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The Les Miles era of LSU football unofficially began in December of 2004, when then head coach Nick Saban announced he was leaving LSU to test the NFL waters with the Miami Dolphins.
The announcement came a week before the Tigers squared off with the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Capital One Bowl.
Just two days after that 30-25 loss, LSU introduced the man who would lead the team for more than a decade. Les Miles embraced the challenge of following in the footsteps of the coach who took LSU to its first national championship in 45 years.
"Everybody’s asking me, ‘You know you’re following a great coach there? You know they won the national championship? You know?’" Miles said at his introductory news conference on Jan. 3, 2005. "I know that at some point in time, wherever you’re at, you should have it up and running. It’s up and running here."
Les Miles’ time at LSU got off to anything but a normal start. His first game in charge was moved from Baton Rouge to Tempe, AZ following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Despite the challenging circumstances, LSU started the Miles era 1-0 by beating the Arizona State Sun Devils 35-31.
A week later, LSU returned to Tiger Stadium for Miles’ first SEC game, where the Tigers jumped to a 21-0 lead over Tennessee at halftime, but watched the lead vanish in the second half in a game moved to Monday night again due to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. LSU would lose the game in overtime 30-27.
Following that loss, LSU would go on to win nine straight games, making it to the SEC title game, which the Tigers lost to the Georgia Bulldogs 34-13, but finished the season with a 40-3 drubbing of Miami in the Peach Bowl.
LSU started the season in impressive form, winning its first three games over Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee by a combined score of 137 to 7.
After six straight wins, the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the country when they visited No. 17 Kentucky. The Wildcats scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. Kentucky would eventually beat the top-ranked Tigers 43-37 in triple OT.
"We have to regroup and we have to improve," Miles said in a news conference following the loss. "We’re going to have to work hard and prepare for another damn strong opponent next week."
LSU responded with four straight wins, finding its way back to No. 1 in the country heading into the season finale against Arkansas. The Razorbacks gashed the Tigers on the ground in a slugfest that couldn’t be decided in regulation. Triple overtime was again the Tigers’ nemesis as they failed to convert a two-point conversion, falling to the Razorbacks 50-48. Still, the season was good enough to send the Tigers to the SEC title game for the second time in three years, this time facing the Tennessee Volunteers. Game day, however, started with a major distraction, as national reports had Les Miles accepting a job with his Alma Mater Michigan and leaving LSU, leading to one of Miles’ most memorable news conferences in his time at LSU.
"I got a championship game to play and I'm excited about the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play in it and that's really all I'd like to say," Miles said at a last-minute news conference the morning of the game. "It was unfortunate that I had to address my team with this information this morning, but that being done, I think we'll be ready to play. There will be no questions from me. I represent me in this issue. Please ask me after. I'm busy. Thank you very much. Have a great day."
LSU would win the game 21-14 and following a series of unexpected and downright bizarre results, LSU found itself at No. 2 in the country and playing Ohio State for the BCS Championship. The Buckeyes were no match for the Tigers, who claimed their second national title in five years with a 38-24 win.
LSU sputtered after defensive coordinator Bo Pelini left to be the head coach at Nebraska and quarterback Ryan Perrilloux was dismissed from the team. Redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee was thrust into the starting role and threw 16 interceptions on the season. Many were returned for touchdowns. LSU finished the season 8-5.
There were glimpses of both problems many LSU fans complained about with Les Miles: an anemic offense and poor clock management.
LSU started with five straight wins and then hosted No. 1 Florida in Tiger Stadium. Despite all the pre-game hype, the game didn’t really live up to the billing as Tim Tebow and the Gators needed just 13 points to win the game 13-3.
Clock management issues appeared in a game against Ole Miss on the road. After driving into field goal range, quarterback Jordan Jefferson was sacked and LSU let the clock run all the way down to :09 before using its final time out. The next play saw a Jefferson pass connect with Terrance Toliver at the Ole Miss five yard line with :01 left. However, instead of trying to run a play into the end zone or get the kicker on the field, Miles told Jefferson to try to spike the ball. Time expired and Ole Miss walked away with a 25-23 win. The season ended with Miles’ first bowl loss to Penn State in the Capital One Bowl.
LSU reached 10 wins again, but the season is probably best known for a win that probably shouldn’t have been one. Trailing late to Tennessee, LSU drove down the field with Jarrett Lee. However, inside the 20-yard-line with time running out, LSU elected to sub in Jordan Jefferson. His run was stopped short of the goal line with :28 left. LSU tried to substitute with the clock ticking down, Jefferson was not ready for the snap with :03 left and it appeared the Volunteers won the game. However, replay showed that in the substitution confusion Tennessee ended up with 13 players on the field. LSU was given a second chance and Stevan Ridley scored on the final play of the game, giving LSU a 16-14 win.
Led by an incredible defense that included current NFL stars Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid, LSU made history by becoming the first team in school history to finish the regular season undefeated, including beating Alabama in a game dubbed “the Game of the Century.” But Alabama would get its revenge when it counted the most, a rematch with LSU in the BCS title game.
Alabama’s defense stifled Jordan Jefferson and LSU’s offense, forcing four Tiger turnovers and holding LSU’s offense to just 92 yards. LSU didn’t cross midfield until the game was well in hand.
Future NFL stars dot LSU’s offensive depth chart, including Zach Mettenberger, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill. However, a shootout loss at Georgia and a blowout loss at Alabama meant the Tigers ended the season beating Iowa in the Outback Bowl 21-14.
Offensive struggles returned and LSU escaped the season opener in Houston against Wisconsin. The next week, a furious late rally under backup quarterback Brandon Harris fell short as the Tigers lost to Mississippi State for the first time since 1999. An overtime loss to Alabama, followed by a dismal performance on a cold Saturday in Arkansas gave LSU four losses in the regular season. A fifth loss came after dropping a last second game to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl.
Brandon Harris is named the starter over Anthony Jennings. LSU started the season with seven straight wins. But for the fifth straight season, LSU could not beat Alabama and followed it up with a 17-point loss to Arkansas in Tiger Stadium and a 21-point blowout on the road at Ole Miss. Reports circulate that Les Miles was on the verge of losing his job as LSU’s head coach. But a season finale victory over Texas A&M and some backroom meetings during the game saw Athletic Director Joe Alleva come out and say Miles isn’t going anywhere.
"Obviously, there’s been quite a bit of speculation in the past few days about the future of our football coach and football program," Alleva said after the game. "I made it very clear that my policy is to wait until the end of the season. And obviously, it’s the end of the regular season right now. The season is complete and I want to make it very clear and positive that Les Miles is our football coach and will continue to be our football coach."
Though some people wanted LSU’s offense to change, Les Miles made no such promises.
"In the serious overhaul of the offense, does that include Leonard Fournette?" Miles asked during the news conference. "We taking the running game out of the offense? Oh, okay, so then, basically, there’s not a serious overhaul because the motor seems to be pretty stinking strong, right?"
The offense continued to look the same to start the season against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field. An anemic performance was almost erased by a Tre’Davious White interception returned for a touchdown and LSU’s only offensive score on a short field after another Wisconsin turnover. However, a late Badger field goal and a Brandon Harris interception on LSU’s last drive gave the win to Wisconsin.
Danny Etling would see the field for the first time the following week against Jacksonville State after two Brandon Harris drives failed to get LSU a first down. Etling would lead the Tigers to a win over the Gamecocks and got his first start the following week in a win over Mississippi State, before Saturday night’s defeat at Auburn.
Sept. 25, 2016:
Les Miles fired as LSU’s head coach.
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