Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Harris’

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.

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.

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.


LSU Wraps Up 2014-2015 Well; Football Is a Question Mark

In College Baseball, College Basketball, College Football, General LSU, Other NCAA Sports, Track on June 20, 2015 at 3:37 PM

I was getting ready to write about how encouraged I was with LSU sports over the last few months, and then I read this:

I’ll talk about why that’s especially upsetting when I talk about the football team later, but first I wanted to talk about sports that actually competed in intercollegiate athletics recently.

It’s only been a few months since basketball ended, so I’ll start there. It would have been nice to have had a win in the NCAA tournament, but even making it was a big step forward for the program. Without an injury, NC State may well have been an Elite Eight team, so losing to them by one point was nothing to hang our heads about.

Nothing ever went quite how it was supposed to go under Trent Johnson, but it definitely seems on track with Johnny Jones, especially given that LSU got a few big recruits to come onto the team for next season.

Ben Simmons has already shown that he looks good in purple and gold.

Ben Simmons has already shown that he looks good in purple and gold.

I’m not a big follower of women’s sports, but although track and basketball were disappointing (only because those were until recently two of LSU’s best programs of either sex), I was happy for the softball team, which made it to the semifinals at the Women’s College World Series.

LSU softball celebrates a walk-off win over Alabama

LSU softball celebrates a walk-off win over Alabama

I was very impressed by the end results of the last three major men’s programs: golf, which won the first national championship in 60 years; men’s track, which finished fourth in both the SEC and the nation; and baseball, where LSU won its first game at the college World Series since winning the whole tournament in 2009.

LSU football Head Coach Les Miles and Athletic Director Joe Alleva congratulate the LSU golf team after its first national championship since 1955 (and first SEC championship since 1987).

LSU football Head Coach Les Miles and Athletic Director Joe Alleva congratulate the LSU golf team after its first national championship since 1955 (and first SEC championship since 1987).

This was the best combined finish in a single year by the LSU baseball and softball teams. Both made their respective CWS’s in 2004, but LSU baseball did not win a game in Omaha that year.

I’ll reluctantly shift gears to football. I didn’t lose any sleep at all over John Chavis’s departure. I appreciate what he’s done at both LSU and Tennessee over the past couple of decades, but it was probably best to look toward the future anyway.

From the moment I heard about it, I wanted us to find a way to bring in Ed Orgeron, which we managed to do. Orgeron isn’t the defensive coordinator, but I have confidence Steele will do a good job. Anyone with a bigger name may not have felt comfortable being potentially overshadowed by an assistant.

Some criticize LSU for taking Alabama’s leftovers (Steele was demoted from DC at Alabama when Saban decided to call the plays himself), but I couldn’t find much fault with any of the defensive performances in Steele’s tenure. Alabama’s problem in 2007 had been offense, not defense. They did have a little bit of trouble in an early win over Arkansas (giving up 38 points), but Arkansas’s offense was pretty good that year. LSU also put up big numbers against the Tide that year (41 points), but that so happened to be the last LSU team that won a national championship. Steele was also an assistant under Saban at LSU in 2004, also coaching alongside Will Muschamp, Auburn’s new (and old) Defensive Coordinator.

Speaking of unsuccessful head coaches, Steele never won more than three games as Baylor Head Coach, and Orgeron never won more than four games as Ole Miss Head Coach, but I think they both learned a thing or two about recruiting.

DC Kevin Steele (left) and Ed Orgeron are possibly the best combination of defensive coaches in college football.

DC Kevin Steele (left) and Ed Orgeron are possibly the best combination of defensive coaches in college football.

Steele had also served as Clemson’s defensive coordinator for four seasons. After being in the top 20 in total defense in 2009 and 2010, he had some problems in his third season there and the beginning of his fourth; but Clemson only allowed 3 of its last 7 opponents in 2012 (one of them LSU) to score 21 points or more and only 1 of those 7 scored 28 or more.

So why was that article I posted at the beginning so upsetting? What LSU has been missing for many years under Les Miles has been a reliable quarterback. Ryan Perrilloux should have been one, but that didn’t happen. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee never seemed to reach their potentials. Zach Mettenberger had some success (as a transfer) in 2012 and 2013, but then Anthony Jennings had some hiccups last season.

One of the things I was encouraged with was Anthony Jennings. One of the things I was NOT impressed with was Brandon Harris, who mostly looked about as effective during the spring game as he had during the season.

Harris ran well in the spring game, but he only looked proficient as a passer when he was with the white (primarily first-string) team. That was mostly because of good plays by receivers and openings in the secondary you could drive a tank through.

(l to r) Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings, and Brad Kragthorpe practice in the LSU indoor facility.

(l to r) Brandon Harris, Anthony Jennings, and Brad Kragthorpe practice in the LSU indoor facility.

I did not see the whole game, so I don’t know if last year’s third-string QB Brad Kragthorpe (who scored the apparent touchdown that was denied against Notre Dame) even played. LSU successfully recruited three-star QB Justin McMillan, but I would be surprised if he’s ready to lead the offense anytime soon either.

I do think the white defense was good and even parts of the purple offense looked good, I will be worried about the defensive secondary late in games though since the depth doesn’t seem to be there.

I expect LSU can have among the best rushing games, run defenses, and pass rushes in the country, but having a quarterback you can count on (which certainly makes running the ball easier) and having depth in the secondary (which can make the line and linebackers irrelevant) are two important areas.

I’m not saying Jennings is the answer to LSU’s problems or that he would have been had he not been arrested, but he certainly looked like the best hope at the position for next season. It won’t require greatness, but it will require some accuracy and good decision-making. Obviously the latter needs to take place off the field too.