This article was copied from the Times-Picayune Sports Desk Log.
Miles gets all he bargained for
Sunday, 09/11, 2:20 a.m.
John Davis

TEMPE, ARIZ. – Les Miles expected coaching at LSU to be a challenge, an adventure and a rewarding experience.

He just didn’t expect all of it to happen by the time his first game ended.

“Here’s what’s happened,” he said after a 35-31 season-opening victory over Arizona State on Saturday night. “We have been through the longest training camp in the history of training camps, surrounded by a real life trauma, not a movie that was made for TV.

“They are treating people who are injured and disabled in our stadium, and our team has done its part and showed its heart. But when they stepped between the white lines they were able to keep their focus and do what they needed to do.”

Miles and his team rode an emotional roller coaster for two weeks, only to find another one – the football variety – ready to sweep them up in Sun Devil Stadium as the teams slugged it out like a pair of heavyweights.

The fifth-ranked Tigers and No. 15 Sun Devils traded leads on five consecutive touchdowns until LSU pulled ahead for good on a 39-yard pass from JaMarcus Russell to Early Doucet on fourth-and-10 with 2:54 remaining.

“The LSU Tigers just would not be denied,” Miles said. “They were going to find a way to win. They wanted this game for the people back home.”

The Tigers paid tribute to victims of Hurricane Katrina by wearing decals on their helmets of the American flag, the three states that incurred the wrath of the storm and the Fleur-de-Lis, symbolic of the New Orleans city flag.

“We knew we weren’t just playing this game for ourselves,” Doucet said. “It has been such an emotional time for everyone, but we stayed together as a family.

“That’s what we have done as a team, and that’s what people the people of Louisiana and the entire region have done. When you stand as a family, you become stronger in all walks of life.”

LSU became stronger as the game wore on after trailing 17-7 late in the third quarter. A blocked field-goal attempt and a blocked punt went for touchdowns in the space of one minute, 20 seconds early in the fourth quarter, putting the Tigers ahead - and each time the Sun Devils regained the lead, LSU fought back.

It was the kind of spirit Miles has seen in his team throughout the ordeal that forced the Tigers’ first game against North Texas to be cancelled and Saturday’s game to be moved to Arizona on short notice.

Hurricane evacuees staying at Veterans Memorial Coliseum were given free tickets, adding to the support for the “home” team from Baton Rouge.

“We had some jitters and made a lot of first-game mistakes,” Miles said. “But our team has grown closer through this time and through this game.

“I have a feeling there were a lot of people in Louisiana staying up late to watch this game. We really look forward to coming home and playing in Tiger Stadium again.”