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FOR BALL-CAPPED LSU coach Les Miles, a month of preparation for the national championship game was a Mediterranean cruise compared with the two weekends that preceded it. At the start of that turbulent stretch was the triple-overtime loss to Arkansas; with two such defeats on the season, LSU plummeted from No. 1 to No. 7 in the BCS rankings. The Tigers rallied to beat Tennessee the following Saturday, and they were resurrected later that night when No. 1 Missouri lost to Oklahoma and No. 2 West Virginia was shocked at home by Pitt.
As a subplot to this drama Michigan alum Miles was projected by the media as a lock to replace the retiring Lloyd Carr as coach of the Wolverines—a job Miles was known to covet. ESPN's report on the morning of the SEC title game that Miles was as good as gone to Ann Arbor forced him to hold a press conference two hours before kickoff. After declaring his loyalty to his employer—"I'm the head coach at LSU. I will be the head coach at LSU.... I have no interest in talking to anybody else"—Miles informed reporters that he would not take questions until after the game. "I'm busy," he said. "Have a great day."
It was an edgy performance by a man who raised unpredictability to an art form in 2007. There was that f bomb he dropped, in reference to Alabama, at a recruiting gathering for LSU alumni and boosters last February, not long after the Tide had hired former LSU coach Nick Saban. ("We're looking forward to playing Florida. We're looking forward to playing Auburn. But we have a new rival in f------ Alabama," Miles told the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation.)
In July there was his unprompted swipe at the Pac-10 in general and USC in particular, saying, "I can tell you this: They have a much easier road to travel. They're going to play real knock-down, drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford—some real juggernauts."
On the sideline Miles often looked like a candidate for Gamblers Anonymous: He green-lighted two fake field goals and a fake punt. (Each call paid off.) He rolled the dice on fourth down 15 times, and the Tigers converted 12, including all five in a comeback victory over Florida. Sir Thomas More might have been the Man for All Seasons, but Miles was the man for this looney one.
"If there's a way to steal a possession, I'm certainly going to invest in that thought," Miles said, while being driven from the Superdome to the team hotel two days before the title game. Then, citing the Buckeyes' disciplined play and conservative style, he predicted there would be "few opportunities" to trick them.
IN THE END the Tigers didn't need deception to dominate Ohio State. Miles believed going in that if his defense could bottle up the Ohio State ground game without bringing an extra defender into the box, LSU would be home free. "If we can stop [tailback Chris] Wells with seven guys," Miles said, "the game's over." Wells was averaging 121.9 yards a game and 5.8 yards a carry and figured to do equally well against a Tigers unit that had allowed a total of 613 rushing yards in the last two regular-season games. "There were times where we were bendin' and breakin'," said linebacker Ali Highsmith.
LSU did both of those things on the fourth play from scrimmage. Taking a handoff up the middle, Wells cut back, found a huge channel of daylight, then outsprinted safety Craig Steltz to the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown.
But as the game wore on, Dorsey and the rest of the Tigers' front four gradually took control of the line of scrimmage. Wells rushed for 119 yards in the first half, mostly running away from Dorsey, but in the second half he gained only 27 yards on 10 carries. Able to tee off on Boeckman, LSU sacked him four times in the second half and forced a pair of fumbles.
Some LSU players attributed their team's ragged start to the long layoff. But the 37 days between the SEC title game and the BCS final provided several banged-up Tigers the time they needed to heal. Yes, they allowed in the days leading up to the game, their defense looked ordinary in the second half of the season. But with everyone back at full speed—in particular Dorsey, who earned consensus All-America honors despite playing at well under 100% in his last five games—they would be hell on wheels.