TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Les Miles stood in the end zone of a now empty Bryant-Denny Stadium, a little more than hour after his LSU Tigers had survived a demolition derby against Alabama, 9-6 in overtime. He glanced out at the field and laughed about the first hit of the game.
"J.C. Copeland, 292 pounds, a romping, stomping fullback ran over the coach … me," Miles joked.
Yes Miles got trampled pregame when LSU took the field. He got tripped up and crashed all the way to the turf, losing his famed hat in the process. "I think I got concussed," he laughed.
"I want the full video of that," he said, looking for someone who might have it. "I want to show my team the full video."
It was all fun now because Les Miles had just won the so-called "Game of the Century," just won in Nick Saban's house, again ("three of four," Miles noted) and just set the Tigers up for the inside track to play for another national title in New Orleans.
Maybe most notably he'd done it in rather un-Les Miles fashion. No trick plays. No lucky bounces. No crazy clock issues. This was all head-banging, pad-cracking, run-stopping, physical football, the stuff of Bo Schembechler, who Miles played for all those years ago. Even that pregame fall was part of the deal.
"It was the start of a physical game," he said. "If a player is going to run over the coach just to get to the sideline, well, maybe that's what was needed."
[Recap: LSU 9, Alabama 6 (OT)]
Miles said he couldn't sleep all week in the lead-up to this No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, nerves wrecking his dreams. It wasn't until Friday that he sacked out, "it was a nice hotel we stayed at, suburban Birmingham," he noted.
Preparing for Alabama will cause nightmares anyway, so why bother? Yet for some reason in his waking hours Miles figured preparation was going so well, he envisioned great things.
"I want you to know, I had us scoring 35, 45 points, had us going up and down the field," he said.
Instead LSU (9-0) managed just 239 yards, no touchdowns and for much of the game its best weapon was either a cornerback or a punter.
Yes, the punter, an Australian named Brad Wing who Miles likes to stop just before he goes out to kick and give some quick coaching. Such as in the fourth quarter, when LSU was pinned deep on its own 9 and was desperate for a big kick to help hold off Trent Richardson.
"He stopped me and said, 'go out and have fun,'" Wing said.
With such strategy in his mind, Wing blasted a 73-yard punt.
"It turned out pretty good," he said with a shrug.
Everything does for Miles, which has burnished him as a legend as much for folly as football. It's funny stuff – the fall, the verbiage, the happy-go-lucky style.
Saturday though was a totally different deal. Miles acknowledges the game went "off the script" after just one series, when he realized Bama's defense was too good to allow a shootout. Forty-five points, what the heck was he thinking?
This game would be won in the trenches, with open-field tackles, intense, one-on-one battles. It would be ugly. It would be beautiful. Whatever. It was football. LSU won.
"What kind of highlights can you even show, 9-to-6?" he asked Jordy Hultberg, host of the Inside LSU Football with Les Miles as they tried to film the show postgame.
[Photos: LSU edges Alabama in OT]
It's Nick Saban that's supposed to win these kinds of games. It's Nick Saban that builds teams to win with defense and grit and opportunistic plays. It's Nick Saban, Miles' predecessor who for years haunted him from Tuscaloosa, who drills in the fundamentals and precision to survive these battles.
LSU is supposed to be some kind of glamour group, ferocious defensive lineman not withstanding. They've got two quarterbacks and neither of them can throw very well.
Instead here on the biggest night of their rivalry, Miles walked into Saban's joint and out Saban-ed him. It may have surprised everyone but the Tiger players who are put through physical practices every day.
"We pride ourselves on taking advantage of opportunities, small victories," said linebacker Ryan Baker. "Smash mouth football is an example of that. That's part of his system."
That's the part of the system no one sees. LSU is now the favorite to win the national championship, which would be Miles' second and the SEC's sixth consecutive. It's beaten Oregon on a neutral field, West Virginia in Morgantown and now run through much of the SEC, including this heavily hyped road game.
Arkansas looms at the end of the month and a SEC title game after that and of course someone in the title contest. Nothing is won, but the Tigers control their own destiny, Miles in the driver's seat.
It's shaping up to be the Year of Les, or maybe most importantly, the year Les puts some of the antics behind him and he's seen as the coach he is.
Then again, who else would hit the deck pregame and then search for video proof of the embarrassment.
"Obviously they call him the Mad Hatter for a reason," offensive lineman Josh Williford said.
"A good night," Miles said postgame, looking up at the empty stadium, the quiet of surrounding Tuscaloosa saying it all. "Yes, a good night, a good, good night."
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