Half-second can make or break you
About a half-second.
That’s what triggered it all.
That’s what had LSU and Auburn players kneeling on their sidelines, gazing up at the big video board beyond Jordan-Hare Stadium’s end zone.
LSU had fashioned itself a properly delirious celebration at the opposite end when the ref’s hands went up after Danny Etling completed a 15-yard pass to DJ Chark into the back of the end zone.
The scoreboard reflected a 19-18 LSU victory, on the final play no less.
But, once order was restored, the play was obviously under video review — did LSU get the play off before the clock ran out?
So the stadium went into mute mode and the players were kneeling on each sideline, all eyes anxiously on the acre-sized video board.
In the gritty world of college football, they looked almost like Olympic figure skaters waiting for their scores to be posted.
It was a strange, surreal sight, even for an oddball series that has seen, among other things, earthquakes in Baton Rouge and towering barn fires at Auburn.
Once the video was shown, the Auburn sideline exploded into a stampede toward … something. They didn’t know where to go, who to hug.
But there was no need to wait on the official announcement. It was obvious. Etling got the snap a half-second or so after the clock struck zero.
LSU players and coaches didn’t wait either before trudging toward their own locker room, past the spot where moments earlier they’d had quite the party.
Among them was defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.
Whether he knew it or not, Orgeron had just become LSU’s head coach.
In his news post-game conference, LSU head coach Les Miles certainly didn’t seem to have any clue that it was anything more than a heartbreaking loss.
I know I was all prepared to write that it was exactly the kind of nutty comeback that the lovable Miles used to regularly win with a wink and a Cheshire Cat grin back in the Lucky Les days.
Little did we know his nine lives were up.
The wheels were already in motion with the school’s movers and shakers behind closed doors, and the next day it was official — announced via email — that LSU had fired the Mad Hatter.
It was unexpected.
True, the game had been billed in advance as a Loser Leave Town match between Miles and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, but that was considered hyperbole, harmless dramatic license in previewing this series so prone to quirky hijinks.
If anything, going in there was more pressure on Malzahn as Auburn was 1-2 at the time, having lost to Texas A&M 29-16 the previous week.
But Orgeron was suddenly LSU’s interim head coach. An LSU official told me that day that the Crazy Cajun would be given every opportunity to rip the “interim” tag off of his dream job.
Which, of course, he did, at the end of the regular season, only after LSU’s flirtations with Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher (now at Texas A&M) and Houston’s Tom Herman (now at Texas) went unrequited.
So, kiddos, let this be a lesson on the importance of punctuality.
It was all because of a halfsecond.
Oh, you could make the case that LSU was just waiting for the Tigers to lose another game, whenever it came, before pulling that plug.
Miles had survived a bizarre coup attempt the previous season, with the movers and shakers getting cold feet on a done deal and awkwardly backing off even as Miles and LSU were thumping Texas A&M at home in the regular-season finale.
But you could make the case that Miles’ days were numbered after the 2016 season-opening loss to Wisconsin in Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.
It wasn’t so much the losing — it was the way that it was obvious that the coaches had learned nothing from the previous year’s near-death experience and hadn’t changed one thing with the staid old offense.
Miles never did get along with Athletic Director Joe Alleva. Maybe he thought he was bulletproof after surviving the previous season’s shenanigans. That Wisconsin game almost looked like he was shooting Alleva a raspberry to let him know he’d be doing it his way.
Evidently, Miles didn’t have quite the mandate he’d assumed.
Still, but for that elusive half-second, one has to wonder when they would have had the chance to get rid of Miles.
It set up pretty nicely for Orgeron to make a big splash, and he did.
But, no matter the offense, Miles likely would have also beaten a bad Missouri team (Orgeron won 42-7) the next week, along with Southern Miss (45-10) and Ole Miss 38-21).
That would have left Alabama next, and if losing to Nick Saban becomes a firing offense, you don’t want a job in the SEC.
Now Orgeron will come full circle in returning to Auburn on Saturday, the scene that put it all in motion.
The jury is still out on him to a degree. A full-blooded, back-of-the-bayou Cajun coaching LSU is too good of a story not to pull for.
But it only takes you so far.
An upset at Jordan-Hare Stadium would go a long way in solidifying his status.
Just don’t be late. Not even a half-second.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at