-3 at the break.
Following a fumble by Ridley deep in LSU’s own territory, Wagner’s third quarter field goal moved the count to 16-3.
Then, LSU awoke.
Two minutes later, LaFell capped off a 47-yard drive with a 24-yard touchdown grab, which cut the Penn State lead to 16-10.
After a three-and-out stalled the Nittany Lions offense, LSU used a 39-yard strike from Jefferson to wide receiver Terrance Toliver to move the Tigers a yard away from the goal line. One play later, Ridley rushed in for the go-ahead score.
Yet, behind the play of senior quarterback Daryl Clark, Penn State held onto the ball for nearly nine of the game’s final 13 minutes.
“I thought Clark did a great job late in the game,” Miles said. “He kept the ball in his hands, and he made some runs that were key.
“The thing that hurt us, in my opinion, was the penalty. The penalty cost us not only seconds, but the field position.”
On an indescribably wet and muddy day that saw a Capital One Bowl record of 15 punts between the sides, the Tiger offense was, as they have been for much of the season, stagnant for most of the four quarters.
“Due to weather circumstances, it was kind of hard to get our offense rolling,” Toliver said. “We have good receivers, the weather just kind of affected us a bit.”
Black, who has been on the left side of the Tiger line through thick and thin over the past four seasons, was more pointed with his feelings on the outcome.
“We have more talent than anyone in the country, we just have to use it,” he said. “There were lots of things in this game that we could have done differently.”