LSU-Arkansas reactions and top 5 commentary

In Post-game, Rankings Commentary on November 28, 2010 at 5:00 AM

People are going to say different things about LSU here, so I thought I would refute some of those things before they were said.

They’re going to say LSU had no defense or poor defense (although to their credit, Lou Holtz and Rece Davis did not say this). That’s not really accurate. There were a number of really good plays that went out of the window with just a couple of bad plays.

The first long Arkansas touchdown wasn’t a bad play really. There was just a small window of room along the sideline (along with what seemed to be a bad angle by the defender) and Arkansas was able to exploit it. It was a very good read by Mallett, an even better throw, and a good job by the receiver in figuring out how to get to the end zone. I was just watching the Dolphins and the Raiders, and Miami had a similar touchdown where the corner took an angle toward the sideline and up toward the receiver, allowing him to go up the sidelines, so it wasn’t a horribly bad defensive play.

But the Arkansas touchdown to end the first half was deadly. Beuerlein said it was because LSU didn’t play prevent, but I disagree. LSU had enough people back behind the play, but the two initial defenders collided, allowing the receiver to get the angle to the end zone without having to slow down much. I understand the LSU defender who made the jump was trying to make a good play, but the only play necessary or even helpful was anything that stopped Arkansas from scoring.

It wasn’t a smart move, but it was still a freak accident that the play eliminated the other defender and resulted in an 80-yard touchdown when there were 6 seconds left in the half when the play began.

Then, LSU made a number of good plays to get Arkansas into a 4th and 3 situation outside of field goal range. But Arkansas, who just like Ole Miss last week was the team who took more chances, went for it, and the LSU player (1) allowed too much of a buffer and (2) bit on a hesitation by the receiver, allowing another crucial touchdown.

The play-calling wasn’t ideal there either.

So those two plays alone were 120 of the passing yards (officially, 119) by Arkansas, more than 200 when you add in the first long touchdown. Arkansas only had 116 passing yards apart from those three plays.

This was an interesting read on a couple of the big plays LSU has given up in recent weeks. I don’t agree with any implication that Hatcher missed anyone on purpose. It just seems like a lack of awareness, but regardless of what the fundamental problem is, sometimes a defense is no stronger than its weakest link. There are parallels to when Alabama’s Julio Jones scored a touchdown last year, it was just one odd play that Patrick Peterson happened to be on the sidelines. LSU had only four returning starters on defense, and in just a few situations, enough to keep LSU out of a BCS bowl, it showed.

For an SEC game, the officiating was very good, but LSU still got the short end of the stick, particularly before LSU’s field goal that closed the gap to 21-20. The LSU receiver was hit multiple times with the ball in the air. He was not knocked down or completely stopped from catching the ball, but that was pretty clearly an interference. I don’t think that Arkansas stops LSU from scoring a touchdown if LSU gets a first and goal from the 2.

So if you take just a few plays, maybe even just two of them, and they go differently, LSU likely could have just run out the clock at the end of the game.

I didn’t even mention the two times LSU had the ball on the ground and just didn’t get down on the ground properly to it. One of them led to Ryan Mallett throwing an interception in the LSU end zone and the other led to a missed field goal by Arkansas; but the latter would have given LSU the ball deep in Arkansas territory, possibly leading to a touchdown, and the former could have averted the whole situation at the end of the first half. Of course there were similar blown opportunities for Arkansas, so I don’t know if that was a distinct LSU disadvantage in that aspect.

People are also going to say LSU was overrated. Nonsense. A one-loss SEC team, in the better division in an unusually unbalanced year, with two strong non-conference opponents, deserves to be 5th at the absolute worst. Anyone who didn’t think Arkansas had a decent chance to win was crazy, but even if you thought Arkansas was going to win (and to be honest, I did), when schedules are that similar, a two-loss team doesn’t go ahead of a one-loss team.

I can hear it now, “Well, at least you must realize that LSU shouldn’t have been ahead of Oregon in your ratings.”

No, I don’t realize that, either from the typical team vs. team arguments or from the numbers I add into the formula. I would have absolutely no confidence that Oregon would go to Arkansas (or to Alabama, for that matter) and win. They struggled to beat Cal (who just finished 5-7) the last time they went on the road, and I’m supposed to believe they’d beat Arkansas?

Furthermore, Oregon had one fewer game behind it going into this week. I did a projection after Friday’s games of what would happen if all the more highly-rated teams won. Oregon came out ahead of LSU. Just barely, so I don’t know for sure if that would have happened had both teams won out, but that’s something I just can’t get people to understand. There is no element of projection or prediction in my ratings. It’s all about what you and your opponents (and your opponents’ opponents) have done so far. As a side note, Oklahoma St. was still in the mix too, but not anymore.

What most pollsters are saying when they vote is that they would expect the higher-rated team to win a neutral field, and also that by winning (unless it’s a particularly ugly game) a team is going to stay put. To rank a team as such, you have to believe they will eventually be challenged enough to justify the ranking. So those are two forward-looking aspects that I do not measure. I’d rather know the cold numbers of who has done what to this point, and I do feel that my ratings give those numbers.

People are also going to say Arkansas was just the better team, but I don’t believe that. I do believe that about Auburn (even though LSU had plenty of opportunities to win that one as well), but this was just two good teams and while neither played particularly well, LSU didn’t take advantage of its superior talent, in my opinion. The offense was adequate, which is a victory as far as that’s concerned for LSU this season, but the defense just wasted a vast majority of really good plays with those few bad plays, and it sort of snowballed when they were worn out at the end.

Certainly there were games where LSU didn’t even play like a top 60 team (at least not on offense) and came away from a win, and this was not a good enough performance to feel cheated at not getting a win. But with the game Arkansas played, it’s very disappointing that LSU didn’t take advantage nearly the way they could have and should have. That happens in these tough environments though. That’s one reason LSU has never won the West in an even year: trips to Auburn, Florida, and Arkansas.

I won’t be upset if Arkansas goes to a better bowl game than LSU will. North Carolina and West Virginia, even though that’s two good games instead of one, are not as good as Texas A&M, whom Arkansas played and beat out of conference. LSU usually has a tougher SEC schedule, but that wasn’t the case this year: Arkansas played South Carolina and Georgia, and LSU played Florida and Tennessee (both played Vanderbilt).

I think losing to Arkansas and Auburn is better than losing to Alabama and Auburn, but I think combined with the considerations above, you also go with the hot team. Arkansas is 6-0 since October 19, and LSU is 3-2 since October 19.

I’m afraid LSU is going to have another uninspired bowl game. You play the whole season like this with only one loss to the #1 team in the country, playing for a BCS bowl or even a possible championship-game berth (which looked even more possible for a good 14 hours), and now you’re not playing for anything*, and you have a month off to think about it. And whoever LSU plays has a chance to knock off an SEC team that has two BCS national championships in the previous seven seasons.

* I’m not trying to be obnoxious, but a second-tier bowl trophy doesn’t really amount to playing for anything if you’re a team like LSU. I certainly haven’t forgotten when LSU went all those years (6 in a row and 8 of 11) without going to any bowl game, so a 10-win season is always a success to me, but I remember a lot more bad LSU teams than teenagers on the team do, and the players on this team expect much bigger things for themselves than the early 1990s LSU players did. We’re playing for division championships, then conference championships, then national championships if that’s available. If we can’t get one of those, we’re playing for BCS bowls (like in 2006). Playing for a nice win on TV (which is much of what those games are about) is such a huge step down from there, putting the game lower than at least a few regular-season games, I just don’t expect that there will be much passion in the bowl preparation even though this coaching staff is very good at bowl preparation.

A note on Les Miles after his 6th regular season. Miles has won 78.2% of his games at LSU, but this would have been the first time that the Tigers started 11-1 under Miles. He is 0-3 in games that would have given the Tigers an 11-1 record, including 0-2 against Arkansas in such games. (In his first season with the Tigers in 2005, the 12th game was the SEC Championship Game against Georgia.) I’m going to re-publish and update my rivalry blog about Arkansas, which I mention because such happenings have been common in the LSU-Arkansas series.

Apologies to anyone upset, as some have been in the past, with my anticipation of arguments, but it’s just easier to address them at the outset. Feel free to come up with some I did not so easily anticipate.

Anyway, there is a bright side. LSU technically had only 12 returning starters this year and was 21st in the preseason AP poll, 20 spots behind Alabama, whom they beat, and 17 spots behind Florida, whom they beat. Arkansas was four spots ahead. Tied for second in the SEC in conference wins is certainly better than was projected. Many divisional picks had LSU third in the West, if not fourth after Auburn. Even if we lose the bowl game, this is still one fewer loss than last year, which in turn was one fewer loss than the year before. One more thing. Going backwards in time based on the most recent championship, the number of losses by BCS champions since 2003:
2009-Alabama, 3
2008 and 2006-Florida, 5
2007 and 2003-LSU, 2
2005-Texas, 7
2004-USC, 5

Hopefully, the combination of right now and recent history will serve LSU well on the recruiting trail. By the way, that’s another important aspect of the bowl game LSU will play in, but again, it’s probably a tough sell on the players.

  1. […] Some have over-reacted to some of the top teams here, so I decided to do projections. I did the first round after Friday and I mentioned those results in my LSU-Arkansas post-game blog. […]

  2. Hey, give credit where credit is due. Mallett has an arm that is a 80 TD every play and that is why they are as good as they are. They need to be ranked over LSU because they are clearly better when it comes to showtime. Arkansas exist on the big pass plays because it is a big part of their offince and your team was not ready for such accuracy. So go cry some place else.

  3. Go “cry” some place other than my own blog?

    Letting Arkansas score to end the first half was a result of one LSU defender knocking the other one over, not Mallett’s greatness. I did give him credit for the other two long TD passes.

    He was also intercepted a couple of times and could have been intercepted even more than that.

    How did showtime against Auburn and Alabama work out?

  4. He really struggled toward the end against Alabama.

    LSU giving up the three plays I mentioned and only allowing 10 points outside of that shows that those plays were the exception and not the rule.

    I’m not writing this to assess Mallett. I’m mostly interested in assessing LSU, and they screwed up more than they were just blown away by talent. If we didn’t have the talent to handle it, I’d admit it, but I don’t believe that.

    Auburn and Alabama don’t have the best secondaries.

  5. […] The two teams exchanged home wins in 2008 and 2009, and of course I gave my reactions to this year’s game here. […]

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