NINTH IN A SERIES :: The 2008 LSU Review
By the off season before 2008, things were going swimmingly for Les Miles at LSU. He had just won his first national title as a head coach, and he did it his way: going big and taking some chances that all the naysayers said nay to. He turned down Mother Michigan's head coaching job, and LSU rewarded him handsomely for it with a contract guaranteeing that he'd be the highest paid coach in the SEC. The loss of defensive coordinator Bo Pelini was troubling, as was the boatload of NFL talent that had left the Bayou. But hey, when times are good, laissez les bons temps rouler.
To address the loss of Pelini, Miles went with a co-coordinator experiment. Experiments in and of themselves aren't bad, and there's successful precedent for such an arrangement. USC did just fine for itself with co-offensive coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, and Florida won its 2006 national title with co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong.
Well, the experiment blew up in the lab. Bradley Dale Peveto and Doug Mallory didn't end up being quite what the Tiger faithful were hoping for, and the result was an uncharacteristically down year on defense for LSU. Peveto took the head coaching job at Northwestern State and Mallory became DC at New Mexico, saving the school some money on severance and headaches involved with messy departures. Let's hope it works out for everyone.
There are many theories as to why things didn't work out on the coaching level, but LSU was quite green on defense too. The line was all right, but the back seven had significant losses. The Tigers ended up 73rd in the country in pass defense, and overall the D gave up just over 24 points a game (56th in the nation). It was well below LSU's standards for the decade, and the team overall giving up 50 points to both Florida and Georgia was a major disappointment.
Miles made a savvy hire by picking up John Chavis off of the foundering U.S.S. Fulmer to run the defense now. The Chief was absolutely the best coordinator on the market, and he was able to put together some incredible defenses in Knoxville (especially last year). The hope is that he'll be able to right the ship right away in 2009. I don't know if he'll be able to make that big a difference overnight, but since all of last year's inexperienced liabilities are this year's experienced veterans, significant improvement is on the table. The template is the way Florida's incredibly young and flame-prone 2007 defense turned into last year's championship-caliber unit.
The offense had its ups and downs too. Charles Scott was more or less the steady rock for the Tiger attack to lean on, but Jarrett "Pick Six" Lee was not what the Auburn game made him out to be. Jordan Jefferson takes over the reigns behind center for this season, and his limited yet successful performance last year suggests he could easily be in the top half of SEC quarterbacks in 2009. In 2008 LSU scored 30.9 points a contest on the way to winning eight games, just behind 10-win Georgia's 31.5 and nine-win Ole Miss' 32.1 in the conference rankings. Stability from quarterbacking should help that average go up, and when combined with a better defense, the prospects look good.
LSU's dominating 38-3 win over Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl brought to mind its 40-3 win in the same game over Miami (FL) at the end of 2005. That was the cap on an 11-2 season though, not an 8-5 one, but it did lead into another 11-2 season only that time with a BCS bowl at the end. Personally I feel that LSU is still another year away yet from that kind of success, but I don't count it out entirely from the realm of possibility.
Miles has taken some criticism over the years, but his first three campaigns were an unprecedented run in LSU's history. Not only was 2005-07 the first time in school history that the Tigers won 10 games three seasons in a row, but it was the first time they won 10 games twice in a row. Remarkably there are those who would have you believe that Miles is two more eight win campaigns away from the firing line, and I guess in theory that could be possible.
Miles won't have two more eight win seasons in a row though. They're winning more than that this year, and they'll probably win more than that next year too. LSU is here to stay with Miles at the helm. I'm not sure if the Tigers will take the division this year, but they'll be in the thick of the race again. After a down year last year, it'll be a welcome step forward.
Previous Previews: Mississippi State, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia.
MONDAY: Past as Present
TUESDAY: The Schedule; Les Gets His Groove Back
WEDNESDAY: The Depth Chart
FRIDAY: Feedback and Conclusions