Rabalais: Play calls will test trust between Miles and Cameron

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron Show caption
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron

If you follow LSU football, you know the stories by now.

Les Miles and Cam Cameron, back in the 1980s at Michigan, sharing a cramped and windowless office, huddled for warmth around a small campfire. (OK, it wasn’t Valley Forge.) Cameron serving as a groomsman in Kathy and Les Miles’ wedding (along with former LSU coach and then-Michigan assistant Gerry DiNardo). Miles being the godfather to one of Cameron’s four children.

It’s touching. It’s folksy. It’s fascinating.

But all we really want to know is this:

If the game is on the line Saturday night in AT&T Stadium and LSU needs a late drive to beat TCU, will it be Cameron’s game to call, or will it be Miles calling the shots?

One of the knocks on Miles for years has been that he tinkers, meddles, interferes too much with the offensive play calling, having spent his entire career as an offensive coach.

Well, here’s a news flash: He’s the head coach, and it’s his career. If he wants to call the plays, he will — like them or not.

The issue in play here is trust. Do decades of friendship, of deep personal ties, mean Miles will trust Cameron to make the calls when all hell is breaking loose in a wild, frantic finish? Will Miles have more trust in his old friend than he did Jimbo Fisher, Gary Crowton or Greg Studrawa?

Those are questions for late Saturday night in Arlington, Texas, and for all the games to come. For now, all we have are the words of the coach and his coordinator, words that tell you there is a different dynamic at work here than perhaps at any other time in Miles’ previous eight LSU seasons.

“Yeah, I think the differences would be the fact that I’m much more attuned to who he is as a person,” Miles said Monday. “I’ve been with him. I spent decades with him as close friends.

“I think there’s a professional relationship, one that speaks to a level of responsibility, but there’s a personal piece that just kind of allows you to know that the things that you would expect of him over years certainly will happen, and the things that he would expect of me over years certainly would happen. I think there’s a trust factor maybe that’s a very, very quality one for both.”

Ah, had to slip in that word “quality.” Thank you, Les.

Cameron, who along with the rest of the staff was off limits this week as final game preparations were formulated, has made it clear he expects an ensemble to craft the LSU offense. That means not just Miles but everyone on the staff, including — in rather unprecedented fashion — Studrawa (now just O-line coach again) and former coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, now an administrative assistant.

“Everyone on the staff will have input,” Cameron said earlier this month at LSU’s media day. “I look forward to (Miles’) input. We’ve always had that kind of communication. We called plays together at Michigan. When I was a head coach, I had a play caller, and I gave him input.

“But,” Cameron said, “ultimately I’m charged with making the call.”

That one quote strikes to the heart of every inquisitive reporter covering LSU and every anxious fan eager to see the Tigers unveil something more unpredictable, more open, more daring Saturday against the Horned Frogs.

It’s been said that preparing for LSU’s offense in recent years has not been hard. Stopping the Tigers is the issue, one with which teams have met with varying degrees of success. Late against Florida, Alabama and Clemson last season, the opposing defense won out.

How LSU performs on the plays that could go either way — first-and-10, second-and-6, third-and-4 — those will be the telling markers of whether this is truly Cameron’s offense to call.

Consider this quote from Cameron talking about the blurred lines between passing and running in the modern game:

“We’re going to throw the ball to our backs. That goes in the passing stats, but it’s really a running play. Pass/run stats are less true than ever. I can throw a bubble screen over there, and it goes for 90 yards. That goes down as a long completion. That’s a long handoff.”

That’s unpredictability. The knack for making a defense guess. The ability to run up-tempo and play power football and throw vertically and mix in a little option (are you out there, Anthony Jennings?) and make seamless transitions from one to the other.

In other words, to play modern offensive football.

If LSU is to have success this season on offense, its identity will have to be in its ability to disguise.

It will be, ultimately, a matter of trust between a head coach and his play caller. Between a friend and a friend.