Sunday, October 7, 2007

Miles Gambles Pay off in Tigers Win

Is Les Miles a gambler?

Or just a calculated risk-taker?


Going for it on fourth-and-short is perhaps an easier decision when you've got as much talent on the field as any team in the country. Going for it five times against a ranked opponent, once with a fake field goal? That takes a little more guts.

"Coach Miles had the confidence to call them," said running back Jacob Hester, who ground out a couple of fourth-down runs to narrowly earn chain-measured first downs during LSU's game-winning drive against Florida on Saturday. "The defense, they knew what was coming and the offensive line didn't care. They went out there ... and made holes for us."

The No. 1 Tigers' dramatic 28-24 comeback victory over the Gators could go down as a signature moment for Miles at LSU, where he's had more trouble than one might think in validating his coaching ability.

He inherited many of his starters from former LSU coach Nick Saban, whose recruiting efforts in Louisiana brought the Tigers back to prominence this decade. Critics have been quick to point that out, even as Miles has gone 28-4 with two lopsided bowl wins since taking over in 2005.

Perhaps now the LSU fans who have faith in Miles' ability will begin to drown out the remaining skeptics.

After waiting nearly half a century -- since 1959 -- to play as the top-ranked team in the AP Poll, the undefeated Tigers (6-0, 3-0 SEC) got there under Miles and have retained that distinction for at least another week.

While Southern California was blowing a late lead, allowing seemingly miraculous fourth-down conversions to a Stanford squad it was heavily favored to beat, LSU was scoring touchdowns on fourth downs and clawing back from a late 10-point deficit for its most emotional win of the season.

"A good football team finds a way," Miles said. "To me, that's a mark of this team."

Miles has called two successful fake field goals in the past three games, one that went for a touchdown against South Carolina and another against Florida that led to 7 points.

Asked if he has more of those in his bag of tricks, Miles grinned and said, "Eight."

"There's the fake field goal option, fake field goal option-pass -- I mean, it goes on and on and on," he said. "We'll keep one ready for every game."

Of the other four times LSU successfully went for it on fourth down against Florida, two went for touchdowns. The most daring of those came with just over 10 minutes left and LSU trailing by 10.

At fourth-and-3 from the 4, the easy choice was a short field goal for a one-possession game. Miles opted to have quarterback Matt Flynn drop back. Under pressure, Flynn rolled right and appeared primed to try to run it in himself. Suddenly, much like Florida's Tim Tebow had done earlier in the game, he pulled up to throw. Demetrius Byrd made the grab to pull the Tigers within 3.

When Hester crashed through for his 2-yard TD with 1:09 to go, LSU had its first lead.

"Coach Miles said, 'I believe in y'all. I don't want a tie. I want to go out and win this thing,"' Hester said. "When your head coach has that kind of respect and trusts you, you want to go out and prove something to him."

Meanwhile, LSU's defense, which seemed to have no answer for Tebow and the Gators through most of the first three quarters, forced a pair of turnovers on a fumble and an interception on consecutive Florida possessions, then got a three-and-out the next time the Gators got the ball.

"Everyone came together and we were able to overcome the adversity and come out with the win," said defensive end Kirston Pittman, who came down with LSU's interception on a deflected pass.

"In the face of adversity and playing from behind, they played very well," Miles said. "I am proud of this team, very proud."

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