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Archive for the ‘Rivalry’ Category

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on November 22, 2018 at 5:06 PM

I planned to write something Wednesday, my first day off work for Thanksgiving,but I woke up sick and ended up sleeping most of the day.

There are a lot of great rivalries this week (see my blog about the battle of the A&Ms [Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College and Texas A&M] ,and see last week’s blog for mention of some rivalries I’ve enjoyed over the years), but there are plenty of stories about them and previews of the big games by other outlets, so I wanted to write something a little different (although also in the theme of this week’s games as many coaches will be coaching their last games at their current schools). If you ever play six degrees of Will Muschamp (or whatever you would call a game that involves who coached with whom), this could be useful. 

For more about a somewhat unappreciated rivalry though, former LSU beat writer Ross Dellenger wrote good article for the Sports Illustrated about the Egg Bowl and especially some of the coaches.  The only thing I disagreed with was his characterization of Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke as mild-mannered just because he’s respectful of other teams and coaches.  He’s extremely animated during games though. 

I’ve given more attention to the Mississippi schools than most people do, even people who write extensively about the SEC, but I haven’t talked that much about Ole Miss playing Mississippi St.  I did write about former Mississippi St. head coaches Sylvester Croom and Jackie Sherill (first sub-section under the heading A&M coaches), both of whom are mentioned in the article (and both of whom played for and coached with Bear Bryant, another former Texas A&M coach, at Alabama).  Of course I wrote about Ole Miss’s series with their second and third rivals, LSU and Vanderbilt (third section), and Mississippi St.’s series with their second rival LSU (there isn’t much worth writing about the series with their #3 Alabama).

Anyway, that article about the Egg Bowl got me thinking about a lot of coaches from the 1990s and early 2000s, partly because of stories like that and partly from things that have come up during Ed Orgeron press conferences in the last few weeks. 

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007.

Orgeron coached Ole Miss for a few Egg Bowls (winning only one), but before that he was the strength coach at Arkansas under Ken Hatfield, who also happened to be the coach of Rice the last time LSU played them before this season (1995).

Orgeron was asked about the Saints on Monday, and he seemed very excited about their performance this year.  I had forgotten that he was a Saints assistant for a season before joining Lane Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee.  Not that he wasn’t a fan long before that having grown up in Cajun country and having been a close personal friend to (and high school and college teammate of) former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. 

Orgeron also mentioned his affinity for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who was the secondary coach the year Orgeron spent in New Orleans.  After returning to the Saints in 2015, Allen became defensive coordinator when Rob Ryan was fired.

Rob Ryan as Oklahoma St. offensive coordinator in the 1990s.

Orgeron also said he was very happy for Les Miles after his hiring by Kansas.  I found out that in 1997 Miles was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma St. at the same time that Ryan was the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma St. (I usually would say the Cowboys; but that could be confusing since both Miles and Ryan also coached for the Dallas Cowboys, though at different times). Those two characters on the same coaching staff must have been interesting.  The combination worked though: that was the one year between 1988 and Miles’s tenure as head coach in Stillwater (2001-04, during which the team made three bowl games) that Oklahoma St. reached a bowl game.  When Miles went to Dallas, Ryan stayed; but the college Cowboys’ fortunes declined (not that the NFL Cowboys improved either).

When Miles returned to Oklahoma St. as head coach, his offensive coordinator was Mike Gundy, who would take Les’s place as head coach and remains in that position today.  Les’s next offensive coordinator(when he got to LSU) was a guy named Jimbo Fisher, whom Miles inherited from Saban. 

When Miles won the Houston Bowl in 2002, he became the fourth head coach in 40 year sto coach Oklahoma St. to a bowl win.  The second of those coaches was Jimmy Johnson, who played at Arkansas with Hatfield and who hired Orgeron at the University of Miami.  Johnson also coached some other Cowboys to “Bowl”wins. 

Jimmy Johnson as head coach of Oklahoma St. in 1983. After the year he lost out to Ken Hatfield when Arkansas needed a replacement for Lou Holtz as head coach.

To go back to Fisher, of course it so happens that he’ll be the head coach of LSU’s opponent this weekend.  He also happens to be the head coach of fullback Ben Miles, Les’s son. 

I remember Fisher’s last season at LSU very well. LSU’s 7-3 loss to Auburn still stands out in my mind.  Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with all of his calls in that game; but some credit goes to Auburn’s defensive coordinator Muschamp ( later head coach at Florida and now head coach at South Carolina).  Auburn’s head coach for that game was Tommy Tuberville, who came up in that Egg Bowl story because he was head coach at Ole Miss before going to Auburn, so that takes us full circle in this story. 

I wanted to mention a couple other items of interest from the 2006 season.  That season marked current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s first foray into college football, as offensive coordinator for later-Ole-Miss-head-coach Houston Nutt at Arkansas.  Arkansas won the SEC West that year but lostin the regular-season finale to LSU before losing to Florida (the eventual national champions who helped prevent LSU from winning the West). 

Future Kansas head coaches Charlie Weis and Les Miles converse after the (January) 2007 Sugar Bowl.

Since the Tigers’ only losses all year were Florida and that Auburn game I mentioned,this allowed LSU to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.  LSU’s opponent was Notre Dame, then coached by Charlie Weis.  Weis has something elsein common with Miles: both were later hired as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. I hope, unlike Weis, Miles can win 22% or more of his games as head coach with the Jayhawks though.

This is the first game between LSU and Texas A&M in four years where there will not be some major drama about either respective coaching staff. Last year, the game was the last of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in College Station.  News of his firing had been leaked earlier in the week.  In the previous year, Ed Orgeron was just an interim coach; the interim tag was only removed after deals could not be reached with Tom Herman or (coincidentally enough) Fisher.    

The year prior, news had leaked of Miles being fired, but as with many Miles stories, that turned out not to be the case. In slight defense of the media, there had not been a decision to keep Miles before the game either.  But again after a lack of desirable candidates at suitable terms emerged, a decision was made to keep him (though his reprieve turned out to only be until the following September).  Fisher was also mentioned at that time. 

Despite all the drama and mixed emotions of those three games, LSU’s physicality was able to overcome Texas A&M’s finesse on each occasion LSU has played Texas A&M since and including the 2010 Cotton Bowl, which was the first meeting between the two schools this century and which pre-dated by about 20 months the Aggies’ participation as an SEC program (and Kevin Sumlin’s first game).  The character of Texas A&M has changed since Fisher replaced Sumlin.  The Aggies have become a team that runs really well (on conventional running plays, not just option pitches and quarterback runs) and also stops the run really well, so this will be a different challenge for the Tigers. If LSU wins, it will set the record for longest winning streak in the series.

In another tie to the Kansas hiring of Miles, the man Miles is replacing in Lawrence, David Beaty, was an assistant of Sumlin at Texas A&M from 2012 to 2014.  So he was an assistant during the last game in which there was not major drama around either coaching staff (although there was some disquiet since each team entered the game with four losses). 

An artist’s rendition of Kevin Sumlin (left) and John Chavis as Texas A&M coaches.

There was some drama involving the assistant coaches after the 2014 game, but not until later.  About five weeks after the Tigers held the Aggies to just 17 points in that contest, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was hired by the Aggies to the same position (he was fired along with Sumlin after the LSU game last year).  Chavis now occupies that position at Arkansas. 

Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, and Jimbo Fisher pose for the picture of the 2004 LSU coaching staff.  Later Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was on staff, as was current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

There are no hard feelings if you ask me though. LSU is better off with Dave Aranda, who has been in the position since a year after Chavis left.  LSU’s defensive coordinator for the intervening year (hired along with Orgeron) was Kevin Steele, who, as DC for Auburn, will face Alabama (another former employer of his) during the Iron Bowl.  He replaced the aforementioned Will Muschamp, who was on LSU’s staff at the same time as Jimbo Fisher.

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Week 12: Not Rivalry Week Yet

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU, History, Me, Preview, Rivalry on November 16, 2018 at 7:42 PM

Apart from some remotely possibly upsets of top teams (I mentioned Clemson and Notre Dame in the Rankings blog), I’m not wildly excited about any of the matchups this week.   I still thought of somethings I’d like to talk about. 

The Former Rivalry Week

I miss the days where this was THE main rivalry week. 

The Big Ten used to finish up for good, but now they have 3 more weeks including the championship.  Tomorrow it will be exactly 11 years since Ohio St. beat Michigan, probably with no suspicion that they were about to be involved in the craziest ending to a college football season in recent memory.  Although the Buckeyes were ranked only #7 going into that final game, they would enter the bowls as the #1 team in the BCS standings.  Despite its second loss coming in the last regularly-scheduled game, LSU would become the surprise #2 after winning the SEC championship on the same day Numbers 1 and 2 in the BCS (Missouri and West Virginia) both lost. 

LSU LB Ali Highsmith gets to the ball before Ohio St. QB Todd Boeckman can throw it in LSU’s 38-24 championship win in New Orleans on January 7, 2008.

Anyway, I bring that up because the normal time of year for Ohio St. to play Michigan going back to the 1930s was between about November 17 and November 24.  2007 just happened to be the last time the game was on the 17th.  The end of the Big Ten season got pushed closer to the end of November in 2010; and then with the start of the Big Ten Championship game in 2011, the Big Ten season now extends into December.. 

Some Big Ten teams finished conference play even earlier.  For instance, in 2005, Wisconsin played its last Big Ten game on November 12.  There were 11 teams in the Big Ten then, so I guess the Badgers were the odd men out for the rivalry week.  Other end-of-season rivalries in the Big Ten were Minnesota-Iowa, Michigan St.-Penn St., Purdue-Indiana, and Illinois-Northwestern.

Althoughit was often played later (and only became the traditional final regular-seasongame in 1977), Florida played Florida St. on November 17 as recently as 2001.  2001 was also the last time UCLA played USC onNovember 17.  Sometimes there was a latergame for one or both schools, but it was the second-to-last Saturday inNovember going back to the 1970s.

17 Nov 2001: Kevin Arbet tackles Craig Bragg as USC upsets UCLA 27-0 to qualify for a bowl game in Pete Carroll’s first year with the Trojans.

Another big rivalry that used to be the second-to-last Saturday in November was Oklahoma-Nebraska.  It was permanently moved to the last Saturday in November in the early 1990s before it stopped being an annual game in 1998.  Of course Nebraska was a much more important team in those days than they are today.  The date would sometimes vary a week or so, but the rivalry had been played around that time of year since the 1940s.

The Iron Bowl was played between November 17 and November 23 every year from 1993 through 2006.  Those were the first 14 seasons in which I had a meaningful interest in college football on the national level, though I followed LSU for about 5 years before that. 

Anyway, so I think that’s enough explanation of why I always feel like something is missing this week, especially since it became the week for the SEC to take it easy. 

How the SEC Schedule for Mid-November Deteriorated

Although it had been done occasionally a few times before (for instance, South Carolina played Middle Tennessee the week before Clemson in 2006; and LSU played Conference-USA opponents before Arkansas a few times in the 1990s), Alabama led the way with a real commitment to this trend. 

Startingin 2007, the Tide has usually had a bye before the LSU game, so since theycouldn’t have another bye before Auburn, they played UL-Monroe.  The ended up losing to LSU, Auburn, and ULMin 2007; but that didn’t deter Alabama from that strategy.  In 2008, the Tide did the opposite (byebefore Auburn, non-conference game before LSU), and it worked.  Alabama only went a combined 3-3 against LSUand Auburn between 2009 and 2011, but they’re a combined 11-2 in regularly-scheduledgames against the two rivals since.

For itspart, LSU played Tulane the week before the Alabama game in 2008 and 2009,which did not work.  Then LSU went to thebye before Alabama (which worked for two years and hasn’t worked since), but theprecedent was already set.  Sometimes it’sin late October instead of November, but the Tigers have had a late-seasonnon-conference game most of the years since. They did not have one in 2016 only because of rescheduling that resultedfrom the hurricane that hit Florida. 

Auburn has been more consistent.  Except for 2013 when the Plains-Tigers were able to use a second bye before Alabama, Auburn has had a non-conference opponent the week before Alabama every year since 2011.

Georgia originally scheduled its late-season non-conference opponent before Auburn, but in 2014 the Bulldogs changed it to the week before Georgia Tech.  I’m not sure why it wasn’t done that way last year, but Georgia is back to that pattern this year. 

A few of the less significant SEC programs are still playing regular games, but the SEC schedule leaves a lot to be desired…

Ole Miss-Vanderbilt Headlines This Week’s SEC Schedule

Anyway, so we are now at the stage where the big SEC rivalry game this week is Ole Miss-Vanderbilt.  I’ll explain why.

Arkansas has played Mississippi St. annually since 1992, but the Bulldogs have won 5 of 6 in the series, and the Hogs are only 2-8 on the season.  Arkansas could back into a single-digit game like they did against LSU last week, but I hardly expect high drama.  So that’s not a game to watch. 

Missouri and Tennessee (the CBS game of the week) have slightly better combined records than Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, but that’s only been a rivalry (of sorts) since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012.  It hasn’t been a very interesting one either.  Missouri ended both 2015 and 2016 really badly and lost to the Vols in the process.  The Tigers won the other games.  The only game of the six decided by fewer than 8 points was in 2012 (when each team would finish 5-7).

Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, however, is a competitive longstanding rivalry between fairly evenly-matched teams. Since 2005, the only SEC team against which the Commodores have a winning record is Ole Miss (7-6).  Vanderbilt won 5 of 6 in the series from 2007 to 2012, but Ole Miss responded by winning the next 3.  The two programs have exchanged home wins over the past two years.  The Commodores have won 4 of the last 6 games played against the Rebels in Vanderbilt Stadium. 

The three touchdowns by Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb (#7) were the difference in Nashville two years ago. The Commodores had ended a 3-game series winning streak by the Rebels.

As for this year’s respective teams, both are near .500 and have identical 1-5 conference records.  Nonetheless,Vanderbilt could still guarantee a bowl game by finishing the season with home wins over the Rebels and the Volunteers, their two biggest historical rivals.  The Rebels are still on probation and ineligible for a bowl, but I’m sure there is motivation to avoid a losing record and potentially finish with a winning record (which they could do by beating Vanderbilt and winning the Egg Bowl over Mississippi St.).

LSU and Rice Renew a Rivalry Few Missed

One other rivalry I’d like to mention is LSU-Rice.  It was before my time, but this used to be an annual series.  Other than in-state (former/sporadic) rival Tulane, LSU has played Rice more than any other team that is currently outside of the SEC. LSU and Rice played each other every year between 1932 and 1952 and every year but one between 1955 and 1983.  The only meetings between 1983 and this season were in 1987 and 1995.

Rice has only beaten the Tigers once since 1966.  However, despite LSU winning a national championship in 1958, it was a competitive series between 1955 and 1966.  Rice had a 5-4-2 record against LSU during that span. 

The most notable Rice win was in 1961.  The Owls denied the Tigers a chance at second national championship in four seasons.  After losing the opener to Rice 16-3, LSU would win the next 10 games including the Orange Bowl.  Rice would finish 7-4 and lose in the Bluebonnet Bowl, the Owls’ last bowl appearance until 2006.

Rice made 5 bowl games from 2006 to 2014, winning 3 of them, their only wins in bowl games since 1953 (they also lost the 1957 Cotton Bowl and the 1960 Sugar Bowl). 

The Owls have returned to their prior form since that 2014 bowl win though.  After falling just one win short of qualifying for a bowl for the fourth consecutive year in 2015 (with a 5-7 record), Rice has only won 5 games since the start of the 2016 season.  Two of those wins were over FCS opponent Prairie View A&M, including in the opener this year, which was Rice’s only victory in its last 21 contests.  Two of the other wins since 2016 were over UTEP, which finally ended a 20-game losing streak two weeks ago against Rice. The fifth win was over UNC-Charlotte, which only began playing in the FBS in the past few years.  

LSU-Alabama Post Mortem

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rivalry on November 7, 2018 at 4:24 PM

I wrote most of this toward the end of the game, but I’ve held onto this until now.  I prefer to spread my blogs out.

I did think it would be a much closer game, but my instincts about the LSU defense and Alabama offense were largely correct (if the Tide had converted the two extra points, my score guess would have been perfect). I did underestimate the Alabama defense and overestimate the LSU offense, but I wasn’t nearly as confident about what we would see when LSU had the ball.

I was upset by the picks of Alabama winning 41-17, 40-21 and so forth because if we had been scoring points, that probably would have meant we would have been around 50/50 in time of possession, probably better.  Had that been the case, there would have been no way we would have allowed 41. 

After 3 quarters, Alabama had about an 8-minute edge in time of possession.  But if you had told me that LSU would have less than 100 yards going into the final 16 minutes of the game (there was a long throw and a penalty right at the end of the third quarter), I would have predicted Alabama to have scored at least 30 by that time.

Also, had there been just a couple more minutes in time of possession for LSU (some of this was the fault of the play-calling), the first half would have ended with Alabama only up 9-0.

I think I was right to pick out the Missouri game as something analogous to what could be done in this game.  Instead of our offense committing turnovers inside our own 20, we helped out the Tide by sustaining very few drives.  Missouri completed drives in the early going and could go no further, and LSU failed to convert on drives late in game; but both teams struggled to do much of anything offensively most of the game.

LSU’s offense on average is probably a little bit behind Missouri (we outscored them against Georgia, but they almost doubled our score against Florida) and LSU’s defense is ahead (taking out the defensive score, the totals against Florida were within a couple of points; but Georgia’s offense scored almost twice as much against Missouri’s defense). Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but when I made the prediction Missouri had not yet played Florida.

I want to say a couple more things to keep the game in perspective.  These are not excuses or sour grapes, but I’m not going to say we’re just terrible and Alabama is just great without defending my team a little bit.

I’ve already seen people on Twitter saying, “We should be scoring, Tennessee scored 21 points, Arkansas scored 31.”  This was not a good performance by any stretch, but we’re not Arkansas or Tennessee.

If Alabama had scored 28 in the first quarter like they did against Tennessee, they might have let us score 21.

If they’d scored 41 by halftime like they did against Arkansas, they might have let us score 17 in the second half.  We may have also scored in the first half if their defense didn’t have time to catch its breath between LSU possessions.

When the Tide did go up in this game 29-0, we moved the ball pretty well to set up a first and goal (before a penalty and a turnover).  I don’t know the Alabama defensive personnel very well, but I’m pretty sure some of those guys jumping offsides to help us get there weren’t first-string.  Regardless, that was not nearly the same type of defense we saw earlier.  So had our defense been worse, we probably would have seen it sooner.

It just wasn’t our night in a couple of other ways.  K Cole Tracy had been perfect from 50 yards or fewer and he missed what should have been an easy 33-yarder. 

I already talked about the Devin White situation.  If you just look at the scoring, you might think nothing changed when he came in. That’s not quite true.  Alabama had to convert multiple third-and-longs to get that third touchdown.

This is what happens when you turn your back to Tua Tagovailoa.

Before the third and 16, you could tell LSU was doing a better job diagnosing some of the things the Tide was doing.  The touchdown was an improvised scramble rather than a designed run, so it’s not like Alabama did something weird before the play that the defense didn’t catch.  Someone should have been paying more attention to Tua during the play, but that’s another topic.  There was only one more score after that.  

Also, Burrow had multiple really good downfield throws in the first half, but at least a few were incomplete because of uncalled obvious pass interferences.  I’m not saying that would have made the game close, but it’s another reason 0 points isn’t really a fair representation of what we could do on offense.  We also had the ball at the Alabama 38 on another drive and punted.  One of the things I expressed concern about was a return to Burrow’s form against Florida, but this was much worse than that.

We’ve still done a lot considering how few starters returned this year (at least a couple of whom were hurt early), and Coach O didn’t inherit the kind of bench Alabama has had.  Saban built that up over a lot of years and a lot of national titles (and near-national-titles), taking a lot of players we couldn’t get or overlooked.  I’m sure they’ve done that to some other SEC teams too.  Maybe if Coach O were around years ago we would have recruited Irv Smith, Jr., or convinced Dylan Moses to keep his commitment.  

Anyway, point being, I didn’t think the game would be close because I didn’t think Alabama was really good or even possibly one of the best teams ever.  I’ve ranked Alabama #1 since last year for good reason, and I ranked LSU #24 in preseason (instead of higher) for good reason.  I also kept the Tigers ranked below Clemson and Notre Dame  (and Alabama above them) for longer than my computer did for the same reason. 

We did about 24 points better than I thought we would against Georgia, so being about 22 points worse than I thought this game kind of balances it out.  It’s hard to consistently do better than you should do on paper, and it’s been a challenge to people who make any kind of predictions to know when LSU will do that and when they won’t this year.

Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2018 at 4:24 PM

For more on what to expect from the LSU offense and general comments, please see Part I published on Wednesday.  This page links the major previous discussions of the LSU-Alabama Series.  LSU seems to have better kickers, but I’m not going to spend any time on that point.

Proposition: Alabama runs away with the game to score 40+ again (Intro)

What made me decide to split this into two blogs was how annoyed I was with how many people were picking Alabama to score 40+ while picking LSU to score <22. I listened to a couple of somewhat credible prognosticators on YouTube who did that based on Alabama’s stats.

One of them (SECfans, which I mentioned before) actually replied to my comment and asked if I thought Alabama’s offense was severely overrated due to the schedule.  I said that I didn’t think they were severely so, but in all the years I’ve been watching college football (I would say I had something like an adult appreciation of it starting in the mid-90s), there hasn’t been a top team who scored over 40 every game.

Historical Precedent in General

In the video, they had mentioned the 2005 Texas team that scored 41 points in the title game against USC.  A neutral-site bowl game isn’t really analogous to Tiger Stadium.  What might be analogous was when the Longhorns went to Ohio St. that year and were held to 25 points.  Also, late in the season the USC team in question had allowed 42 points at home to a Fresno St. team that would finish with 5 losses.

Vince Young runs for a touchdown in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

The best offense I’ve seen through 8 games was probably 2010 Oregon.  They had an even higher average (by less than a point, but still) than Alabama does now at 54.8 points per game.  That was despite having played a top 10 team at home and a top-25 team on the road, neither of which the Tide has done.

The 9th game was consistent with that, but in their 10th game, the Ducks went on the road to play the unranked Cal Bears and only won 15-13.  That was a Cal defense that would allow three different teams to score 48 or more against them.  Cal finished with a losing record that year.  I’d say it’s pretty likely LSU has a better defense this year than that team did then.

The Cal (Berkeley) defense held Oregon to about 40 fewer points than the Ducks’ average in their 2010 matchup.

One of the best SEC offenses was the 1996 Florida. Early on the Gators beat #2 Tennessee on the road, but apart from that game the Gators averaged 54 points per game through the first 8 games.  Then in early November, the Gators escaped Nashville (hardly an intimidating road environment by SEC standards) with only a 28-21 win.  A few weeks later, Florida St. held Florida to 21 for the Gators’ only loss of the season.  Of course Florida would then run away with the national championship against the Seminoles, 52-20.

Florida’s Danny Wuerffel led the Gator offense to over 50 points per game before being brought back down to earth in Nashville and Tallahassee (pictured).

I don’t mind if people are picking Alabama to score 35, for instance.  Maybe this Alabama offense is able to produce points just as well as and just as consistently as 1995 Nebraska, who was only held under 40 twice and never below 35.  That was the only team since World War II that won each game by at least 14, but the team who got within 14 was unranked and playing in Lincoln.  I just need to see this year’s Alabama play a better defense than Texas A&M or Missouri to believe they’re better than that Nebraska team.  Despite the Cornhuskers’ having won the national championship in 1994, the voters in 1995 were skeptical of Nebraska and did not move them up to #1 until the Huskers had beaten top-10 teams in consecutive weeks.

Historical Precedent in LSU-Alabama Series

I can also refer to past games in the LSU-Alabama rivalry. I mentioned the 2013 game in the last blog. LSU didn’t keep Alabama very far below their average, although they were on pace to do so for most of the game. More relevantly to this blog, the Tigers had averaged 40 points per game going in, and Alabama held LSU to less than half of that average.  The Tigers have a lot of work to do if that’s the best their defense can do this year, one reason I think the Tide wins, but 27 points wouldn’t make it an impossible task.

Alabama teams of the last few years probably don’t compare to this one in terms of how strong the respective offenses and defenses are, but I think we may also be able to learn a little from 2011 and 2009.

People act like in retrospect the 2011 regular season game was destined to be in the single digits, but it really wasn’t.  I don’t remember the over/under, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t 16. Alabama was averaging 39 points per game and had only been held below 37 twice (27 @ Penn St. and 34 against Vanderbilt).  LSU had almost the exact same average despite having played Oregon and West Virginia, two eventual winners of BCS bowls. Only Mississippi St. had held the Tigers below 35 (like this year, LSU scored only 19 against the Bulldogs).

Granted the points given up were lower in both cases in 2011 but not ridiculously so. LSU has only allowed one team to score over 21 this year (but two right at 21).  They’d allowed two to score over 11 in 2011.  Alabama has only allowed two teams to score more than 14 points this year.  In 2011, they’d allowed double digits 3 times. So maybe not 9-6, but 20-17 wouldn’t be a shockingly low score.

I want to mention one other Alabama team, and that’s 2009.  That was Saban’s third year and his first team there that really tipped the SEC off about what was to come.  The Tide opened against #7 Virginia Tech and then played four unranked opponents, two in SEC play and one on the road. That’s not a body of work similar to what they have now, but in those five games the Tide scored at least 34 points in each one and averaged 40 points.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete. LSU may not have won the game in Tuscaloosa, but a different call here could have changed the score.

The Tide went to #20 Ole Miss and point production fell by 45% as they only scored 22. A similar reduction in this case would result in the Tide only scoring 30. Ole Miss had a good defense in 2009, but maybe LSU’s is better this year. The Rebels did allow 33 to Auburn and 41 to Mississippi St. that year. I don’t envision LSU giving up that many to an unranked team this year.

Comparison to Other Games This Season

It’s odd for two teams in the same division to have only one common opponent at this point, but in this case it doesn’t tell us very much.  It was Ole Miss, who really didn’t have much of a chance in either game.  I think the games worth considering are ones where either LSU or Alabama had to get out of their comfort zone in some way.  The Rebels did not force either team to do that.

Again, the best team Alabama has played is Texas A&M, who I believe is justifiably outside of the top 25 in the coaches poll.  The Texas A&M defense, which made Mississippi St.’s Nick Fitzgerald look like a Heisman contender doesn’t compare favorably to LSU’s defense at all.  Mississippi St. scored a combined 16 points against LSU, Florida, and Kentucky, 12 less than A&M gave up.  The point being that we really don’t have a model when it comes to how Alabama does against a defense that can really affect an offense the way LSU’s affected Fromm of Georgia and Fitzgerald.

If it’s a similar game with Alabama holding the opposing offense in the low 20s, LSU will likely take at least one touchdown opportunity away that A&M couldn’t, especially given that A&M was playing in Tuscaloosa.

I haven’t seen anyone suggest this, but I did want to add a caveat. I wouldn’t be upset if someone thinks Alabama wins 41-34. That wouldn’t show LSU’s defense is almost as bad as A&M’s; it would show Alabama’s offense had to keep going in high gear the whole game when it could pretty much relax in the second half against A&M. I’d be surprised to see that much offense from LSU, but they did score 36 against Georgia despite settling for field goals 5 times and despite a quarterback who could only complete half of his throws.

A better measuring stick for Alabama offense (though the Tide defense did extremely well) is the Missouri game. That was the best comparison I could find to a tough game Georgia had to play (partly because it was on the road) before coming to Baton Rouge. Missouri had been the only team to score more than 17 against the Bulldogs (they scored 29) and the only team to come within 14 points (and that was despite a defensive touchdown by Georgia).

Tua Tagovailoa is sacked by Missouri’s 
Kobie Whiteside in Tuscaloosa on October 13.

For Alabama vs. Missouri, I’m more going to look to see what we can gather about things LSU might be able to do on defense.  Missouri did have the second-closest game with the Tide so far (after A&M), but more impressively (and more relevantly to this blog) the Tigers are the only team to hold Alabama below 40, and they did this in Tuscaloosa.

Giving up 39 isn’t that impressive on its own (unless LSU really does give up 41 without producing much on offense); but as I’ve said before, you can score into the 40s against almost anyone if you’re given easy points. Twice while the game was still competitive, Missouri committed a turnover deep in their own territory. So where it was 27-10 with 10 minutes left in the half, it probably would have been Missouri ball down only 17-10. I’m not that Alabama didn’t deserve to beat them like they did, but what I am saying is the Missouri defensive unit did even better than Alabama’s point total indicates.

It’s also somewhat impressive that Mizzou limited Tua to only 2 of 5 on third downs and 12 of 22 overall (though it was still an average of over 10 yards per attempt) with only one positive run. Missouri has neither a good pass rush nor a good secondary. I couldn’t get the stats on how many sacks and hurries they had against Bama, but I know they had one sack and no hurries against Georgia. That’s one reason LSU was able to limit Georgia to fewer scoring drives than Mizzou had.

LSU was able to improve significantly on what Missouri did with Georgia. Even if we cut out the defensive score, LSU roughly cut Georgia’s point-scoring in half. So I think the low end of Alabama’s point total (barring a disaster or freakishly low-scoring game) is a lot lower than some people have it. I would put it in the low 20s. So I think the route for LSU to win would most likely be LSU scoring between 24 and 31 and Alabama scoring 1-7 points fewer.

Prediction

My prediction is that LSU holds Alabama to 31, which is two touchdowns fewer than Texas A&M allowed, and that the Tigers score 24. I think chances are the Tigers score closer to their point total against Auburn and Florida than the point total against Georgia. Most other people seem to be picking either a narrow LSU upset or a complete blowout by the Tide, either of which could happen of course, but I think these are two really good teams and LSU is just slightly outmatched.

Week 8 Reactions & Florida/Georgia Series

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on October 26, 2018 at 3:57 PM

Devin White Suspension

I was already very concerned about the Alabama game before the targeting call.  I’ll comment more on Mississippi St. below;but if they had a passing game, it would have been a long night.

LSU linebacker Devin White, pictured rushing the quarterback in a game last season, was suspended for the first half of LSU’s game against Alabama scheduled for November 3 in Baton Rouge.

Anyway, if the Devin White penalty was targeting,they need to change the rule.  I don’t even think it should be a foul when the defender (1) leads with his arms and(2) doesn’t even take a step after the ball is released.  The top of the defender’s helmet bumping the quarterback’s facemask (Mississippi St. quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is a tall guy) after the defender’s arms absorb the impact doesn’t change that for me.  Maybe you disagree and think it should be a 15-yard penalty.  I can sort of understand that.  An ejection and a suspension for any of the next game is just absurd.  If that’s how it is, put a flag around the quarterback’s waist and don’t allow him to be tackled unless he starts running forward.

Former Bill Clinton campaign adviser James Carville, an LSU graduate, has blamed the suspension an SEC conspiracy (no word on whether it’s vast or right-wing or orchestrated by the Kremlin) in favor of Alabama.  I also feel like LSU got screwed by the officiating against Alabama in 2014, and Alabama has tended to get easier schedules (it’s a strict rotation now, but there were ad hoc “transitional” schedules for a few years). However, I’m not convinced there is widespread bias at the league office; and if there is bias, it’s more in favor of the team more likely to win a championship than it is in favor of Alabama per se.  Alabama just happens to have been that team the last several years.

Mississippi St.-LSU (series update

Anyway, I mentioned I didn’t think Fitzgerald would do much throwing the ball, but I didn’t think as many interceptions (it was actually 5 for the game if you include the play the targeting was called on) as completions until the last drive.

I’m not even a little surprised that the Bulldogs had more total yards than LSU did though. But given that, I thought we’d see more points from State obviously.  I think they had some of the same problems I described Georgia having against LSU though.  They wanted to run, it looked like they could run against the LSU defense; but after a few drives, they got too far behind to be comfortable running. 

Georgia ran for 71 yards on their second drive (not counting the loss on the fake field goal), and Mississippi St. ran for 71 yards in just the first three plays of their second drive.  One thing the maroon Bulldogs did right was actually kick the field goal, but I don’t imagine they were happy having a 1st and goal at the 4 lead only to a field goal. 

State only really threatened to score one other time (in the last two minutes); but not surprisingly, Fitzgerald threw another interception. 

I think the Bulldogs also screwed up by punting on 4th and 1 at midfield late in the second quarter.  Fitzgerald had run for another 34 yards on that drive.  I would have given the Bulldogs about an 80% chance of making it.  LSU was doing nothing on offense at the time and probably wouldn’t have scored anyway (the Tigers were three and out on the next possession if that means anything).

Then in the middle of the third quarter, after LSU was starting to get the offense going and having less trouble with the State running game, they went for it on 4th and 3.  That was a much less obvious situation to go for it, especially not the play they called (In an apparent passing play Fitzgerald was pressured, had nowhere to throw, and was ultimately sacked).  Going from punting on 4th and 1 to trying to throw in 4th and 3 just showed they were getting desperate even though they were only down 10 at the time.

On the ensuing drive, the Tigers tacked on 3 points to go up 16-3.  I don’t want to say a two-possession game was pretty much over, but the chances of a comeback remained on a steep decline as the game continued.

Big Ten

I didn’t exactly call Purdue to beat Ohio St., but I made clear the Buckeyes were the least tested undefeated team (apart from USF and UCF).  I really wasn’t shocked by the loss, although beating Purdue by 1 and losing big to Penn St. would have been more expected going into the last month.

There has been some talk in the last few years about the Big Ten being as good as the SEC (and there was a good argument at times if you only wanted to look at the best few teams in each conference), but one of the best Big Ten teams losing to Purdue 49-20 doesn’t really help that argument.  If the Boilermakers had only lost to Big Ten teams, it would show depth; but they lost to a Missouri team that’s 0-3 in the SEC (and 4-0 outside the SEC).  Both Ohio St. and Missouri traveled to West Lafayette too.  Purdue also lost to Eastern Michigan and Northwestern at home.

A one-loss winner of the Big Ten is still a likely playoff participant in my opinion though.  Regardless of what happens between now and then, the Michigan-Ohio St. game should be a good one.  First Michigan has to play Penn St. in 8 days though.

Georgia-Florida

Georgia RB D’Andre Swift reaches the edge against Florida in the 42-7 rout last season. Swift ran for a season-high 72 yards against LSU 13 days ago.

Back to the SEC, I thought I’d talk about the game of the week since Alabama and LSU won’t be playing.

Georgia leads the series, formerly known as the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party,  51-43-2, which sounds pretty even; but that glosses over how well Florida has done starting about 30 years ago.  Georgia was 25-5-1 in the series after the 1951 game and was 44-22-2 after the 1989 game.  The Gators then won 18 of 21, but the Bulldogs have won 4 of the last 7.

Florida doesn’t count the 1904 team’s records, I guess because the university didn’t commit to a meaningful intercollegiate team until 1911. But according to record-keeper James Howell, if you play a major schedule, you’re a major team.  The Gators did that in 1904 even though they lost all five games (other opponents were Alabama, Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Florida St.) and were outscored 225-0 on the season. 

Anyway, I counted that game in the records above.  In addition to deferring to Howell’s judgment, LSU played one game in 1893 and counts that in their official records, so it seems unreasonably selective that Florida doesn’t want to count the 1904 season.    

The first game of the series played in Jacksonville is the first game Florida counts, but that wasn’t until 1915.  After that game and one game in Athens, there was another similar exchange a few years later (Tampa in 1919 and Athens in 1920).  Then after another hiatus, the rivalry became an annual event in 1926. The location still bounced around a little bit (2 games in Athens, 1 in Gainesville, 2 in Savannah, and 2 in Jacksonville) before it started to be played every year in Jacksonville in 1933.

There have only been two interruptions of sorts since then.  In 1943, in the middle of World War II, the game wasn’t played at all.  Then in 1994 and 1995, the rivalry took a break from Jacksonville and each team played a home game; but it’s been back in Jacksonville since 1996. 

It didn’t seem to matter where Florida played Georgia from 1994 to 1996 as Florida was in the top 5 in all three games and won each by 35 points or more.  The Gators won the national championship in 1996, which had been the only national championship by either program since Georgia won in 1980.  The Gators then won in 2006 and 2008.

Usually the team that is ranked higher wins, but there have been a few exceptions in the last 11 years.  In 2007, Florida was ranked 9th and Georgia was only ranked 20th although both had two losses.  Georgia won, 42-30.  In 2012, #12 Georgia upset #3 Florida, 17-9.  Finally, in 2014, unranked Florida, which had started the year only 3-3, upset #9 Georgia, 38-20, ending the Bulldogs’ 5-game winning streak (and 3-game winning streak in the series).  That was the first of three consecutive seasons wherein the Gators beat the Bulldogs until Georgia’s 42-7 win last season.   

There hasn’t been a one-possession game in this series since 2013, but that had been the fourth consecutive season in which it was a one-possession game.  There was another group of close games from 2002 (the year Georgia won its first SEC title since 1981) to 2006, so I guess they come in bunches.  It may be overdue for a close one.

This site gives some other details about series records and team histories that may be of interest.

Since 2013, the two teams have had a mutual bye before their game, so this makes it harder to judge the outcome by recent momentum. 

Georgia lost at LSU in the Bulldogs’ last game to end a 6-game winning streak.  The Gators struggled before ultimately beating Vanderbilt in their last game, but on the other hand it was the fifth win in a row.

Preview of Miss. St. at LSU

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on October 17, 2018 at 2:06 PM

I wanted to say a couple more things about the Georgia game. I did think LSU would lose more likely than not, and I didn’t see them winning by more than 7 if they did win. In my defense, if you had told me ahead of time that LSU would win the turnover battle 4-0 and would only be penalized twice for 19 yards, I would have picked LSU to win by double digits. It was just hard to make that prediction after the Florida game. We could probably beat Alabama by double digits if we’re able to do that again. There is just an extremely low chance Alabama will turn the ball over that many times without forcing any though.

Kirby Smart said something that reminded me of the Florida game as well: “When you don’t stop the run well, guys, it makes it hard to do anything.”

Kirby Smart doesn’t always look worthy of the name, but he knows a thing of two about defense.

LSU has won 21 straight home games in the month of October. That’s partly because we play Alabama in November, and we had a couple of long streaks that were ended at the hands of Troy (the record regular-season non-conference winning streak) and Mississippi St., (a streak against the Bulldogs) respectively, in recent Septembers. But there is something to be said for the streak. When we haven’t started well, we usually recovered by this time. When we have started well but didn’t finish well, we still played well up until the Alabama game.

I didn’t see the Mississippi St.-Auburn game, but I wish that I had. I understand the Bulldogs added some wrinkles in the running game that they didn’t have against Florida. Most of those 349 yards were by Nick Fitzgerald, the quarterback; but lead running back Kylin Hill averaged over 5 yards per carry, so you can’t dismiss that easily either. Against Florida, Hill ran fewer times with fewer yards per carry, so it seems their running attack can wear down defenses.

I don’t know if trying to run the Mississippi St. offense against Dan Mullen was going to work very well regardless, but that doesn’t mean LSU can easily stop it even if nothing changed in the weeks since. We certainly didn’t do a very good job last year or in 2014 (when the Bulldogs broke LSU’s 14-game winning streak and 11-game home winning streak in the series) against Mississippi St. offenses with a similar philosophy.

With spread and option-oriented offenses it’s hard to be able to cover the whole field horizontally without opening up runs toward the middle of the field. Sometimes our players can also be too fast to run into the backfield, and then before you know it, the running back (or quarterback in their case) is in the defensive secondary. Against LSU last year, the Bulldogs had almost 6 yards per carry.

The good news is the Bulldogs only completed 9 passes for 69 yards against Auburn, so that’s probably one area where they won’t be able to do as well against LSU as last year (when Fitzgerald threw for 180 yards). It seems that after the Florida game, the Bulldog coaching staff made some of the same observations I had about Georgia hurting themselves by going away from the run and ending drives with incompletions.

Miss. St. QB Nick Fitzgerald runs for a touchdown in Starkville last year. Fitzgerald accounted for 268 yards and 4 touchdowns for the game.

I think State makes up for their need to rely on running more than they did initially by having a better defense than it had in some of those past years though. LSU only scored 7 points against them last year, but Auburn scored 49 against the Bulldogs last year (compared to 9 this year) and three other teams scored over 30 (which no one has done so far this year).

Another positive is our offense is running a lot better than when we played them last year. We scored some points early on last season, but it was against BYU, Chattanooga, and Syracuse teams that struggled to defend against even mediocre offenses at times.

Obviously scoring 36 against Georgia, even with the assistance of turnovers, is much better than anything we were able to do in the early games last year. Even in the relatively poor showing of 19 points against Florida, that was with multiple drives of 30 yards or more that didn’t result in any points. It’s possible we could be held to around 20 points again; but I think that’s very close to the floor, at least against anyone other than Alabama.

I also have a slight concern because where the Mississippi St. defense does allow yardage tends to be in the passing game. I can see more problems with relying on Burrow if it comes to that than relying on the running backs. Burrow also still has a problem with holding onto the ball too long to look for receivers. This resulted in multiple sacks against Georgia, a team that only records half as many sacks on average as Mississippi St.

Despite last year and some of the other areas of concern, I’m going to pick LSU to win a close one, something like 24-20. It’s another opponent with a good field-goal kicker. They haven’t needed him much, but he’s kicked two field goals of 45 yards or more.

I’m predicting a closer game than either SEC fans commentator. Part of the reason is LSU did a lot of good things as far as sustaining drives against Georgia (as they also did in earlier games), which I think helps in their statistical model; but I think the Tigers have shown they won’t necessarily do the same things as well (or as poorly) from week to week. I think the talent and general competence will be just enough to get them over the top if the Tigers do regress slightly.

I’ll just mention a few other minor things that really didn’t play a role in this prediction. There are some general problems LSU has had with offenses like this that I covered above, but you can’t get too hung up on the final score from the previous year. In 2007, for instance, we lost to Kentucky after beating them 49-0 the year before. In 2015, we beat Auburn easily (45-21 after leading 38-7 at one point) despite losing to them by 34 the year before.

I mentioned this earlier, but if someone wins the turnover battle 4-0 like in the Georgia game, that can change outcome by double digits. I didn’t think last week’s result was reason to drastically change my approach to predictions. I think we have had a tendency to lose focus and motivation in other areas when we commit a turnover. On the other hand, we generally put points on the board when the other team commits a turnover.

Ed Orgeron has only beaten Mississippi St. once as head coach, a 20-3 win in the 2004 Egg Bowl; but he the good news is he’s 1-0 at home against the Bulldogs (and 0-3 on the road, but we’ll worry about that next year).

Georgia-LSU Series and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 11, 2018 at 2:08 PM

Before I get to anything currently going on, I updated and revised my LSU-Georgia Series blog. Usually I only do this after games and it’s primarily to update the records, but it’s like a separate new blog this time. I hope you find the discussion of the last few close games between the two teams as interesting to read as it was to write.

Best wishes to everyone dealing with the hurricane. As far as I can tell, no games for this weekend will be affected. As far as campuses of major programs, there may have been some damage to Florida St. The Seminoles happened to have a bye this weekend. Hopefully if there is any damage to the stadium, it can be remedied by the next home game. Auburn was affected by the storm system; but apparently there will be no impact on Saturday’s game. The intersection of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida is key recruiting ground for a number of programs including LSU and Georgia, so I’m sure there is a lot of interest and support in helping people get through this.

With that out of the way, LSU was once again lucky (or is it unlucky?) enough to be chosen as the game of the week The Tigers do not tend to do as well at home during day games, but that may only be because they tend to play the better teams during the day.

If you were curious, the Mississippi St. @ LSU game next week (regardless of the respective outcomes) will be the early evening game (7 eastern/4 pacific) on ESPN. The last SEC home game will be against Alabama in 3 weeks and will almost certainly be at night, so Georgia should be the only day game in Tiger Stadium this season.

I gave the SECFans vlog another chance after not being too excited about their commentary against Florida last week. I also gave some more thought to what I wrote last week. At least that commentary game me a starting point, so I may listen to them more in the future to help give me ideas for writing.

My feeling about the game is LSU has a chance to win, but it’s not the greater chance. I can see LSU winning by a touchdown or losing by a few touchdowns (or anywhere in between), so I think the two commentators picking LSU to lose by 7 and 10 respectively are decent picks.

Both commentators in the video said Georgia was a better team and that LSU has a real chance to win, so I guess they abandoned the “LSU can’t beat better teams” line.

First off, it’s hard to compare the results of the two teams since Georgia hasn’t really been tested by its opposition. South Carolina was the only team ranked (24th) at the time, and they’ve since lost to Kentucky before beating Missouri with a last-second field goal last week. LSU has played three teams better than South Carolina (U. Miami, Auburn, and Florida). Georgia has not yet played its apparent challengers for the SEC East crown Kentucky and Florida.

Georgia has given up as much as 29 points, which they did on the road against Missouri. LSU is definitely a tougher place to play than Missouri, so even if there weren’t a talent gap between LSU and Missouri, that should be enough to make it a competitive game. The Bulldogs’ offense was responsible for only 36 of those points. In addition to the fumble return for a touchdown, 3 other Georgia points resulted in part from a Missouri turnover.

LSU does not have a passing offense like Missouri, but on the other hand they’re also not going to throw 25 incompletions, so I think that’s one Georgia game worth talking about. Part of the reason is that was the only Georgia game in which the outcome was in doubt well into the fourth quarter.

Georgia DB Tyson Campbell returns a fumble for a touchdown at Missouri on September 22. The Bulldogs went on to win, 43-29.

Although Mizzou threw the ball 48 times (partly because they were playing from behind almost the whole game), they still had a fairly good rush-pass balance. There was only a 50-yard difference between their total passing yards and total rushing yards. Mizzou also committed 3 turnovers which led to 10 points. If it weren’t for that, Mizzou may have been able to have even better run-pass balance.

As I discussed in the LSU-Florida post-game, LSU is most likely undefeated if not for two key turnovers against the Gators; but in other games the Tigers won the turnover battle. So LSU might not have to be much better than a Missouri but just without the big mistakes Missouri had against Georgia or LSU had against Florida.

Maybe LSU won’t sneak up on Georgia as much, but it’s not like against Missouri the Bulldogs had a hangover from Middle Tennessee the prior week or were really worried about hosting Tennessee the next week.

As discussed in the video, Georgia only has an average performance against the rush. That gives LSU more of a chance than against a generic top-5 team. LSU did struggle somewhat against Florida’s rushing game, but the Gators had 15 more rushing attempts than passing attempts.

Georgia is not that kind of team unless they’re trying to run the clock out. It doesn’t make sense for a team that averages about twice as many yards per pass as yards per rush to run the ball all the time. It does make some sense if your quarterback is Felipe Franks to run the ball a lot in a close game. Florida had more yards per pass than yards per rush but not by much; and when you’re more likely to throw an incompletion than a completion, passing kills drives.

It’s no question that Georgia has a better quarterback than LSU, and I feel pretty sure that LSU has the better secondary, but I think the LSU and Georgia pass defenses are a lot more similar than the quarterbacks. The reason I think Georgia wins is even a well-defended Georgia will probably be able to contribute another scoring drive or two with its passing game. On the other hand, Burrow may be more comfortable if the running game is doing better and he doesn’t get sacked. Georgia does not have a very good pass rush.

Like with LSU –Florida though, if the team that should win is in scoring position and turns the ball over in one drive and there is another drive that ends in a defensive score, I think that’s enough to tip the game the other way.

I mentioned Missouri turned the ball over three times against Georgia, but Georgia had two turnovers. I think LSU is a team that is better at forcing turnovers than Missouri is, so LSU getting 3 turnovers is not out of the question. If LSU also has 3 turnovers, which they technically did against Florida (the interception at the end of the game doesn’t mean too much), I still think they lose though.

There are two good field-goal kickers in this game and I sense a lot of effective third-down defense on both sides (Georgia was only 3/12 against Missouri; LSU was only 4/17 against Florida), so I’m thinking the final score will be something like 30-23 Georgia.

LSU/Florida 2018 Instant Reaction

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rivalry on October 6, 2018 at 3:56 PM

It was my sad duty to update the LSU/Florida series. The Gators lead by three games in Gainesville and by four games overall. The Steve Spurrier tenure gave them a comfortable lead that LSU has only slowly narrowed of late. For the series, this was the fifth game in a row (and 10th since 2004) decided by one possession.

I said this would be a tough game, and that means we had to play better than we did. We didn’t block or tackle well enough. The passing game was all right, and we had a couple of good long runs but nothing consistent.

That said, I was furious about the officiating. On almost every play, an LSU defender got tackled by the Florida offensive line. Meanwhile LSU had to be really careful to avoid calls for holding and hands to the face. Florida was flagged for a personal foul once that I recall, but they were punching and slapping LSU players between plays all day too.

So I’m not going to claim we deserved a win here; but if I’m honest, neither did Florida. They took advantage of bad things LSU did and the rules as they were being enforced, so the Gators do deserve credit for that much.

My final score prediction was 24-20 in favor of LSU, but if you take out the first turnover we have another scoring drive. You take out the second turnover (a pick six) and my guess for Florida’s score was exactly correct. So I was really close in how much offense to expect from each team.

LSU QB Joe Burrow (pictured in an earlier game this season) needs to get better blocks and make better decisions if LSU wants to compete for championships.

Neither of those turnovers were necessary. Burrow should have known that he was in the pocket too long on the first one and secured the ball. We weren’t so dominant in the blocking that no one was ever coming from the blind side. This wasn’t Southeastern or Louisiana Tech. Gary Danielson summed it up the interaction between Burrow and the offensive line pretty well: “All day that clock should have been ticking.”

The second one was an unnecessarily hurried pass on 3rd and 4 for Burrow’s first interception at LSU. If he throws the ball away (I couldn’t tell if there was anyone else to throw it to), I think we were going to go for it. The clock was under 2 minutes, and we’d already used two timeouts. The only really successful offensive drive of the second half was all runs, so there was no reason to be confident in getting the ball back and scoring even if we’d had the timeouts.

The two late drops (on 2nd and 3rd downs on the last set on downs) were frustrating, but as I just explained, the chance of a last-second touchdown drive was pretty low anyway.

I’m not making excuses, but offensive line is a tough position, and even if you’re deep when the season starts, you might not be at this point. I don’t think there is one position where you would have called LSU deep going into the season, but that certainly wasn’t one of them. We needed better quarterback and receiver play to make up for the problems.

In short, we played like the #25 team I picked LSU to be going into the season, but that’s not enough to win at Florida.

LSU-Florida Series and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on October 4, 2018 at 3:30 PM

Before I get into specifics, you may want to see my detailed (and annually updated) post about the LSU/Florida series.

LSU will win, but LSU can only beat lesser teams?

I saw a video previewing the LSU/Florida game on YouTube, and I should have known better, but I clicked on it.

They’re picking LSU to win, and that’s great. I think LSU has a greater than 50% to win (although the FPI says LSU only has a 40% chance), as I’ve said since the Auburn game. Their predicted margin of victory is on the high end (27-13 and 24-13, respectively). I’m expecting something closer to 24-20. The problem is they had to say derogatory things about our coaches.

Both contributors to the video independently say LSU’s coaches aren’t good enough to beat teams better than LSU. What was the win over Auburn last year? To say the better team won a given game you have to look at all the games apart from the one they played against each other.

I too seem to remember LSU’s win over Auburn last year as an upset.

LSU was 8-4 last year if you take out the Auburn game. They lost to a good Troy team, but it was Troy nonetheless and couldn’t even give Mississippi St. much of a game. The only win over a ranked team was over Florida, who obviously ended up nowhere near the rankings. The Fighting Tigers did not play Georgia.

Auburn was 10-3 taking out the LSU game with wins over two teams who were #1 at the time. They also beat Mississippi St., a team who was in the top 25 and deserved to be there (after easily beating LSU), 49-10. Their losses were to #3, #6, and #12.

I think LSU’s final record is slightly misleading because of my opinion about the Notre Dame game, but Auburn played better in their bowl game against Central Florida than LSU played in their bowl game anyway.

Regardless, both in hindsight and at the time LSU was supposed to lose. Even after the game people (including Gus Malzahn) talked about Auburn still being able to win the West despite being a game behind LSU and therefore not controlling its own destiny absent another LSU loss.

Then the makers of the video acted like they must have made a great video because both Florida and LSU fans took umbrage. Florida fans aren’t happy they just won a well-played game and here someone is telling them they’re going to lose by double digits at home.

I don’t expect them to be happy about that (even if there is a fair chance it will turn out to be true), but just because you say something to anger LSU fans as well doesn’t mean the video got both teams about right. So if they said both teams were going to finish with losing records in conference. would they have been right just because both fan bases would have been reacted to that with skepticism if not anger? How do you not think, “Let’s look at the handful of big wins Orgeron has had in just over two seasons and see if what we’re saying might not be true”?

Another thing that annoyed me was they both discounted LSU’s win over Ole Miss as if the Rebels were the Little Sisters of the Poor, but then they quoted Florida’s stats against Colorado St. and Tennessee as if they proved something. Mississippi St. isn’t a bad team, but that was the only thing close to a quality win. The Bulldogs play Auburn on Saturday. I guess we’ll see how beating them compares to beating Auburn then. Not to mention how losing to Kentucky compares to any LSU game so far.

FPI and my thoughts

The FPI, ESPN’s power index, still seems to be selling LSU short, by the way. It still predicts 4 losses. When Mississippi St. lost its second game in a row, it finally decided the Tigers had a greater than 50% chance of beating the Bulldogs, but on the other hand it gave Florida a greater chance to beat LSU. LSU is still predicted to lose to Georgia, Alabama, and Texas A&M (to whom they have not lost in 7 games going back to 2010).

Why do I think the game will be closer than the guys in the video said? Like I said about the Auburn series, even sub-par Florida teams can be tough to beat on the road?

Florida finished 4-7 last year. They say Ole Miss is terrible, but Ole Miss already has 3 wins, and they still have ULM, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi St. to play. I’ll be shocked if the Rebels don’t win at least two of those games, so if a terrible team nearly beat last year’s LSU team, a much-improved Florida team can beat a slightly-improved LSU team.

Why do I say slightly improved? If LSU had slightly better play-calling and field-goal kicking last year, they would have beaten Troy and Notre Dame (despite the officiating) and finished 11-2. Even though LSU is undefeated right now, 11-2 is still a lot to hope for. For me, “much improved” would mean either playing in the SEC championship game or tying Alabama at one SEC loss apiece (and losing head-to-head). It would also require a post-season win either in the SEC Championship or in a consolation CFP bowl. It’s a possibility, don’t get me wrong, but we aren’t there yet.

LSU’s then-QB Danny Etling evades the Florida defense in the 17-16 LSU win in Gainesville last year.

Recent history against Florida and LSU at 5-0

The last trip to Florida before last season wasn’t against a great team either, with the Tigers winning 30-27 in 2014. LSU and Florida finished with similar records that year, but that was the LSU team that took Alabama to overtime and should have beaten them but for a personal foul and kickoff out of bounds in the last two minutes.

Anyway, the Tigers would win after a wild fourth quarter. Florida returned a punt 53 yards with under 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, which set up a touchdown to put the Gators ahead by 4. It seemed like the game was over a few minutes later when LSU faced a 3rd and 25 from their own 33 with 3:33 left (not a typo), but Anthony Jennings (not remembered as our most effectual quarterback) had no problem with this and threw a 41-yard pass on that down followed in short order by an 11-yard touchdown pass (both to Travin Dural).

Florida seemed to be in control again when the Gators completed a 73-yard pass on the next play from scrimmage to set up a first and goal from the 2. Two running plays combined for one yard, and then an incomplete pass led to a field goal, which tied the game at 27.

LSU struggled offensively, giving the ball back to Florida with 54 seconds left after the Gators had called a timeout to give themselves a chance to win the game in regulation. For some unknown reason, Florida QB Jeff Driskel threw a risky pass even though the Gators had a first and 10 less than 20 yards from the potential winning field goal. LSU intercepted, and this set up the winning 50-yard field goal by Colby Delahoussaye with 3 second left.

Both the 2012 and 2010 games at Florida were decided by one possession apiece as well. LSU was much better in 2010, but that had a crazy ending to that I won’t get into here. This video might help jog your memory. For more about the LSU-Florida series, see here. I have every game in the series since 2004 listed there.

This is the 7th time since 2007 that LSU has started the season with 5 straight wins or more. That includes 2010 and 2012 season, but 2015 was the only other instance since 2012. So the last six times this has happened it did not lead to a national championship, although LSU was 13-0 with a conference championship before losing to Alabama in January 2012. In both 2009 and 2012, the first team to beat LSU after such a start was Florida. In 2008, Florida beat LSU immediately after the Tigers started 4-0.

LSU-Auburn: Home Field Advantage

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on September 14, 2018 at 6:23 PM

I’ve discussed the LSU-Auburn series before. A lot of people don’t realize it was rarely played before the famous Earthquake Game in 1988. That’s one reason why when Auburn won in 1999 (the Cigar Game), it was only their third win in Baton Rouge in 60 years. Details of the interesting games before 2008 are in the link above.

Auburn has won 12 of the 19 games in the series that have been played in Auburn. LSU has only won at Auburn twice since 1998, both against teams that finished with losing records. Those happened to be the last respective years that Tommy Tuberville (2008) and Gene Chizik (2012) coached there.

LSU WR Stephen Sullivan dives into the end zone on 4th down to put the Fighting Tigers on the score board in Baton Rouge last year.

LSU was about one second of clock management away from winning in their last trip to the Plains, and that was not only Les Miles’ last season but his last game.

When this first became an annual series in 1992, it was typically the first SEC game for LSU; but this is a rare instance in which it is also the first SEC game for Auburn. From 2001 to 2011, the game was only played in September three times, but it seems September is going to return to being the default going forward.

Two years ago, LSU was the more experienced team, and the Fighting Tigers (that’s how I will refer to LSU in this blog) lost. As I discussed in my preseason blog, this time the roles are reversed. It’s only a difference of 3 returning starters though.

Although they were generally in Baton Rouge, I wanted to highlight some instances in which LSU has done relatively well against Auburn given the respective results of the teams for the season.

One that was in Auburn that was a really good game was 2010. Both teams were undefeated going into that game, but the Fighting Tigers were only ranked #6 and the Plainsmen (how I will refer to Auburn) were #4. LSU would later lose to Arkansas, and Auburn would win out.

The game started disastrously for LSU as Auburn capitalized on a Jordan Jefferson interception in LSU’s opening drive and scored the game’s first touchdown on the ensuing drive.

The score was 10-10 at the half though. Especially given the start of the game, this seemed to be an advantage to LSU since the game was a battle between the top SEC offense and the top SEC defense, but the Fighting Tigers struggled even more offensively in the second half. Nonetheless, on a halfback pass by Spencer Ware, LSU was able to tie the game at 17 with 12:16 left.

The LSU defense came through one more time when Auburn turned the ball over on downs at the LSU 40 with 7:51 left. The LSU 3-and-out that followed was just too much for the Fighting Tiger defense though. It only took 3 rushing plays (Newton 16 yards, Dyer 4 yards, and McCalebb 70 yards) for Auburn to drive 90 yards for the winning touchdown with 5:05 left. The Fighting Tigers were again unable to get a first down in the next possession, and the Plainsmen ran out the clock.

When Auburn was 80 seconds away from the national championship Florida St. won in 2013, their only prior loss had been to LSU in Baton Rouge. It was only an upset in retrospect though, because Auburn was unranked going into the game, and LSU was #6. LSU led 21-0 at the half and was never seriously challenged. (This game is not to be confused with the 2015 game in which LSU lead 24-0 at the half.) LSU’s Jeremy Hill rushed for 184 yards (and other backs combined for another 51 yards), so even though Auburn got within a couple of possessions, losing 35-21, it was too easy for LSU to control the clock in the second half.

LSU would finish 10-3. The Fighting Tigers would lose close games to Georgia and Ole Miss before Alabama pulled way in the last third of the game to beat them by 21. Auburn would advance to the SEC Championship game on the famous Kick Six against Alabama.

Finally, last year, Auburn again got to represent the SEC West in the championship game after beating Alabama. Once again though, when you look back, the one regularly scheduled loss was against LSU. The Fighting Tigers had already lost to Mississippi St. and Troy (although looking back those two teams combined for 20 victories), and Auburn was undefeated and #10 in the country.

This time it was the Auburn Tigers who scored the game’s first 20 points. If you don’t remember what happened next, feel free to see last year’s blog under the heading “LSU-Auburn Game Recap and Analysis”.

I’m going to list the games since and including that 2010 national championship season for Auburn. LSU had won the prior 3 games and 6 of the last 9 in the series. In 4 of those 6 years LSU won the SEC West, and after 1 of those Auburn wins they won the SEC West. 2010 was the last year in which this game was basically (in hindsight) the SEC West championship game.

2010: @Auburn 24, LSU 17
2011: @LSU 45, Auburn 10
2012: LSU 12, @Auburn 10
2013: @LSU 35, Auburn 21
2014: @Auburn 41, LSU 7
2015: @LSU 45, Auburn 21
2016: @Auburn 18, LSU 13
2017: @LSU 27, Auburn 23

Bold = Represented the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game
Underline =team beat Alabama
(Apologies for not making a neater chart, but I didn’t want to publish this any later than necessary.)