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Posts Tagged ‘Ed Orgeron’

Week 8 Top 25 and LSU

In College Football, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on October 20, 2019 at 11:30 AM

I think the way I organized the blogs last week worked well, so I’ll talk about LSU and a couple of other big games.  I won’t thoroughly go through the top 25, but it’s listed below. Click here for the computer rating of all teams.

I couldn’t find a quality picture of the record-breaking or record-tying pass, but this reception and score by Racey McMath put Joe Burrow one touchdown pass short of the LSU single-season record, which he went on to break in Starkville Saturday.

I’ve updated the LSU/Mississippi St. rivalry blog.  I did think LSU would be slowed early, and that ultimately held the Tigers below 40 for the first time this season.  It was pretty close to the reverse of the 37-7 Bulldog win in Starkville two years ago.  If LSU doesn’t miss an extra point and allow a last-minute touchdown, it would have been the same final score.

If anyone asked, I’m sure Coach Orgeron would say it’s not about him; but I’m sure he’s satisfied to finally get a win in Starkville. There was a lot that went wrong in his tenure at Ole Miss, but his two games there were the main reason he got fired.  To get blown out there his first game against the Bulldogs at LSU had to feel like a bad case of déjà vu.  

I’ve talked a bit about Auburn in previewing both Mississippi St. and Florida.  I might or might not have more to say later, but LSU/Auburn is always a big game. 

For now I’ll just talk briefly about the recent rivalry. This game is at Tiger Stadium, but we had a couple of ugly losses against them at their place before last year.  I mentioned Coach O’s two losses in Starkville as it related to his firing back in 2007.  Les Miles had a much more successful tenure overall, but two losses in two trips to Auburn immediately preceded his firing at LSU. 

Auburn has some desire for payback too.  Those two losses at Auburn at the end of the Miles era are the only LSU losses in the series since Auburn’s 2010 national championship.  Auburn hasn’t won at LSU in 20 years.  LSU beat a few pretty highly-regarded Auburn teams over the past few years, including the one that was one stop/score away from a national championship in 2013 and the one who went to the SEC Championship Game two years ago.  Auburn didn’t end up having a great year last year, but they were ranked #7 and expected to beat LSU by a couple of scores.  The bayou Tigers won on walk-off field goal.  The point being that Auburn would especially enjoy getting LSU back with an upset in this one.

Speaking of Les and upsets, Kansas almost had a big upset in Austin on Saturday; but if they’d won it would have made LSU’s win there less impressive.  Even if the Jayhawks don’t win another game this season, I think he’s had a positive influence there so far.  I was reminded this weekend that Lou Holtz went winless his first year at South Carolina, but Holtz without question got that program headed in the right direction.

Pooka Williams of Kansas ran for 190 yards on 25 carries in the 50-48 loss in Austin Saturday.

I checked the score late in the Wisconsin game, and I thought they would run out the clock being that they were up 9 and had generally had a dominant defense so far.  So I was a bit surprised when I found out what happened.  That takes some of the luster off of the Ohio St. game, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the Buckeyes have more chance to win than they did a few days ago.

I followed the same basic guidelines as last week. I didn’t move anyone more than 3 spots from the computer ranking.  The only difference is there were no exceptions this week.  I anticipate this will be Clemson’s last week at #1, but maybe not if LSU and Ohio St. both lose next week. I think the computer results are starting to make more sense, so I might not move teams much if at all next week.

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Ohio St.2
3LSU3
4Alabama4
5Penn St.6
6Oklahoma9
7Auburn7
8SMU12
9Baylor13
10Florida10
11Minnesota17
12Oregon11
13Wisconsin5
14Cincinnati20
15Appalachian16
16Boise St.8
17Memphis25
18Georgia18
19Notre Dame19
20Wake Forest24
21Utah
22Navy22
23Michigan15
24Iowa
25Texas

Out of Top 25: (14) Arizona St., (21) Washington, (23) Hawaii

Defending Coach O and Comments on Rankings

In College Football, General LSU, Rankings Commentary on October 18, 2019 at 7:00 PM

I have a few other notes about LSU, but I mostly covered the ones about Florida Sunday and the ones about Mississippi St. Wednesday. I know I’m publishing this late, but it’s a weekend night; and the kind of people who are awake and ready for football before games start can read it as well.

I heard one bit of trivia I wanted to share. LSU has kept official stats on this since 1978, but Florida is the only documented time I can find in which the Tigers have faced only four third downs in a game.  I looked at relatively high-scoring LSU games going back to the early 1960s (the Tigers did score into the 60s at times in the 1960s and 1970s and even scored 77 against Rice in 1977) and couldn’t find anything close.  There may have been a blowout of an in-state school 100 years ago or something, but it’s probably been several decades at least.

I liked when they asked Orgeron what he would have said if someone told him the offense would average 52.5 points at this point before the season.  He leaned toward the microphone like he was telling a secret and grumbled, “I’ll take it.”

Anyway, you’d think people would be positive about Orgeron and his team after a big win over another well-respected program and head coach, but it seems like Troy all over again.

Defending Orgeron

Finebaum

Also related to LSU, Paul Finebaum will say whatever he needs to say to pretend the best team is Alabama for as long as he can.  Nothing LSU does counts because supposedly he heard the same things about the LSU offense last year.  I don’t know how he would have heard the team who scored 19 against Florida last year had just as good of an offense as the one who scored 42 against Florida this year; but he does talk to the most ignorant people in Alabama, so it’s possible. 

What really annoys me is he said this a couple of weeks after saying he was dropping Clemson because the rankings are only for this season and you don’t factor in anything from last season.  So Alabama goes ahead of Clemson because the 44-16 win in January doesn’t count, but Alabama also goes ahead of LSU because the 29-0 win last November does count. 

John Hayes

To be fair, you could read this as an innocent compliment of the three coaches; but he admitted that wasn’t how he meant it.

Then I saw today someone named John Hayes trying to insult Orgeron (he said the tweet was a “backhanded compliment”, and he admitted he sees Orgeron as a lesser coach) by saying he’s not really the one on the field doing anything.  I think he was trying to say Orgeron isn’t calling the plays, but so what?  When Saban doesn’t call plays, he doesn’t get credit?

Hayes was interviewed by “Off the Bench”.  I mentioned this tendency of his before, but yet again T-Bob got the stat wrong.  He said Dabo Swinney had more wins over top-10 teams since Orgeron became head coach, but that’s not true. The only two better than Orgeron were actually Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. 

Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban

Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney had a friendly chat before the 2018 Sugar Bowl. Alabama has faced Clemson in the Playoff in four consecutive seasons.

Just to be clear, there isn’t anything a coach can do in three seasons (other than win three national championships right away) that really earn a comparison to where Swinney and Saban are right now, but we can look at how they got here and think about other coaches possibly following a similar path.

Dabo was actually part of Hayes’ argument since he has recent wins over Saban, but let’s not forget that Swinney didn’t just start at Clemson.  He became the interim coach 11 years ago, not 3 like Orgeron.  In 2011 (which is the season that corresponds to this one for Orgeron), Clemson went 10-4 and gave up 70 points in a bowl game.  So should he have been written off as a mediocre coach then?  By the way, Dabo was in the middle of five consecutive losses to South Carolina.  It’s just a completely unfair comparison if you only look at where Swinney is now. 

Even Saban lost to LSU in three of his first five tries and was lucky to win that many.  LSU and South Carolina 10 years ago were nothing like Alabama (the two LSU teams Saban beat in that span lost a combined 9 games) now.  Saban won a national title in his third full year, but people weren’t crowning him best coach ever in October 2009.

The main question is why Orgeron should be expected to reach Saban’s or Swinney’s peak faster than they did.  But I think the fact that people like Feinbaum and Hayes see the need to point out the difference between Orgeron now and those guys at their peak (or is it a plateau?) means he’s one of the best coaches right now. 

Hayes said he would be proven right if Alabama beats LSU easily this year, but I completely disagree. If Clemson lost to West Virginia by 37, they wouldn’t have been close to Alabama, which won the championship by 21, in 2011. I don’t know if there is a score Alabama could win by that would be the equivalent of losing to that West Virginia team by 37. 70 maybe?

Lincoln Riley

Oklahoma got revenge for last year’s regular-season loss to the Longhorns (Lincoln Riley’s only loss to the Longhorns in four games) in Dallas last week, 34-27. Above, Sooner LB Kenneth Murray hits Sam Ehlinger after a third-quarter throw.

I don’t hear anyone pointing out how Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, for instance, hasn’t won the games Swinney and Saban won the last few years to minimize a good win.  He’s started out his career with a great record and is coming off a big rivalry win this week too.   “Hold on, you can’t say he’s a great coach yet” is only necessary to these commentators because people are more tempted to say Orgeron is great.

I did listen to a follow-up interview Hayes did (I had to get a free trial, so sorry if it doesn’t work for you), and to my surprise he said Riley would be his #1 choice for head coach if he were an AD. I’m sorry, that’s silly. It’s just typical offense-obsessed media. Riley had three big games last season (his second full year) and lost two of them (the first game against Texas and the semifinal). He won three of the four big games (out-of-conference game against Ohio St., the two against Big XII #2 TCU, and the national semifinal) his first year, but he also lost to what turned out to be the 4th-best opponent Iowa St.

Like Joe Brady, he’s a good young offensive mind, but he’s not even in the top 10 on my list of best head coaches; and I don’t think we have a real sense of how he can recruit yet. There are probably a dozen coaches who could have won 24 games or more in 2017 and 2018 in Norman.

Kirby Smart

Kirby Smart was on Nick Saban’s LSU staff in 2004 alongside Texas A&M HC Jimbo Fisher and South Carolina HC Will Muschamp (who beat Smart Saturday), who were the two coordinators. Former Tennessee HC Derek Dooley was also on that staff.

On the Off the Bench interview, there was an argument made about Kirby Smart, but Orgeron beat Smart easily in their only meeting last year.  Smart did win the SEC and a semifinal game in 2017, but the Bulldogs lost one of only two regular-season games against the SEC West.  Georgia did win the follow-up over Auburn; but LSU beat Auburn the first and only time.  So Georgia winning the SEC and making that game against Oklahoma was more a result of playing in the East than of Georgia being in better shape than LSU (although as I mentioned in the previous blog LSU didn’t have a great start in Orgeron’s first full season). 

What LSU fan would trade Orgeron for Smart right now?  I think Georgia would take that trade in a heartbeat.  If they’re going to lose to South Carolina in a home game with Fromm, who knows what could happen the first year without?  The Bulldogs are far from guaranteed a win over Florida, which obviously LSU has now.  Smart also had an offseason of recruiting and hiring that Orgeron didn’t have in 2016.

I think Smart is a good coach despite what happened Saturday. You could argue he’s better than Orgeron, but I don’t think there is a good argument that they’re not comparable.

Other Comments

As for the other games, there were a couple of embarrassingly bad calls by referees.  Memphis completed a pass in Temple territory late in the fourth quarter, and somehow it was overturned despite no evidence of the ball hitting the ground.  That easily could have prevented the winning field goal by the Tigers, but the ball went over on downs.  There was a call that went against Penn St. at Iowa.  Penn St. won, so it didn’t really affect the game, but it does cost the Nittany Lions 4 points.  The pylon cam confirmed the call on the field, and yet it was overturned.  Eventually Penn St. settled for a field goal on the drive.  Replays of late seem to be just an extra avenue for home cooking.

Memphis TE Joey Magnifico made this great catch at the Temple 30 in Philadelphia on Saturday. Although no picture could be found of the ball even grazing the turf before or after being secured by Magnifico, the ruling of a catch was overturned.

I went into detail about the schedules of four of my top five on Sunday (Ohio St./Wisconsin and LSU/Alabama could be matchups of unbeatens), but Clemson will continue to play nobody.  MAYBE 1-loss Wake Forest can give them a game on the 16th, and traveling to Columbia, South Carolina, might be a challenge after all; but I don’t think any potential winner of the Coastal will be much of a test.  Given the North Carolina game, it’s hard to know for sure though.

If Wisconsin can’t do it, the next big test for the Buckeyes is expected to be currently undefeated Penn St. on November 23.  The Nittany Lions have a big game with Michigan tomorrow though.  Of course Ohio St. will have to play them too.  Penn St. had a decent rise in the polls, but not as much as Oklahoma, who finally joined the top 10 after beating Clemson. I know the Sooners hoped that Houston game would mean something, but it really doesn’t.

Auburn being ahead of Florida might raise eyebrows, but I don’t determine better resume by head-to-head.  Both teams are 1-1 against the top 11.  Texas A&M isn’t a great conference win, but it’s better than Kentucky and Tennessee.  Auburn also beat Tulane.  The Green Wave looks better than the Hurricanes (Florida’s best non-conference opponent) so far. 

Florida does play Florida St. later, but so far the only other non-conference games have been against FCS opponents.  Florida will be fine if they win the next few weeks (South Carolina and Georgia with a bye week in between) though.  Unless Auburn beats LSU a week from tomorrow, they don’t have a good chance for meaningful points for about the next month (two byes, Arkansas, and Ole Miss).  I’m not projecting who will look better a month from now though, just looking at who has done what so far.

Baylor’s undefeated resume got a little bit of substance to it with the win over Texas Tech; but there was so little of importance before that, the Bears are still only 13th.  They almost have as good of a resume as fellow undefeated and former SWC rival SMU.

Minnesota is an undefeated team that’s creeping up even more slowly, but beating Rutgers won’t help much.  Nor would beating Maryland the next week.  The Gophers do have an intimidating November schedule though: Penn St., @ Iowa, @ Northwestern, Wisconsin in consecutive weeks.

To round out the rankings, Washington returned by beating Arizona, who had nearly made the top 25 the previous week.  Wake Forest and Memphis are no longer undefeated, but both held onto the top 25 after narrow losses.  Navy was able to make it into the top 25 (despite having lost to Memphis a few weeks ago) after wins over Air Force and Tulsa in the past two weeks.  Hawaii also stayed in the top 25 after a loss; but it was on the blue field, so the Warriors weren’t hurt that much.

I do think Texas is still a top-25 team, but respectable losses don’t get you far in my system.  They need to find some decent wins.  Oklahoma St., the Longhorns’ best win, is mediocre unless the Cowboys beat Baylor tomorrow.  Texas plays Kansas, so the Horns won’t earn much there.

LSU/Mississippi St.: Recent Games and Coaches

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 16, 2019 at 6:38 PM

I put a couple of paragraphs at the end about what I expect of this game, but this is not a preview blog.

Coach O and Intro

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007. He is still looking for his first win in Starkville.

You’ll see the relevance below, but I wanted to update Ed Orgeron’s record against the various SEC teams.  Other than Saban, whose first year at Alabama was Orgeron’s last year at Ole Miss (Alabama won, 27-24), none of the coaches he has coached against as the Ole Miss head coach were SEC head coaches whom Orgeron has coached against at LSU.  In fact, Les Miles is the only other active head coach in any conference whom Orgeron coached directly against at Ole Miss.

Winning records (not counting the 1-0 mark against Missouri since they joined the SEC): Ole Miss 3-0, Texas A&M 2-1

.500: Arkansas 3-3, Vanderbilt 2-2, Kentucky 1-1, Tennessee 1-1

1 game under .500: Auburn 2-3, Mississippi St. 2-3, Florida 2-3, Georgia 1-2, Missouri 1-2 (Missouri was not in the SEC when Orgeron coached against the Tigers at Ole Miss)

Worse: LSU 0-3, Alabama 0-6

Mississippi St., Florida, and Alabama are the only SEC programs against whom Orgeron has coached but against whom he does not have a winning record while the coach at LSU.

He didn’t coach against South Carolina at either stop and is still waiting to get revenge on Kentucky for beating his Rebels 31-14 in 2006. On the other hand, the first and one of only three conference wins at Ole Miss was against the Wildcats. The others were against Mississippi St. and Vanderbilt.

Anyway, this mostly isn’t about Coach O and his disappointments with the Rebels. It occurred to me that now was the perfect time to talk about LSU’s history against Dan Mullen, the current Florida and former Mississippi St. head coach.  I’ll explain why, but given that LSU usually plays Florida in early October, it’s very rare that the Tigers play the Gators and Bulldogs back-to-back despite LSU having played both almost every year going back to the 1950s.

Dan Mullen vs. LSU and Rivalry Intro

Last week, Dan Mullen fell to 1-1 against LSU as head coach of the Gators, but he’s still 2-1 overall against Orgeron given his big win in 2017.  LSU has a much more well-established historical series against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, where Mullen coached from 2009 to 2017. 

If you’re interested, here is the the full LSU/Mississippi St. Rivalry blog.

At State, Mullen didn’t have a good record against LSU (2-7), but he had as many wins as Jackie Sherrill, the all-time State leader in wins (75, which Mullen probably would have beaten by staying one more season) and the only Mississippi St. coach to lead the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship.  Sherrill was there 13 years to Mullen’s 9, and this has been an annual series since 1944 (the Bulldogs didn’t field a team in 1943).

The 2014 State win in Baton Rouge was the first since 1991, Sherrill’s first season.  The 2017 win (Mullen’s last year) was only the second win over LSU in Starkville since 1984.  The only other win was by that Sherrill-coached team that made the SEC championship in 1999.  It was by 1 point, and LSU would finish the season 3-8.

One thing I regret about the changes in schedules is that this was a traditional late-season game for both teams.  Mississippi St. was usually warming up for the Egg Bowl, and LSU usually played State between Alabama and Tulane.  It was played on the second or third Saturday of November (between 11/12 and 11/18) every year from 1947 to 1991.  The first game between the two was actually played on the third Saturday of November 1896.  It moved around the calendar before settling on a particular time consistently, but it was generally in November from then until 1922 and then every year from 1933 to 1940. 

The game was played on the third Saturday of October from 1928 to 1932 and on five other occasions, so I guess there is at least some tradition to draw on this time.  I don’t mind that this season we have a bit of a buffer between Florida and Auburn, although sometimes that is when a team gets tripped up, particularly on the road. Since Ole Miss can’t be Halloween weekend (which is a bye), I would have preferred Ole Miss serve as the buffer, but they didn’t ask me.

Dan Mullen discusses his first Bulldog recruiting class in 2009.

LSU vs. Mississippi St. 2009 to 2017

Mullen nearly scored an upset over the Tigers in Starkville in his first season in 2009.  LSU won with a late goal-line stand by 4 points.  I wonder if Mullen had flashbacks to that on Saturday. LSU didn’t ultimately have a great season at 9-4; but it was only two years after LSU won the BCS Championship, so it would have been a big deal. 

That 2009 season was Mullen’s only season there that the Bulldogs did not qualify for a bowl game, so he probably would have been 9/9 had he figured out a way to gain that one more yard.  The Bulldogs gained one yard on first and goal from the 2 and were stuffed on the next three plays.  Only the third-down play was a pass.  Chad Jones, who also won a national championship as a pitcher on the baseball team, made the two tackles at the line of scrimmage on second and fourth downs and defended the third-down pass.

In the next four years, no matter how good they were, they couldn’t even make it interesting against the Tigers. It helped that LSU went 44-9 over those 4 years.

The Tigers finally had a serious rebuilding job to do in 2014; and Mississippi St. had its best team in decades.  The Tigers would play well at times that season (such as upsetting the #3 team and nearly upsetting the #4 team… more on that here), but that wasn’t until later in the year.  What made it worse was the Tigers could not find a consistent quarterback that season, and the Bulldog quarterback was Louisiana native Dak Prescott, whom the Tigers coaching staff refused to offer a scholarship as a quarterback. 

Dak Prescott stiff-arms DB Jalen Mills in Tiger Stadium in September 2014.

Prescott was not a household name before that game.  LSU was ranked #8 and the Bulldogs were unranked.  The depleted LSU defense led by DC John Chavis was not prepared for that type of spread attack at all.  The defenders were somehow unable to fill gaps or keep the play in front of them, and they weren’t able to make key tackles.  Prescott threw for 268 yards and rushed for 118 (not counting the sack yardage).

The only reason LSU was able to make the final score respectable was that three different Tigers were able to throw for a combined 341 yards, but they didn’t even try to do that until they got well behind in the game.  QB Brandon Harris threw two touchdown passes in less than 30 seconds late in the fourth quarter.  The Tigers attempted an onsides kick with 1:27 left that would have given them a real chance to win, but when the Bulldogs recovered it, they were able to run over a minute off of the clock.  LSU then had 20 seconds to go 80 yards, and you can guess how that went.  Harris did have 34 all-purpose yards on that drive before throwing an interception on the final play, but it needed to be at least 34 yards in one play.

It was 34-10 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, so the 34-29 final score doesn’t convey how dominant the Bulldogs were for most of the game.

The next year in Starkville it was the Tigers who led early in the fourth quarter, 21-6 in that case.  Kevin Steele, the new defensive coordinator (now the defensive coordinator at Auburn), and Ed Orgeron, the Tigers’ new defensive line coach, seemed to have instilled the right schemes and techniques in the offseason.  Cracks were already developing late in the third quarter though.  The Bulldogs had just gotten into the red zone when the fourth quarter began and shortly afterward Prescott took the ball into the end zone himself.

When LSU got the ball, the Tigers called three rushing plays for a combined -1 yards.  Mississippi St. would drive again, but the drive stalled behind the LSU 30.  Prescott was sacked by Lewis Neal on third down to prevent a long field goal try (the kicker Devon Bell had previously made it from 43 and it would have been about 49 before the sack).

The Tigers went back to their conservative ways on offense again, but it actually worked for a couple of first downs before the drive stalled at midfield, giving the ball back to Dak at the Mississippi St. 18 after a punt.

Prescott threw completions on 6 consecutive plays to lead the Bulldogs to a touchdown, but he could not score from three yards out on the conversion attempt, so LSU still led by 2, 21-19.

The Tigers still refused to throw the ball; and Mississippi St. got the ball again, this time at the 11. Only 1:32 remained though, so it wasn’t the dual-threat situation that the Bulldogs excelled in.  LSU jumped offsides on the first play, and Prescott then threw completions in four of the next five plays.  This gave the Bulldogs the ball at the LSU 39.  The Tiger defense, knowing time was running out, knew the Bulldogs were going to throw, probably toward the sidelines.  All three passes from that spot were unsuccessful, leading to a fourth down with 3 seconds left.  Fifty+ was probably not in Bell’s comfort zone, and he missed from 52 as time expired.

The next year, Dak had been replaced by Nick Fitzgerald (with assistance from Damian Williams… Mullen likes having a second QB to throw into games apparently), and LSU had settled on Purdue transfer Danny Etling as the starting quarterback in another early-season game. The Tigers started strong again, this time with a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter.  After and exchange of field goals, it was 23-3 at the half.  The Bulldogs got another field goal in the third quarter, but it seemed like LSU was going to run out the clock with no major drama. 

However, the momentum shifted when LSU failed to convert a fourth down from the Mississippi St. 34.  Rather than trying for a field goal to go back up by 20, LSU decided to go for the first down instead.  Fournette was stuffed.  He actually fumbled on the play, but by rule a fourth-down fumble recovered by the offense (which it was) essentially means the play was dead.

Nick Fitzgerald looks for the sideline after a first-down run as LSU safety John Battle closes in in Starkville two years ago.

Fitzgerald and Williams responded with a 9-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to bring the score to 23-13.  State recovered the ensuing onsides kick, and Williams led the Bulldogs to another score, this time taking only two plays.  It was now 23-20 with 3:30 to play.  You can guess what LSU did (or didn’t do) on offense, and the Bulldogs would start the next drive on their own 33 with 1:35 remaining. 

The Bulldogs could only come up with a two-yard rush, two incompletions, and a sack, so LSU would be able to run out the clock after tense final minutes for the third consecutive game in the series.  It was Les Miles’ 114th win as LSU head coach and would be his last.  It was his 10th win against the Bulldogs in 12 seasons.

In 2017, both offenses were ineffective early (0-0 after the first quarter) and then more methodical (10-7 in favor of the home Bulldogs with 5 minutes left in the half).  The wind was taken out of LSU’s sails when Mississippi St. had a 10-play, 54-yard touchdown drive to end the first half and a 7-play, 48-yard drive that ended in a field goal to begin the second half.

Now down 20-7, LSU tried to mix run and pass on the ensuing drive, but Etling went 1/3 for 6 yards on the drive.  So Mississippi St. got the ball back. The shorthanded LSU defense was already getting worn out, and then two players were ejected for targeting.  The Bulldogs were forced into two third-and-1 situations, but they ran for a first down on one of them and fooled the defense on the second one for a 45-yard touchdown pass.  In hindsight, the game was essentially over at that point even though 5 minutes remained in the third quarter. 

The final score was Mississippi St. 37, LSU 7.  The Tigers did have a couple of decent long drives on offense, but when you’re three possessions or more behind, you usually don’t try to settle for long field goals even if they were likely to go in.  The field-goal kicking that year was not very reliable anyway.

The Tigers would lose to Troy two weeks later before going 6-1 to close out the regular season.  I’d rather not talk about the bowl game.

At Mississippi St., Mullen only had double-digit wins that one year of 2014, but the 2017 team was tied for second-best of his tenure at 9-4.  It was tied with the 2015 season in which they lost to LSU, 21-19.

Mullen goes to Florida

So 2017 was the first Orgeron-Mullen meeting.  I still wish LSU had last year’s Florida game back, but Orgeron has had a pretty decent improvement in two seasons, especially considering that Mullen took over a better program.  I look forward to more games between the two.

Mullen didn’t even replace a bad coach, just one who lost a few games in a row the year after winning the SEC East the prior year.  As I mentioned last week, I’m not a Jim McElwain fan; but from what I saw he could at least do a respectable job of recruiting, hiring assistants, and managing the game (at least unless they got behind a few scores).  The point of bringing him up is, although Mullen had to recover from a bad year and did well to win 10 games last season, I don’t think McElwain did anything that made it more difficult to win games at Florida than it had been at Mississippi St. in any long-term sense.

Not really apropos of anything, but McElwain is 4-3 as the Central Michigan head coach this season despite games against Wisconsin and U. of Miami.  I was just curious where he ended up and didn’t find out until I looked him up while preparing the Florida preview, so I thought I’d share.

2019 Preview and Joe Moorhead

Anyway, since I’m done talking about Dan Mullen for now, I’ll mention the upcoming game against his successor Joe Moorhead, who actually served on the Penn St. staff with LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady.  Ed Orgeron said Moorhead called after the hire to add his endorsement.

I would say Moorhead had a respectable showing last season, going 8-5. He had close losses to Florida and Iowa (in the bowl game). He beat four teams who went to bowl games: UL-Lafayette, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Louisiana Tech. Apart from Iowa, all the losses were to teams who would win 10 games or more.

Things aren’t going quite as well this year. State started 3-1, which looked decent given the win over Kentucky (which had beaten the Bulldogs 28-7 last year); but the Bulldogs have been outscored 76-33 in the last two games. That included Moorhead’s first loss to a mediocre to bad team Tennessee.

LSU K Cole Tracy was responsible for 13 of the game’s 22 points – and for all of the points after the first quarter – in Baton Rouge last year. LSU had one touchdown drive that started at the Bulldog 3, and State only scored on one field goal.

Since Mississippi St. could only hold Tennessee to 20, I don’t think we will see a replay of last year’s 19-3 score in favor of LSU.  The Bulldogs had three defensive players drafted from last year’s team, not to mention LSU’s changes on offense. 

State has another decent mobile quarterback Garrett Shrader, but he won’t have the kind of talent around him that Nick Fitzgerald had in the big Bulldog win in September 2017 (and didn’t have last season).  They have another quarterback Tommy Stevens who may come off the bench, but he’s statistically not as good at running or passing. Both have had injuries, which is the main reason LSU doesn’t want Burrow to show off his running abilities more.

Yet again I think the prior opponent most comparable to LSU is Auburn, who won 56-23.  Shrader did average 5.6 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass in that game though.  That was at Auburn and not following a top-10 opponent, so don’t be too disappointed if LSU doesn’t beat that margin of victory. 

I will be very interested to see how the LSU defense deals with Shrader early though.  Like Florida, the Bulldogs are capable of long, methodical drives; but unlike Florida they showed that ability against Auburn.  They just couldn’t keep up with the Auburn offense, which had great field position on its first three drives to take a 21-0 lead.  But if by contrast LSU struggles early offensively (which happened against Northwestern St. and Utah St.), maybe it will be a game for a while.

Week 7 SEC Big Games and Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 13, 2019 at 3:08 PM

The SEC didn’t go exactly how I expected this week, but I do feel vindicated on a few counts.  I will try to write about the other games and my rankings (below) later in the week.

South Carolina Upsets Georgia

I didn’t pick South Carolina to beat Georgia specifically, but when I picked South Carolina in my preseason top 25, I anticipated they would beat some good team during the course of the year.  It could have been Florida, Clemson, Texas A&M (who, as I thought, isn’t as good as was projected anyway), I wasn’t sure.  They still might beat one (or more) of those three, by the way.  Also, I feel more justified in not giving the Bulldogs a higher rank going into the week. 

Rodrigo Blankenship (98), aka Hot Rod, one of the best-known kickers in college football recently, had not missed a field goal or extra point until Saturday. In the background, Gamecocks rush the field after Blankenship missed a field goal to end the game.

LSU Somehow Beats the Spread

First of all, I’ve updated the LSU/Florida history blog. Most importantly, the series is tied in Baton Rouge. LSU has not had the lead in its home stadium in the series as long as I remember. I may write something about the LSU/Dan Mullen series later in the week.

I didn’t pick LSU to beat the spread, but I said if they did it would be the result of a late score.  It was.  Florida was within a couple of yards of scoring a late touchdown in response.  It was for the most-part a one-score game.  I was right that Florida couldn’t do a 4-man rush and drop 7 effectively.  Burrow completed 15 of his first 16 passes (eventually going 21/24 for 293 yards), and even when Florida got good pressure he was able to at least get a couple of positive yards on the ground.  Florida ended up with 18 more passing yards; but it took 20 more attempts, and it would be almost dead even if sack yards went against passing yards in college.

LSU’s Joe Burrow made up for a pivotal “Pick Six” in last year’s game by throwing for 293 yards in 24 attempts (21 completed). LSU gave up no sacks and no turnovers.

I was also right in the number of points Florida would score, 28. Arguably both offenses should have had more though (and I also underestimated LSU’s points), so maybe I did give too much credit to the defenses.

LSU DC Dave Aranda apparently thought the same way I and some of the prognosticators did: if LSU could keep Florida from scoring quickly the Gators wouldn’t be able to sustain drives.  That was incorrect, but I (and I imagine Aranda) correctly anticipated LSU’s ability to avoid those long plays whether they pressured or not.  I could be giving him too much credit, but I suspect Dan Mullen intentionally had a very different game plan against Auburn even though I don’t think the defenses are drastically different. I also think, like LSU, they’re good at diagnosing problems and correcting them. Florida and LSU both have good arguments for second-best coaching in the conference right now. As Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times said, not bad for a couple of backup plans.

I also thought in general LSU would do better in pass coverage especially early.  The Tigers gave up yards after the opening drive in the second half, but they were just better when it counted during the 21-0 LSU run to end the game.

The turning point in LSU/Florida games is often how a team responds to a lead or to giving up a lead.  In the last three games of the series, the winning team had a narrow lead (< 3 points) late; and the defense just barely held on.  When LSU went down by 7 in this one (after Florida received the second half kickoff), it was the (momentarily) trailing team that seemed invigorated. The Tigers gave up a ton of yards after that but no points.

The offense let its foot off the gas a little bit at times (a couple of first-down runs where a pass might have been a better option, a couple of snaps late into the play clock) in the second half; but LSU scored 21 in both halves, so it didn’t hurt scoring. Being more methodical, which LSU rightly emphasized against Utah St., may have allowed the defense to have just enough of a reserve to close the deal in those fourth-quarter drives.

LSU did better penetrating into the backfield in the second half.  It was also partly the defensive backs making interceptions (one of which was wrongly called back) instead of tipping the ball and Florida completing it.  There was also a crucial (incorrect) interference call against the Tigers that helped Florida to score at the end of the first half.  Late in the second half there was some good coverage by the Tigers that did not result in flags though. 

If the linebackers or even blitzing backs left someone open during some of those plays where LSU sent pressure, the Florida quarterbacks didn’t have time to get it to them.  The only blitz I noticed that really backfired in the second half was a screen pass on third and 16 during Florida’s last drive.  I think the better strategy would have been to force the quarterback to throw short or try to scramble. LSU got only two sacks, but there were a lot more hurries and there were five tackles for a loss as well as several for very short gains.

LSU definitely needs better defense on third and medium-to-long overall though.  I got so frustrated at one point I turned on Iowa/Penn St. to see some defense when the Gators had the ball.  When you’re a couple of yards away though, they make it very difficult to score a touchdown.  It reminded me of the two goal-line stands against Texas that I think ultimately won the game. There was a similar defensive showing against Utah St. after a turnover at the 7. Even on the third and goal from the two that the Gators scored on (the only score of the second half), it was lucky for the Gators the ball wasn’t intercepted. 

One area that pleasantly surprised me was running the ball.  I knew we had better backs than people said, but I didn’t expect over 200 yards against a good defense.  I don’t think many predicted LSU would have 70 more rushing yards (on 16 fewer carries) than Florida and fewer passing yards.  LSU had the same exact number of throwing plays as running plays.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 134 yards on 13 carries, scores a 57-yard touchdown in the first half. The Tigers gained 218 rushing yards for the game.

I hesitated to predict that this would be the highest-scoring LSU/Florida game ever, and it just barely fell short.  If LSU had hit the field goal in the first quarter or if Florida had scored when they were a few yards away either time in the fourth quarter, this game would have set the record.  The 51-21 2008 runaway (also known as running up the score) with Tebow in Gainesville is still in first. 

In 1996, Florida won 56-13 on the way to an earlier national championship (Spurrier also tried to score 50 every game regardless of the other team), so this game beat that one by one point.  LSU doesn’t have that kind of margin of victory of course, but maybe winning a high-scoring game like this is a good omen. This is the highest-scoring game that LSU won.  The Tigers had won 35-28 in 2015.  LSU did score more (48) in a victory in 1971, but the Tigers held a winless Florida team to only 7.

Since Ed Orgeron took over at LSU, the Tigers have seven wins over the AP top 10.  Only Nick Saban and Urban Meyer (with nine apiece) have more over that time span.  Clemson’s Dabo Swinner has six.

Who’s #1 (and Who’s Going To Be #1)?

I still want to see what happens with Ohio St. and Wisconsin before I make either team #1.  There is a very good chance the winner will be #1 regardless, but I don’t want to promise that.  Sometimes there can be a combination of good results by prior opponents of one team and bad results by prior opponents of another team, and it yields unexpected results.

Mike Maskalunas and the Wisconsin defense shut out Michigan St. 38-0 Saturday, the Badgers’ fourth shutout of the season and first against a Big Ten opponent.

I’m only moving Clemson two extra spots to accomplish this, so it’s not anything crazy.  The orange-and-purple Tigers are third in the weighted system behind LSU and Oklahoma, so at least they’re ahead of Ohio St. by some objective measure to introduce ambiguity.

On November 2, Ohio St., Wisconsin, Alabama, and LSU have byes and Clemson plays Wofford.  So given that, I think it’s appropriate that after the games of October 26, I go with the computer unless there is something really close or what I consider a scheduling quirk. 

This is what I consider a scheduling quirk.  Let’s say I make Ohio St. #1, and after Ohio St. beats Rutgers on 11/16, they fall only slightly behind Clemson.  I would keep Ohio St. #1 because they would have Penn St. next and Clemson would have a bye.  I don’t like switching up #1 in my personal list without a loss (the computer formula does what it does and I don’t interfere).  I will at some point, but I don’t consider a team with a good schedule no longer number one because they play a couple of weak teams in a row before they play two pretty good teams in a row (in Ohio St.’s case, Penn St. and Michigan).

If it turns out Ohio St. is the best team, what would be optimal from my perspective is Clemson stays #1 until Ohio St. takes over, and then there are no further changes. Alabama has a terrible schedule the next two weeks (Tennessee and Arkansas), so even if they beat LSU on November 9, it might not be enough. I don’t want to give Clemson a boost for that long anyway.

It’s fairly likely that whoever is #1 October 27 will stay that way on November 3.  The only big game in the interim is Florida/Georgia (which is obviously less big on the national stage since both have a loss now), and I hopefully won’t have to agonize over anything. 

If LSU goes undefeated through November 9, maybe the Tigers would have a chance at that point. Then the next week, Oklahoma might have a chance if Baylor keeps winning until they meet the Sooners.

Anyway, I don’t like to do a back-and-forth horse race at #1 for the reasons explained, but I almost never make any changes to the rest of the rankings after October for my personal rankings.  I put what I think is most important into my system, and once we’ve played 2/3 of the season or more, I let that guide me.  The reason I made a computer system in the first place is it’s too hard to look at 30+ schedules late in the season and consistently give pluses and minuses for every win and loss.  It’s easier to do for 2 or 3 teams who have arguments for #1.

How the Sausage is Made

I’m not going to say anything else about the results last week or upcoming games until later this week, but I do have a bit to say about my rankings today and going forward.  I think some people call this “inside baseball,” so feel free to skip to the rankings below if you don’t want the gory details (or click here if you only want the purely objective ratings).

Seven weeks into the season, I think we can start giving extra credit for quality opponents.  If you played someone above zero, which is a team in the top 68 right now that’s the first bonus tier.  The next one is 0.15, which is the top 39 right now.  The highest tier is 0.3, which is the highest 19 teams right now.  There are a couple of higher tiers, but those only come into play later in the season. Those decimal numbers are from the “traditional” unweighted system.  So the unweighted system is the base, and the bonus tiers go on top of that to create the weighted system.  So if you beat someone who’s 15th in the weighted system, it’s possible that they’re not in the top 19 in the unweighted system.

I think the best result is to average the weighted and unweighted systems.  This is a little tricky because the numbers are so different, but the range from #1 to #130 in the unweighted system is almost exactly 1/50 the range in the weighted system.  So I zero out the worst teams and then I average weighted score with unweighted score times 50.

I’m still giving myself leeway to move the teams three spots this week.    The only exceptions are the top spot, which I treat a little differently, and Notre Dame, whom I wanted to move behind Georgia (Georgia is only two spots higher than the computer rank).  Georgia lost to one USC and Notre Dame beat the other, but they both looked bad. So I thought the Bulldogs should remain ahead of the Irish team they beat.

Top 25

rankteamlast
1Clemson1
2Ohio St.2
3LSU3
4Alabama4
5Wisconsin7
6Penn St.11
7Auburn6
8Boise St.10
9Oklahoma17
10Florida5
11Oregon14
12SMU8
13Baylor19
14Arizona St.15
15Michigan20
16Appalachian22
17Minnesota23
18Georgia9
19Notre Dame16
20Cincinnati24
21Washington
22Navy
23Hawaii21
24Wake Forest12
25Memphis13

Out of Top 25: (18) Texas, (25) Michigan St.

LSU/Florida Series Recap and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, History, Post-game, Preview, Rankings Commentary on October 8, 2019 at 2:36 PM

Utah St.

It was below the radar for most, but I think it’s worth mentioning a couple of developments from the Utah St. game that may feed into the Florida game and have affected the emphasis in practice.

I was pleased with some aspects of the LSU game.  The passing game didn’t look as great as it had previously, but the defense and running game looked a lot better.  We were able to control the clock more, which I think made the defense more comfortable despite the heat.  We had 3 running backs with at least 8 carries, and the worst one averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Burrow was almost as good with 4.2 yards per carry, and in college that number includes sacks.  He had about 6.5 yards per carry without those.

Utah St. couldn’t run at all. The Aggies had 1 yard rushing in the first half and 18 in the second. I think this showed that the tackling drills during the week that Orgeron talked about paid off. Hopefully the practice drills to correct fumbles will bear similar fruit.

I really don’t like that Burrow threw another interception deep in the LSU end of the field (although it arguably should have been caught by LSU); but like when that happened inside the 10 against Texas, the defense kept the other team from scoring a touchdown.  The defense only gave up one other scoring drive, and that one required a 35-yard pass (with a one-handed reception) and a 47-yard field goal.  There was a similar long pass on the next drive for Utah St., but the LSU defense came up with a turnover before any more damage could be done. 

Although I thought the passing game took a step back from previous games, there were some very nice touchdown passes (this one to Justin Jefferson). Burrow was involved in all 6 touchdowns, running for one of them.

There were a couple of penalties that shouldn’t have happened.  There were actually three fumbles, although LSU recovered two of them.  Utah St. is not a bad team, but if we have two turnovers against them, that gives me some concerns for some of the better SEC teams coming up.  I also mentioned sacks, so it wasn’t the best pass blocking.

Florida Preview

I won’t go into elaborate detail about players to watch for etc.; but I have consumed some media discussing the game, so I’ll give my take. 

I wasn’t that impressed with the model used by College Football Nerds and resulting predictions, but they did an all right job talking about the various units.  I think Florida’s main problem, other than Tiger Stadium at night, is the fact that they’re coming off a tough game against Auburn.   It’s just hard to improve along with the competition two weeks in a row. 

If you didn’t see the game, Florida had a little bit of luck at key moments too.  Auburn was poised to take the lead and threw an interception in the end zone after an 80-yard drive to end the third quarter.  Auburn was driving again to at least get within 1 with a field goal, and Nix was dropped for a 22-yard sack (which he made much worse than it could have been).  Then the first play after the punt the Florida running back Perine was able to get to the outside and no one was home, so he scored 88 yards later.  I’m not minimizing the Gators’ skills, but it’s a little misleading that they finished with almost twice as many points as Auburn.

There were four turnovers by each team in the Florida-Auburn game, and I think winning the turnover battle is definitely a possible avenue to victory for the Gators.  LSU can force turnovers; but defenders have to have good hands and be ready to fall on fumbles.  On the other hand, Tiger turnovers deep in LSU territory (which have happened at least four times) that didn’t really affect the outcome in previous games could make the difference here. 

Auburn has a good defense that Florida got through for a few long plays (no Florida touchdown drive was more than 2 plays), although the Gators are not the best at sustaining drives.  So basically I’m really confident if the LSU offense doesn’t make huge mistakes and the defense keeps the play in front of them and forces mistakes.  Those are big ifs though.

Florida WR Freddie Swain slips a tackle on the way to the opening score in Gainesville Saturday. Auburn allowed just enough of a seam for Swain to run 64 yards.

I’ll elaborate more below and I’ve covered this in previous discussions of the rivalry history, but I’m really skeptical of LSU winning this game by multiple touchdowns (they’re favored by 13 1/2 last I saw).  If they do, I think it will still be late plays that allow that to happen. 

Since the Miles-Meyer era began, 2011 LSU (the one that lost the national championship to Alabama) and 2008 Florida (which won the national championship) were the only two teams to win by 14 more..  All were against opponents who lost at least 5 games on the year.  The only other Florida wins by more than one possession (2006 and 2009) were by eventual 13-1 teams.  The 2006 LSU team only lost two games, but the 2009 edition lost four.  LSU won by 11 in 2013, but Florida would lose eight games to LSU’s three.

So if LSU is a Playoff team, I can see them winning by 10 or 13; but any more than that would probably mean Florida isn’t nearly as good as their rank.

Also, as sort of a transition, I wanted to mention that there is a good chance the game could come close to a high score in the series. Here are the games with the most combined points. It also shows how consistent the time of year in which the game is played has been.

DateLocationLSUFlorida Total
10/11/2008Florida 215172
10/12/1996Florida 135669
10/17/2015LSU352863
10/9/2010Florida 332962
10/9/1993LSU35861
10/8/1994Florida 184260
10/6/2001LSU154459
10/11/2014Florida 302757
10/7/1978Florida 342155
10/9/1971LSU48755

LSU/FLORIDA SERIES

See my series blog for the full details, but LSU/Florida has been a weird series.  Prior to the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina in time for the 1992 season, LSU was the farthest West SEC school, and Florida was the farthest East.  On the other hand, they are the two southernmost SEC schools and almost as far south as one another (Gainesville is slightly south being that it’s below the panhandle, and Baton Rouge is basically a straight line from the panhandle).

The third game in the series wasn’t played until 1953, but LSU has played Florida nearly every year since then (apart from a three-season gap between 1968 and 1970). 

I’m glad the game against Florida is at night.  I think that’s as important as location if not moreso.  LSU is 6-2 in night games against the Gators this century compared to 5-4 at home (the Tigers have the same mark in Gainesville since 2001). 

I’m not sure it mattered where or when the games in 2008 and 2009 were played.  LSU was in a rebuilding cycle those two years (The Tigers lost 9 games between the 2007 BCS championship and the 24-2 stretch that encompassed the 2010 and 2011 calendar years) while Florida experienced a 22-game winning streak that included both LSU games.  Tebow’s last game against LSU was in 2009, which corresponded with the Tigers doing a bit better, so that’s why I included the record since 2010 at the bottom. 

Florida’s only win at Tiger Stadium since that 2009 game was a noon kickoff in a rescheduled game in 2016.  Florida’s late goal-line stand in that game nearly cost Ed Orgeron the permanent job as head coach. 

LSU’s one-point win at Florida in 2017 (by the same score the Tigers would have won by in 2016) got the ball rolling for Jim McElwain’s departure.  This development was also enjoyable for LSU fans given his reaction to the win.  The Tigers entered with two losses to unranked teams.  Florida had a loss, but it was to a fairly decent Michigan team to open the season (at least the Wolverines were fairly decent in their 8-2 start), so that loss stung.  The Gators would have another close home loss the next week before getting blown out by Georgia in Jacksonville, in what turned out to be McElwain’s last game. 

Chart of recent games

2005 was the first Les Miles vs. Urban Meyer game, so I thought that was a good place for the chart to begin although ig doesn’t encompass all the night wins.  The coaches won three games apiece against one another, but the LSU wins were close (all by exactly four points) and dramatic.

There was also a close (night) game in Gainesville in 2004 that LSU won after benching JaMarcus Russell; but LSU suffered two losses in the previous three games that season, and Florida would lose five games overall.   Both teams played like it (when the winning team throws three interceptions and misses two field goals it usually isn’t a well-played game), so it just didn’t have the same feel as the next few years, so I didn’t include it.  LSU’s win in 2002, the Tigers’ first in Gainesville since 1986, was also at night; but it was a blowout.

Yearlocationkickoffresult
2018Florida 3:30Florida 27, LSU 19
2017Florida 3:30LSU 17, Florida 16
2016LSU12:00Florida 16, LSU 10
2015LSU 6:00LSU 35, Florida 28
2014Florida 7:30LSU 30, Florida 27
2013LSU2:30LSU 17, Florida 6
2012Florida 3:30Florida 14, LSU 6
2011LSU2:30LSU 41, Florida 11
2010Florida 7:30LSU 33, Florida 29
2009LSU7:00Florida 13, LSU 3
2008Florida 8:00Florida 51, LSU 21
2007LSU7:30LSU 28, Florida 24
2006Florida 3:30Florida 23, LSU 10
2005LSU2:30LSU 21, Florida 17

In 2005, LSU scored the go-ahead touchdown with 12 minutes left and held the Gators to 17 total yards over the next four drives to hold onto the win.  In 2007, LSU went 5 for 5 on fourth downs (one of them a fake field goal) and also added 8 third-down conversions to dominate time of possession.  The Tigers scored the winning touchdown with 1:09 left after a drive of over 8 minutes.  In 2010, in his last game against LSU, Meyer nearly had a meltdown after an over-the-shoulder pitch to the kicker on a fake field goal was ruled a lateral rather than an incomplete pass.  The Tigers scored the winning touchdown in that one with only 6 seconds left.

Jacob Hester scores the winning touchdown in Baton Rouge in 2007. Hester had converted two fourth downs earlier in the drive. The Tigers entered the fourth quarter down by 10 but possessed the ball for more than 10 minutes in the quarter and won by 4.

The Florida wins in the Miles-Meyer era were relatively comfortable.  Meyer’s three wins were the only Florida wins by more than one possession since 2003. LSU has only beaten Florida by more than one possession once since 2002. 

Additional Background

This isn’t really key information, but I think it helps explain why this series is probably second to Alabama when it comes to motivating the LSU fans and also a little bit more about why I’m doubtful LSU will win big.

I’ll finish with years before the Miles-Meyer era and then fill in the gap between that era and 2016.

Going into the 2002 game, Florida had beaten LSU easily four games in a row and 8 games of 9.  LSU only had two close games against Spurrier-coached Florida teams, both 28-21 final scores.  The Tigers lost in Gainesville in 1992 and won in Baton Rouge in 1997.  In the 2002 game, the first season without Spurrier, LSU won 36-7, its first win in Gainesville since 1986 and its first win over Florida by more than 11 since 1980.  LSU has won by more than 11 only once since then, in 2011.  Florida would 5 games in 2002 and 6 in 2011, so that’s why I’m skeptical of a big LSU win in this one.  I’ve been wrong about LSU lines before, but I would lean toward taking Florida and the points.

The 1997 LSU win (the Gators’ first loss since winning the national championship in the previous season) was the Tigers’ only over the Gators from 1988 to 2001  Spurrier was hired before the 1990 season and left after the 2001 season.  That was when LSU’s fortunes in the series began to change, not when Nick Saban arrived.

Saban went only 2-3 against the Gators as LSU head coach and also went 2-3 against Spurrier for his career (0-2 at LSU, 1-0 at Michigan St., and 1-1 at Alabama; of course the Alabama games were against South Carolina, not Florida).  2001 to 2004 was also a weird stretch because road teams won every game, none of the games were between top-15 teams, and the game was decided by one possession only once.

Anyway, I mentioned that in 2011 (the first game after Meyer left) LSU won easily.  Florida won a close defensive struggle in 2012 when somehow former LSU coordinator Will Muschamp would lead the Gators to the Sugar Bowl.  LSU would win the next three games before Les Miles was fired. The 2014 game was a rollercoaster; but it turned out to be two mediocre teams, so I won’t go into detail again.

Week 1 Top 25 and LSU/Texas Series and Preview

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary, Rivalry on September 3, 2019 at 6:01 PM

TOP 25

rank/team/last

1Clemson1
2Alabama2
3Georgia3
4LSU4
5Ohio St.6
6Michigan5
7Notre Dame7
8Auburn9
9Florida8
10Wash. St.10
11Oklahoma11
12Texas A&M12
13Utah13
14Washington14
15Texas15
16C. Florida17
17Michigan St.18
18Syracuse20
19Penn St.21
20Appy St.23
21Cincinnati24
22Boise St.
23Oregon16
24Iowa St.19
25Stanford

Out of top 25: (22) Florida St., (25) South Carolina

Top 25 Comments

I know it’s late for many of you, so I only used one picture. I usually try to avoid walls of text, but it couldn’t be helped.

I covered most of what I had to say about the games over the weekend on Sunday

I thought Michigan struggled too much to stay ahead of Ohio St., who dominated.

I think Auburn barely beat a much better team than Florida barely beat, so I switched the two.

I dropped Oregon close to the bottom just because they’re 0-1, but they can bounce back pretty quickly. 

Boise St. was a late cut from my list of potentials, so it was easy to put them in.

As for the other new team, I’m not in love with Stanford being that they only scored 17 points and will probably rely on the backup quarterback in the next game, but sometimes that helps teams.

Florida St. and South Carolina deserved to fall out for obvious reasons.  It may be a while before I consider South Carolina again, but Florida St. showed some good things.

If you need three overtimes to beat a FCS team like Iowa St. did (although it’s worth noting Northern Iowa has had a lot of success in recent history), that’s almost like a loss to a top-10 team.  A win is a win for the most-part (giving credit for strength of schedule of course); but with only one game to consider, you have to look at how easily the win came. 

Oklahoma and Notre Dame, who played since my last blog, took care of business.  

Notre Dame probably let Louisville hang around too long, but the Irish don’t typically have an offense that leaves the opposition in the dust right away anyway 

Oklahoma let Houston score a couple of touchdowns to get within two possessions late, but I don’t hold it against them.  I’m still skeptical about how the Sooners will do against Power 5 competition though.  It could be that the Big XII will make them look good even if they aren’t.  Texas looked all right, but nobody looked great. Speaking of the Longhorns…

LSU @ Texas

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger looks to throw against TCU last season. LSU HC Ed Orgeron said preparing for Ehlinger was similar to preparing for Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.

All-time series: Texas leads, 9-8-1 (updated after the game)

The first game of the series was way back in 1896, LSU’s 11th official game as a program (and 10th intercollegiate game), but 10 of the 17 games in the series were clustered between 1935 and 1954, the last regular-season matchup (Texas won 20-6 in Austin).

The (January) 2003 Cotton Bowl (Texas 35, LSU 20) was the only matchup since 1963 (also the Cotton Bowl, which LSU won 13-0), so LSU fans shouldn’t despair too much about these facts.  The more-recent Cotton Bowl was the highest-scoring game of the series, beating out the 35-14 Texas win in 1952.  In the 2003 game, Texas entered at 10-2, and LSU entered at 8-4.  LSU would win the BCS national championship in the following January though.

The third-largest point total and largest margin of victory is also owned by Texas, 34-0 in 1941.  Other than the tie in 1936, the closest game was the 5-0 LSU win in San Antonio in 1902.

Texas leads the series in Austin, 7-2-1, the other LSU win coming in 1938. (updated after the game).

The Tigers lead 2-1 at “neutral” sites (two in Dallas, one in San Antonio) and 4-1 at home. 

Added after the game: Both teams scored more in 2019 (45 to 38 final in favor of LSU) than either had in this series before. LSU more than doubled its previous high of 20 (in the loss in Jan. 2003 and in wins in 1938 and 1953).

After Saturday, the next game is scheduled for Tiger Stadium on September 12 of next season with no future plans thereafter; although LSU plans to return to Big XII country (if the Big XII is still a thing) in 2027 to face Oklahoma.

Preview

Speaking of the Longhorns, there was a debate on the College Football Nerds YouTube channel (formerly known as SEC Fans) about whether Texas will beat LSU.

They absolutely can…  I’m not going to suggest for a moment it’s going to be as easy to stop Texas’s mobile quarterback as it was to stop the Georgia Southern quarterbacks.  I’m not a big fan of the Texas defense even before the loss of all but two or three starters, but I’m reasonably sure LSU will go scoreless on more than one drive with the first-team offense in the game. I also don’t discount the degree of difficulty in playing in Austin.  I don’t know if it’s the same as the best SEC stadiums, but we’ve had some of our best teams lose at home (like in the 2003 season) or lose at less-intimidating SEC places like Commonwealth Stadium (the sponsor isn’t paying me) in Lexington (like in the 2007 season).

.. But I don’t think they will.  LSU has a clear advantage in returning starters; but even if they didn’t, I think last year’s LSU team would have beaten last year’s Texas team even in Austin.  Oklahoma played terribly on defense and only lost by a field goal, and that was Texas’s best game.  The Longhorns only won the Sugar because Georgia was going to be the team that blew the lead to Alabama in the SECCG whether they beat Texas or not.  A month of relatively little motivation can make a big difference.  LSU in their worst game wouldn’t have lost to Maryland like Texas did.

Anyway, in the video, I don’t know if the guy arguing for Texas was advancing weak arguments on purpose or he was just trying hard to sell the only arguments he could come up with; but they weren’t very persuasive.  One was “we’ve heard it before that the offense is different.”  There were changes when Cameron was fired, there were changes when Canada came in, and there were changes last year; but there weren’t wholesale changes like this.  Neither Etling in 2015 and 2016 nor Burrow last year were ready for anything crazy anyway. 

Shea Dixon had some good stats on differences from last year.  In all of last season 14 players caught passes, four of them running backs.  On Saturday, 14 players caught passes, 5 of them running backs.  He also included a special teams stat: LSU had 52 yards in punt returns Saturday compared with 99 in all of last season.

Another one is “Texas doesn’t rebuilt, they reload.”  Charlie Strong (who still recruited a lot of the players) would be surprised to know that.  They’re not Alabama or Clemson all of a sudden because of one year with double-digit wins (which with 14 games isn’t what it used to be).  LSU has done a bit of reloading over the years as well.  It’s still an advantage to have more players back, especially from a successful year.  Speaking of Alabama and Clemson, they both had successful years in 2017; but Clemson had a lot more players back in 2018.  I think that helped the Tigers win the championship as easily as they did.  Even if Texas “reloads” an exact replica of last season on defense (though I’m not sure Louisiana Tech gets 340 passing yards last year), that’s probably a good sign for the LSU offense.  To be fair, the La. Tech scoring was all in the fourth quarter, but they had several earlier opportunities.  In short, I’m not convinced.

Another point I’m not buying is that Texas can handle the SEC based on the Georgia game.  If LSU played Georgia and that was LSU’s only SEC game last year, that wouldn’t mean LSU would beat every SEC team this year with.  LSU played a Georgia team that still had a potential national championship run in front of it too.  Also, bowl games are a lot different.  You don’t get the same players.  LSU had a patchwork team in the bowl game last season and looked pretty good, which is part of the reason I rank them so highly now; but I don’t know how different the Texas-Georgia game would have been if it had been a playoff game.

There was another point that might have been good had Texas had its defense back from last year, and that was that LSU’s new offense is more similar to what Big XII teams run.  Being used to scrimmaging against the Texas offense isn’t the same thing as a season of Big XII opponents.  When you’re up 42-3 at the half and take most of your starters out shortly thereafter, you’re not going to show everything anyway.  So we can’t be sure this would be so easy for an experienced Big XII defense anyway.  Also, let’s not forget even in the best team game for the Longhorns they allowed 45 points.  Do I think LSU will score 45?  No.  Do I think they’ll allow 48 like Oklahoma did?  That’s not even a serious question in my mind.

My final thoughts: I don’t want to discount the fact that Texas has a chance to win at home. It just seems less likely.  Maybe 60-40 odds in LSU’s favor.  If you point a gun to my head and make me bet, I’d take Texas and the points (5.5 according to ESPN), but it’s a close call. If someone wins the turnover battle 4-0 (as was the case when LSU beat Georgia last year), that team could win by 20+ though. I don’t think feel like I know enough about either team under pressure to even venture a guess as to over/under.

Last topic, speaking of turnovers, both teams were +2 in turnovers in the first game, but stats from last year indicate LSU might do better.  LSU was tied for 7th in turnover margin last year (with an advantage of 0.8 per game).  Georgia Southern’s turnover margin was more than twice as much though (1.7, 1st), so that makes the first game more impressive for the Tigers.  Texas was close behind LSU last year (0.6, tied for 18th), but Louisiana Tech was barely positive (0.2, tied for 43rd).

The Truth about the SEC and Coach O

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, History, Post-game on January 6, 2019 at 6:33 PM

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays and the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Unlike what a lot of professional journalists seem to be able to do, I appreciated the opportunity to see what other people are saying without any kind of agenda of my own.  Whenever I do that, I am reminded of certain things that I feel need explaining.  Both professional commentators and common fans put a lot of false narratives out there. I’m not going to mention anyone in particular because I was so relaxed in my consumption of other media I didn’t even make note of who they were.

SEC Teams and Bowl Games

One thing is that bowls are the end-all and be-all of team or conference comparisons.  SEC teams don’t tend to lose Sugar Bowls, for instance, because the Big XII participants are superior.  I covered some of this last year when people apparently thought Alabama had a good chance of losing because they were playing in New Orleans.  A common circumstance is a team goes into the SEC Championship Game hoping to compete for a national championship.  Said team loses that game and gets the Sugar Bowl as a consolation.  Are they really going to play their best game when it’s the first game they know for a fact that the goal of a national championship is off the table? 

Of course almost every team faces that reality at some point, but they’re not necessarily playing a top 15 team away from home the first time they do so, so they can get away with having less motivation.  Also, I think it’s different trying to get back on track the week after a loss than it is losing a game and then waiting a month when you know it’s just one final game.  If Georgia had lost their second game in Week Five, for instance, there would be a desire to finish strong and maybe win the SEC East, so they would still be very motivated in Week Six.  That’s not the case in a bowl game.

SEC detractors will pretend we don’t have another Big XII-SEC game as a reference point.  Of course that was when Alabama played Oklahoma, winners of close games against Sugar Bowl participants Texas and Georgia.  Even though Alabama played a closer game and looked likely to lose well into the fourth quarter, Alabama’s win over Oklahoma was never really in doubt.  So even if Clemson wins on Monday, Alabama was still tested against one of the top four teams (I would argue one of the top three teams) and came out on top.  They’re not just in the top two because of some inflated perception of the SEC, especially not the SEC relative to the Big XII.


Tua Tagovailoa fights off a tackle from Oklahoma’s Robert Barnes in the Orange Bowl. Although he lost out on the Heisman to Kyler Murray (also of Oklahoma), he led the Tide to a 45-34 victory with 4 touchdowns, only 3 incompletions in 27 attempts, and 318 passing yards.

Anyway, the other participant in the Sugar Bowl, Texas, also lost their conference title game; but what the Longhorns were playing for in that game was a berth in the Sugar Bowl, so they didn’t have the goal from their most-recent game taken from them like Georgia did. 

Imagine an NFL team is eliminated in the second round of the playoffs and a month later they play a team that didn’t even make the playoffs.  The former team isn’t going to be anywhere close to as intense as they were in the playoffs.  The latter team would be disappointed they didn’t make the playoffs and have something to prove.  Not only that, the latter team would display the intensity that it would have had in the playoffs if given the opportunity.  One of the top NFL teams is the Saints.  A couple of weeks ago, they needed a comeback at home to beat the Steelers, a team that narrowly missed the playoffs.  If they Saints were to lose their first playoff game and have a rematch with the Steelers at a neutral site, I know which team I’d bet on.  It’s not the one everyone knows had a better regular season.

Anyway, Georgia is the only SEC team in the top three of either division that lost its bowl game.  I don’t have to use tiebreakers or anything, so I’m not manipulating the rankings to make that point.  There are exactly three teams in each division who won 5 SEC games or more. I didn’t even mention Florida’s Peach Bowl win over Michigan.

If you know how bowls work, it’s not surprising that the other teams lost.  The SEC had four teams in the “New Years Six” Bowls, so that meant that the top available SEC team Kentucky was fifth (and that’s generous since they lost to Texas A&M).  They played the top available Big Ten team, Penn St., even though Penn St. was third in the Big Ten (fourth in conference record; but Northwestern lost three games out of conference, and Penn St. lost none apart from the bowl).  So when you have a lot of good teams at the top, that means teams in the middle end up playing teams at the top of other conferences.  Kentucky won anyway; but a similar calculus went into matching Mississippi St. against Iowa, and Iowa narrowly came out on top.

Kentucky RB Benny Snell led the Wildcats to the 27-24 Citrus Bowl win over Penn St. and in the process because the program’s all-time season leader in rushing yards. Kentucky also won 10 games for the first time since 1977.

Outside of Georgia’s Sugar Bowl loss, the only loss by the SEC top six the whole season to a team of another conference was Texas A&M’s controversial two-point loss to Clemson.  There were only six interconference losses by the whole conference before the bowls: three of those were to teams in the four-team Playoff, and two of the rest were by Arkansas.  (The sixth was Tennessee’s loss to West Virginia.)

Auburn, one of the SEC teams who beat Texas A&M, absolutely dominated Purdue (the fourth major Big Ten/SEC bowl) for the other SEC bowl win.  They’re a good example of a team who lost the first game after their main goals for the season were eliminated.  There was a reasonably strong shot at advancing to the SEC Championship with one loss (their first loss came by one point to LSU) and possibly winning the national championship but very little chance of either with two losses (the second loss was by 14 to Mississippi St.), so the week after their second loss, they picked up their third loss against Tennessee. 

Auburn WR Darius Slayton scores one of many early touchdowns for Auburn against Purdue. The Tigers led 56-7 at halftime and went on to win 63-14 in Gus Malzahn’s second bowl win as head coach.

Teams like Auburn are cited by SEC detractors every year as proof that the SEC isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, but only one team can make the title game out of the SEC West in a given year.  No other conference has as many aspiring national-title contenders. I don’t think any other conference has five teams who would have beaten Auburn. There might have been three in the Big Ten, maybe two in the Big XII. The eventual Pac-12 champion couldn’t even beat Auburn at a neutral site. Clemson probably would have, but I don’t know if anyone else in the ACC would have.

Tennessee’s other conference win came under similar circumstances when the Vols beat Kentucky the week after the Wildcats were eliminated from contention in the SEC East.  So if Tennessee (which didn’t even qualify for a bowl game) can get a win against one of the top six SEC teams, it’s not a surprise that Texas was able to get such a win.

I didn’t even mention how many players skipped their bowl game for the purpose of improving their NFL chances.  The top SEC teams tend to put the most players in the NFL, so I suspect this phenomenon affected the SEC more than other conferences.

Coach O and LSU

The other narrative I wanted to talk about is Ed Orgeron.  I also talked a little bit about this narrative last year. He’s far from perfect, but I’m still skeptical of the notion that LSU would have been better off with someone like Tom Herman or Jimbo Fisher.

Refer to the chart for the details, but the easiest shorthand way of comparing coach’s records is to say how many losses they have.  Other than a couple of Sun Belt coaches (who left for other conferences anyway), the only coaches with fewer losses than Orgeron in a comparable number of games since Orgeron was hired at LSU were Nick Saban of Alabama, Dabo Sweeney of Clemson, James Franklin of Penn St., and Urban Meyer of Ohio St.  Meyer won’t be coaching anymore, and I just mentioned what happened to Penn St. against Kentucky – and Franklin only had two fewer losses anyway.  So there are really only two continuing coaches who are clearly doing better at their current schools in the same time frame.

This list is limited to head coaches who have been in their positions from October 1, 2016, to present.

LSU had to cancel the 2017 game against South Alabama and unlike most of these schools has not competed in a conference championship game since Orgeron was hired before the game against Missouri on October 1, 2016.  So that partly accounts for fewer games played.

As I’m sure most readers are aware, Les Miles hasn’t coached a game since Orgeron was hired at LSU (although he will coach one in August), but I also looked at his last 34 games.  He was 23-11. In his last 38 games, he was only 25-13.  So even if Orgeron goes 0-4 to start next season (Georgia Southern, @Texas, his alma mater Northwestern St., and @Vanderbilt), he’d only fall into a tie over 38 games.  If he goes 4-0, he would be at 76.3% compared to Miles’ 65.8%.  If he goes 3-1, he would be at 73.7%, just a couple of decimal places above where he is now. 

The chart of course doesn’t account for strength of schedule.  To focus in on this year, LSU went 10-3 against a schedule that included five teams who were in the top 10 when the Tigers played them and three other teams who were ranked.  U. Miami and Auburn shouldn’t have been in the top 10 in hindsight; but if you want to use that standard, we should reduce Notre Dame’s opponents in the top 10 from two to one (since Stanford shouldn’t have been in the top 10) and Washington from three to two (since Auburn shouldn’t have been in the top 10), for instance.

Some might say I shouldn’t be that happy with Coach O being that LSU narrowly escaped the Fiesta Bowl with a victory, but actually it was a small miracle Central Florida was able to keep it that close.  The Tigers out-gained the Knights 555 to 250, had almost twice as many first downs (32 to 17), and had the ball about three times as long (44:31 to 15:29). 

It may not have been his intention, but this interception may have reminded some of the LSU coaches why they wanted JaCoby Stevens to play wide receiver going into the year.

LSU dominated a very good Louisville team two years ago in Coach O’s first bowl game as a head coach, and apart from some controversial calls and non-calls would have beaten Notre Dame last year.  I would argue these are increasingly challenging bowl games, which reflects positively on LSU in the first place, and winning two of the three is impressive regardless of the final scores.  LSU was also playing backup wide receivers in the defensive secondary for most of the Fiesta Bowl. 

This was LSU’s first win in what is now called a New Years Six Bowl (at the end of the BCS system 10 teams went to such bowls instead of the current 12) since the Tigers won the BCS National Championship following the 2007 season. The only appearance since then had been the BCS National Championship loss following the 2011 season.

I’m still not happy we didn’t give Alabama more of a game and we were certainly good enough for a couple more wins, but in what many (including me) thought would be a rebuilding year where we would be an average SEC team (or worse), 10 wins including the Fiesta Bowl is what I’d call a success.

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU-Alabama Recap and Reaction 2017

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 4, 2017 at 8:35 PM

(Pictures from this game will be added tomorrow, I just wanted to get this out quickly since it’s so late. I also updated the LSU-Alabama rivalry blog)

Although LSU played much better this year, they ultimately weren’t able to stop Jalen Hurts again.

I didn’t pick LSU to win, but I’m still annoyed that it wasn’t closer. The offense and defense were working well enough that LSU could have been up a score or two instead of down 14-0 in the beginning.

LSU should have stopped Alabama twice on the first touchdown drive. Alabama got away with a hold/tackle on a third-and-long play, and then LSU should have had a sack on second and 6 to force another third-and-long. In the latter play, two defenders routed Jalen Hurts from the backfield; but they both went to his right, so he rolled left for the first down instead of a big loss.

The interception, which set up the second touchdown, was a 50/50 ball. Usually the first guy to get to the ground gets awarded possession, but not with an SEC crew in Tuscaloosa I guess. The Alabama player did get there first and win the tug-of-war, to be fair.

Regardless of whether that should have been an interception, Danny Etling’s judgment was not very good. He threw the ball downfield a few times (and not particularly well) when there were other receivers who could have made first downs. These long incompletions stalled drives when LSU was otherwise gaining yards.

DJ Chark tries to catch a pass that was thrown behind him in the first quarter. Notice the defender’s left hand though.

Etling should have thrown it to Guice for a touchdown on third down in the next possession; but instead the ball fell incomplete toward the corner of the end zone, so the Tigers settled for a field goal.

Then after a punt, LSU was pinned back by what I thought was a bogus block-in-the-back call. The block was in the right shoulder pad as the Alabama player turned toward DJ Chark, who fielded the punt and ran to about midfield. Even if it was a bad call though, it was stupid to even touch the guy since he didn’t have a good shot at Chark. Similar blocks by Alabama later in the game were not called.

I would say the referees did better than they usually do in these games, and I don’t think they ultimately affected the outcome. I just think it helps explain the game to mention possible bad breaks from the officiating as well as other bad breaks.

Late in the third quarter on third and 9, Hurts threw a pass that was worse than the one Etling threw; but the difference is it was somehow complete. A couple of LSU players were between Hurts and the ball, and a couple more were in coverage. As Brad Nessler said, the ball “found eyes” to get there anyway. Devin White was a few milliseconds late on either breaking up or intercepting the pass.

Ed Orgeron said during one of his press conferences that the opportunities will be there; but if you miss them, Alabama will take advantage. This is exactly what happened consistently to give the Tide a 21-3 advantage, and Alabama didn’t have to do anything spectacular after that.

With about 12 minutes left, Etling made a good decision in throwing it downfield, but he missed again. This time he underthrew the ball (after earlier overthrowing him on a similar play), and Chark dropped it. Chark was open enough that he should have had it regardless though. Nonetheless, the incompletion helped put LSU into a third and long and another unsuccessful possession. Etling missed another open receiver with about 7 minutes left, causing another third and long and ultimately a fourth down.

Devin White and the LSU defense contained many of the Alabama offensive weapons including Bo Scarborough.

Just like last year though, the defense kept LSU in it. It wasn’t over until the final few minutes. The Tigers forced 6 three-and-outs, and I mentioned another that they should have had. LSU also had 3 other third-down stops. I told my brother we had a good chance if we kept them under 20, and one reason we didn’t was a turnover. When you have more yards on offense than the other team, your offense is good enough; but we needed better quarterback play to win. The blocking was good enough, the routes were good enough, and the game plan was good enough.

Last year Alabama outgained LSU 323-125, Alabama had 16 first downs to 6, and Alabama converted 7 third downs to LSU’s 4 (and one fourth down to none). This year those numbers were 299-306, 14-16, and 5-9. Time of possession doesn’t matter sometimes, but it does when it’s part of your game plan like it is for LSU against Alabama. Last year we had the ball for 26:05, and this year we had it for 34:07. I honestly think this is indicative of superior preparation and coaching.

Saban and Orgeron chat before the game.

It’s of course extremely frustrating that in so many games of this series it could have gone either way. Alabama just got the better of plays, and LSU didn’t. It’s not an annual domination by any stretch of the imagination, although Alabama fans tell me that the only reason it’s ever close is because Nick Saban is a nice guy who wants to keep the LSU coaches from getting fired.

Myles Brennan isn’t there yet; but (assuming he’s the QB) if he makes EITHER the right decisions or the right throws next year all things being equal, we will have an excellent chance to win the game. If he does both, we should win easily. I really like Danny Etling as a person, and I think he worked extremely hard just to become the starter; but I am hoping Brennan gets more playing time going forward than he has gotten so far.

This loss does sting in terms of recruiting, but this is what I would say: (1) you can play in games like this in your first year or two and do a good job (as many of our young players did today), and (2) we’re a player or two from ending this streak and winning our own championships, and you can be that player.

Also this:

Despite last year’s respectable final score, LSU was starting to look like a second-tier football team in these games. That ended today.

Sly Croom’s Lasting Influence

In College Football, History on October 27, 2017 at 1:36 PM

Since this is a bye week for LSU, I thought I’d reminisce a little. Ed Orgeron’s return to Ole Miss reminded me that he was one of the victims of Sylvester Croom. I don’t just mean his team lost to Mississippi St.’s, but he apparently lost his job in large part because of the 2007 game (the 2005 game didn’t help either).

Sylvester Croom after winning the Egg Bowl in a dramatic comeback in Starkville in 2007.

Losses to Sylvester Croom also factored heavily into Florida’s firing of Ron Zook, Alabama’s firing of Mike Shula, and arguably Auburn’s firing of Tommy Tuberville.

I think part of it was the perception of Mississippi St. up until then. Overall from 2001 to 2003, the Bulldogs went 8-27 and only 3-21 in the SEC. So with how competitive the SEC was, that just wasn’t a team you entertained losing to, especially since they were given heavy sanctions stemming from the Jackie Sherrill era.

In fact I remember a Florida fan (ironically) complaining that the SEC West teams got to play “the Mississippis” ever year.

So I’m not even saying it was altogether fair for Croom that losses to his teams were met with such hostility since he did improve the situation from how he found it.

Ron Zook was the only head coach to defeat Nick Saban’s Tigers in 2003; but that didn’t help him much after the loss to the Bulldogs in 2004.

The Bulldogs’ win against Florida in 2004 (Croom’s first year) was only the second SEC win in three seasons. It didn’t seem to help Zook that Mississippi St. won the next week against Kentucky. The damage had been done, and the fans wanted blood. Without Zook’s firing, who knows how Urban Meyer’s career would have developed?

Mississippi St. would only go 4-20 in SEC play from 2004 to 2006, but all but one of those wins (the one over Kentucky) resulted in a firing. Orgeron wasn’t fired until 2007, but maybe that loss would have been less fatal had he beaten the Bulldogs in his first season in 2005.

Orgeron’s one win over the Bulldogs came in 2006, but Croom did beat Mike Shula’s Tide. The fact that it was in Tuscaloosa couldn’t have helped matters. No only was it the only SEC win for the Bulldogs that year, it was the only win over a I-A (now FBS) opponent in regulation. Alabama lost six games in that regular season, but one of them was by one point in overtime at Arkansas, and the other four (apart from Mississippi St.) were against teams that were in the top 15 at the time of the game. Without that loss, there is a good chance Nick Saban never coaches Alabama. Even if he started a year later, does the Tide win the West in 2008? Do they win the national championship in 2009? Probably doubtful in both cases.

Croom with Mike Shula after a game.

In 2007, the Bulldogs went a respectable 4-4 in conference and won the Liberty Bowl to finish 8-5 overall. (The non-conference loss was to West Virginia, who won the Big East and nearly played for the national championship that year.)

Nonetheless, rivalry games can be funny things (as that same West Virginia team found out against Pitt), and Orgeron was seen as responsible for giving up a late lead (see the link in the first sentence for more details).

Had Ole Miss won, it’s possible that the administration could have held out for that fourth year, which was when Croom finally had a decent year.

It’s arguable that there was another victim, and that was Tommy Tuberville. Had Auburn beaten the Bulldogs in 2007, that would have been four consecutive seasons of two conference losses or fewer after Tuberville had only accomplished the feat once in his first five seasons on the Plains.

Tuberville recently took credit for Shula’s firing (and indirectly for Saban’s hiring) as a result of beating Shula every year, but Croom likely also played a role in his own demise.

Also, one of the two SEC wins in Tuberville’s (and Croom’s) final season of 2008 was a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs. I know that in the minds of some fans, that didn’t count as a win, at least not for the football team. Especially since the offense was under fire at that time, that score was an easy one to recall and complain about. The other SEC win was 14-12, and there were SEC losses of 14-13, 17-7, and 17-13.

It’s hard to argue the decision in hindsight (I don’t think anyone would argue that Dan Mullen hasn’t proven himself better-suited to the position), but I wasn’t that fond of Croom’s firing at the time. He did take a step back in his final season in only going 4-8, but that was still better than any team there between 2001 and 2006. The loss to Auburn was one of two one-point losses that year (the other to Kentucky). Had they won both, they would have been bowl-eligible. They also played fairly close road games against Louisiana Tech (a loss by 8) and then-#5 LSU (a loss by 10). Louisiana Tech had one of its better seasons going 8-5 and winning a bowl game under head coach Derek Dooley, so that was not an embarrassing loss by any means.

Croom coaching at the Titans minicamp in 2014.

If you were curious, Croom went back to being an NFL running backs coach, a position he still occupies today with the Tennessee Titans. Apart from his stint at Mississippi St. and a four-year term as Offensive Coordinator of the Detroit Lions, Croom has been an NFL running backs coach since 1987. Before that, he coached linebackers at Alabama, his alma mater, under Bear Bryant and Ray Perkins. Alabama and Mississippi St. were his only two college coaching stops.