Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The 2011 BCS Championship - the Crowton Factor

Well that was painful. This BCS football championship said a lot of things about the state of the game and its problematic future; but what many people may have missed is what it says about Gary Crowton.


Like most non-Alabamians out there, I spent a long evening watching a boring a game. The hours crawled by and as I watched LSU's offensive completely collapse (something it's been hinting at all season..)
I couldn't help but think about Gary Crowton. What he could have done, why he wasn't here tonight and why it's important.

Les Miles runs perhaps the most boring offense known to man. It is so predictable you could probably set your watch by it. That's not to say his offense is ruinous (usually - check tonights game though!), it's just boring.

Les Miles, to a degree, does this on purpose.
His strategy is all control. By keeping the ball on the ground he usually can control the clock. By not fishing for big plays, he usually can control his turn overs.
In short, his offense plays defensively. 
(just this season LSU's defense/special teams scored nearly as many TD's as LSU's offense!)


That's the key to his strategy for anyone paying attention. That's why he favors people like Jordan Jefferson over Jared Lee.
That is also why LSU's offense has been consistently boring.
And..for the most part it's not a bad idea. Les Miles record speaks for itself. As long as his defense is clearly superior to his opponents; LSU is unbeatable.

Unfortunately, when that defense is not unquestionably superior - that is when Miles' strategy comes apart.
This can be seen in tonights BCS Championship game, where Alabama's defense was certainly not inferior. The moment Les Miles' offense has to fend for itself is, baring a grass-eating miracle, usually when Les Miles' loses.

That is with the notable exception of the time when Les Miles had Gary Crowton in his pocket.
Most LSU fans don't really understand what Crowton does, nor what he did for LSU.

As they watched Crowton struggle under the Draconian Offense set in place by Miles; they assumed the boring, unconventional, formulaic and conservative play calling was Crowton's doing. This could not be further from the truth. 


When Crowton was the Offensive Coordinator at LSU, LSU would generally (Les Willing!) get more 'gutsy' and creative the closer LSU was to losing. Just go back and look at LSU's total offense for most their games in the previous season. In tight games the fourth quarter was where all the offensive yards were. Sometimes LSU would have more yards in the fourth quarter alone, then the previous three combined.

Do you know why? Because that is when, in desperation, Les Miles took the handcuffs off Gary Crowton.

This wasn't so much a problem during Crowton's first Season, because a Quarterback like Flynn was just more suited for Crowton's offensive strategy. Les Miles had to go along with it, because Flynn was all they had. (Just look at how hard Les Miles fights to keep Jordan Jefferson in over Jarett Lee!)

This first season notably ended with LSU winning a National Championship.

For anyone who remembers the next season the defense was terrible. With all the focus on the Defense, including Les Miles, Gary Crowton pretty much had free reign with his two young quarterbacks. All anyone remembers from this time period are the interceptions (they were VERY YOUNG), but what they forget was that this year LSU had a record setting offense. By LSU standards it wasn't a great year, the two co-defenseive coordinators were fired(despite a bowl game victory), yet Crowton's young offense was the most explosive LSU had ever seen.

After that...you get the Iron Miles Curtain. With LSU's defensive problems settled; whatever free reign Crowton had was completely cut off. This is probably when things got the hardest for Gary Crowton.

This is also probably when LSU's entire team (offensive/defense) was the most complete and successful (after two years culminating in the win at the 75th Cotton Bowl over Texas A&M).

Why it was hard for Crowton is simple; people have bad memories. They forgot his exciting and explosive offense from the previous two years, and quickly assumed the new boring formulaic offense was his doing. Further complicated by Les Miles refusal to actually own up to his offense and publicly support Crowton.

Even though Crowton was doing what Miles was ordering him to do - he was taking all the heat. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why: Crowton was Miles "Get out of jail free card"


In the event that Miles job was endanger, he could cut Crowton loose and blame him in the process. It's a fairly standard practice by Head Coaches with their Coordinators - not something that should surprise anyone.
I believe if Les Miles was more publicly supportive of Crowton - Crowton probably would have never left LSU. 


That being said, Les Miles strategy at this point was successful. Despite the scrutiny Crowton was constantly under (still is under by ravenous LSU fans), he managed to support, strengthen and compliment Les Miles system.

Which is where we reach the present. Tonight was a beautiful example of what LSU is missing when it lacks the Crowton Factor.

Crowton was an important bulwark between Les Miles system collapsing and LSU losing. That's because when it wasn't working. When LSU needed it's offense to do more than play defensively.
Crowton was there.

Sometimes it wasn't enough (Les Miles did not give him the tools to properly run his offense, so when he did finally get a chance to use it..it was a jury-rigged frankenstein rather than a smooth running machine) but it was something. It was intelligent play calling, it was using your quarterbacks as more than just Running backs who sometimes lateral the ball forward on accident.

It was a planned cerebral attack on the weak points of an opponent by a man who knew exactly what he was doing. The execution was sometimes pained (switching between Les Miles thinking and Crowton's is, I say again, not a smooth or easy one!) but the reasoning behind it was never sloppy.

Sure, there are lots of people who might doubt me out there. Shallow-minded fans who lazily cursed Crowton's without any real understanding...

But I'll tell you now. If Gary Crowton had been LSU's offensive coordinator tonight. LSU might have just come away with the Crystal Ball a second time in Miles career. Instead of laying down and dying in 3rd and 4th, LSU's offensive would have come alive..and if nothing else..made a stand.

And made a boring game interesting.
So here's to the Crowton Factor.

LSU's missing ingredient for a Championship

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