Les Miles, LSU find ways to win
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Les Miles has this down to an art form now, doesn't he?
The man has made the fourth quarter into must-see TV for anybody who takes great pleasure in heart-stopping, head-scratching, ultramaddening football.
Nobody expects anything less from the riverboat gambler. Tune in to see a fantastic finish or mind-numbing game mismanagement. Will we see what is behind Door No. 1 or Door No. 2? Not even the Mad Hatter knows.
We have grown accustomed to this from the undefeated Tigers. Last week Miles gave us the mind-numbing after an inexplicable clock-management collapse was redeemed only because Tennessee had too many men on the field. Miles got hammered around the country for another coaching lapse, and his players took it personally.
Miles did, too.
But Saturday night provided us more. He was in enemy territory against the No. 14 Florida Gators, rolling out another move perhaps only he has the guts to make.
The Tigers had just blown a 26-14 fourth-quarter lead and found themselves down 29-26 with 36 seconds to play. Miles' kicker, Josh Jasper, lined up for what would have been a tying 53-yard field goal attempt.
Surely the Hatter was mad right there. A 53-yard attempt? Could not be.
But yes, he was going for the field goal to try to send the game into overtime.
Miles decided to call a timeout because of personnel issues. He went into the timeout thinking field goal. He left the timeout thinking fake.
"I didn't know we were doing it until I got on the field," Jasper said. "I happened to look at our special-teams coach, and he said, 'We're running, Tiger,' and I said, 'OK.'"
Jasper told holder Derek Helton, and he said, 'Really? OK.'
The fake field goal wasn't much of a surprise to anybody on that LSU sideline. Not when you live with the riverboat gambler.
Receiver Terrence Toliver called the move. "I knew they were going to come rushing in," Toliver said of the Gators. "I told my teammate we were going to call that play. We did it, and it worked."
Not exactly to plan, though. Helton is supposed to throw the ball directly to Jasper. Every time they ran it in practice, he made a good throw, and Jasper took it standing up for a touchdown.
This time, Helton threw a no-look pass over his head that bounced.
Jasper picked it up on the short hop and got 5 yards for the first down. Officials reviewed the play to see whether it was a forward pass, but it appeared to go parallel.
Miles had a bad view of the play. When he saw it bounce, he said, "I was lifting that ball, and when he caught it cleanly, I thought, 'Thank goodness.'"
So the fake field goal was converted, but there was still plenty of time for Miles to butcher the clock, right?
Not this time. LSU executed its clock management perfectly. On the next play, Jarrett Lee threw a 28-yard pass to Toliver down to the Gators' 3. Toliver had maneuvered his way through man coverage all night, making nifty spin moves that would be the envy of ballerinas everywhere.
After that play, the Tigers ran down to get into position and immediately clocked it, something they'd had so much difficulty doing last week against the Vols. Lee tried a fade for Toliver in the end zone on second down.
On third down, Lee attempted the same play to Toliver. This time, he caught the ball cleanly and got his foot in bounds in the corner of the end zone with six seconds remaining. LSU had to withstand another review, but the call was upheld.
The Tigers escaped 33-29, sweet redemption after the hit they took last week.
"You can try to lie and say it was another game, but this was a statement game," LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said.
Miles was defiant in his postgame news conference. When asked about the criticism he took leading up to the game, he said he could "give a rat's ass" about what people had to say.
"I am doing those things I need to do that make my team better," he said. "It must be nice to have the ability to have humor at the expense of a school or a team and maybe a coach, but you have to give thought to that, and maybe they're not right."
LSU is now 6-0, and look who is sitting right there at the top of the SEC West? The good ol' gambler himself. You do remember when he got that nickname, right?
2007. The year of LSU's most recent national championship.
"The team feels like there's something special going on in that locker room," Miles said. "This is a nice win, but they want more."
Andrea Adelson is a national college football blogger for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.