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LSU-Alabama Preview and Analysis

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on November 4, 2016 at 7:20 PM

I’ll start by saying there are some other interesting games this weekend, but I can’t even think about that. If you play on LSU-Alabama weekend a few days after a historic 7-game World Series and a few days before an apparently close presidential election, my focus will be limited.

I promise this is the last time until I update it, but I keep getting a ton of views for it, so once again I’ll give the link to the LSU-Alabama series, but I do want to focus on a few aspects that I haven’t covered in depth.

In the early days of the Miles-Saban portion of this series, LSU was able to beat Alabama by playing old-school hard-nosed football (with a few wrinkles) a little bit better when the Tide was able to intimidate most teams by its style of play.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

Les Miles congratulates Nick Saban in January 2012 after the BCS championship.

LSU went 3-2 in that span, but the worst Tiger team of that span took Alabama to overtime, and the best Alabama team relied in part on a drive that should have ended in an interception if the officials had seen the play better. So it could have easily been at least 4-1. Sometimes the team that’s having a clearly better season just wins even if the match-up isn’t favorable.

Then LSU had more issues with coming up with anything but a one-dimensional offense.

In the 2011 regular season game (5 years ago tomorrow), LSU had an element of surprise: although obviously he didn’t engineer any touchdown drives, LSU’s more mobile quarterback Jordan Jefferson came off the bench and did a good job controlling the ball and spreading the field. The Tigers had a great defense that year, but even that unit couldn’t have stopped Alabama if the offense had kept producing quick three-and-outs (as would be demonstrated a couple of months later).

In the 2011 championship game (in January 2012), Alabama was a lot more prepared for Jefferson, Jefferson had a bad game (he completed passes, but they were almost all roughly at the line of scrimmage), and the LSU coaching staff was too stubborn to try anything else.

2012 didn’t require a different quarterback, but LSU still forced Alabama into unexpected situations when Zach Mettenberger finally looked comfortable in the position for the first time against a quality defense. The Tigers completed a series of long passes to get into a position where they were driving down the field with a chance to put the game out of reach.

Then LSU started playing not to lose. They ran the ball and tried to run the clock to play for a field goal (even though that would have only put them up 6). The fact that the field goal was missed might not have mattered because Alabama would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive to win by 4.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yelton on a screen pass in 2012.

AJ McCarron completed the winning touchdown to T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass in 2012.

So I would argue in both seasons when LSU had a more open offense was when they were able to find success, but obviously the calendar year of 2012 still gave LSU the first two of five consecutive losses.

Then Cam Cameron became the offensive coordinator. Although he and Mettenberger did well to tie the game at 17 early in the third quarter, the offense sputtered after that. The longest drive after that was for 7 plays, 50 yards, and ended in a punt. The other two drives went for a total of -9 yards.

This put pressure on the defense, which finally broke down toward the end of the game. Alabama outscored LSU 21-0 in the final 20 minutes of the game to win 38-17.

LSU nearly took advantage of a late fumble to win in 2014 before falling in overtime, but the win would have been despite the offense not because of it. Following some improvements that had been made by his predecessors Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier, Lane Kiffin didn’t do a great job in that game, but he called plays well enough to give the Tide a late field-goal opportunity which they converted and of course the winning touchdown in OT. I think those improvements are another reason that the gap between LSU and Alabama seemed to have grown in the last couple of years.

The only wrinkle in 2015 was a couple of surprising downfield throws from Brandon Harris; but once the Alabama defense adjusted its reads, that was off the table and LSU didn’t seem to have anything else to fall back on. After closing to within 3 points at halftime, LSU gave up 17 unanswered points and only scored again due to a fumble recovery deep in Alabama territory.

If Etling struggles like Jordan Jefferson did in the national championship game or like Brandon Harris did last year, LSU doesn’t win, but I think he has what it takes to play as well as Mettenberger did, which would give the Tigers a good chance.

Unlike Miles, Orgeron is not an offensive coach, but he did influence the direction of the new offense partly by dismissing Cam Cameron. He seemed to like the kind of offenses Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin ran at USC (and I suppose Clay Helton, who continued to run the offense during Orgeron’s season as interim coach in Los Angeles).

Steve Ensminger, who was a relative unknown as the tight ends coach, has done a good job in adapting the current playbook to suit what Orgeron had in mind, but he hasn’t been tested by a defense like this yet. Regardless, if LSU loses, I don’t think a lack of offensive creativity or playing too conservatively toward the end would be the reason for the loss.

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

I’m not minimizing the importance of defense, but I think that’s been a steadier unit in these games for both teams. I don’t see a deviation from that general rule this year.

To pick up a little bit on my point about creativity and playing too conservatively, there were at least elements of a prevent defense in 2012 and 2014 that I don’t think helped. The Tigers got themselves in a spot of bother against Mississippi St. in September, partly due to an on-sides kick, but I think LSU DC Dave Aranda is smarter about that than John Chavis was.

I know Texas A&M isn’t as talented on defense, so I don’t want to be too unfair to Chavis, but I think the video below demonstrates some of the risks when Chavis doesn’t put a lot of players in the box against a team like Alabama. It also shows how important the performance of guys like Kendall Beckwith and Arden Key will be. Calling the right play is one thing, but if you don’t have players read and respond to what happens during the play, you’re probably not going to look very good as a coordinator.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17967092

The more established coordinators Kiffin and Aranda might be the superior chess match (see here for some discussion of that). I’m not attacking Steve Ensminger’s or Jeremy Pruitt’s mental faculties, but Ensminger is limited somewhat by inheriting someone else’s offense and by having a quarterback who (despite being around college football a while) still isn’t completely comfortable as a starter for this team. I don’t know quite as much about Pruitt, but as Gary Danielson explains below, it also seems like he’s limited in how much latitude he has by another coach (in his case Saban) and to some extent by personnel. On the other hand, the uncertainty might make the latter pairing more interesting.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17956565

I try to be cool and rational when writing, but I’m really excited to see what happens, It’s not just that I’m a fan of LSU, but it’s also a bit of intellectual curiosity as to how the chess match will play out.

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LSU/Florida and SEC Wednesday #6

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry, SEC Wednesdays on October 5, 2016 at 5:26 PM

NOTE: The LSU-Florida game has been postponed indefinitely.  If it is not rescheduled, this would give LSU about a 7% chance of winning the remaining games.

LSU and FPI

Obviously there are a few big games to be excited about in the SEC, and I’ll talk more about this in the picks section, but I wanted to expound upon something I added to the last blog at the last minute. I mentioned there is a 4% chance that LSU still has only two losses after the regular season (meaning games before championship week). There is a 10% chance LSU finishes the regular season with 3 losses or fewer. I calculated this from the FPI numbers released by ESPN.

I'm skeptical of some of these numbers.

I’m skeptical of some of these numbers.

It seems like FPI doesn’t factor in recent results in the respective series. LSU has owned Texas A&M and has been owned by Alabama. We’ve seen A&M start strong before without much to show for it by the time we get to late November. I honestly would not be surprised if LSU is favored by the time we get there. I’m not saying this to prematurely brag about LSU but to say that I don’t think home field is enough to give LSU more of a chance to beat Alabama than the Tigers will have to beat A&M. Also, I was surprised the likelihood of LSU beating Arkansas was so high.

I found it interesting that despite the location of the LSU/Florida game (series blog), both the FPI and the commentators seem to think LSU has this. Some of them are more confident than I am, but as I’ll explain, if I had to pick the winner, I’d guess LSU is more likely. Steve Spurrier, who I guess is now a PR spokesman for the Gators, didn’t do much to dissuade me of that notion either.

LSU has about a 25% chance to finish 5-2 or better, which would give Ed Orgeron at least the same record that he had as the interim coach at USC. That might seem counter-intuitive since the Tigers should be favored against everyone but Alabama and (possibly) A&M, but I’ll give an example. If your chance in one game is 60% and your chance in the next game is 60%, you only have a 36% chance to win both games (roughly LSU’s chance of beating Florida and Ole Miss). That’s just the way odds work.

SEC WED

Last Week

A lot of things went about as I expected, so you can just read the link above about why things happened as they did. I expected Tennessee to win a fairly close game. I hoped it was going to be by 4 instead of by 3, but my prediction was still pretty smart although unlucky. This isn’t all about getting it right, it’s partly about describing what kind of game we might have.

I said Ole Miss would win by between 17 and 21 points, and they won by 20, so it’s nice to get something that specific right. 5-2 with a shenanigans incorrect pick in Athens is pretty good. It’s a fluke in the gambling rules more than anything. If it were up to me there would be two exceptions. (1) If you took the points in an overtime game, you should automatically win, and (2) if a team scores a touchdown on the last play (not in overtime), they should get credit for 7 points unless there is a try.

I’m back at .500 (22-22), which is not easy to do when you force yourself to pick games you’re not comfortable with. If I picked a similar number of games from all over college football but only lines I liked, I’d like to think my winning percentage would actually make money at a sports book.

As to the one I more clearly got wrong (although I was only off by a few points), there was a Florida fumble near the goal line where obviously another touchdown could have allowed me to win. I usually cheer for Vanderbilt as the traditional underdog of the SEC East, so I was disappointed they didn’t do more with the opportunity, but it’s predictable.

On the other hand, since I picked Florida with the points the last two weeks, I was disappointed with their performance. I hope the Gators will be similarly disappointing to their fans next week. I know a few Florida fans, and I’ve enjoyed being on the right side. Anyway, I thought it was going to be a bad day when I started out with that one, but as they say, it’s not how you start.

I didn’t even mention that I got all the winners right, not that it was particularly hard this week as long as you had the Vols. My overall record in picking winning teams is 44-8.

Next Week

Only six conference games this week.

It appears Leonard Fournette will NOT play for LSU against Florida. This makes me more nervous, but I just don’t think LSU will revert back to the way they played against Auburn just because of being on the road. If they play better than in that game, they should win. Still unclear who the Florida QB is or whether both will play. Also still unclear if the game will actually happen at the date and time currently scheduled.

LSU went far above and beyond the line last week of course. The Tigers may get half the yards and half the points, but that should still be enough to win. As I mentioned previously, Florida has been disappointing of late. -3 isn’t enough for the ATS (against the spread) to be different.

I already mentioned Auburn. Obviously the Tigers would rather be at home, but I don’t think Mississippi St. is the toughest venue in the SEC. They’re not the better team either. Once again I’ll reluctantly take the visitors -3.

Texas A&M is favored by 6.5. I think that’s a bit too much, but Tennessee is overdue for a loss, so I will split my prediction there.

Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight looks downfield in Week 1 against UCLA.

Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight looks downfield in Week 1 against UCLA.

Kentucky is favored by 3 at home. If they could do it to South Carolina, I see no reason why they can’t do it to Vanderbilt.

I think 13.5 is too much for Alabama. Too many recent Bama @ Arkansas games have been close. I know a few were blowouts, but this is not an Arkansas team that will finish with 3 or 4 wins like the one that lost 52-0 a few years ago. So I’m not picking the upset, but I think the Hogs will keep it within about 10.

Georgia/South Carolina can happen a number of ways. Georgia did play a lot better last week than in any previous game, so if they can maintain, it could be over at halftime. On the other hand, it might be hard to show up in an opposing stadium with any kind of momentum after the heartbreak of last week. Even if it’s the latter, I could still see the Bulldogs winning by 7 or more with a late touchdown or something, so I will give the Gamecocks 7.

Preview of LSU-Alabama 2015

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, Rivalry on November 6, 2015 at 2:40 PM

Before I begin, I wanted to refer people to my previous Alabama blogs. Most of my hits this week have already been the main rivalry blog first written in 2010 but updated annually.

Last Friday, I wrote specifically about LSU’s meetings with Alabama while undefeated.

So in my SEC Wednesday blog/column, I said I would be taking LSU and the points. I’m going to talk about picking the winner now.

With my luck in recent weeks, I should probably hedge my bets and pick Alabama to win, but I have to call it how I see it. Alabama has won four in a row in the series, but I’ll tell you why that doesn’t matter.

The first thing I would note is Alabama has been favored against LSU every year since 2008, and LSU has won twice since then. Also in that time, Alabama has only won by more than they were supposed to twice.

This is not a rematch. Nick Saban and his defensive coaches haven’t had over a month to prepare for a quarterback that they’d seen two months ago like the 2011 BCS championship. I think LSU’s quarterback now is better anyway. Harris didn’t throw a single pass against the Tide last year, so they not only have nothing from this year to look at, they have nothing against them at all. So I think these factors were essentially what made the difference between the game on 11/2011 and the one on 1/2012 and obviously are not at play tomorrow.

LSU's Drew Alleman kicks the tying field goal at Alabama in 2011.  Alleman would kick the winner in overtime.  The LSU-Alabama game has gone to overtime four times since 2005, with the road team winning each time.

LSU’s Drew Alleman kicks the tying field goal at Alabama in 2011. Alleman would kick the winner in overtime. The LSU-Alabama game has gone to overtime four times since 2005, with the road team winning each time.

In 2012 and 2014, LSU had the lead until the final minute. If they were equal teams every year, this would be troubling; but they haven’t been. Alabama won the national championship in 2012 and the SEC in 2014. LSU finished with three losses in 2012 and five losses in 2014. So it would have been rightly considered an upset had LSU won either.

If you just look at the score, you might think Alabama blew LSU away in 2013, but that really isn’t the case. The game was tied with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. LSU entered the game with two losses, while Alabama entered the game undefeated. Alabama did pull away late; but again, you would not have expected them to have to do that based on other wins and losses that year. Alabama being able to go back and forth from McCarron throwing to Yeldon running was a big problem for the LSU defense in that game, and I don’t think the current Alabama team will replicate that. Of course, I loved the way that season ended for the Tide; but if they make that long field goal or win in overtime, they likely would have won a third straight national title.

Apart from 2007, when LSU played many more players Saban recruited than Alabama did, LSU did better than they should have based on the respective overall seasons every year of Miles vs. Saban previous to 2012.

In 2010 and 2011, LSU and Alabama were pretty even. LSU played a better schedule in 2011, but it’s not surprising based on other results that they played each other twiee and each time got a win. Alabama was still playing for a national championship when they went to Baton Rouge in 2010. They would have had to upset Cam Newton and Auburn, but Alabama was expected to win the LSU game.

Bama also had better teams in 2008 (when they lost the SEC Championship to Florida) and 2009. LSU went to overtime in 2008 and should have had a chance to win but for a botched call in 2009. That was the Alabama team that went undefeated. So that’s six times LSU has done better on the scoreboard than should have been on paper, and only twice that Alabama has.

LSU's Patrick Peterson apparently intercepts Alabama's Greg McElroy in Bryant-Denny Stadium in November 2009.  The play was ruled incomplete.

LSU’s Patrick Peterson apparently intercepts Alabama’s Greg McElroy in Bryant-Denny Stadium in November 2009. The play was ruled incomplete.

Just to be clear, give credit to Alabama for being the better team of late; but that accounts for the success much more than some unique approach to playing LSU.

Of course Alabama has a good chance to win—there is a small percentage chance they could even win easily—but I think LSU has a better chance this year.

Apart from a picture which I will post again, I haven’t made reference to the long-term dominance of the road team in this game. Since and including 1970, LSU has beaten Alabama 15 times. Guess how many were in Baton Rouge…

Alabama has beaten LSU 49 times with only 25 losses but has only beaten the Tigers twice at home this century.


FOUR.

Obviously since they alternate yearly, Alabama has also done much better on the road in this series than at home. LSU did tie Alabama a couple of times at home that I didn’t mention, so the recent series has actually been pretty even. It’s even closer if you start after Alabama’s 11-year winning streak in the series from 1971 to 1981 (inclusive).

I was going to go into detail about some of the more interesting plays in the recent series, but the videos tell the story better than I can. LSU’s reverse on fourth down is pretty easy to find. I mentioned a botched call in 2009. You may have heard of a guy named Patrick Peterson. He intercepted an Alabama pass and I guess they didn’t think he had complete control, but it looked pretty obvious to me. LSU could have been a much better team in 2008, but I think they had a record number of pick-sixes that year. Some of the losses had two or three of them. I’d rather not relive that.

Touchy feely stuff

Instead, I’m going to conclude by mentioning a couple of extra motivators for LSU. If you just want serious sports coverage and not emotional stuff, you might want to stop reading now. ESPN may be covering one or both of these tomorrow on GameDay, SportsCenter, etc.

I don’t usually write about things like this; but I’ve had a couple of personal relationships end in death lately (people that I know would want to be watching the game), so I guess I’m in a place where it seems appropriate. I usually make fun of those people who get emotional after games, but I think this might be one where that happens to me, possibly regardless of the winner. I think sports can be very therapeutic in these situations, but in some cases they also remind us of people that we miss and so forth. I usually use the journalistic style of referring to people by their last name, but I won’t do that for this section.

The first story is about a young man named Sid Ortis, who passed away from cancer this week. There are pictures of him with Miles and some members of the team. He lived in Alabama, but he was a big Tiger fan. Apparently a local minister put Sid in touch with Les. I’m sure this game had extra meaning for Sid even though he didn’t quite make it.

Teenage cancer victim Sid Ortis meets Les Miles before the LSU-Auburn game.

Teenage cancer victim Sid Ortis meets Les Miles before the LSU-Auburn game.

Les talked about him during his Monday press conference (about 8:35): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuBsCS2TplE

Les said, “We all will have our day, and he was with his mother and father and is in a better place… I think about how fortunate that we are—that I am… my family being healthy and being in position to continue.”

If you didn’t know this about Miles, something about sick kids really tugs at his heartstrings. On Wednesday, he talked some more about Sid (nothing really new or different) and mentioned helping a little girl get her medical expenses paid in the first couple of minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56WfKS7zPAM

I don’t expect most people who aren’t Tiger fans to know who Jim Hawthorne is, but Jim has been the voice of the Tigers and called every LSU game since 1984. I barely knew what a football was in 1984, so obviously I don’t remember anyone else doing it. Growing up in the 1990s when we had some really sorry teams, often you heard the Tigers on the radio or you didn’t find out much about them.

The Voice of the Tigers Jim Hawthorne talks to CBS, also before the Auburn game this year.

The Voice of the Tigers Jim Hawthorne talks to CBS, also before the Auburn game this year.

I’ll give an example. In 1994, LSU appeared on Jefferson Pilot (the syndicate that preceded the SEC Network) twice and on ESPN once. For most games, if you didn’t listen on the radio, you only saw them in local news coverage or in the newspaper.

In February, Jim announced that last spring would be his last baseball season but that he would remain the voice of the Tigers until the conclusion of the 2015-16 basketball season.

His streak of 387 or 388 games called will end prematurely with this game after what is reported to be quadruple bypass surgery. He said 388, other sources said 387, maybe McNeese St. is the sticking point.

During the Wednesday press conference linked above, Les said, “what’s a couple bypasses? …Put a Band-Aid on it, let’s go.”

It is unclear whether Jim will call another football game. Not that the Tigers needed more motivation, but I’m sure as Les would say there is a want to do well for these people who have meant so much for the LSU football community.

Hawthorne with Nick Saban in 2003

Hawthorne with Nick Saban in 2003

You may remember that the highlight of last season was the win over then-#3 Ole Miss, which came the day after Les’s mother passed. So maybe things like this can influence outcomes.

History of Undefeated LSU vs. Alabama

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 30, 2015 at 2:57 PM

You can see the main entry of the LSU-Alabama rivalry here.

Alabama has beaten LSU 49 times with only 25 losses but has only beaten the Tigers twice at home this century.

I’ll just start by giving the list. I’ll fill in the blanks below. I’m excluding the times they played in the first few games. I’m including the couple of times LSU was undefeated in conference but not overall. The games at Alabama before 1988 were actually played in Birmingham.

1964 – @Alabama 17, LSU 9
1970* (undefeated in conference, not overall) – LSU 14, @Alabama 9
1972 – @Alabama 35, LSU 21
1973 – Alabama, 21, LSU 7
1982 – LSU 20, @Alabama 10
1984* (undefeated in conference, not overall) -LSU 16, @Alabama 14
1987* – Alabama 22, @LSU 10
2011* – LSU 9, @Alabama 6, ot
Jan. ’12* – Alabama 21, LSU 0

* = games when LSU had a higher ranking

Tenures of Coaches for Reference:
Bear Bryant 1958-82
Ray Perkins 1983-86
Bill Curry 1987-89
Nick Saban 2007-
Charles McClendon 1962-79
Jerry Stovall 1980-83
Bill Arnsparger 1984-86
Mike Archer 1987-90
Les Miles 2005-

Other Years Since 1958 with LSU Undefeated at the End of October:
1958 – stayed undefeated; national champions
1959 – lost to Tennessee by 1 in first week of November; lost Sugar Bowl
1962 – lost to Ole Miss by 8 in first week of November; won Sugar Bowl
1969 – lost to Ole Miss by 3 in first week of November; no bowl

Background

From talking to older fans, one might think LSU went undefeated several years in a row in the 60s and 70s only to lose to Alabama. That’s not what happened obviously, but I’ll try to explain why people think that.

I’m not going to get into detailed particulars of any games, just focus on the big picture of the seasons that are at least relevant to the time period.

A few years after LSU won its first recognized national championship in the poll era (and only before 2003), head coach Paul Dietzel left for Army. Hard to believe now, but Dietzel’s only coached three games against Alabama was in 7 seasons. He won all three.

Dietzel only coached against Bear Bryant in Bryant’s first game as head coach with Alabama. LSU won in Mobile, 13-3, actually not a bad result for the Tide being that this was the year of that LSU national championship I mentioned. Bama went 5-4-1 for its first winning season in five years

For the 18 seasons after Dietzel, Charles McClendon coached the Tigers. He’s still the winningest coach in LSU history, but he lacked any poll national championships and only won a single SEC title.

LSU had a number of good years, but shortly after Dietzel left and Alabama started to do well, LSU started playing Alabama every year. McClendon wasn’t winless against the Tide, but there was frequently a November hiccup against someone. I’ll cover the more interesting seasons.

There were a number of times in the late 60s and early 70s where ole miss was a big issue as well. LSU typically played the two in consecutive weeks, so this made it especially troublesome. See the Ole Miss blog for more, especially 1968 to 1972.

In 1962, LSU didn’t even play Alabama, but the Tigers did suffer their first loss in early November. That year it was Ole Miss. I wonder if people mix up Johnny Vaught (who also liked to wear suits and a hat and whose name is also on his team’s stadium now) with the Bear. Despite the loss, LSU is considered co-national champions by the Berryman system. Obviously I’m not counting that one as a major poll.

McClendon vs. Bryant

In 1964, Alabama derailed an LSU undefeated streak to start the season for the first time. The Tigers had tied Tennessee earlier though and would also lose to Florida before winning the Sugar Bowl over Syracuse. Alabama won the SEC but opted to play in the orange bowl instead.

LSU would also lose to Alabama the next four seasons but had lost at least twice before all four years.

1969 was much like 1962. LSU won every game until the first game of November against Ole Miss. Except this time the Tigers played and beat Alabama, the first win over the tide in 11 years.

The Tigers hoped to play in the cotton bowl for a potential claim on the national championship and refused all other invites. Instead notre dame decided at the last minute it wanted to go to a bowl game. So after one of the best LSU seasons in the last 50 years, the Tigers didn’t go to a bowl game at all.

LSU technically did not share the SEC championship since the Tigers only played five SEC games that season. This was shortly after Tulane left the SEC, and their spot remained on LSU’s schedule. SEC champion Tennessee had a blowout loss to Ole Miss, so they were apparently not considered title contenders.

LSU was not undefeated the next year against Alabama either, but they went (and stayed) undefeated in conference for McClendon’s only SEC championship. LSU had two non-conference losses though and also lost in the Orange Bowl.

In 1971, LSU lost early out of conference and lost to both Ole Miss and Alabama.

McClendon stayed at LSU until 1979, but in hindsight his last real chances to do anything were 1972 and 1973. This is why Alabama is usually brought up within seconds of his name being spoken among older LSU fans.

In 1972, LSU won in controversial fashion over Ole Miss 17-16 the previous week to remain undefeated. There were no heroics in Birmingham though, as #2 Alabama prevailed by 14. The Tigers would lose a bowl game to Tennessee to finish 9-2-1.

In 1973, LSU navigated all the non-conference traps including then-#10 Colorado but had only really been challenged in conference by Kentucky, with the Tigers winning by 7. Same result though. #2 Alabama again won by exactly two touchdowns.

LSU was apparently so disappointed that the next game they lost to Tulane for the first time since 1948. The Tigers would also lose the Orange bowl against Penn St. to finish 9-3.

McClendon would not beat Alabama again. Although his last team in 1979 was shut out, it held the #1 Tide to just a field goal.  There was some wind-driven dew causing inclement weather on the field though.

The 1980s

After McClendon, LSU hired Bo Rein, who tragically died in a plane crash before getting to coach the team. The Tigers turned to a loyal former player named Jerry Stovall, but he was an inconsistent coach.

So when the Tigers had the only really good start of his tenure (6-0-1), they went to #8 Alabama and won. Some may have thought happy days were in Baton Rouge again, but this feeling would be short-lived.

LSU would win a total of three games against top-10 teams that season (also Florida and Florida St.) but would lose to unranked Mississippi St. and Tulane (his second loss to them in a row) before losing in the Orange Bowl to Nebraska. The tie also came against an unranked team, Tennessee. Georgia, who LSU had not played, won the SEC.

After the Tigers went winless in the SEC the following year, defensive innovator Bill Arnsparger was at the helm in 1984. LSU once again beat Alabama in Birmingham but couldn’t win at Mississippi St. No more losses to Tulane to this day, but LSU did lose another Orange Bowl to finish 8-3-1. Florida, the team who tied LSU, would win the SEC, although the title was later vacated.

LSU lost early in Arnsparger’s other two seasons but tied Alabama in 1985 and beat them again in 1986. The ’86 win was the third road win in a row over the tide.

Between that 1969 season mentioned and Nick Saban’s first season in 2000 (in which LSU curiously lost to Alabama-Birmingham but beat the Tuscaloosa version), LSU did not beat Alabama at home even once.

In 1987, Arnsparger’s assistant Mike Archer took over. LSU was undefeated and untied in conference but had tied Ohio St. out of conference. Alabama won somewhat easily, 22-10, the Tigers’ only loss of the year. LSU finished 10-1-1 after winning the Gator Bowl.

Archer managed to win the SEC despite three non-conference losses the following year but couldn’t do much beyond that in the two losing seasons that followed.

The recent rivalry

Apart from those two games at the end of the list above, there isn’t much by way of undefeated LSU teams to talk about, but I thought I’d still tie up loose ends.

LSU only managed two winning seasons from 1989 to 1999. The longest LSU winning streak to start the season in that time was four games in 1996, so that didn’t come close to the Alabama game, but the Tide won 26-0 anyway. 1996 was one of only two 10-win LSU teams from 1962 to 2000.

The game has been in the first 16 days of November every year since 1982, so that limits the undefeated possibilities. Of course there are several examples of undefeated Alabama against LSU, and LSU has actually won a few of those in the last 20 years or so. That’s just obviously not the situation this year.

The intensity in the rivalry, despite a very entertaining overtime game in 2005, didn’t return to its prior levels until Saban took over in 2007. Although LSU won the national championship that year, the Tigers had lost to Kentucky in triple OT two games before the Alabama game.

Further evidence of the recent intensity is bye weeks. LSU had a bye before Alabama in 2007 and has had one from 2010 to at least 2016. Alabama has also typically had a bye before the LSU games. Their recent pre-LSU byes have been 2007, 2009-11, and 2013-2016 (and probably continuing afterward). Alabama won on the infamous screen pass in 2012 anyway.

2011 wasn’t that long ago, but that’s of course covered in my main rivalry entry.

Just as a side note, that weekend in 2011 was also one of the best of the history of this blog on WordPress and actually was the best full stop until last season when I got big boosts around the time of both Mississippi St. and Ole Miss.

SEC Wednesday #4 and LSU Midweek

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, Rivalry, SEC Wednesdays on October 21, 2015 at 7:03 PM

Last Week

Some weeks, I feel like I should have just flipped a coin for all the games. This was one of them.  Previous weeks convinced me not to pick Auburn, Mississippi St., or South Carolina against the spread.  All three have been huge disappointments against the spread on multiple occasions, so I finally got the tipping point where I didn’t want to pick them anymore.  So of course they all decided to play well.  If I had known nothing about what happened earlier this season, I might have picked all three.

Texas A&M, on the other hand, convinced me to pick them and the points over Alabama.  I thought they would at least be in the game in the fourth quarter at home.  Maybe Alabama is just going to have a new tradition of losing to Ole Miss and then stomping everyone else, although I’m not quite sure why the Tide didn’t win by more against AR-Kansas if that is the case.

SEC WED

Speaking of Ole Miss, unlike last year, it’s like the season ended for them immediately after the Alabama game.  It’s like they didn’t even show up against Florida, and then I guess they thought since it was Memphis, it didn’t matter that it was a road game against a bunch of players who get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield did and wanted to take it out on an SEC opponent.  I thought the Rebels would just barely beat the line, but they were about four touchdowns away from doing so.

LSU-Florida and Georgia-Missouri were the two bright spots that went exactly as I anticipated.  Wins by the favorites but within the spread.  I mentioned that I was wrong about five of them against the spread.

I did pick Mississippi St. and Alabama to win, so at least both of those happened.  This at least gave me a winning record (4-3) for the week in picking the winners.

My overall records fall to 22-9 “straight up” and 13-16 against the spread.

Upcoming Week

I will discuss LSU at the end because I don’t want to bury my coverage of other teams.

Arkansas is favored by six at home against Auburn even though their only home win is over UTEP.  I’ll pick the Hogs to win since as mentioned they did all right with Alabama and are coming off a bye week.  However, I’ll hope it’s a small margin since I’ll take Auburn and the points.  The plains Tigers won at Kentucky by three, so losing at Arkansas by a slim margin seems fairly consistent with that.

As mentioned earlier, Alabama didn’t win by that much against Arkansas at home (13 points).  So I’ll take Tennessee and the 15.5 even though the game will be in Tuscaloosa.  Arkansas did beat Tennessee, but I think that will be viewed as an upset at the end of the year. This is still enough of a rivalry that it may be close.  Alabama to win.

Vanderbilt lost to South Carolina by nine last week, and Missouri lost to Georgia by three.  I’m thinking Missouri can win by more than 2.5 even though the game is in Nashville.  It may be another baseball score though. (Earlier in the year, Mizzou beat Connecticut by the same score it just lost to Georgia, 9-6.)

I have absolutely no idea which Rebel and Aggie teams will show up in Oxford. I’ll do the same thing I did with Arkansas-Auburn and pick the favorite (Ole Miss) to win by fewer than 6 points.

Kentucky narrowly beat such luminaries as ULL and Eastern Kentucky.  The four-point win over South Carolina has lost a bit of its lustre too.  However, the Wildcats kept the Gators close and beat Missouri by 8.  What convinced me to take them in the points is the fact that I think Mississippi St. is a good enough team that Kentucky will step up its play enough to make it close.  I have no reason to believe Kentucky is worse than last year, and Mississippi St. is a fair bit away from how good they were last year. The Bulldogs only won by 14 last year, so I’ll take Kentucky and the 11.5 with State to win.

LSU Midweek Comments and Projection

Inspired by Les Miles, I’m going to take a huge gamble and pick LSU to actually beat the spread of 17 this week. Western Kentucky seemed a bit distracted by the crowd in NASHVILLE. Even a substandard crowd in Baton Rouge would probably be intimidated by comparison.  I don’t know if it will be though.  It will be at night, the weather should be in the 70s, and LSU does not return home until November 14 against Arkansas, one of only two remaining home games after this one.

The Hilltoppers have the ability to hang in there if LSU does stupid things like fumble a punt in the first few minutes and allow a kick-return TD, both of which the Tigers did against Florida.  However, I don’t think the talent and preparation for the environment will the the same, so even if there are some LSU mistakes, WKU may not take advantage as well.

If LSU managed to run away with it on Will Muschamp’s Auburn defense (which isn’t good statistically but still held Mississippi St. to 17, for instance), I can see the same thing playing out against Western Kentucky’s defense, which gave up 38 to both Indiana and Louisiana Tech.  Last week, WKU gave up 28 points to North Texas, one of the worst FBS teams.  The Mean Green scored 14 in the first half, so they weren’t all window dressing after the game was decided either.  That was UNT’s highest point total for the season and came just a week after a 66-7 loss to Portland St.

Trent Domingue himself actually brought this picture with the unhappy mascots to my attention when he mentioned it in an interview.

Anyway, while I’m talking about LSU I wanted to mention a couple of things about the Florida series I forgot about previously.  This is only the second time LSU has won three home games in a row against the Gators.  The previous time was three games spread out over 18 seasons ending in 1957.  This was also the third time and first since 1982 that LSU has won five times in six contests against the Gators.

Also, since 2007, LSU is 12 for 16 on fourth downs against the Gators with at least four successful fakes, three of them fake field goals.  LSU has converted its last six fourth-down-conversion attempts against Florida.

Also significant to me was the fact Florida no longer leads the series in Baton Rouge.  Tennessee (which never played LSU very often) and Alabama are the only two SEC programs with more wins than losses in Baton Rouge.

Previous entries

Week 4 Preview (predictions only)

SEC Wednesdays #1

SEC Wednesdays #2

SEC Wednesdays #3

Spurrier and LSU-Florida Revisited

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on October 16, 2015 at 3:39 PM

I don’t want to go too much into ancient history in this blog because my rivalry blog has all that stuff, but I have to say a couple of things about Spurrier in addition to my comments Wednesday.  His last game on Saturday was 25 years and four days after his first game against LSU with the Gators.

{Late edit: I wanted to add this about the South Carolina game and relief efforts.  Worth the read.}

Not only did LSU fail to beat Spurrier’s Gators except for the 1997 upset in Tiger Stadium, but that was one of only three games where the Tigers came within two touchdowns of the Gators in Spurrier’s tenure.  Before Spurrier took the helm in 1990, LSU had a 19-15 lead in the series.

So in large part thanks to Spurrier, Florida still has a lead in the series of four games, 31 to 27 with 3 ties.  Spurrier had zero success against LSU with the South Carolina Gamecocks, however.

I mentioned that game in 1990 was also in October. I like that this game has occupied a fairly consistent spot every year.  With only one exception, the game has been played in the first three playing weeks of October since 1973.  In fact, there have only been four times in the entire history of the series when the game was played in a month other than October.

With that out of the way, I’ll turn my attention exclusively to things that have happened this century.

The recap of the games and seasons below is also part of my rivalry blog, but that was more of a big-picture focus than some of the game stories below.  I’ll probably re-organize this at some point, but an exception was last year, where the full game story is part of the rivalry blog and not reproduced in any way below.

2001 to 2006 

Of course there have been a lot of years where the winner of the LSU-Florida game went on to win the SEC, and there were also of course a few years where the winner won the national title.  Given where the game takes place on the calendar, there can still be time for the loser to rebound.  This occurred in both 2001 and 2003.  LSU lost both games, both at home, and won the SEC in both years.  In 2003, the Tigers also won the BCS championship.

LSU won in the Swamp in 2002, having worked out its frustrations with a 36-7 win over Ron Zook’s first team.  Both teams finished 8-5 that year.

2004 was a similar year, and LSU won in a close game (I actually watched it about a year ago on ESPN Classic).  JaMarcus Russell (who also started in 2005 and 2006) struggled in his first start with the Tigers, but he was successfully relieved by the veteran Marcus Randall.  Also, the defense stepped up and held the Gators scoreless for the entire second half.  Apart from the first four minutes or so, LSU did not lead or tie until 27 seconds remained in the game.  Randall managed the game well, but RB Joseph Addai accounted for 44 yards of total offense on the 50-yard winning drive.

In 2005 (the first season for both Les Miles and Urban Meyer), LSU got only its second win at home against Florida since 1987, but it was another good game, 21-17. LSU had stormed out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, then Florida took the lead in the third quarter before the Tigers scored the winning touchdown early in the fourth. Neither team was able to generate any offense to speak of after that point. This frustration caused Urban Meyer to cry after the game.  LSU went on to win the division with a 9-game winning streak but lost the SEC championship game to Georgia.

Not 100% sure this is the right game, but Meyer was occasionally upset in his tenure at Florida despite a lot of wins.

Not 100% sure this is the right game, but Meyer was occasionally upset in his tenure at Florida despite a lot of wins.

LSU would have an 11-win year that culminated with winning the Sugar Bowl in 2006, but it wasn’t quite as good as Florida’s 13-1 BCS championship season.  So according to plan, the Gators won without too much drama in the Swamp that season, 23-10.

The only player to score a touchdown for LSU in the 2006 game was a man named Jacob Hester, who averaged nearly five yards per carry.  Miles and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton must have realized that former OC Jimbo Fisher may have been in error not handing it to him more often in that game, because Florida sure was sick of him after the 2007 game.

2007

Feel free to skip to the bottom of this section or the next heading, but I have not told the full story of this game on this site, and what better time than with undefeated LSU against undefeated Florida at night in Tiger Stadium coming up tomorrow?

Miles actually mentioned the 2007 game in his Wednesday press conference, and for me that’s the iconic game of Miles’ tenure so far.

LSU and USC were the consensus #1 and #2 teams in the early part of that season.  The Tigers had not even had a competitive second half yet and went into the game 5-0.  Florida had just suffered its first loss the week before in a close game against Auburn, so they went into the game looking to redeem themselves.

Except for the first four minutes of the game, Florida had led for the entire night, going back up by 10 (the Gators had also led by 10 at halftime) with five minutes left in the third quarter.

After one drive that ended in a punt and another that ended in a missed field goal, it just was not looking like LSU’s night.  Then something started happening.  Some say Tiger Stadium is haunted, and the ghosts only come out at night.

Tim Tebow, who went after the fans after someone had gotten a hold of his cell phone number and disseminated it on campus, had a chance to put the game away.  The ghosts especially don’t like opposing QBs who attack the fans (as Bo Wallace would also find out in 2014).  For some reason, on second and 6, Tebow took a chance and threw an interception.

It was right about this time that an announcement came over the PA system. FINAL SCORE: STANFORD 24, USC 23.  This was one of the biggest upsets for several years.  Mighty USC—who had won an AP title in 2003, nearly accomplished BCS titles in the next two seasons, and then followed with an 11-2 season in 2006—lost to Stanford, who had only won a total of three games from October 2005 to that night nearly two years later.

The crowd went nuts.  It didn’t hurt that a few years before LSU had been forced to share its first national major title in 47 years with USC.  Miles recalled wondering why the crowd was so excited when LSU was still behind in the game.

Later in the ensuing LSU possession, the Tigers faced a fourth down, seemingly a good time to take the three easy points.  Not so fast.  LSU had missed a field goal, as I mentioned, even though this one would have been shorter.  Both of the Tigers’ previous touchdowns had been enabled by going for it on fourth down.  The first was a fairly routine goal-line situation, but the Tigers’ third-quarter touchdown drive to stay in the game was kept alive by a fourth-and-5 scramble.  Whatever it was, something told Les Miles to go for it again on fourth and 3.

QB Matt Flynn had started only 10 for 21 with an interception, but I guess something said that the Tigers needed to throw it on that play.

The Florida offense had apparently been thrown off course by the interception and sputtered on its next possession.  After a punt, LSU took over with 9:20 left on the clock.

Due to a penalty, LSU faced a 2nd and 18.  The smaller, quicker back Trindon Holliday only managed two yards to set up a third and very long.  Maybe LSU would have to try for the winning drive in the next possession…

On the third and long, Flynn was stopped about a yard short of the first down after a desperate scramble when no one was open.  Maybe Florida needed a more bruising back to get the first down on yet another fourth down.  Jacob Hester provided it.  LSU still trailed by three near midfield though.

Three plays later (including a first-down pass), Hester rushed for another 19 yards, then he picked up 4 yards.  Then Ryan Perrilloux, the backup running quarterback, ran for another 5 yards.  Hester was surprisingly stopped for no gain on third down.  Once again, Miles had the chance to take the field goal and a tie game.  Once again, he refused and instead called a handoff to Hester on fourth down, which once again succeeded.

Three plays later, Hester had apparently lost his patience for fourth downs and ran for a touchdown on third down.

Jacob Hester extends the ball for the winning touchdown in 2007.

Jacob Hester extends the ball for the winning touchdown in 2007.

Not only did LSU have its only lead of the game; but the 15-play, 60-yard drive had chewed up all but 69 seconds of the clock.  Florida would get a couple of first downs, but Tim Tebow was sacked on the second-to-last play and threw an incomplete pass on the last play.

Although the Tigers converted fewer than half of the third downs they had faced, LSU went 5/5 on fourth downs for the game.  LSU had converted almost as many fourth downs as Florida had converted third downs (6).  That includes a third-down scramble by Tebow on the final drive.

Despite a few other crazy games, two of which ended in losses, LSU would end the season as BCS Champions after defeating Ohio St.  This time, the AP went along with it.  Florida finished only 9-4 but would win the BCS the following season.

2008 and 2009

I’ve already given you a hint about what happened in 2008.  It wasn’t even close, as Florida won 51-21.  This was basically a throwback to the Spurrier era.  LSU struggled that season in part because the aforementioned Ryan Perrilloux had been the heir apparent at quarterback, and LSU’s pocket passer Jarrett Lee had a terrible habit that year of throwing touchdowns to the wrong team.  Later that year, he was relieved by Jordan Jefferson, a more mobile quarterback who better suited LSU’s playbook and didn’t turn the ball over so much.

LSU improved a bit the next season, but Florida would not lose again until the SEC championship in 2009.  LSU hung in there but couldn’t generate much offense in the 13-3 loss.  This was one of only four home losses for LSU from the beginning of the 2009 season to today.

2010

In 2010, LSU was a good bit better, while Florida was in rebuilding mode again.  After LSU’s opening field goal, the teams traded touchdowns and leads to go along with them.  LSU finally extended its lead to 6 at the end of the half.  The third quarter was scoreless, but LSU went up 26-14 after a failed conversion attempt early in the fourth quarter.

Florida then ran back the ensuing kickoff to get within 5.  After the teams traded punts a few times, new QB Jeff Brantley led Florida on a 10-play, 80-yard drive to give the Gators the lead with only 3:21 left in the game.

LSU basically had to put in Lee at quarterback because Jefferson was not a reliable enough passer for the two-minute drill.  LSU only needed a field goal, so Tiger fans held their breaths and hoped Lee didn’t do anything crazy.

LSU faced a third-and-1 just outside of normal field-goal range and RB Stevan Ridley was absolutely stuffed for a loss of two.

LSU lined up for a field goal, but Florida should have known how Les felt about tying field goals, especially from 50+ yards away.  Anyway, the holder flipped the ball over his shoulder to kicker Josh Jasper, who ran an end-around and got what appeared to be a first down.  The play didn’t quite go according to plan, however, as the ball hit the ground and bounced up to Jasper instead of his being able to catch it in the air.

K Josh Jasper runs for a first down in the final minute in 2010.

K Josh Jasper runs for a first down in the final minute in 2010.

After an extensive review and after Urban Meyer threw a fit on the sidelines, repeatedly signaling first down for Florida, the play stood as a lateral.  I have some suspicions that stress induced by Les Miles alone played a major role in Meyer’s departure from Gainesville (though I suppose Nick Saban helped too), but that’s getting off-topic.

Also, according to Miles, the play should have resulted in a touchdown without the bounce (as a similar play did against South Carolina in 2007); but instead the Tigers still had 31 yards to go with about 30 seconds left.

Lee handled it surprisingly well.  On first down, Terrence Toliver (I looked him up, and he’s now a starting WR for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats) found a seem up the middle and Lee connected to set up first and goal.  After an incompletion, the ball again went to Toliver on a fade route to the left side for the winning touchdown with just six seconds left. LSU won, 33-29.

Comments after 2012 and 2013 games (see here for full blog): In the last 11 years, LSU leads 6-5, with half of the wins coming in Gainesville (2002, 2004, and 2010). Since LSU lost in 2001, this means that in the last 12 years, LSU has gone 6-6, with three home wins and three road wins, and obviously Florida has done the same. The two teams often knock each other out of the SEC championship game, and although a rematch has been often discussed as a possibility, it has never happened. However, as mentioned below, in both 2001 and 2003, LSU lost to Florida before winning SEC championship games over Tennessee and Georgia, respectively.

I thought of this later even though it was unrelated to the 2012 game in Gainesville. LSU has won 22 consecutive home games (as of 10/14/12), the longest in school history, since losing to Florida in 2009. LSU’s win over Florida in 2005 (which was payback for the 2003 loss) began a 19-game home winning streak. So the two Florida wins at LSU from 2003 to present are two of only seven wins at LSU by opposing teams in that time. Three of those LSU losses were in 2008, when Florida beat LSU in the Swamp.

2012 and 2013 were consecutive games where the overall point total was below 24 points. This also took place in 2009, Florida’s last win at LSU (and the last win of anyone apart from the 2012 Alabama team at LSU), when the Gators won, 13-3.

There were 16 games before 1974 where the two teams combined for fewer than 35 points, which isn’t too remarkable as passing was fairly rare before that time, but the frequency of such games hasn’t decreased as much as is typical in other series. It happened three games in a row from 1979 to 1981. Then Florida won 20-0 in 1985, 19-6 in 1988, 16-13 in 1989, and 16-0 in 1991. Meanwhile, LSU won 13-10 in 1987.

The Spurrier era at Florida put the brakes on all that defense, but there was an exception in 1998, when Florida only won 22-10. The best win of the Ron Zook era was the 19-7 win at LSU in 2003. That LSU team would win the BCS Championship. Then in 2006 (a championship year for the Gators), Florida won 23-10.

Even though many of the particularly bad losses were in the 1990s. something else I noticed was that only 5 times in the 14 years from 2000 to 2013 did LSU lose by more than 21. Three of those were to Florida (2000, 2001, and 2008).

(This was originally on the main rivalry blog I linked to earlier:)

2014 Summary and Comparisons

2014 was a more exciting game.  It reminded me of a couple of previous LSU wins.

LSU’s previous win at Florida, in 2010, was very similar.  If you don’t remember, LSU had the fake field goal where the holder flipped the ball and the kicker (Josh Jasper) picked it up off the bounce and ran for a first down.  This eventually set up LSU’s go-ahead touchdown on a fade in the corner of the end zone, the second lead change in the last 3 1/2 minutes of the game.  In that game, the Tigers struggled with kick returns, giving up an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that kept LSU in the game.  LSU had taken the lead in the second quarter after falling behind early on.

For posterity, I’ll give a brief synopsis of the 2014 game. I shouldn’t have to explain the similarities.  A guy named Andre Debose (who scored on the kickoff return in 2010) opened scoring with a touchdown on a punt return, helping Florida to an early 17-7 lead.  The Tigers chipped away at the lead and eventually had the lead going into the fourth quarter. LSU didn’t have a fake in this game, but they did opt to go for it on a fourth and goal in the first half.  This lead to a touchdown.

Turning your attention to the fourth quarter, Dubose had another important return which gave Florida the ball at the LSU 9.  This lead to a touchdown and a lead for the Gators.

When LSU took over possession with just over 6 minutes remaining, QB Anthony Jennings had only thrown one pass for over 10 yards, earlier in the fourth quarter.  So it looked like Florida was in good shape when LSU was down by 4 at their own 38 and facing a third and 25.  Someone forgot to guard Jennings’ favorite receiver for these situations, Travin Dural.  He got the first down and another 16 yards for good measure.  That combined with a Florida personal foul helped set up an LSU touchdown (on a fade pass to the back corner of the end zone) to go up 3.

The mutual struggle of the two teams to lose the game wasn’t over though.  Florida’s Jeff Driskel threw a 73-yard pass to give Florida the ball at the two.  After a couple unsuccessful runs and dropped virtually undefended pass by Florida, Will Muschamp opted not to go for it and the Gators kicked the tying field goal.

Not knowing if Florida may take the lead, LSU had called a timeout to keep time on the clock.  That became a double-edged sword when the LSU drive was abruptly ended by an incompletion and sack in consecutive plays.

Then Florida called a timeout.  This gave the Gators good field position (at the Florida 42… the LSU punter finally had the good sense to kick it out of bounds) and a chance for a potential winning field goal.  Jeff Driskel, who had recently looked like a hero of the game and was moving Florida downfield yet again, threw the ball to the wrong team, giving LSU a chance to win.  Surely the LSU kicker who missed an extra point earlier in the day wouldn’t have a career long from 50 to win, right?  This is a Les Miles team, you learn to just shake your head and laugh.

The other game this reminded me of was actually before Les Miles though.  It was in 2004 and was the last time Saban faced the Gators as LSU head coach.  Saban was only 1-3 against Florida going into the game and had one of his worst losses (at least among the games not played against Florida) on the road the previous week.  Even though they had changed starting quarterbacks, LSU also fell behind early, 14-0.  The first score was set up by an interception return deep in LSU territory.

LSU shrunk the Florida lead over time but they still trailed by four with just over 2 minutes remaining and had not done much on offense since the field goal drive that opened the second half.  Another potential field goal had been blocked in the interim, but nothing had come very close to the end zone.

This crazy offensive coordinator named Jimbo Fisher decides to call three running plays in the first four plays of a two-minute drill.  But the man who got the ball in those three plays was Joseph Addai, who ran for a total of 34 yards in those plays.

Then Marcus Randall, the QB who had been benched to start the game, was sacked, bringing up a third down from the Florida 10 with LSU needing a touchdown to take the lead.  After a play action, none of the LSU wide receivers were open; but in rushing the passer, Florida forgot to guard an eligible receiver named Joseph Addai, who had sneaked through the line.  Addai caught the ball at about the 8 and went all the way into the end zone to give LSU its only lead of the game, which it held onto for the remaining 30 seconds.

The 2014 win was the second in three LSU games at Florida and the fourth win in seven games at Florida, the latter run following seven consecutive losses.

Next week, some time before Wednesday, I will also have more to say about the Pete Carroll USC teams, as I had some comments to share in reaction to the “30 for 30” entry “Trojan Horse”.

Week 6 Rankings and Commentary

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on October 11, 2015 at 1:55 PM

First off, I wanted to draw attention to my Rivalry Series editions.  I updated the one for Steve Spurrier/South Carolina (I anticipate Saturday’s game was the Visor’s last against the Tigers; I couldn’t stand him in the 1990s, but I will wish him well if that is the case).  Also, obviously Spurrier had a huge impact upon the LSU/Florida rivalry, which will be renewed Saturday night in Death Valley between two undefeated teams.  That information is enough to spark interest in this year’s game, but I think it’s worth reflecting upon some of the other huge games between the two in the last 10 years especially.

Speaking of Florida, I can almost guarantee that if Florida wins this weekend, they will be #1 both in this list and in the computer listing.  However, for now I am keeping Ohio St. #1 and LSU #2.  LSU is 8th in the computer list, but if you divide score by playing week the Tigers rise to 4th.  So LSU is in position with a win to prove they belong at their current spot or better.  If they lose, they’d fall to where the computer puts them, as would Florida.

Florida, Mississippi St., and Alabama are the only visiting programs to win in this stadium since 2008.  The Gators will try to do it again Saturday night.

Florida, Mississippi St., and Alabama (twice) are the only visiting programs to win in this stadium since 2008. The Gators will try to do it again Saturday night.

If Ohio St. comes out first in the computer, they will stay #1.  I haven’t been impressed by the Buckeyes, but I said last week we would not have enough information for a new #1 until next week.  I’ll also say that if TCU comes out first in the computer (not likely), they will become the new #1.  If it’s anyone else, I will consider what the margin is in front of the other teams and upcoming games before I make a decision.

I made a mistake with Michigan St. by putting them near the top the last couple of weeks.  Somehow I gave them credit for beating a much better team than Oregon.  This discrepancy didn’t show up until Oregon lost again and I realized the Spartans were getting way too much credit for their wins so far.

However, since they are undefeated and they do have a game against a top 10 team on Saturday, I didn’t want to drop them too far.  I thought they were still a better top 10 team for now than Temple is.  The Owls play winless Central Florida this weekend (winless means you don’t get points for beating them for the time being), so they may fall out of the top 10 anyway.

The only other change I made from the computer was to leave Ole Miss in the top 25 (they had lost several spots for beating NMSU, which is basically the same as a bye week until the Aggies beat someone) and to leave Memphis out of the top 25.  If I put the wrong team in, that will be proven on the field when Memphis hosts Ole Miss on Saturday.

Other than the possible change to the #1 team I mentioned, my plan for next week is just to rely on the computers.

Everything in the computers has proceeded pretty much as expected.  Utah, TCU, and Iowa got good but not great wins to varying degrees.  This allowed them to pass up Texas A&M, who was idle.  The Aggies are still in the top four when looking at average week though, and of course they can make up some ground by beating Alabama.

Michigan got the big win over previously unbeaten Northwestern, so they were the biggest mover in the top 25 other than Oklahoma, who lost to then-1-4 Texas.  Northwestern fell seven spots for its loss, which I think is reasonable.

Clemson and Florida St. seem to be proceeding nicely to a potential undefeated match-up in November, although the Tigers do have a trip to Miami before that.

I double-checked to make sure Cal lost points for the Utah game but not that many, and the Bears benefitted from a couple of teams slipping downward.

The only other movers worth mentioning were across the Bay, where Stanford was idle and fell two spots, and in South Bend, where Notre Dame improved six spots with the win over previously unbeaten Navy.  Also, Georgia of course fell out of the top 25 after blowing a 21-point lead in Knoxville.

Rank Team Previous
1 Ohio St. 1
2 LSU 2
3 Florida 4
4 Utah 7
5 TCU 9
6 Iowa 10
7 TX A&M 6
8 Michigan 16
9 Okie St. 12
10 Mich. St. 3
11 Temple 11
12 N’western 5
13 Clemson 13
14 Florida St. 21
15 UC-Berkeley 15
16 Penn St.

pennstate

17 Toledo 14
18 Notre Dame 24
19 Alabama 18
20 Baylor 19
21 Houston 20
22 Stanford 17
23 Oklahoma 8
24 UCLA 23
25 Ole Miss 22

Out of rankings (with last week’s rank):

25 Georgia

Rivalry Series: LSU vs. Notre Dame

In Bowls, College Football, Rivalry on December 29, 2014 at 6:10 PM
LSU graphic for the 1984 game.

LSU graphic for the 1984 game.

This doesn’t exactly fit the “rivalry” theme, but that’s what I decided to call blogs of this type.

There is a fair number of Notre Dame fans in Louisiana because of the Catholic population, so there always seems to be a fair amount of excitement over these games since the winner may have bragging rights for a while. I apologize in advance if this blog isn’t up to my usual standards. It was mostly written on an airplane, and I’m using an unfamiliar computer.

Tuesday’s game will be only the second meeting since 1998. In just over a year’s time, the Tigers had faced the Irish three times, winning only one. Apart from 2006 and 1981, all the other games were in groups of at least two, so I’ll do those together.

The series is tied, 5-5. LSU has won the only two “neutral” site games, but both were in Louisiana. LSU’s only win at Notre Dame was in 1985.

2006 (Sugar Bowl) – LSU 41, Notre Dame 14

The 2006 game (in the Sugar Bowl) was interesting, at least it was an interesting match-up going into the game. LSU didn’t win the SEC, but what had kept them from the title game was the loss to eventual national champions florida (whose berth in the championship opened up the Sugar) in the regular season. They also lost to auburn in a bizarre 7-3 game marred with officiating disputes.

Notre Dame entered that year with one of its strongest teams since the early ’90s. Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija led a very productive offense. Though neither Quinn nor LSU quarterback Jamarcus Russell amounted to much, they generated a lot of buzz for the NFL draft. Russell would be the #1 draft pick a few months later.

The game was competitive for a half, but LSU looked to be the stronger team all along. They just didn’t translate that into points as well in the first half. LSU won going away, 41-14.

When LSU won the national championship in 2007, it was remarkable not only for the two losses that season but also for the fact that so much talent had gone to the NFL after the previous season.

1997 – Notre Dame 24, @LSU 6
1997 (Independence Bowl) – LSU 27, Notre Dame 9
1998 – @Notre Dame 39, LSU 36

LSU had a fairly good year in 1997, going 9-3, but they had a miserable time with the Irish on a rainy November day (not night) at Tiger Stadium. They got revenge when the Irish came back to Louisiana, this time to Shreveport for the independence bowl. Neither game was close.

The bottom fell out for LSU in the next two years. Gerry DiNardo’s tenure, which had started with a 29-9-1 record, ended with a thud. The Tigers only won 3 of the last 18 games he coached.

There were a number of close losses to good teams in there though, and the Irish were one of them in 1998. LSU took a 34-20 lead with 8 minutes to go in the third quarter. The Irish responded by scoring late in the third, and then LSU had a chance to go back up by 14 in the fourth. On second down from the Notre dame 17, LSU’s Herb Tyler threw to the wrong team, and the Irish ran it all the way back. There was some hope when LSU blocked the extra point, but this didn’t matter when Notre Dame scored the go-ahead touchdown with just under 90 seconds to go in the game. When the Irish won by three points (after intentionally taking a safety), it was the fifth loss that season alone to a bowl-eligible team by less than a touchdown.

1984 – Notre Dame 30, @LSU 22
1985 – LSU 10, @Notre Dame 7
1986 – @LSU 21, Notre Dame 19

There were three competitive games in the mid-1980s. That may not have been the case in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Tigers began their worst stretch in recent memory and the Irish were competing for national championships.

Following a three-game losing streak in 1984 (Bill arnsparger’s first year at LSU), Notre Dame went on the road to upset a 7th-ranked LSU team that would eventually go to the Sugar Bowl. The Irish would not lose again until the Aloha Bowl.

After a disastrous loss at home in the third game in 1985, LSU went undefeated the rest of the regular season. The week after Alabama, the Tigers had a close call against Mississippi St., but they still entered the game against the Irish at 6-1-1 and ranked #17 in the country. After starting a respectable 5-3, Notre Dame lost to Penn State (who would finish 11-1) the week before hosting LSU.

Notre Dame took the lead just over 5 minutes into the game but would not score again the rest of the way. Still, the Irish held onto a 7-3 lead until late in the fourth quarter. With about 7 minutes left, an LSU drive stalled just a few yards into Notre Dame territory. After a 38-yard punt, the Irish took over at the 6 and went nowhere. This defensive stand allowed LSU to pick up roughly where they had left off on offense.

On a third and one (after a 9-yard run by LSU QB Jeff Wickersham), LSU took a gamble with a throw to running back Dalton Hilliard (uncle of current LSU running back Kenny Hilliard), who went down the sidelines for an 18-yard gain. Wickersham made another throw of 21 yards to get LSU into scoring position. After two runs, LSU took the lead 10-7 with about 3:30 to play.

After Notre Dame drove 25 yards to their own 48, Irish quarterback Steve Beuerlein’s pass was tipped. The Tigers came up with it and were able to run out the clock.

LSU made the Liberty Bowl after that season, where they lost to Baylor.

The Tigers would have a similar record going into the 1986 game against Notre Dame, this time playing the Irish at home. LSU was ranked #8, and Notre Dame was again unranked and headed toward a 5-6 finish.

Another close game ensued. This time LSU was first on the board with a touchdown after about 5 minutes of play, but Notre Dame’s Tim Brown took the kickoff back 96 yards to tie the game. LSU took the lead back after an 82-yard drive of 8:47. There was no scoring again until Notre Dame closed to 14-10 with about 6 minutes left in the third quarter. That score took place after Notre Dame converted a 3rd and 14. LSU would have had a stop on that down when it was first tried, but an LSU facemask offset a Notre Dame clipping penalty.

On LSU’s next play from scrimmage, Tommy Hodson threw an interception, which was returned to the LSU 2. The Irish gained a yard on first down but went no further, and the ball went over on downs when Brown was tackled for a loss on fourth down. The following LSU drive was a three and out, and Notre Dame then drove to the LSU 13 with six running plays and only one pass. The Irish then went backwards but they converted a 44-yard field goal attempt to get within 1.

LSU used a mix of running and passing to drive 79 yards in 11 plays. The Tigers only faced one third down on the drive, a 3rd and 3 from the Notre Dame 28.

Notre Dame’s next drive ended in a turnover, but LSU did nothing with it. The LSU defense could do little to stop the Irish from driving down the field in just seven plays for a touchdown. They stopped the two-point conversion though, and the Irish did not get the ball again.

1981 – @Notre Dame 27, LSU 9

Two awful teams played in 1981. LSU would only win three games that season, which is probably best remembered for ending with a humiliating 48-7 defeat at the hands of Tulane. Notre dame would finish 5-6 but they probably looked good momentarily in a 27-9 win at home.

1970 – @Notre Dame 3, LSU 0
1971 – @LSU 28, Notre Dame 8

What first inspired the Irish and Tigers to square off was the end of the 1969 season. LSU had only one loss, by two points to Archie manning’s ole miss rebels, and was hoping for a Cotton Bowl invite to play undefeated Texas and had declined other howl opportunities. Notre Dame, which had declined all bowl invitations since 1924, decided at the last minute they wanted to play Texas instead. They lost 21-17.

Notre Dame would only lose to two schools in the next two seasons, USC and LSU. The Irish did beat LSU at home, 3-0, in 1970. After a scoreless struggle, LSU had a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter, but their field goal attempt from the 17 was blocked. The Tigers kept Notre Dame from scoring on the next drive but were pinned at their own 1 afterward. Notre Dame then took over at the LSU 36. Interference was called on LSU on the first play from scrimmage, and Notre Dame drove 10 more yards before the winning field goal with only 2:54 to play.

LSU went 9-3 in both 1970 and 1971. In the 1970 bowl season, LSU lost to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, and Notre Dame got revenge over Texas in the Cotton.

In the 1971 game, LSU had lost to both Ole Miss and Alabama in the previous few weeks, so they took the opportunity to work out their frustrations in a 28-8 win. LSU was #14 AP and #18 in the coaches’ poll going into the game. Notre Dame, which had been #7 in both polls before the game, did not go to a bowl that year, while LSU beat Iowa St. in the Sun Bowl.

Prior entries:

Team List:
Alabama (Pregames: 2011, 2013)
Arkansas
Auburn (2010 post-game)
Florida
Georgia
Kentucky
Mississippi St.
Ole Miss
(Steve Spurrier and) South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas A&M

Special editions:
Pac-12

Notes on LSU @ Texas A&M 2014

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on November 24, 2014 at 6:58 PM

The LSU defense did about as well as could be expected against Johnny Manziel…

But as a more traditional passer, Kyle Allen presents a very different test.

LSU was the only team that went 2-0 against “Johnny Football”, but as the captions above indicate, that’s not necessarily a reason for confidence going into this game. If you missed it, I wrote about LSU’s quarterback situation last week.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been waiting until I can compute the Mock BCS standings before writing a blog about my rankings. Unfortunately, one of the formerly BCS computer rankings still has not been released for this week, so this could not be done on time tonight.

You can still access my ratings for all 128 teams here, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow or the next day for the blog that I write to accompany them.

I updated my LSU-Texas A&M “Rivalry Series” blog after last season’s game, but I thought of a few more possibly interesting tidbits.

From 1989 to 1995, LSU lost 4 consecutive games at Texas A&M. The Tigers did not travel to the state of Texas again until 2002, when they lost to the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl. The last five trips to the state have gone fairly well, however:

2014 – Wisconsin (Houston), 28-24
2013 – TCU (Arlington), 37-27
2012 – @Texas A&M, 24-19
2011 – Oregon (Arlington), 40-27
2010 – Texas A&M (Arlington), 41-24

In trips West of the Mississippi River since that 2002 Texas game I mentioned, LSU is 11-3, with all three losses coming against Arkansas (just in case of confusion, when I put “Little Rock,” that means that’s where the game was played, not that LSU played the University of Arkansas-Little Rock):

2014 LOSS – @Arkansas, 0-17
2012 – @Arkansas, 20-13
2010 LOSS – Arkansas (Little Rock), 23-31
2009 – @Washington, 31-23
2008 LOSS – Arkansas (Little Rock), 30-31
2006 – Arkansas (Little Rock), 31-26
2005 – @Arizona St., 35-31
2004 – Arkansas (Little Rock), 43-14
2003 – @Arizona, 59-13

Since joining the conference, Texas A&M is only 4-6 in SEC play at home. By comparison, when the Aggies beat South Carolina in late August, they ran their SEC road record to 7-2 but have since fallen to 8-4. (If that doesn’t quite seem to add up, they beat Arkansas at a neutral site in 2012.)

More LSU-Alabama Comments & Reaction to CFP Week 3

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on November 12, 2014 at 7:16 PM

I didn’t get a blog off at the end of last week, but I think I’ll have no problem getting off another before Saturday. If for some reason I don’t, here is the link to the Arkansas series blog.

Like LSU-Alabama in recent years, it has been a consistently close game, but the differences are (1) this has been a trend over a longer time period of time and (2) Arkansas can be a lot worse and still make it close. Alabama, by contrast, hasn’t been a lot worse than LSU since 2003, and for the 15 years before that results in the series were not consistently close.

I plan to talk more about this year’s installment of the Arkansas game (and about LSU’s player development and so forth) for the next blog.

In a play that briefly seemed as if it would decide the game, Alabama's T. J. Yeldon fumbles, while Kendell Beckwith (#52) prepares to recover the ball.

In a play that briefly seemed as if it would decide the game, Alabama’s T. J. Yeldon fumbles, while Kendell Beckwith (#52) prepares to recover the ball.

I’m not quite done talking about the Alabama game though. Les Miles wasn’t either. Typically his Monday press conferences are about half the length this one was, and they focus on the next game rather than the preceding game. (He was back to normal… a Les version of normal anyway… when he fielded the after-practice questions today.)

If I understood the comment in the Monday press conference correctly, he said he submitted about 25 calls that he wanted some clarification on. He indicated he did have a satisfactory conversation with the director of officials, but I’ll just hold by breath for SEC officials to be paragons of consistency.

http://www.lsusports.net/mediaPortal/player.dbml?catid=29814&id=3526633

I thought the College Football Playoff committee might have seen the same things. I found it very interesting that LSU, which was only #19 after beating Ole Miss, is now #17. Really, they look better now than they did after the last time they played a game (which was the third win in a row and was over a team ranked #3)? Granted, Alabama moved up one spot in its bye week, but rather than placing Alabama a spot higher after Auburn’s loss, they kept the Tide in the same place and moved TCU up two spots instead.

Of course, I think this can easily be undone by an Alabama win over Mississippi St., but it seems to me this is a message that, “yes, we saw what happened.” I may go into more detail on the listing later this week. You compare to other rankings here and here.

Immediately after the game, I mentioned a couple of the big calls, such as the apparent overtime pass interference(s) and the late personal foul call against LSU (when nothing more happened than a continuation of the play on both sides after the whistle blew).

Now that I’ve calmed down and am a little less furious, I want to explain the game situations caused by a couple of other calls (and subsequent failures to review in both instances).

There were three passes intended for freshman slot WR Trey Quinn. Two passes, one of which hit him in the hands, just should have been caught. I like the guy, he’s still on the banner image of my twitter account, but there are no two ways about his need to have caught those. I want to talk about the third pass though.

I think the ones he should have caught were both on third down, so that would leave the first-down pass to Quinn as the controversial one. Rolltide.com’s description of the play’s result was that the pass “fell short and incomplete”. The announcers said he trapped it and showed a brief replay, but I saw no indication that it hit the ground in replaying either the live version or the replay. They may have just been relating the apparent judgment of the official.

Whether this could have been overturned, I don’t know, but I can’t imagine the officials had a better view. I think when in doubt when a player has the ball in his hands and his arms under it waiting for it before it gets there, it should be ruled a catch.

Had the pass been ruled complete, LSU would have had a first down at the Alabama 38 with about 2:40 remaining. If LSU is stopped completely or goes backwards, they punt anyway. If they make either one more first down or between 5 and 9 yards, maybe they kick a long field goal (like the 50-yarder that beat Florida).

I mentioned that such plays as described above in reference to Quinn should be ruled a catch, and apparently that’s what happened on Alabama’s final drive of regulation. I suppose when it’s a question of Alabama, when in doubt it’s a catch rather than incomplete. I believe that qualifies as indisputable video evidence, but I haven’t seen slow-motion video zoomed in, just a still picture. Still, it’s pretty persuasive in the context of the live video (which I didn’t look up): http://postimg.org/image/dixpcrx3h

The replay official has the ability to stop the game before another play is run (which in this case was a spike). You’re probably thinking I would have complained had this happened. I would not because I didn’t believe it was a catch when I watched it live. I was actually in my living room signaling “timeout” (to allow time to review). It was only a 3-second difference anyway.

Had the pass been ruled incomplete, Alabama would have faced a fourth and four from the LSU 48 with 15 seconds on the clock. Even if they had completed the same play on fourth down, they would have then had to spike it for a field-goal try of 43 yards rather than the 27-yard attempt that would tie the game. Earlier in the game, Griffith made a 39-yard field goal and missed another 27-yarder.

Griffith has missed three of his last four attempts from 40 yards or more. The missed 27-yarder earlier in the game was his only miss from less than 30 yards, so the ability to get off that last play to reduce the attempt to 27 yards was huge.

From both LSU fans and others, I have seen the responses of “you (/we) should have been playing the same defense at the end as you were before,” “the receivers shouldn’t have dropped those passes,” “you (/we) should have run the ball in overtime,” “the kicker shouldn’t have kicked it out of bounds,” etc.

I’m sorry, when despite all these errors a game goes to overtime, it doesn’t take much uneven officiating to result in one team winning over another. You don’t have to play perfectly to say maybe you deserved to win.

I could go on about how Alabama deserved to lose due to the missed field goal, due to the fumble, due to only moving the ball into scoring position on one drive in the second half, due to possessing the ball for under 22 minutes, due to throwing as many incompletions (26) as LSU had passing attempts.

If your car gets stolen, maybe you forgot to lock it, maybe you parked in a bad spot, maybe you were in a bad neighborhood, maybe you should have realized how late it was, etc. That doesn’t mean a person didn’t steal your car, and it doesn’t mean that you have no right to complain about it. You can file a police report, insurance claim, and so forth. If the person is caught, they can be sued or criminally prosecuted. You’re not told, “oh well, live and learn.”

People might say I’m a bad sport or Les is a bad sport, but if this were a baseball game, it would have been played under protest even when LSU had the lead. Nothing about these complaints originated with the loss. I didn’t go back and look for excuses. Had I written my reaction to an LSU win, I would have mentioned how many bad calls they overcame.

Also, I have a couple of other things that have been bothering me. One, the attack on the LSU defense I referred to. Alabama wasn’t playing in the same way it was in prior possessions. The last time the field had been that spread out was in the second quarter.

The fact that Alabama only had the ball about a minute and a half in the third quarter made the LSU defense look good of course. They had the whole halftime to rest, then LSU had an opening drive that lasted 5:40, followed by a second drive that lasted 7:40 (although the latter only went 40 yards and resulted in no points).

In the fourth quarter before the last drive, Alabama only had a combined 12 plays, two of them punts and one of them a fumble. The best field position during that time was their own 28. They weren’t inclined to try anything too fancy.

But if a team is running a passing offense and running plays in quick succession, the defense can’t pretend they’re throwing 4-yard passes, safe downfield throws near the sidelines, or running the ball at a methodical pace.

I mentioned the second quarter, in which Alabama scored their initial 10 points and ran the drive leading to the missed field goal. There were a number of instances where there was an LSU player rushing at the end whether he couldn’t affect the pocket but where it created throwing opportunities. There were not enough players across the middle of the field and back from the line of scrimmage on the Alabama touchdown. On other plays, Amari Cooper was in one-on-one coverage on the sidelines and he got the ball that way. So LSU certainly didn’t want to make those mistakes again.

One last thing: it’s been 10 years, most people know Saban is a jerk, give it a rest. I hope next time we can pretend he’s just a regular visiting coach – like Kevin Sumlin or Hugh Freeze or Gus Malzahn or the various other coaches we’ve performed well against at home – and get past it. It doesn’t send a good message to be hung up on Saban. Putting him on a pedestal seems like it’s starting to give us an unhealthy inferiority complex. Worst of all, it re-affirms the judgment of the idiots who think we just need to somehow find a way to get rid of Miles and bring Saban back.