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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.)

LSU-Notre Dame and the Stolen Touchdown

In Bowls, College Football, General LSU, Rivalry on January 1, 2018 at 10:08 AM

I don’t really have a whole lot to add to my previous LSU-Notre Dame entry.

In the only match-up subsequent to that blog, the play of the game was a missed call (sustained after replay review) where LSU had a touchdown. This was the best picture I saw, but there were also better angles of the plane of the goal line where you could tell the ball was over before the knee touched.

Notre Dame would win on a field goal in the fourth quarter; but obviously if the Tigers had another 7 points on the board, no last-minute score by the Irish would have mattered.

This was a good summary of the circumstances surrounding the game and also made mention of the touchdown that wasn’t.

Brad Kragthorpe, then the holder and backup quarterback for the Tigers, scores an apparent touchdown at the end of the first half in the Music City Bowl between the Tigers and the Irish in 2014.

LSU will look to even the all-time series at six wins apiece today.

Week 12 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on November 12, 2017 at 3:30 PM

First of all, I wanted to mention I’ve updated the LSU-Arkansas rivalry blog. The Tigers brought the Golden Boot home from Fayetteville last year after leaving it there in 2014, so I was pleased that it will be staying in Louisiana until it makes the trip (round trip, I hope) North next season. It is also good to have two decisive wins in a row over the Hogs since either losing or playing a one-possession game against them every year but one (2011) in the Les Miles era.

LSU players with the Golden Boot after the game on Saturday

Moving onto the rankings, the point of posting this blog…

I made the right call to make Georgia prove themselves one more week before becoming #1, and my meddling will stop now. From now on this season, this list will be the exact order my computer formula gives me. Alabama has shown some vulnerabilities in the last couple of weeks though, so I wouldn’t count Georgia out yet. Contrast Saturday with Bulldogs’ win against Mississippi St.

I know some people are going to be confused that two-loss Notre Dame is ahead of a one-loss Georgia team they beat. Losing to undefeated Miami doesn’t hurt as much as losing to two-loss Auburn, for one thing.

Keep in mind that if Georgia runs the table, they’ll have three wins including one over Alabama, so there is no way they wouldn’t be ahead of Notre Dame (who only has two remaining opponents) after that. If Georgia loses again, then this is a moot point.

But Georgia plays in the SEC! This is true, and this is why they have a top-20 schedule so far. They play in the SEC East though, and they haven’t played one of the best SEC East teams (Kentucky) yet. Also, they avoided LSU and of course Alabama in the regular season by playing in the East. Other than Notre Dame, the Bulldogs’ non-conference wins are over Samford and Appalachian St. The value of their win over Mississippi St. went down slightly after the maroon Bulldogs lost to Alabama.

Alabama players wrap up Mississippi St. quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in Starkville on Saturday.

Notre Dame happened to piece together one of the best schedules this season. They’ve played two of the best ACC teams (U. Miami and North Carolina St.), they’ve played possibly the best Pac-12 team (USC), and they’ve played one of the Big Ten leaders going into the week (Michigan St.). The Irish have had much better schedules since contracting with the ACC for four games per year (the other two were Boston College and Wake Forest). The SEC East just doesn’t quite stack up to that even with two good cross-division opponents. The Irish have a few weaker opponents like Temple and North Carolina, but that doesn’t cancel out all the quality wins.

It’s also worth noting that Miami, Notre Dame, Georgia, and Oklahoma are extremely close to one another. If Oklahoma were playing a good team instead of Kansas, they could easily move up to #4 next week even if there were no upsets. The other three teams could be in any order depending on results in other games.

As I anticipated, Central Florida fell a few spots after a relatively weak win over Connecticut. The Knights won’t get many points if they beat Temple next week either.

LSU went up a few spots as other teams fell but obviously did not make the top 25. If the same number of teams in the 20-30 range lose next week and LSU takes care of Tennessee, the Tigers can expect to move into the top 25 then. A win over Texas A&M would be a good bit better than Tennessee or Arkansas, possibly counting for about as much as those two wins combined.

There was not a lot of movement toward the bottom of the top 25, which frustrated LSU and some other teams right below the top 25. Mississippi St. lost, but losing to Alabama didn’t hurt enough to knock them out of the top 25. San Diego St. remained in the top 25 despite a bye week. Washington and Iowa were high enough going into the week that they didn’t fall out.

rank/team/prev.

1 Alabama 1
2 Clemson 3
3 Wisconsin 6
4 U. Miami 7
5 Notre Dame 4
6 Georgia 2
7 Oklahoma 11
8 C. Florida 5
9 USC 8
10 Penn St. 9
11 Ohio St. 13
12 Auburn 22
13 Wash. St. 14
14 Mich. St. 10
15 Boise St. 18
16 TCU 12
17 Okla. St. 25
18 Memphis 17
19 Michigan 21
20 Iowa 16
21 Washington 15
22 Stanford –
23 S. Carolina 24
24 Miss. St. 20
25 San Diego St. 19

Out of top 25: (23) Toledo

Quick Hits & LSU-Bama Series

In College Football, General LSU, History, MLB, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2017 at 4:37 PM

Quick Hits

I want to talk about LSU-Alabama of course, but I also wanted to talk about a couple of other things first.

Really briefly, I’ve made previous reference to my dislike for politics seeping into sports. Accordingly, I won’t go into details about any one issue. I feel that since a certain point of view is being pushed by much of the sports media, I should at least recommend someone who says mostly correct things about such topics (this is an interview he gave): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lqeseEV5_w.

I didn’t get that into this baseball season; but as I mentioned in the last blog, I have enjoyed the World Series. While of course I’m happy for former LSU player Alex Bregman, I’m especially happy for the players I’ve been watching for 10 years or more like Carlos Beltran, Justin Verlander, and Francisco Liriano. As a long-term fan of the Cardinals and Mets, I’m especially happy for Beltran, who may have had his last chance at the age of 40. I thought the Dodgers had a strong advantage going into Game 7, but they make you play the game for a reason.

Carlos Beltran with his teammates after they held a memorial service for his fielding glove. Beltran spent most of his career as an outfielder, but the Astros rarely needed him to take the field defensively this season.

Along those lines, I think there are some college football teams who are not being given as much of a chance as they have in reality. I haven’t been picking lines much this season, although I did go 4-1 in my recommendations in Week 1 or 2. The following underdogs are all ones I’d be tempted to put a little bit of money on: Texas A&M +15 (vs. Auburn), South Carolina +23.5 (@Georgia), Iowa +17.5 (vs. Ohio St.), LSU +21.5 (@Alabama), and Oregon +17.5 (@Washington).

Before I go into details about the LSU-Alabama game, I wanted to wish Nick Saban a happy 66th birthday. I have no reason to believe he won’t be around for a while, but I think such milestones are a cause for reflection. Although I’ll be glad to see him go for some reasons, I think part of me will miss him. I honestly enjoy listening to a lot of his press conferences. He has important perspectives to share when he’s not berating reporters for asking dumb questions, and you can’t complain about a guy raising the bar for his opponents.

Alabama DB Daniel Wright sings “Happy Birthday” to Nick Saban

So I had the occasion to check out Saban’s Wikipedia page and remind myself of a couple of things. I had forgotten that Jim McElwain was his offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011, which included two national championships. Of course the offensive coordinator for his first national championship (the one at LSU) was another coach now on a bit of a hot seat by the name of Jimbo Fisher.

Other than LSU-Alabama, the biggest SEC game (in my opinion) is South Carolina-Georgia, which will be two former defensive assistants under Saban facing off as head coaches. Georgia’s Kirby Smart obviously was the defensive coordinator at Alabama recently. Will Muschamp was a Saban assistant at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins but has never been an assistant at Alabama.

Alabama often gets LSU’s best shot.

Despite the repeated losses, LSU has typically played better against Alabama than they should have on paper. I mention all of this in my LSU-Alabama series of blogs (this is the main one), but I thought it was worth rehashing a few things.

In 1993, LSU ended Alabama’s 31-game unbeaten streak. As most LSU wins of the past few decades have been, that was on the road. Like this game, that was a betting line of more than 20 points (it was 27 actually). The Tigers were much worse back then though. It had been 5 years since LSU even made a bowl game at that point.

Ivory Hilliard of LSU returns an interception deep into Alabama territory in Tuscaloosa in 1993. LSU would win, 17-13.

LSU would not beat Alabama again until 1997 when the Tide was having a bad year, but 5 of the Tide’s 7 losses that season were by 12 points or less, and 4 of the losses were by one possession. The only ones that were decided by more than 12 points were Tennessee’s 38-21 win (the Vols finished 11-2) and LSU’s 27-0 win (the Tigers finished 9-3). So in short, LSU should have won; but they shouldn’t have won by that much.

The respective fortunes reversed the next season, but despite finishing with a 4-7 record, LSU played the Tide close, only losing by 6. Alabama would lose 4 games to teams who would win 9 games or more apiece on the season and finished 7-5. It was the same margin the following year, in which LSU finished 3-8 and Alabama finished 10-3.

The series ceased to be a really meaningful rivalry until 2005 when Alabama entered the game undefeated and LSU entered the game on a 6-game winning streak after losing the conference opener in a weekday game that had been delayed by Hurricane Rita. The Tigers would win in overtime in another road game.

LSU’s JaMarcus Russell escapes an Alabama defender in Tuscaloosa in 2005.

The Tide kept the game close in Nick Saban’s first season in 2007, but they were ultimately overmatched by an LSU team on the way to a national championship.
Alabama would partially avenge LSU’s 5-game winning streak in the series by winning the next two, but the Tigers still played better than they should have. 2008 was probably LSU’s worst year under Les Miles, and yet they took the Tide to overtime. Alabama won the SEC West that year and probably would have won the national championship had they not lost to Florida in the SEC Championship. In the following year, Alabama beat everyone and LSU would finish 9-4, but the Tide only won by 9. That was despite a crucial LSU interception that was ruled incomplete.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete.

Alabama’s 19-game winning streak was ended by South Carolina in 2010, but a number of people still favored the Tide in the SEC Championship race because they would have represented the West had they won out even though Auburn was undefeated at the time. But first they ran into LSU, who had just lost to Auburn the week before. LSU won in an upset, 24-21, in Baton Rouge. Although the SEC West was out of reach, Alabama would still nearly beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl before falling 28-27.

The 2011 regular-season game was as close as a #1 vs. #2 game should be, and I don’t need to recount how much of a disappointment the national championship game was, but since then, LSU has been generally competitive even when they really shouldn’t have been.

Alabama was on the way to another national championship in 2012 and LSU had already registered a 14-6 loss to Florida, but the Tide needed a last-minute touchdown to win by 4. The Tide pulled away late to win by 21 in 2013, but it was a 7-point game going into the last 11 minutes and a tie game going into the last 20 minutes. Alabama was #1, and LSU had already lost twice and was ranked #13.

I’m still angry about the way LSU lost in 2014. The Tigers recovered a late fumble near the Alabama end zone in a tie game. Under normal circumstances, LSU wins, but after some routine mutual pushing and shoving, there was a personal foul called which pushed LSU back and kept crucial seconds on the clock for the next Alabama possession. After the field goal to go up 3, the idea was for LSU to kick a low bouncing ball in the middle of the field. It was the kind of kick the coaches had in mind except for how it bounced out of bounds. Had LSU scored a touchdown, which would have been a strong possibility without the personal foul, Alabama would have nonetheless needed a Hail Mary to win. Anyway, after these turns of events, Alabama was able to kick the tying field goal at the end of regulation before winning in overtime. I was happy when Alabama lost to Ohio St. a couple of months later, but the feeling from that loss still lingers. By the way, that was one of 5 LSU losses that season.

Alabama’s T. J. Yeldon fumbles, while Kendell Beckwith (#52) prepares to recover the ball in Baton Rouge in 2014.

The result in 2015 (Alabama winning 30-16) was consistent with how good the teams were, but I thought last year was much closer than it should have been on paper. Alabama ended up winning by 10, but it was a scoreless game going into the fourth quarter. Alabama was every bit as good as Clemson even though they didn’t win the national championship game at the end, and LSU finished 8-4 last year. So despite the losing streak, more often than not LSU does better than they theoretically should do against Alabama.

I’m not picking LSU to win, but I’d be at least mildly surprised if it’s a 14-point margin or greater. LSU has a better offense than they did at this time last year. The Tigers have a much better playbook, and LSU quarterback Danny Etling is improved. Alabama’s offense is also arguably better, but I think the difference between this year and last year for LSU is larger. Even if Alabama is just as superior as last year, I still don’t think they should win by more than twice as much.

Week 9 Top 25 & LSU Notes

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on October 22, 2017 at 3:03 PM

As I did last week, the only modification from the computer rating was to put the best five undefeated teams at the top. This required moving Clemson down to spots, Notre Dame down one spot, Central Florida up one spot, and Wisconsin up two spots.

I know people aren’t going to be impressed with Central Florida, but I wanted to remind them that unlike the polls, you don’t just drift upward by remaining undefeated (which is why teams like this are kept toward the back of the pack early on). I would not be surprised if the Knights fell out of the top 5 after playing Austin Peay next week; and apart from the finale against South Florida, UCF has already played its better opponents. This could allow several teams (including TCU and U. Miami if they stay undefeated) to pass them up between now and then.

This ties into my previous couple of blogs.

I’m going to say right upfront that Alabama will be protected at #1 for one more week even if they are passed up in the computer rating during next week, in which Penn St. plays Ohio St. and Alabama does not play. If the Nittany Lions lose, Alabama will likely be safe anyway. If Penn St. and Alabama are still undefeated after November 4, I’m just going to let the system play out on its own from there.

I haven’t griped about the polls much, because to be fair they’re not ridiculously far off; but I wanted to do a blind resume test like reporters commonly do with basketball teams around March. I am using my own ratings, but this doesn’t vary much from the polls and other mainstream ratings as far as the evaluation of other teams. Team A has won three in a row, but team B lost in the last two weeks. Team A is 3-2 against the top 50, and team B is 1-2. Team A is 4-2 against the top 75, and team B is 2-2. Team A beat team B. Team A and team B have identical records. In what world does team B get ranked higher? This one! Take either poll, locate LSU, and then locate Auburn. LSU is team A, and Auburn is team B.

Is it because Malzahn wears a visor and talks about controlling his own destiny even though it isn’t true (as opposed to Orgeron’s “one game at a time” mantra)?

(I thought this was the best play of the game.)

Anyway, I updated and added a little bit more information to the LSU-Ole Miss Rivalry blog. I have a whole page dedicated to the Alabama series.

I also found it amusing that the cook of the famous “chicken on a stick” that Orgeron talked about (he said she was the only person he remembered that he wanted to see in Oxford) was located at the Four Corners Chevron (Orgeron had misremembered it as an Exxon during the press conference). Her name is Phyllis, and she is still a Coach O (and by extension LSU) fan. She said she wanted to visit Coach O in Baton Rouge but never has the money. I hope now that she’s been discovered some LSU fans can rectify that problem.

Phyllis (in a T-shirt given by the LSU equipment staff) and the famous “chicken on a stick”.

rank/team/prev.
1 Alabama 1
2 Penn St. 3
3 Georgia 2
4 Central Florida 9
5 Wisconsin 5
6 Clemson 6
7 Notre Dame 17
8 Mich. St. 8
9 U. Miami 10
10 TCU 4
11 Memphis 18
12 Wash. St. 12
13 USC 7
14 San Diego St. 13
15 Stanford 11
16 N. Carolina St. 15
17 Ohio St. 14
18 Oklahoma 21
19 Washington 19
20 Oklahoma St. –
21 Boise St. –
22 LSU 25
23 Virginia Tech –
24 South Carolina 20
25 Michigan 16

Out of top 25: (22) Iowa, (23) Texas A&M, (24) Navy

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.