AUBURN, Ala. -- Has the magic run out for Les Miles at LSU?
The “Mad Hatter” has found ways to win time and time again in his career, but just when we thought that he might pulled another one off, a review overturned what would have been a game-winning touchdown catch by D.J. Chark.
Instead, it was Gus Malzahn who secured a much-needed victory as Auburn survived 18-13 in a game featuring two coaches squarely on the hot seat.
There was a strong push by a group of LSU power brokers to force out Miles last year, but he survived in the final hour thanks to some political maneuvering in the state of Louisiana. Now, with two losses in his first four games -- and with the teeth of the schedule still in front of the Tigers -- Miles might have a difficult time surviving two years in a row.
The frustration over LSU’s continued offensive woes has long since reached a boiling point. In the Tigers’ three games against FBS opponents this season, they’ve yet to score more than 23 points and have been especially limited in the passing game. Miles has resisted in making any sweeping changes on his offensive staff, nor has he been willing to overhaul his offense.
The feeling by many in and around the LSU program was that Miles would need to contend for the Western Division championship to be totally safe this season. And at this point, that looks farfetched, meaning the “Miles Watch” will be on for the rest of the season.
On Saturday, LSU quarterback Danny Etling led his team down on the final drive and put the Tigers in a position to win. The clock nearly ran out once, but LSU was called for an illegal shift penalty that gave them one more chance. Etling rolled out, connected with Chark in the back corner of the end zone, right in front of the LSU fans, who went crazy.
The only problem was the clock ran out before Etling got the snap off. And because of that, Miles’ seat is even hotter.
The veteran coach has been here before. Just go back to the end of last season when the LSU administration was on the verge of firing him before he rallied to defeat Texas A&M in the regular-season finale, essentially saving his job.
There were promises made then that the offense would change and that Brandon Harris would be an improved quarterback. Harris was benched in Week 2 against Jacksonville State, and his replacement, Etling, hasn’t been much better. The Purdue transfer, who many thought would finally spark the offense, finished 15 of 27 for 118 yards against Auburn.
The offense didn’t look any different. Penalties continued to plague LSU, and the Tigers were just 4 of 13 on third down.
Leonard Fournette, LSU’s Heisman Trophy contender at running back, went over 100 yards for the 18th time in his career. But he wasn’t the dominant player who rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn in last year’s meeting. This year, it was a quiet 101 yards on a night where he only got free on a handful of runs.
LSU came into the season with national-title aspirations, but already has two losses before October, and it still has home games against Alabama and Ole Miss, plus trips to Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
So the road for Miles and LSU is only going to get tougher, and could be coming to an end.