Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nick Saban v. Les Miles -or- The Absolutely Inexplicable Decision to Leave Jordan Jefferson In the BCS Championship Game

by Derrick Mustelier


Anyone out there who has ever wanted to see what it looks like when one football coach completely and utterly outcoaches another, I hope you were paying attention during the 2012 BCS National Championship Game because THAT is what it looks like.  Les Miles got thoroughly pantsed and there were no defensive touchdowns or Honey Badger Heisman Moments (and nowhere near enough missed field goals) to cover it up this time.  Your 2011 AP National Coach of the Year, ladies and gentlemen...

The fundamental problem of this game for LSU was that both teams came in with basically the same gameplan on defense--key in on the running game and dare the other team to throw the ball.  The problem for LSU is that A.J. McCarron can throw the ball and Jordan Jefferson can’t.  The bigger problem for LSU was that Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide out-prepared them.

In the first game between these two team in Tuscaloosa, Jarrett Lee had been riding a wave of momentum, seizing the starting job from Jordan Jefferson after a suspension sidelined Jefferson for a game.  Lee came into Tuscaloosa and the Tide were ready for everything he tried to do.  What they weren’t ready for was Jordan Jefferson to come in and run the option.  That’s probably what won the game for them.  

The lesson Les Miles should have taken from that game is that when you face Nick Saban, you have to throw something at him that he doesn’t have film on or at least that he won’t be preparing for in the time leading up to the game (especially if that time is over a month).  Unfortunately for the Tigers, the “lesson” Les took from that game apparently was: “they can’t stop JJ and the option!”  And 'Bama was ready for it.

Here’s the crazy part to me: It was pretty blatantly obvious by halftime to anyone with half a football brain that Alabama was jumping all over the option and it wasn’t going to work.  They tried to put Jordan Jefferson into some safe passing situations but the Tide defense was a step ahead of them every single time with a little help from JJ’s very limited arm.  
This is where halftime adjustments come in.  Some coaches are defined by their halftime adjustments.  Les Miles?  Nope.  Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing.  Someone will save my ass.  Someone always does.

Not this time.

Jarrett Lee watched this entire fiasco unfold from the sideline.  The natural move there is to go to Lee because Saban’s defense is obviously prepared for what you’ve been doing so far and probably prepared a lot less (if at all) for Lee.  Many in the crowd even started chanting Jarrett Lee’s name to no avail.  [1]

If you’re Les Miles, you have to try SOMETHING in that situation.  You have to CHANGE something because what you’re doing is yielding consistent negative results.  And you have a perfectly viable option (which WORKED IN THE LAST GAME in reverse...HELLO?!) in switching QBs to Jarrett Lee and going to the air when they’re DARING you to throw.

But Les Miles is cocky.  You hear it in every interview.  The way he talks about his team.  He KNOWS they’re prepared and he KNOWS they’re going to win.  The team has backed up that faith in every game except the one that meant everything.  The game when they didn’t have any answers and needed their coach to have some instead.  Unfortunately for them, he didn’t.  He might have been the only one in the stadium who didn’t.  The answer was pretty obvious to most of the rest of us.

[1] The only kid with a more legitimate to be super pissed at his coach this bowl season is Air Force WR Zack Kauth--who caught a 33 yard touchdown pass on 4th and 3 with 52 seconds left to bring the Falcons within 1 of Toledo in the Military Bowl only to watch his coach go for two and miss, costing them the game.  After that happened, Kauth SLAMMED his helmet on the ground and I truly felt his pain.

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