Acknowledging many reasons the Tigers were upset by Ole Miss, coach Les Miles says the fault lies with him. His players say it’s not that simple.
“There’s a number of reasons why we don’t win that game, but in my opinion, it’s me. ... You would have to think that going into the game that coach Miles could have got them ready to go.” LES MILES, LSU coach
LSU coach Les Miles figured to face his most pointed questioning of the season at his Monday news luncheon after the sixth-ranked Tigers lost at Ole Miss last Saturday.
But Miles beat reporters to the punch by offering a series of mea culpas before taking any questions. The pointed questions eventually came, and Miles’ theme continued: He was the culprit for the loss against the injury-riddled Rebels, which was a de facto elimination from the BCS championship competition.
Miles said his shortcomings were manifested in two ways. A general one was not communicating to his players that if they trusted their plan, play in and play out for 60 minutes, they would prevail. The second was specifically the handling of LSU’s final timeout, which resulted in the Tigers having just two seconds — instead of approximately 20 more — to try to come back after the Rebels kicked a go-ahead field goal.
“There’s a number of reasons why we don’t win that game, but in my opinion, it’s me,” Miles said. “One thing about this program and the teams that I’ve been fortunate to represent, they have all had great confidence and swagger, and they go out and they play within the scheme, within the play that’s called with great confidence and with great ability. That’s all they needed to do.
“I did not make the point, ‘Man, you’re just going to go here, play hard-nosed, tough, LSU football, play within the scheme and win one play at a time.’ I did not get it across to them. I made the points, I spoke the words, but I need to teach better. I challenge myself that way. I’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to get their attention.”
LSU failed to score in the first half for the first time in 21 games and trailed 17-0 in the third quarter before coming to life.
“You would have to think that going into the game that coach Miles could have got them ready to go,” Miles said.
He added that after the slow start, the players started trying to do too much on individual plays.
“Sometimes you get teams that say, ‘Listen, it needs to be 21-0 in the first quarter, I’m letting you know we’re going to go in here and wear these guys out,’” Miles said. “That philosophy is all well and good if that kind of game presents itself, but sometimes the game doesn’t play that way.
“You win that game over 60 minutes. We do that, we basically take the opportunity for the opponent away from them. If we do that, we’d all be much different today.”
Zach Mettenberger had the first three-interception game of his career, all coming in the first half as he tried to force the ball into tight coverage.
“If you watch this film, you’re going to see a quarterback who’s trying to win the game with three or four throws that he shouldn’t have thrown,” Miles said. “And all we have to do is fit into the scheme, do the things you need to do and check it down or make the play that’s just described, and we’re good.”
The defense allowed Ole Miss to convert 11 of 18 third-down plays, the highest conversion rate by an opponent this season. Only TCU, which was 7-of-13 in the season opener, had converted more than 50 percent previously.
“Our strength is a team that thinks they can make every play, and they can make every play,” Miles said. “Our weakness in this game was that they thought they had to make every play and that they needed to win the game with that play.”
The Rebels converted a third-and-6 and a third-and-9 on the winning drive.
“In the very last drive of the game,” Miles said, “even as poorly as we played to that point, if the defense can get off the field on third downs, we have a chance to drive down the field, kick a field goal and win it.”
Still the Tigers would have had an outside chance to drive down and kick a tying field goal at the end if Miles hadn’t squandered 20 seconds.
He elaborated Monday on his postgame explanation that he was working on a kick block play as the clock wound down.
Miles explained that the plan was “to ice the kicker and block (the kick)” as Andrew Ritter prepared to try a 41-yard field goal.
“I liked it,” Miles said. “I figured that I’d save the timeout for that.”
Then Miles recalled that on the Rebels’ previous possession, defensive tackle Ego Ferguson had blocked Ritter’s 29-yard attempt.
“Then I said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, we have already blocked this team,’” Miles said. “You really have him in the position that you want him. We could not be in any better position to go onto the field, and at that point in time I only had six seconds left.
“I wished I had every one of those seconds back. We should well have, in retrospect, gone after those 20 seconds that we could have got at the end of the game. We would have had time to set up the block anyway.”
Miles said, “There’s some collective focusing that needs to take place” as the Tigers prepare to play Furman on Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
Players said they appreciated Miles taking the blame for the loss, which he did privately with them in addition to publicly.
“It’s a good feeling to have a coach behind you and him take the blame for a game like that, even though it’s not his fault,” wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “The whole team is hurting from it. I don’t blame it on him.”
Cornerback Jalen Mills said, “You never want to see a coach like that say it’s on him.”
“It’s not on his shoulders or the coaching staff’s shoulders,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. “The coaches put us on the field because they trust us to make the plays that are called.”