The Colossal Misevaluations of the Mad Hatter-The Russell Shepard Identity

Three yards and a cloud of dust…or bust was the theme of game day.
Dec 3, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles reacts to Jordan Jefferson (9) against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first half of the 2011 SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome.  Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles reacts to Jordan Jefferson (9) against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first half of the 2011 SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports / Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach the 2024 college football season, former LSU head coach Les Miles is back in the news. The Mad Hatter is suing his former employer, Louisiana State University, for ruining his chances at induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. LSU vacated some of the wins recorded by Miles as part of the school’s response to the findings in a case involving recruiting violations during his tenure in Baton Rouge.

While Miles’s style of play was run right, run left, run up the middle, and punt, the Tigers did win the 2007 national championship and played for another during Miles’s tenure as the head man in Baton Rouge.

Before the vacated wins, with Miles at the helm, the Tigers posted seven seasons of 10+ wins, including a 13-1 campaign in 2011 and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. The defenses under Miles were a purple reign of terror for opposing offenses.

2005-2012, the Tigers allowed opponents less than 20 points per game in seven of those eight seasons. The LSU offense, however, left a lot to be desired at times. During that same time, the LSU offense fielded a Top 20 offense in just three of those eight seasons (2006, 2007, and 2011).

Maddening personnel decisions (or the lack thereof) by the Mad Hatter put the Tigers in less-than-ideal conditions to win ball games. And none were as perplexing as what can only be considered a gross misevaluation of talent on the part of Miles as it related to Russell Shepard.

Russell Shepard: Dual-Threat Phenom

Shepard was the engine that drove the offense at Cypress Ridge High School in Houston, Texas in the fall of 2008. As the top dual-threat quarterback in America, the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the great State of Texas, and the No. 3 overall prospect, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, Shepard put together a stellar senior season and put the college football world on notice.

As a Parade All-American and 2nd Team All-USA Today selection, Shepard accounted for almost 4,000 yards of total offense.

Shepard passed for 1,843 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only four INTs. In addition, Shepard rushed for 1,946 yards and 28 touchdowns, accounting for 3,789 total yards and 48 TDs.

For his prep career, Sheppard posted over 8,000 yards of total offense and 98 total TDs: 32 passing and 66 rushing. As a tribute, Sheppard’s jersey (No. 10) was retired…just a few weeks after his final game as a senior

After receiving multiple scholarship offers, Shepard signed with Miles and LSU.

Russell Sheppard at LSU 2009-2012

Miles put the talented freshman Shepard on the field in 2009, albeit at three different positions on offense: running back, wide receiver, and quarterback. At quarterback, his natural position, Shepard played only 28 snaps, and those were mostly in the wildcat formation.

Shepard played 40 snaps at the running back position and logged 22 snaps on the perimeter as a receiver. Sheppard scored two touchdowns as a running back, including a 69-yard run in a win over Auburn.

For his LSU career, Shepard recorded over 1,200 yards of total offense and 10 touchdowns, mostly from the running back and wide receiver positions.

Head Scratchers by the Mad Hatter: Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee?

Jordan Jefferson was the Louisiana Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year in 2007, leading Destrehan High School to an undefeated season (15-0) and the 5A state title. Jefferson passed for 2,846 yards, 24 TDs, and only three INTs.

Jarrett Lee was ranked among the top three high school quarterbacks in Texas and was named to the Houston Chronicle Top 100. Lee passed for 2,384 yards and 28 touchdowns his senior year.

Jefferson and Lee had platooned at quarterback all season in 2011. Neither had set the world on fire from the pocket. Lee was named the starter and played in 13 games and passed for a little over 1,300 yards, 14 TDs, and only 3 INTs. Over the first eight games, Lee passed for 13 touchdowns and only one INT. Then he threw two INTs in Tuscaloosa and Miles escorted Lee to his special place on the bench.

The following week against Western Kentucky, Lee completed one pass for 17 yards and no touchdowns and was never seen behind center again the rest of the season.

By contrast, Jefferson did not play in the first four weeks of the season and did not attempt a pass until he was inserted into the game in week six against Florida. Throughout the season, Jefferson turned in these less-than-mediocre performances:

·       at Alabama: 67 yards passing, zero touchdowns in a 9-6 win.

·       at Ole Miss: 7 of 7 passing for 88 yards, one TD in a 52-3 victory.

·       vs Georgia (SEC Championship Game): 5 of 13 passing, 38% comp. pct., one TD in a 42-10 win.

2011 Campaign: 13-1 and a Rematch with Alabama in the National Title Game

Miles coached the Tigers to an undefeated regular season in 2011, and then a 32-point win over the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game. Their reward was a rematch against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game 60 miles down the road from the LSU campus in the New Orleans Superdome, a de facto home game for the Tigers. LSU had won the first game of the season with the Crimson Tide on the road in a battle of field goals for a 9-6 victory.

It was the best of times. In New Orleans, it was the worst of times. It was a tale of two LSU teams.

In the regular season, the Tigers scored 35 points per game on offense and allowed a stingy 11.3 points per game to their opponents. But the seemingly juggernaut LSU offense was ground to a halt and shut out when it counted the most.

Notable LSU Stats vs Alabama in BCS Title Game:

Jefferson was 11 of 17 passing, 53 yards, zero TDs, one INT. Lee did not play. Shepard had zero touches and zero TDs. The Tigers gained just five first downs, were held to 92 total yards, and committed two turnovers.

By contrast, Alabama gained 384 total yards, committed zero turnovers, and was penalized just once in the game.

In the first three quarters, it was a field goal fest, albeit one-sided, and the scores was 6-0 at halftime. The Crimson Tide defense allowed the Tigers to cross midfield only once and built an impenetrable gauntlet around the end zone. Final score: Alabama 21 – LSU 0.

What if Miles and his staff had adjusted at halftime, and changed quarterbacks to maybe provide a spark for the anemic Tiger offense? What if Offensive Coordinator Greg Studrawa had called a better game, inserted Shepard at the Wildcat QB, and Sheppard sparked the Tigers across midfield more than once and set up more scoring opportunities?

Shepard’s athleticism and dual-threat skill set could have made a difference against an Alabama defense that more than likely had not game planned for him.

Miles’s failure to use Shepard as a weapon of mass offensive production throughout his career is one of the worst misevaluations of talent in college football history.

Next. How LSU fans are reacting to Les Miles' lawsuit. How LSU fans are reacting to Les Miles' lawsuit. dark