Eastern Washington's T.J. Lee III pushes Idaho's Jahrie Level out of bounds on Aug. 30. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, September 14, 2012 8:19 PM
It has worked for 39 consecutive nonconference regular-season, games. So LSU’s Les Miles isn’t about to change the formula tonight with an NCAA record on the line.
An expected victory over Idaho would make it an even 40, breaking the mark Kansas State set from 1993-2003.
It would seem to be a formality — No. 3 LSU is a 421⁄2-point favorite over the 0-2, unranked Vandals.
But that’s not the way the system has worked under Miles, who has been head coach for the last 28 victories in the streak.
“I think the things that allow this team to do well over time (has been) not to take anybody lightly,” Miles said. “Recognize that it’s about how we take the field, what we attempt to get accomplished and how we’re going to play.”
It has worked for every regular season, nonconference game on Miles’ watch, with the last LSU loss coming in the 2002 season opener at Virginia Tech, Nick Saban’s third year.
The streak began the following week, Sept. 7, 2002, in Tiger Stadium with a 35-10 victory over The Citadel.
The Tigers’ 39 victims have included 24 teams (Idaho would make it 25) from 11 conferences.
Few of the games have held much drama.
Only six of the opponents were ranked at the time — LSU has been ranked in all 39 — and 32 of the games were in Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers have scored 50 or more points five times — the same number of times they’ve been held under 30 points. They also have posted five shutouts.
Overall during the streak the Tigers have outscored the nonconference opponents 1,561-408 — an average margin of 40-10.
But it had its scary moments.
Miles’ first game, which was moved to Arizona State in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, required a fourth-down, 39-yard touchdown pass for a 35-31 victory.
Oregon State took LSU to overtime in the 2004 season opener and the Tigers’ needed a game-ending goal-line stand to hold off North Carolina 30-24 in the Georgia Dome to open the 2009 season.
But maybe the closest call came in 2008 at home against Troy. The Tigers trailed 31-3 early in the third quarter but stormed back to score the last 37 points in the second half to win 40-31, the biggest comeback in school history.
But more representative have been the 41-14 victory over North Texas and the 41-3 thrashing of Washington to open this season.
“I think our football team and our program are designed to work awfully hard to do things right through the week that ensure preparation,” Miles said. “It doesn’t go without effort and energy. Then, when you get to Saturday, with hard work comes the want and desire for victory.
“This team’s had it for quite some time.”
On paper, Idaho looks like many of the others — overmatched.
But Miles said he’s been impressed with Vandals quarterback Dominique Blackman, who certainly will be one of the biggest challenges the Tiger defense faces this year at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds. He completed 30 of 37 for 352 yards in the opener against Eastern Washington.
“I respect the way they played,” Miles said.
And that seems to be the key to continuing the streak.