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October 4, 2010

Monday with Mike: LSU's Lucky Les

You won't see a more bizarre ending to a football game than what happened in Saturday's LSU-Tennessee contest in Baton Rouge.

You also won't see a coach who is luckier than LSU's Les Miles.

One season after a colossal case of clock mismanagement led to a loss at Ole Miss, Miles and his offensive staff actually topped themselves at home against the Vols. But an egregious error by the Vols gave LSU new life, and the Tigers were able to make it pay off. CBS broadcaster Craig Bolerjack rightly termed it "a miracle."

Tennessee led 14-10 and faced a fourth-and-1 from LSU's 31 with 5:47 left. Vols coach Derek Dooley disdained a field goal and went for it -- but the call was a run up the middle by Tauren Poole, who went nowhere.

That gave the Tigers the ball at their 31 with 5:41 left. Backup QB Jarrett Lee, who played well in relief of starter Jordan Jefferson, then methodically led LSU downfield. Lee completed two third-down passes and one on fourth down for first downs, and eventually had the Tigers at Tennessee's 2 with 36 seconds left.

LSU had no timeouts, and on first down from the 2, Lee threw incomplete into the end zone. For some reason, LSU coaches then chose that moment to re-insert Jefferson, who is more mobile than Lee. With 32 seconds left, Jefferson took the snap and ran right; he was tackled at the 1 because the entire Tennessee defense -- and about 99 percent of those in the stands -- knew what was coming.

Remember, LSU had no timeouts, but instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock with 16 or 17 seconds left, a "Keystone Kops" routine ensued. It's obvious that Jefferson was sent into the game with just one play and that zero thought had been given to what would happen if LSU didn't score on that play.

LSU had used a run-heavy set on second down, but coaches decided to sub in the "regular" spread lineup. All the while, the clock is ticking, ticking, ticking, to the point where the ball was snapped with 3 seconds left -- but Jefferson wasn't ready. The ball sailed past him, the game seemed over and chaos ensued.

On the video of the aftermath of the "final" play, you can see LSU center T-Bob Hebert remove his helmet and throw it on the ground in disgust.

Then, about two minutes later, after a replay review, officials announced that Tennessee had too many men on the field -- referee Marc Curles said it was 12 players, but it actually was 13. Then, on a final untimed play, LSU RB Stevan Ridley bulled into the end zone for the incredibly improbable win.

On the video, you again can see Hebert remove his helmet and toss it to the ground -- but this time in jubilation.

"I don't know if we could have planned it any poorer. ... The series of downs in the back end of that game was embarrassing to me," Miles said afterward, presumably with a can-you-believe-it grin.

The victory improved the Tigers to 5-0, but they now enter the toughest part of their schedule. And that should worry Miles because his team has issues.

LSU has a championship-worthy defense, but for the second season in a row, the offense is not even mediocre. The Tigers are averaging 326.6 yards per game, which ranks 91st nationally; they rank 112th in passing offense, at 131.0 yards per game. The Tigers have thrown two touchdown passes -- both in the season opener -- and seven interceptions. Those are Vanderbilt-type numbers, not stats that should be associated with LSU.

Jefferson has thrown for 449 yards in five games and hasn't even reached the 100-yard mark in any of the past four contests. Lee, a junior who has 16 career TDs passes but also 18 picks, was 16-of-23 for 185 yards and an interception against the Vols; he had thrown two passes this season before Saturday and he attempted just 40 last season. Still, he seems likely to start next week when LSU plays at Florida.

Jefferson is a good athlete, but is not an SEC-caliber quarterback. You could give Jefferson the benefit of the doubt last season because he was thrown into the fray as a true freshman in 2008, before he was ready to play. But he's now a junior and looks to have lost all his confidence throwing the ball.

LSU has an explosive trio of receivers in Terrence Toliver, Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle, but they have combined for just 42 catches and two TDs in five games. That is absolutely indefensible.

After the Tigers travel to Gainesville this week, they get a gimme against FCS opponent McNeese State. Then come back-to-back games against Auburn and Alabama (though there is a week off after the Auburn game). Arkansas looms down the road for LSU, as well.

Though Florida looked inept against Alabama, the Gators should beat LSU. Auburn and Alabama should, too, because it's hard to see LSU's offense all of a sudden turning it around. The Tigers' defense will keep things close, but eventually you have to score to win.

In addition, given the way Saturday's game ended, you have to figure Miles has used more than his quota of good fortune.

Two weeks ago, Washington QB Jake Locker was a brutal in a 56-21 home loss to Nebraska. He was 4-of-20 for 71 yards and threw two interceptions.

The Huskies were off last week, and Locker put the down time to good use, following up his worst performance as a collegian with one of his best.

He was 24-of-40 for 310 yards and a TD, and didn't throw a pick; he also rushed for 110 yards on 12 carries. The crowning achievement, though, is that he led the Huskies on a game-winning march in the final minute of a 32-31 victory at USC.

It was the second season in a row the Huskies downed the Trojans on a last-play field goal.

After USC's Joe Houston banged a field-goal attempt off the goal post, Locker and the Huskies took over at their 23 with 2:34 left. He guided them 62 yards in 10 plays for the winning field goal. Along the way, he completed an 18-yard pass on fourth-and-10 with 2:08 left, and also rushed for 8 yards on a third-and-5 play with 37 seconds left. The fourth-down pass was needed because star WR Jermaine Kearse dropped what would have been a first-down pass on third down.

Locker received some help on the drive from RB Chris Polk (three carries, 37 yards) and from Huskies coaches, who made some great play calls, most notably a draw to Polk into a blitz on first-and-10 from Washington's 41; the run picked up 26 yards.

The Huskies finished with 536 yards in a game matching former USC co-offensive coordinators as coaches, and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian lavished praise on his senior quarterback.

"What a performance by No. 10," Sarkisian told reporters. "Legendary. That's where legends are made. He showed how big his heart is, that's for sure."

USC finished with 484 yards, including 298 on the ground. USC senior TB Allen Bradford ran for 223 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, but it wasn't enough as Washington won at USC for the first time since 1996. In addition, it was the Huskies' first road win since Nov. 3, 2007, at Stanford; Washington had lost 13 in a row on the road since.

Washington improved to 2-2 and the victory gives the Huskies some hope they can get to a bowl for the first time since 2002, Rick Neuheisel's last season at the school. Four of Washington's next six games are at home, but the road games in that stretch are against Arizona and Oregon, and Oregon State and Stanford are among the teams traveling to Seattle. In short, a bowl is anything but assured.

As for USC, the probation-saddled Trojans know they won't be in the postseason. But with their first loss comes the question about how much incentive the Trojans are going to have the rest of the way. They travel to Stanford next week, and if Washington carved up USC's defense, what is Stanford going to do? There's also an Oct. 30 game against Oregon, along with November road games against Arizona and Oregon State.

Washington's offensive performance once again exposed USC's defensive warts. The four opponents before Washington -- Hawaii, Virginia, Minnesota and Washington State -- frankly aren't that good, yet the Trojans are a shockingly bad 99th in the nation in total defense, allowing 418.8 yards per game.

USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has had some issues reacting to the varied offenses the Trojans have seen this season. Perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise: Despite all the praise that Kiffin received last season at Tennessee, the Vols' defensive numbers were much worse across the board from 2008 -- their last season under coordinator John Chavis (now at LSU). Tennessee gave up 55 more total yards per game, 46 more rushing yards per game and almost six more points per game in '09 than it did in '08.

USC's offense is fine this season; the defensive issues mean an 8-4 record seems likely.

Big East is struggling
The Big East got arguably its best non-conference win of the season Saturday when host Connecticut downed ... Vanderbilt.

Yes, that is what it has come to for the Big East -- celebrating a victory over the SEC's doormat.

The Big East has 19 non-conference wins, and nine of them are over FCS opponents. Five more are against Sun Belt teams. There also are two over MAC teams, and one each over teams from the ACC, Conference USA and the SEC. The win over the ACC team was West Virginia's over Maryland -- a Terps team that probably is the ninth- or 10th-best in the ACC.

While UConn's win over Vandy was worth celebrating, Rutgers' homecoming loss to C-USA bottom-feeder Tulane actually overshadowed the Huskies' win. Tulane is pitiful, yet the Green Wave still managed a rare road win in a Big East venue.

Grid bits
I don't think losing 52-38 to Iowa State is what Tommy Tuberville had in mind when he agreed to coach Texas Tech. The Red Raiders allowed 251 rushing yards and Iowa State had two players with more than 100 yards on the ground. Tuberville promised a more physical brand of ball on both sides of the line of scrimmage; alas, it has not come to fruition, as Tech is 110th nationally in rushing offense and 81st in total defense (hmmm, those numbers seem strangely like a Mike Leach-coached team).

Speaking of Leach (well, in a way), East Carolina (2-2) is 115th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 41.8 points per game. Leach's former defensive coordinator, Ruffin McNeill, is ECU's first-year head coach. The Pirates have allowed 167 points and 106 of them have come in the second half. ECU has allowed 33, 17, 28 and 28 second-half points, respectively, in its four games.

Contrast ECU's inept second-half defense with that of Oregon's. The Ducks have allowed seven second-half points all season. Stanford rang up 31 first-half points on the Ducks on Saturday, but didn't score in the second half. The only team to score in the second half on the Ducks is Arizona State, which fell 42-31 last week. Oregon leads the nation in scoring offense and total offense and is 15th in scoring defense despite ranking 52nd in total defense. How is that possible? The Ducks lead the nation in turnover margin at plus-11.

Staying with Oregon, in one of the weirder scheduling quirks this season, the Ducks don't have any back-to-back home games or any back-to-back road trips this season. Their toughest remaining games appear to be the final two -- at home against Arizona on Nov. 26 and at Oregon State on Dec. 4.

Nevada, which moved into the coaches' poll top 25 for the first time in school history last week, moved to 5-0 with a 44-26 victory at archrival UNLV. The Wolf Pack rushed for 374 yards and five touchdowns, their third 300-yard game of the season. For UNLV, that total actually is a huge defensive improvement over last season, when Nevada rushed for 559 yards and seven TDs. That means in the past two games against UNLV, Nevada has rushed for 933 yards and 12 TDs.

Since an embarrassing 28-14 home loss to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss has whipped Fresno State and beaten Kentucky, scoring a combined 97 points in the process. QB Jeremiah Masoli threw it 35 times in the loss to Vandy, but he has thrown a total of 29 passes in the past two games. Ole Miss coaches have put more read-option plays into the game plan -- something Oregon used extensively with Masoli -- and it has paid off. Ole Miss has rushed for 636 yards and seven TDs in the past two games. The defense remains a problem and so does the schedule; Ole Miss is off this week, then plays Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn on consecutive Saturdays. It's hard to see Ole Miss winning any of those, but Masoli's presence will cause some defensive issues for those teams, especially Arkansas and Auburn.

Georgia is 1-4 and has lost four in a row for the first time since 1990. So why did Colorado fans storm the field after the Buffs edged the Bulldogs 29-27? Georgia led 24-14 before falling apart in the fourth quarter.

This probably isn't the way BYU wanted to exit the Mountain West and enter independent status. Utah State rolled to a 31-16 win over the Cougars on Friday night, snapping a 10-game losing streak to their in-state foe. The Aggies built a 24-3 halftime lead and weren't seriously threatened in the second half. The loss dropped BYU to 1-4. BYU is bad on both sides of the ball, ranking 96th in total offense, 114th in scoring offense, 101st in total defense and 86th in scoring defense. Defensive coordinator Jaime Hill is being made the scapegoat, as he was fired Saturday. Coach Bronco Mendenhall now will run the defense, which ranked 28th nationally last season but lost six starters, including five in the front seven. If BYU has any hope of going to a bowl, it had better win Saturday at home against San Diego State.

Pittsburgh hasn't received much this season from sophomore TB Dion Lewis, who was the nation's leading returning rusher from last season. Lewis didn't play Saturday against Florida International because of an injury and has just 143 yards this season. No matter -- backup Ray Graham ran for 277 yards and three TDs as the Panthers beat FIU 44-17. Graham is third nationally in rushing at 164.0 yards per game.

More and more schools are resorting to piped-in music over the PA rather than allowing the band to play during stoppages, which is sad. It's interesting comparing the musical choices at the various schools. For instance, after Air Force beat Navy 14-6 to snap a six-game losing streak in the series, Etta James' "At Last" blasted through the speakers. At Indiana, meanwhile, you could hear Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" during a crucial part of the game against Michigan. Do college students listen to Cyrus? I thought her fans were more along the lines of 7-year-old girls who watch the Disney Channel.

The first BCS standings of the season come out Oct. 17.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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