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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Les Miles as Captain Jack Sparrow - reset

Yesterday, the Hat Trick discussed the path on which LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide are headed - a collision course on November 5 that may determine the path for the eventual national champion in college football. In that piece, a past, humorous, article on LSU coach Les Miles was referenced. Today, the Hat Trick will reset that article with some post publication commentary in BLUE. Enjoy!  

Les Miles as Captain Jack Sparrow
In his sixth season as the Head Football Coach at Louisiana State University, Les Miles has had a collection of legendary Houdini-like escapes that take away the breath of the most optimistic fan and late game blunders that have made over 90,000 people in a stadium do a simultaneous “face-palm”. In nearly 30 years of watching major sporting events, I have learned that there is very little luck in major team sports and very little that is not planned. 2  
Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception
No, the Immaculate Reception, the Holy Roller, the Cal-Stanford Band play, the Miracle at the Meadowlands, the River City Relay, and the Tuck Rule Play did not work the way they were drawn up. And while the Bluegrass Miracle and the Music City Miracle did work as they were drawn up, nobody expected them to actually WORK. However, these were single moments for single teams and single coaches, isolated spectacles in sports history that have kept the office water cooler relevant as a meeting point for sports conversation for years. 4,5

I have DAMN STRONG counting ability! Where's the flag?

Les Miles and the LSU Tigers, just five seasons and five regular season games in, have emptied enough water coolers to fill a swimming pool, so to speak. One national columnist has dubbed such occasions as “Mileacles”. However, unlike the rare moments in football that I have already mentioned, Les Miles has a resume of improbable finishes, most of them ending in victory.

I cannot help but wonder if Coach Miles, instead, intricately planned to launch chaos and confusion on the enemy in the waning moments of games. Maybe what the rest of the sporting world thinks of as lunacy is actually a series of Xs, Os and squiggly lines that would cause even the likes of John Madden to shake their heads in confusion. Maybe Miles is smiling under that big hat of his at the end of each 4th quarter adventure because he is thinking, “I KNEW it would work!”

Life often imitates art. If, in the unlikely event, Coach Miles truly has been in control every time LSU earns a victory that boggles the mind and reason, then his muse can be none other that Captain Jack Sparrow of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, portrayed by Johnny Depp. Sparrow, like Miles, evokes belly laughter with some of the decisions he makes to achieve his ends. British officers in pursuit have often laughed and called Sparrow the “worst pirate, ever” only to watch Sparrow sail off, moments later, having escaped the capture and stolen the prized vessel of the British Navy. Similarly, Coach Miles has been called a variety of unflattering names, yet always seems to have that cake-eating grin after having stolen the victory of a Southeastern Conference rival.

Let’s examine a few legends of “Captain” Leslie Miles.

Date: October 6, 2007
Site: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, LA
Opponent: Florida Gators

What Captain Jack did: Betrayal is usually an act of a desperate and defeated combatant. In Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Captain Jack appears to betray his ally, Will Turner, as his substitute to settle Jack’s debt to Davy Jones. Sparrow appears to be advancing interests that run counter to Will’s as he engages in a sword fight with Will in the later scenes. However, it turns out that Jack needed to get Will on board Jones’ ship because as Will is motivated to free his father, Will would be better able to take the key to the Dead Man’s Chest from an unsuspecting Jones. Ultimately, Jack’s goal would be to take Jones’ place as captain of Jones’ ship, making Jack immortal AND freeing Will’s father. 

What Captain Les did: Going for it on fourth down is major risk, is indicative of failing to convert on the first three downs and it may be an indicator of desperation to keep a drive or a game alive. LSU is stopped short of converting on third down not once, not twice, but FIVE times by the Florida Gators. Coach Miles goes for it on fourth down, all five times, and converts.

This wore down the Florida defense and milked the clock later in the game. Given the performances of the offensive line and Jacob Hester that evening, the fact that LSU was in a fourth down conversion situation probably put Florida at a greater disadvantage than if LSU had converted in three downs or less on those drives. By the end of the game, all four LSU touchdowns, leading to a 28-24 LSU victory, resulted on drives that included a fourth down conversion.

Update: Oh! That tricky Mad Hatter! Just one week after this article was written, on October, 9, 2010, Miles took his magic act on the road to Gainesville, Florida, to the disgust of then Florida coach Urban Meyer. LSU trailed by three points and called its final timeout to execute what appeared to be a 53 yard Josh Jasper field goal attempt.

The holder, punter Derek Helton, flipped the ball laterally, on its long end, over his shoulder after the snap. The ball bounced on the ground and directly into the hands of Jasper, who ran for the first down. LSU would complete the drive with a game winning touchdown and exit Gainesville with a win.

The ball always seems to bounce Miles' way, literally. 8

Date: October 20, 2007
Site: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, LA
Opponent: Auburn Tigers

What Captain Jack did: Jack Sparrow was hunted by the Kraken, because of his debt owed to Davy Jones for his ship and position as Captain. As the Kraken was bearing down on his ship and his crew, Sparrow secures a long boat and begins to escape, so his crew thinks. What much of his crew does not consider or is unaware of is that the Kraken is after Jack, not the ship or the crew. Jack comes back to the ship and fights off the Kraken to aid his crew, ultimately resulting in Jack sacrificing himself and “dying”. Jack’s sacrifice allows him to keep his ship in the land of the dead, inspires his crew to rescue him from the land of the dead, and Jack eventually returns to the land of the living with his ship and can continue his pursuit of immortality. There was no margin for error in Jack’s plan as any one event out of place would have jettisoned the future events that allowed Jack to survive and fight another day.

What Captain Les did: After losing to Kentucky in triple overtime the previous week, LSU was in a must-win (to keep National Championship hopes alive), back-and-forth struggle with the Auburn Tigers. Auburn gained the upper hand in LSU’s home stadium in the 4th quarter. LSU trailed Auburn by one point in the final minute of the game, in field goal range with one timeout remaining. To the shock, befuddlement, horror, and amazement of all 90,000 plus in attendance, Les Miles elected to have his quarterback, Matt Flynn, run the clock down to 8 seconds before beginning what could only be the final attempt at the end zone. Flynn threw a pass to the back of the end zone, which was caught by wide receiver Demetrius Byrd to take the lead with the clock showing one second remaining, allowing no margin for error in LSU’s continued quest for a National Championship. LSU wins 30-24.

Update: The entire state of Alabama may have wanted posters with Miles' face on it. On November 6, 2010, #5 Alabama, still controlling its destiny in the SEC race, travelled to Baton Rouge to face #12 LSU. Trailing by one point, midway through the 4th quarter, Miles faced a 4th down and 1 at the Alabama 30 yard line. Rather than attempt a 47 yard field goal, Miles went for it.

Was it a QB sneak? No! A run up the gut? No! Miles called a double reverse, resulting in a 23 yard run by tight end DeAngelo Peterson. LSU went on to score a touchdown with a two point conversion. The gamble proved to be the difference in the game as Bama would score another touchdown and LSU would end up winning by three points, 24-21.   

Tight end DeAngelo Peterson on a double reverse. When is the last time you saw a double reverse land in the TE's bread basket? Yeah, I didn't think so. 9

Date: October 2, 2010
Site: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, LA
Opponent: Tennessee Volunteers

What Captain Jack Did: In the first Pirates of the Caribbean Movie: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow makes a series of inexplicable decisions that appear to defy rationality and logic. One would assume that Jack is attempting to meet his own ends, thwart the advances of his enemy, or assist his ally while protecting his own interests.

Jack befriends Will Turner, who is trying to rescue the woman he loves, Elizabeth Swann, only to appear to use Will as bait for the sole purpose of seeking revenge against his enemy, Captain Barbosa. Initially, Will believes he was betrayed, but Jack carefully planned the chain of events to set up a sword fight with Barbosa and gives Will an opportunity to rescue Elizabeth by helping Jack vanquish Barbosa.

Jack saved a poetically symbolic pistol with a single shot to fire at and strike Barbosa. Barbosa, believing that he is immortal, laughs at Jack, believing that he has wasted the shot he saved for 10 years, only to discover that, due to Jack’s manipulation of turned to maneuvering with Will, Barbosa has lost his immortality and, in fact has been mortally wounded.

What Captain Les Did: Les Miles makes a series of inexplicable decisions in the final three plays of the game. Trailing by 4 points in the final minute with no timeouts left and needing a touchdown to win, Les Miles elects to run the football on second down.

Quarterback Jordan Jefferson is stopped short of the goal line with 32 seconds remaining. With the final seconds trickling away, LSU fails to call a play to Jefferson until there are fewer than 20 seconds remaining, with the clock running. The play called included a mass substitution of several wide receivers into the game.

Believing that Coach Miles had lost his mind, creating utter chaos, and that the scheme will never work, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley substitutes the appropriate personnel to cover the LSU receivers into the game. Even more perplexed that Dooley would even consider substituting, some of the Tennessee defenders never left the field, likely never anticipating a substitution under the circumstances.

LSU was able to line up in a legal formation with seven seconds remaining. Believing that Coach Miles was temporarily insane for attempting to substitute and that Jefferson was oblivious to the expiring clock, which was down to 5 seconds, center Robert “T-Bob” Hebert shifted the ball, regardless of the snap count or QB cadence. The ball sailed over Jefferson’s head and Jefferson was tackled as soon as he recovered the ball.

Believing that the game was over Tennessee players began storming the field in jubilation, high-fiving, hugging, and doing back flips, and Dooley prepared for what he believed was a well deserved Gatorade bath. But hold EVERYTHING! Miles remained fixated on the officials, knowing his hours of meticulous planning for this situation was about to bear fruit.

In the mass confusion, Tennessee failed to substitute enough players out and had 13 men on the field. This resulted in a penalty, placing the ball inside the Tennessee 1 yard line and allowing LSU a single, untimed play. Running back Stevan Ridley plowed over the goal line on the following play, securing a 16-14 victory and preserving an unbeaten season for the LSU Tigers, just like Captain Les Miles drew it up!

Well…it could happen!!!!

NOOO! Miles-ed again!

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