Nearly two decades ago, Nick Saban took control of the LSU football program and in short order, transformed the Tigers into a perennial power and captured the school’s first National Championship in 45 years. One short season later, Saban was gone, off to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, but in his place, Les Miles ensured that LSU remained among the nation’s truly elite.
Following back-to-back 11-win seasons to begin his tenure in Baton Rouge, Miles, too, led LSU to a National Championship in 2007. Throughout the next eight seasons before the 2016 campaign that ultimately marked the end of the Miles era in The Boot, he guided LSU to an average of just shy of 10 wins per season, which included another 13-win showing and another trip to the National Championship in 2011.
As most remember it, this success was largely built behind LSU fielding overwhelming defensive units year in and year out.
Throughout Miles’ tenure with the Tigers, LSU finished outside of the top 10 in defensive S&P+ just three times — 20th in 2009, 16th in 2013, and 34th in 2015 — and enjoyed five top-five finishes, including a No. 2 ranking during Miles’ final season in 2016.
But now, following a two-year hiatus away from coaching, Miles is back; not only into coaching, but coaching in the Big 12. Only this time, the league is far different from his days at Oklahoma State, which ended after four years and a 28-21 record, and it’s far different than the defense-obsessed SEC.
In the modern Big 12, a premium is placed on potent offenses, which is something Miles’ programs haven’t exactly ever been known for. So is a change coming to Kansas?
“I think what we’re going to do is the things that our team can do. I’ve always made a point, you know, doesn’t do you any good to say the style of offense you’re going to run if you don’t have those style of players,” Miles said at Big 12 Media Days when asked if he’s going to alter his offense to the style in the Big 12. “I think we will have the opportunity to throw the football and run the football with balance. I think our talent is there. We will have to see.”
Until proven otherwise, Miles didn’t inherit much to write home about in regards to passing or catching, though he seems to like what he has to that end with JUCO transfer Thomas MacVittie and senior Carter Stanley fighting for field general duties.
“I don’t know what the offensive production was a year ago. I can just tell you they didn’t score enough to win games, okay? The key piece to this is how do you play to win with your talent. If you have quarterbacks like I think we have, I like our receiving core, we’re going to throw the football,” Miles said when asked what changes will be made to improve offensive production after Kansas finished 114th in offensive S&P+ in 2018.
“Obviously if we have a great running back or two we’re going to run the football,” he added. “So it would seem that we would be a team that would be balanced, run and pass. I think we will take it to the field and see what we have and then make those adjustments as we go.”
Based on the returning talent, Miles’ second sentiment seems far more likely to prove true than his first, with increased emphasis placed on the running back remarks.
Though he’ll be suspended for Kansas’ season-opener against Indiana State, sophomore Pooka Williams Jr. eclipsed the 1,110-yard mark as a true freshman and is expected to enter 2019 as one of the nation’s best ball-carriers — Bleacher Report ranked Williams as high as the No. 6 running back ahead of the season.
That, along with the reality that Miles’ offensive success at LSU was often built upon the legs of high-level running backs, could make for a hand-in-glove fit at Kansas.
The passing, potency, and overall productivity? Well, Kansas certainly isn’t without questions on offense as fall camp nears, but as was often the case at LSU, when all else fails, Miles can get the ball to his running back.