Where did it all go wrong for LSU and Les Miles? If one would be forced to pinpoint a moment on the timeline, it would have to be the BCS championship game on January 9, 2012, when Nick Saban and Alabama shutout the Tigers to claim the title. Things just haven’t been the same since then.
What went wrong in that game? Everything. LSU were undefeated, 13-0, SEC champions, going into that game. They already beat Alabama once in the regular season, which should have been enough to keep the Crimson Tide out of it, but the way the human polls along with computers work are truly wonderful. The voters actually put Alabama in the championship game, the computers were in favor of Oklahoma State. But that’s not the point in this discussion.
How did Alabama beat LSU 21-0? Well, it had a lot to do with a little mutiny against Miles because of his quarterback selection. Miles preferred the turnover prone Jordan Jefferson. The offensive linemen and most of the team wanted Jarrett Lee. A few hours before the game, the offensive linemen and a few receivers, with T-Bob Hebert and Russell Sheppard, got into a heated argument with Les Miles and the offensive coordinator about Lee’s playing time. Miles benched Herbert and Sheppard, while telling Lee he won’t be playing in the game. The offensive coordinator at the time, Greg Studrawa, was also in favor of letting Lee play more snaps leading up to the game. Miles told him he can go look for another job.
The game was a disaster. At some point, Miles told Lee to get in the game, but the reply was “go f&&& yourself“. Nothing from practice happened in the game. The playcalling was different. The body language was not exactly positive. The offensive line got into arguments on the sidelines and on the field with Jefferson all the time. LSU looked terrible, and from what we understood, it looked like Miles simply lost control of his team after a perfect season.
Since then, Miles and LSU have failed to beat Alabama, losing five times in a row, twice getting blown out, twice losing in close games, with the famous A.J. McCarron drive in 2012, or the overtime game in 2014. LSU failed to win the SEC West, and therefore the conference. After two 10-3 seasons that followed up that shutout in 2012 (2011 season), LSU finished 8-5 in 2014 (4-4 in the SEC) and 9-3 in 2015 (5-3 in the SEC). The problem for Miles wasn’t just LSU’s achievements: Nick Saban, who the national title with LSU in 2003, won four titles with Alabama (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015). Despite terrific recruiting, LSU failed to land a talented-enough quarterback, or develop something beyond the simplistic run-heavy game. It was great for running backs heading into the NFL, but bad for a team trying to win in a changing sport.
Miles was almost fired last season after they lost three consecutive games in November (Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss), heading into the month with a 7-0 record. He stayed, partially because it was so damn expensive to fire him. LSU went on to win their remaining two games, including blowing out Texas Tech in the bowl game. Optimism and 18 (!!!) returning starters for 2016 signalled Miles was going to put LSU back on top, or near it.
However, two losses in four games (Wisconsin & Auburn) ended that illusion. More quarterback problems, struggles in doing anything beyond running the ball, and play calling that suddenly seemed old-fashioned and unimaginative. They say the LSU decision makers made up their minds immediately after the loss to Auburn. Maybe they were just waiting for an excuse. But this has been five years in the making, with the board waiting for enough bad results to pile up in order to let him go.