LSU breaks Tennessee's hearts
"For a talented football team, we’re not playing very smart at all." – Les Miles to Sam Ryan in postgame comments.
There are three fingers pointing back at you, sport.
First of all, where was the penalty on LSU for a thrown helmet? Shouldn’t there have been an unsportsmanlike penalty call by the strictest letter of the law? But I digress.
How does Miles keep getting away with this?! YOU HAD 32 SECONDS LEFT?! To go crazy with personnel changes with no timeouts left and two downs to get in from one yard away is absolutely, totally mad. It’s not like Miles and the Tigers have been razor sharp when it comes to time management over the last few years, but to keep making mistakes like this, and to keep getting away with it, is absolutely and totally miraculous.
But blame Derek Dooley, too.
The Vols had 13 players on the field at the end and had to figure out personnel changes under fire as well. When things like this happen, it’s 100 percent completely on the coaches, for both sides, since they’re the ones getting paid the big bucks and they’re the ones who are supposed to be cool under fire. Instead, both coaching staffs choked.
In the end, though, LSU still made the play and Tennessee didn’t. There will be plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth from Vol fans about how this game ended, but the defense still had a chance to make a stop and end it. Instead, Stevan Ridley hit the weights a little harder this offseason than the Volunteer defensive front, and Miles and LSU escaped.
The way the game ended will probably overshadow the LSU quarterback controversy, but the Tigers offense actually was almost perfectly balanced (217 yards through the air and 217 on the ground) and the defense did what it could considering all the turnovers (four) and penalties (10).
This was an all-timer of an ending that will only add to the lore of great SEC afternoon games, and it’ll only add to the reputation of Miles as the guy who seems to get away with everything.
Now the debate can rage. This game, the Georgia game last year, or getting a two-loss team into the national championship in 2007? This cat seems to have plenty of lives left.
By now, you know that the ending to today’s game between Tennessee and LSU is truly – and without exaggeration – one of the five most absurd endings to a college football game in this sport’s 141-year history. That simple reality tells you all you need to know about the nutty and utterly dysfunctional events that unfolded at the north end zone of Tiger Stadium on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. What’s more instructive about this event is what it says about the difficult art of coach criticism.
After a memorable game (memorable for any one of many different reasons) takes place, writers are understandably driven to render some sort of verdict on the participants, especially – in college sports – the coaches. After all, in college ball, it is the coach – not the player – who is or can be the icon of the program. It’s in the pros where players become the fixtures. If you traffic in college sportswriting, you have to assess coaches at some point in a football season. Therefore, the need to present opinions and commentary on these sideline bosses is impossible to avoid.
Before and during the 2007 season, I wrote that LSU won in spite of Les Miles, not because of him. Back in those days, such withering commentary was understandably met with vitriol from LSU fans, who were – I’m not going to deny it – CORRECT to rebuke me for the vigor with which I expressed my opinions. When LSU won the 2007 national title, I had to swallow a lot of internal emotions and publicly write that Miles had achieved something great, something that lifted him to an elevated place in the college football cosmos.
Those words were true when I wrote them; winning a national title is winning a national title. Moreover, if one can’t acknowledge the limitations and fallacies in one’s own commentary when the moment demands it, there isn’t much value or valor in the business of publishing opinions. I did feel I needed to credit Miles after he won his national championship, but even if I didn’t have that view, I probably would have needed to praise him in print because it would have been bad form to knock a man after he’s registered an amazing achievement, something very few men on this planet ever get to experience. It’s part of being a decent citizen (not just a decent sportswriter) to tip the cap when credit is due.
After today’s Tennessee debacle, though, the sportswriting community has encountered that very rare, once-in-a-lifetime dilemma: Did LSU really win the 2007 national title in spite of Les Miles? Can the credit accorded Miles nearly three years ago be revoked?
In 99.9999 percent of all sportswriting situations, such a notion is foolish, childish and just plain uncharitable. In Les Miles’ case, it’s actually reasonable to consider the topic and sleep on it. When it comes to assessing college football coaches, Miles is the exception which proves all the enduring and appropriate rules about this business of sports commentary.
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