South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, left, talks with LSU coach Les Miles after the Tigers beat the Gamecocks 28-16 on Sept. 22, 2007. In a landscape where college football coaches say less and less, Miles and Spurrier stand out -- and not just because of their national championship success. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 9:50 PM
Granted, this is probably not the time for Les Miles to slide eerily to his side and gaze glassy-eyed at his LSU team with the order to “Smiiiiiiiiile!”
John L. Smith already tried that one, and all it did was make the whole state of Arkansas uncomfortable while putting the white coats with nets on standby alert.
But, with the season (at least as it was originally envisioned) on the line with a visit from third-ranked South Carolina Saturday night, Miles needs to do something to lighten the mood around LSU.
Surely, there’s no 5-1 team in the country right now dealing with as much negativity cloaked with doom and gloom as these Tigers.
Gazing from afar, it probably sounds crazy for a genuine, sky-is-falling style panic to set in after one measly loss over the last two regular seasons. But the mystified masses from afar haven’t watched the whole thing develop up close.
It doesn’t feel like 5-1.
There may only be one loss — to a pretty good Florida team on its own nasty turf in a game circled boldly on the Gators’ schedule — but it didn’t feel quite right even before getting the formality of the loss out of the way.
“We haven’t played our best football yet,” Miles said Wednesday, and for now you will just have to take him at his word.
If they have — if the Washington game was as good as it’s going to get — they might as well call the rest of it off and make reservations for an off-Broadway bowl game.
One loss wouldn’t be so disheartening if they had a measuring stick, a true, clicking-on-all-cylinders game that gave them a reference point for how good they can be.
So, no, I don’t know how in the world LSU is favored (by 2 1/2) in this game, either.
There’s something missing on this LSU team, and it’s more than just a legitimate starting left tackle.
You can’t solve everything with X’s and O’s, working harder or even switching quarterbacks. And, yes, at some point they’re going to have to block somebody.
But something bigger — the “it” factor — just hasn’t clicked yet.
Miles has always been a master at pushing all the right emotional buttons with his teams. If he has a strength, that’s it. But he hasn’t cracked the code with these guys yet.
Even the harmless charade they go through before running onto the field for the opening kickoff — when Miles playfully acts like he’s trying to hold them back like yelping puppy dogs — this year looks like something they’re doing just because last year’s team did it and it’s supposed to be a tradition now.
You can’t fake things like that.
And halfway through the regular season, this team really hasn’t established a true identity yet.
Football chemistry tends to be spontaneous combustion, but coaches can massage it along.
Miles has said there’s nothing wrong with the effort, and he’s right there. This team is playing hard. But, particularly on offense, they’re not playing with much confidence, let alone the swagger of a year ago.
Get that back and all those penalties and turnovers will start to look like mere annoyances.
Miles has done it before.
Maybe he needs to run to the wrong sideline (like he did in Cowboys Stadium against Oregon last year) or tumble head-over-teacup while running to the correct sideline (as he did in Tuscaloosa before the first Alabama game last year).
Bottom line: Miles has to somehow make football fun again for the players.
Right now, it doesn’t look like it is for the Tigers. The games look like more a burden.
If anything, South Carolina this year looks like last year’s LSU team.
You can tell because Steve Spurrier is having a blast.
Spurrier was asked the obligatory question this week about the horrors of going to Tiger Stadium, in what will be the first conference night game in Baton Rouge in more than two years (Sept. 18, 2010 vs. Mississippi State).
“Most of our players have never been to Death Valley,” Spurrier said. “That is THE Death Valley isn’t it?”
Knowing full well that there’s a long-running dispute between LSU and his bitter, crossstate rival, Clemson, over which school’s stadium originated the “Death Valley” nickname, Spurrier paused for the punch line.
“Is there another one around?”
Priceless Darth Visor, jabbing the needle in at every opportunity.
Spurrier is an SEC classic, and if you need another reason to be in Tiger Stadium Saturday night, it will likely be the Head Ball Coach’s last visit. His immunity to the aging process is one of the more annoying things about him, and he could coach a long time more. But with ill-advised SEC expansion and the yet-to-be-determined schedule rotation, it will probably be even longer before South Carolina makes it back to Tiger Stadium.
In the 1990s, when his Florida teams were regularly putting up moon-shot scores against bad LSU teams, Spurrier never missed an opportunity to remind Tiger fans that he had once applied for the LSU job but, sadly, the whole process got bogged down in a typical Louisiana political maze.
A couple of years ago, South Carolina’s famed Curse of the Chicken appeared to be wearing down even Spurrier.
He had lost a lot of the cackle and the sneer, even a bit of the smart aleck.
It’s all back now, even if he has to swallow hard to win with defense and ball control over his Florida Fun ’n Gun days.
LSU just needs to have fun again.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org