Les Miles on LSU’s Early Season Success: “Maybe some of the adversity we faced made us a little tighter.”

October 7, 2011 – 7:00 am by Eric Schmoldt

Adversity struck the LSU Tigers program before their 2011 season even began. In early August, offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and subsequently relieved himself from most of his duties. Later in the month, just prior to the start of the season, starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson was arrested for his involvement in a bar fight. He was suspended as a result. Jefferson has served his time though, and will return this week now that charges have been lessened.

Yet, through all of this, the Tigers have vaulted to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll thanks to victories over Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia, all away from home. Coach Les Miles believes all of the August issues only made his team stronger.

Les Miles joined Westwood One’s NCAA Football Insider to discuss how happy he is with his team’s start to the season, how the Tigers found their identity so early on, the issues LSU had to deal with in August, the resurrection of Jarrett Lee’s career and the play of Tyrann Mathieu.

Given your team’s schedule thus far and the results, how happy are you with what you’ve seen?:

“They’ve really kind of identified who they are. They’ve played three road games against nationally ranked opponents and really played extremely well. … I think there’s some guys here that want a very special season and that comes with hard work. I think they’re willing to understand that and do that.”

How hard is it for a team to find an identity this early on in a season as you say your team has?:

“You have to when you start versus a top-five opponent on the road. There was no question our football team was going to be questioned and have to answer who they were on the road right away against a very fine Oregon team. That helped, really, identify how we would perform and how we would compete and how we would play as we went forward. Certainly we played Mississippi State and West Virginia, again, all on the road. At this point in time, we’re a pretty comfortable team in how we expect to play.”

Between off-the-field situations and coaching illnesses and issues, it seems like nothing is too big for your team to handle:

“That’s the mark of a great team. We think that the coaching staff is a group of men that is very committed to each other. Credit Steve Kragthorpe. He’s got plenty of help; there’s really not a health issue there at all. … Nobody in the room is bullied by or restricted by title. It’s the sum total of the skills and abilities in the room. … That’s a real strength of ours. And I think our kids, our team, understands that if you’re going to have a team that’s ambition about the back end — if you want to be a champion — you’re going to some crisis during the year. … You will have a reason to have your teammates’ back and our guys play that way. They’re a very close-knit group. Maybe some of the adversity we faced made us a little tighter.”

Talk about the revival of quarterback Jarrett Lee:

“He never stopped competing as a starter no matter what position he was in. He could always throw it and I think he’s matured extremely well. He’s a guy who’s a great teammate. What’s best for the team is kind of his motto. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Have you ever seen a guy the size of a Tyrann Mathieu (5-9, 175) have such an impact at this level?:

“I’ve got to be real honest with you. I don’t see him as small. I see him as big and fast and aggressive and with the mindset that, ‘I’m fixing to make a bigtime play.’ … That stature that he carries on to the field does not represent any limitations in his size or his speed. He makes those plays and I don’t know that I recognize any limitations.”

Listen to Les Miles on Westwood One here

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