Miles says there is no excuse
Friday, 09/09, 11:30 a.m.
By William Kalec
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Skyler Green makes a right.
Reflected in the shiny rims on his carnivorous truck is the blurry image of two Military Police officers strolling the sidewalk on Skip Bertman Drive, near Alex Box Stadium. They are holding assault rifles. One is smoking a cigarette. Children are nearby. Tuesday practice is over.
Eventually, the LSU senior receiver/spokesman makes a left onto Nicholson Drive. He passes the Pete Maravich Center, where the main arena is being used as a medical triage and the auxiliary gym as a morgue, keeps going past the Bernie Moore Track Stadium, where the infield has been converted toa landing pad for Chinook helicopters, and finally the Carl Maddox Fieldhouse, now a shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
“We’re always going to have Louisiana on the back of our minds,” Green said.
Devastation and hopelessness intermingled with optimism and energy on this oak-lined, football-crazed campus last week as several LSU athletic facilities were rapidly converted to relief areas.
On Monday, school officials announced that the opener for the No. 5 Tigers would be a home game, played three states to the West in triple-digit heat in front of 3,000 of their closest friends (that’s how many season ticket holders exchanged their seats) when LSU “hosts” No. 15 Arizona State at 6:15 p.m. in Sun Devil Stadium.
“There’s no way that you get away from here,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We’re so attached. It’s such a heart-felt environment. Even if you travel, certainly, your waking thoughts move toward Louisiana. But I think our guys will enjoy playing football -- whether it is home or away. They’ll enjoy those three hours, or so, they are allowed to go out there and play.”
Since the storm hit southeast Louisiana, several LSU players have housed family members and friends in their confined living quarters. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell had 23 people crammed into his apartment near Highland Road and spent hours making pharmacy runs for musician Fats Domino. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams welcomed several in-laws and watched with them as aerial shots scanned their flooded home near the University of New Orleans. He didn’t know what to say.
Even this week, as things begin to somewhat resemble pre-Katrina normalcy around Baton Rouge, practice has been the players main escape from the ever-present reminders of what happened less than two weeks ago.
“Visiting the shelters and what-not, everybody knows we're playing ball and every time we go in there they are asking ‘When are you going to play’ and stuff like that,” running back Justin Vincent said. “I think they’re looking forward to something like that -- something to keep their mind off certain distractions going on in their life right now.”
Miles choice at quarterback -- big news in August reduced to a distant subplot come September -- still hasn't been announced, this after he proclaimed throughout August that he’d gladly tell everyone of his decision the Thursday prior to opening kickoff. Smart money is on Russell since he received most first-team reps in practices and scrimmages. Matt Flynn is available if Russell struggles, but it seems unrealistic that Jimbo Fisher would throw Ryan Perrilloux to the wolves this soon, even though all three quarterbacks have several talented safety nets surrounding them.
“It is going to take much more than our front line to contain their run. It is going to take all 11 guys,” Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter said. “But you can’t totally focus on that. They have three great wide receivers and an excellent tight end as well. They have a talented offensive line. Taking away the run is going to be a challenge for our whole defense. Our linebackers and safeties are going to be very involved.”
Forgotten in the recent swirl of events is that the Les Miles Era begins. Gerry DiNardo was the last LSU coach to open outside of Tiger Stadium against a ranked opponent. LSU lost that game 33-17 to Texas A&M in 1995.
“I can tell you there is no excuse,” Miles said. “At the end of the year, there will be a ledger. The ledger will read wins and losses. There’s no asterisks.”