For Les Miles’ second trip to “The Swamp” as LSU football coach, the script has changed.
Two years ago, as he prepared to take the Tigers into Gainesville, Fla., for a dustup with the fifth-ranked Florida Gators, Miles was playing mind games to boost his quarterback’s confidence.
“JaMarcus Russell,” he said in what came as a shock to some, “has Troy Aikman’s kind of accuracy throwing the football,” going back to his days as a Dallas Cowboys assistant, which happened to be the final three years of Aikman’s Hall of Fame career. “Accuracy and velocity, he’s got it. He’s at the top of his game.”
At the time, Russell had thrown for 10 touchdowns and one interception and was completing 70 percent of his passes. What Miles was trying to do was remove the memory of Russell’s first visit to Gainesville two years earlier, when Nick Saban, after a lopsided loss to Georgia, decided to change quarterbacks and give Russell, a freshman, his first college start.
It wasn’t long that day in 2004 before Russell was back on the bench after throwing two interceptions, wasn’t long before quarterback Marcus Randall and running back Joseph Addai were bringing the Tigers back from the dead in a 24-21 victory.
You move ahead to the 2006 meeting, and the memories are of Russell’s best moments being offset by a costly fumble at the goal line, the turning point in a 23-10 LSU defeat that introduced freshman quarterback Tim Tebow to the nation.
Now the Gators have Tebow, with a Heisman Trophy on his shelf, vowing to lead a stretch drive with a series of “must-wins” to erase the ugly memory of a home loss to Ole Miss and vault Florida back into the national championship picture.
And what does Miles have?
He has an LSU team that will go to Florida as a six-point underdog, and he has Jarrett Lee, a freshman quarterback who’ll be getting his first look at The Swamp, and the 90,000 crazies, as the Tigers head into the toughest three-game stretch any SEC contender will be facing — Florida, South Carolina, Georgia — in the next six weeks.
Obviously, Miles isn’t about to come close to comparing Lee to Troy Aikman. He’s merely suggesting his trigger man has done a good job “mastering the game plan” week after week, and lets it go at that.