theknightswhosay

Posts Tagged ‘Ed Orgeron’

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.

Advertisements

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.

Coach O Makes the Right Decisions, Confuses Media Narrative

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on October 17, 2017 at 3:23 PM

Setting of the Game and Media Commentary

This season the Tigers lost at home to a non-conference opponent for the first time since 2000, Nick Saban’s first season, and lost at Mississippi St. for the first time since 1999. I was bracing for another such loss being that 1999 was the last time they lost at home to Auburn, but somehow they escaped.

That was known as the Cigar Game, by the way. Tommy Tuberville and company smoked cigars after the game even though LSU was pathetic that year. Tuberville beat basically the same LSU team when he was at Ole Miss the year before (and his predecessor Terry Bowden had won in Baton Rouge in 1997), but he wanted to act like he accomplished something special. Maybe we can call it the Cigar Curse if this keeps up. Maybe Auburn can hire Tubs back and he can defeat his own curse. Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn, and Terry Bowden can be his assistants.

Auburn players celebrate after the Cigar Game in 1999. LSU has had its longest home winning streak against Auburn in the years since.

Back to the present, I’m annoyed that no matter what LSU does they’re going to be insulted the rest of the year. They could win out, and people like Paul Feinbaum will still say, “same old LSU, win the games they’re not supposed to and lose the games they should have won.”

There were a lot of ups and downs in terms of talent and whatnot between 2005 and 2016, when Les Miles was the head coach. Whatever happens this season, you can’t say this is some kind of permanent condition going forward. Miles had especially difficult years in 2008 and 2014. Whether it was Miles or Orgeron, this would be another year like those two in terms of experience (although there is a bit more experience at the QB position), but we may not end up with five or even four losses. (Technically, finishing with two losses is possible; but that would require not only winning the rest of the games on the schedule but also winning at least the SEC Championship and a bowl game.)

I’m not worried though, keep up the low expectations. I don’t think the 2003 team was nearly as good as the 2007 and 2011 teams, but no one saw the 2003 performance coming. I think that was preferable.

Auburn and Florida Rivalries

I didn’t realize this going in, but this was actually the first competitive LSU-Auburn game in Tiger Stadium since 2007. That was when LSU only needed a field goal to win, but Matt Flynn threw a touchdown to Demetrius Byrd that was caught with about 3 seconds left (although the ensuing kickoff was with 1 second left). Appropriately enough, the 2007 team was in attendance on Saturday. The 2007 game came two years after an overtime win by LSU which resulted from multiple missed field goals by Auburn.

It was nice to get another close win against Auburn in light of the 4-point loss in 1994 (the disaster on the plains), the 1-point loss in 2004 (the extra point game), the 4-point loss in 2006 (Refgate), the 7-point loss in 2010 (I don’t think it had a nickname; it was just a good close game on the way to Auburn’s national championship), and the 5-point loss last season (I guess we can call it the end of an era since it was Les Miles’ last game). The other games mentioned in this paragraph were all at Auburn, where LSU has only won twice since 1998.

This was the first year since 1980 in which LSU beat Auburn and Florida with at least one of those wins coming on the road. Just like this year, there were also wins at Florida and at home against Auburn that season. That year was the last of four consecutive LSU wins against Florida, which has not been repeated since then. LSU has won 6 of 8 against the Gators and 3 of the last 4 in Gainesville though. All three of those wins in Gainesville were decided in the final moments, and this was the ninth LSU-Florida game since (and including) 2004 that was decided by one possession.

Before the loss to LSU, Florida had won 14 of 15 home games and 10 of the last 11 decided by 8 points or fewer (with the previous close loss coming to LSU in 2015). Now both LSU and Texas A&M have won close games in the Swamp (by 1 and 2 points respectively) in consecutive weeks. The Gators’ remaining home games this season are against UAB and Florida St.

For more on these series, see the Auburn and Florida rivalry blogs.

LSU-Auburn Game Recap and Analysis

So I’ve talked about pundits and I’ve talked about historical significance. I’d like to talk a little more about Saturday’s game and what I think brought about the result.

I’ve mentioned this is still a young inexperienced team, but let’s recap a couple of things they have seen in recent weeks. As we have been reminded dozens of times now, yes, they lost to Troy, but let’s look at that.. Troy was up 17-0 in the second half. Had it been 17-0 at halftime, maybe LSU wins. Had the coaching staff not panicked a bit by calling an onsides kick only halfway through the fourth quarter, the Tigers may have completed the comeback. Also, after the Tigers’ initial touchdown, Troy scored again and still led by 17 well into the fourth quarter.

There was another home game where it was the opposite situation. It was LSU who seemed to have the game in control and what was an 18-point LSU lead with 20 minutes left in the game became a 28-26 lead with 5 minutes left in the game. So if Syracuse can reduce a lead by 16 points in 15 minutes on the road and LSU can reduce a lead by 14 points in 6 minutes in a nearly-empty stadium, 42 ½ minutes (especially with a nearly-full stadium) should have seemed like plenty of time to close a 20-point gap. Nine points in 30 minutes? Easy.

Florida isn’t exactly analogous, but there were two things to take from that as well. The first is LSU had the lead and despite an anemic offense, the defense realized (according to Orgeron anyway) that if Florida didn’t score over the last 17 minutes they couldn’t win. The other point was that it only took 6 minutes to close the gap from 17-3 to 17-16.

I think having Syracuse, Troy, and Florida in consecutive weeks was more than enough for this team to know there was no reason to give up hope.

I don’t agree with many commentators that the turning point was the punt return. That is what made it a 2-point game. What about the plays that made it only a 9-point lead before that?

The first important thing was the LSU defense drawing the line at the 20-yardline so Auburn didn’t go ahead 24-0.

I’ve been a critic, including in this blog, of some of Orgeron’s decisions, but like when Les Miles called 5 fourth-down attempts against Florida in the 2007 season, he made (in hindsight anyway) the right call time after time.

Russell Gage’s 70-yard run helped set up the Tigers’ first score.

When LSU got the ball back, some would have said to just take the field goal “to get some points on the board” facing a fourth and goal down 20-0, but he went for it. I doubt he called the play, but he certainly didn’t object when the jet sweep was called even though Auburn had been covering that particular play.

It’s hard to narrow it down to one decision before the half, but the Tigers played for the touchdown (not for a field goal as some recent offensive coordinators would have done), but they did it in such a way that the touchdown (or perhaps short field goal had it been necessary) was scored with less than a minute left. I’m not going to pretend I knew we had a win at that point, but I had resigned myself to being down 13 or 14 at the half (after the first touchdown; I was of course more pessimistic before that). I was honestly excited that we only ended up down 9.

After LSU punted in its first three possessions of the second half and the previous punt couldn’t even be downed before rolling into the end zone, another punt had to be hard to call at the Auburn 36. This was the possession after Malzahn lost his nerve before a 4th and 1 at midfield. LSU didn’t really have a good chance of converting, but some coaches might have tried the long field goal even though it was a likely miss just to say they tried to take the lead. Had LSU lost, that would have been a criticism. Then the special teams came through and downed the ball at the 3.

LSU did have to take the points on the next possession. Despite the field goal woes, 42 yards was close enough that they had to try for the lead even though it was 4th and 1.

Another right decision. Malzahn had to be the one to answer questions about his fourth-down decisions after the game. Why go on 4th and 10 but not on 4th and 1? Did you not believe your defense could stop LSU all the same without giving them the ball in field goal position?

On the final drive though, LSU finally did play for a field goal. It’s like a sacrifice in baseball. They give you an out at first base, throw it to first base. Don’t do anything crazy. Orgeron could have tried for a touchdown Mad-Hatter-style; but even though LSU had been down most of the day, when you have the lead you act like you can keep the lead.

Of course it make it easier to come back without penalties and turnovers that continued to haunt the Tigers in the second half against Troy, but those coaching decisions were key in this game.

The Future

A new pet peeve after the game is that Gus Malzahn said multiple times that Auburn controls its own destiny, and this was accepted without question by the media. Actually, someone at Auburn might have heard it during the game broadcast. If LSU and Auburn each finish with one loss, what happens? Spoiler alert: Auburn doesn’t represent the West. I don’t know how that many people who get paid to do so don’t bother to think for themselves.

I’m not saying LSU is going to beat Alabama, but it would be less strange than losing to Troy or beating Auburn after being down 20 points. It would be less strange than Syracuse beating Clemson.

LSU is given a 65% chance or greater (in ESPN’s FPI formula anyway) to win each of their remaining games except against Alabama. Auburn is given a 52% chance to beat Georgia and a 75% chance to beat A&M, but I’m not buying either one. If I put $100 on A&M to beat Auburn at home, you’re really going to give me $300 back if they do so? I also don’t think Auburn is 5 times as likely to beat Alabama as LSU is.

Anyway, another big rivalry game next week. After these last few games, I’m looking forward to the bye week though.

LSU Keeps Coach O and Week 14 Top 25

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on November 27, 2016 at 8:42 PM

I’m going to have to do three blogs this week to keep them from being too long. I’m not sure when I will have my SEC material ready, but since there is only one game coming up, I see no need to do that on Wednesday. I also want to talk about bowl games and other conferences.

LSU Sticks with Coach O

I don’t know what to believe about the LSU coaching search and the conversation with Tom Herman and his agent. One story is there never was any kind of final offer, just informal talks. Another story is Herman asked for $6 million per year and LSU rejected it. A third story is all details of the deal were in place and agreeable to both sides, but LSU withdrew its offer and hired Orgeron when Herman or his agent said he wanted to talk to Texas before signing.

Like Coach O (or Eaux as some fans spell it) said in the Texas A&M press conference, I really would have liked to have had that Florida game. LSU would be all but a lock for the Sugar Bowl as well as making this decision easier. Should falling short by a foot or so when we had a chance to get that win determine who the next coach should be on a permanent basis? I don’t think it should. I’ll talk more about bowl possibilities later in the week.

Coach Orgeron accepting "the greatest job in the country" Saturday.

Coach Orgeron accepting “the greatest job in the country” Saturday.

I don’t want to belittle the job Steve Ensminger and the offensive staff did in trying to make a productive offense out of the playbook and offense that Les Miles and Cam Cameron left behind. It wasn’t very ideal to have to patch something together like that four games into the season, but offensive inadequacies were still exposed against Alabama and Florida and even in the first half against Southern Miss. I hope Coach Ensminger can stay on to help the new coordinator because I think it did show that he’s not just a run-of-the-mill tight ends coach.

If we get one of the best offensive coordinators like Orgeron says he wants to do and that guy has the whole offseason, that should put us in position to score more than 10 points against Alabama, more than 16 points against Florida, more than 18 points against Auburn, and more than 16 points against Wisconsin. Had we done that this season, we would be undefeated. I don’t know if the defense will be quite as good next year as some of our replacement players struggled on Thursday, but we will not be rebuilding from scratch either.

I’m more skeptical about LSU doing well next year than I was this year because I felt like the array of talent should have been just right this year (which was why starting 2-2 was bad enough to fire the coach), but sometimes you do better when you’re not quite as good on paper. One example was when we had a number of players drafted early and a new offensive coordinator in 2007 and had a better year than the year before.

I mostly agree with the decisions Alleva made, although I would prefer to have that Florida game at home next year.

Oh yeah, and we did a couple of neat things in the game (see bolded areas).

Rankings Comments

Before you have too much of a knee-jerk reaction, remember that Ohio St. and Michigan won’t gain any more points this week. It might benefit them slightly if Penn St. beats Wisconsin instead of losing to the Badgers, but the big points will go to the teams that win this weekend. Regardless of the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, chances are that both will pass up Michigan. If Clemson wins, it is likely they will pass up Ohio St., but the Buckeyes should be secure in the top 4.

I don’t think Western Michigan would beat any team in the top 10, but I think this shows my system has adequate safeguards against an undefeated team with an easy schedule finishing ahead of a one-loss team or even in some cases a two-loss team with a strong schedule.

The idea is to rank playoff-worthiness. If there were an 8-game playoff (heaven forfend), I do think it would be fairer to include a team like Western Michigan than the fourth Big Ten team or the third ACC or Pac-12 team. If the season ended today, I think Wisconsin should get the 7th seed instead (since we won’t really establish which Big Ten team should be fourth until Saturday), but I’m not going to overhaul my formula over a 0.006-point difference between two teams that will be irrelevant after this weekend anyway.

The next thing I can see people griping about is Oklahoma taking a tumble, but that’s because some teams picked up meaningful points while the Sooners were idle. It also didn’t help the Sooners that Houston lost to Memphis, which is obviously more harmful than Ohio St. beating Michigan was helpful. An oversimplified explanation is that Houston’s FBS winning percentage fell 8 points while Ohio St.’s winning percentage only improved 0.8 points. Oklahoma should be able to recover all the lost ground with a win though.

Normally Boise St.’s loss would have hurt more, but of the Broncos’ four out-of-conference opponents, three of them won. The only loss was by Washington St. to Washington, which didn’t hurt very much. ULL and Oregon St. both got really important wins for them. Oregon was by far the best team Oregon St. beat; and Arkansas St. had been undefeated in the Sun Belt, so that was a big win for the Cajuns, who had only had four wins before that game.

Why is Tennessee still 16th? Well, they beat one conference champion (Appalachian St. of the Sun Belt) and three divisional champions (MAC East, ACC Coastal, and SEC East). That’s in addition to playing Alabama and Texas A&M as non-divisional opponents. Every SEC team is now in the top 75, so while there were only a few good arguments for the top 25, there is still a laundry list of at least somewhat decent teams that the Volunteers beat while none of the losses were catastrophic.

I’ll talk more about conferences later in the week, but because of what I said above, the SEC is still the best top-to-bottom conference in my rankings, although analysis of the top 40 (the part at the top) tells a different story.

Top 25

rank/team/prev
1 Alabama 1
2 Ohio St. 3
3 Clemson 2
4 Michigan 4
5 Washington 8
6 Penn St. 5
7 W. Michigan 10
8 Wisconsin 9
9 Colorado 12
10 Florida St. 14
11 Boise St. 7
12 Oklahoma 6
13 USC 22
14 S. Florida 21
15 Okie St. 16
16 Tennessee 11
17 Stanford 23
18 Florida 18
19 Nebraska 15
20 Louisville 13
21 West Virginia —
22 Auburn 19
23 Houston 17
24 Virginia Tech 24
25 Navy —

All 128 Teams

Out of rankings: (20) Texas A&M, (25) N. Carolina

SEC Wednesday #13: Thanksgiving Edition

In College Football, General LSU, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 24, 2016 at 4:01 PM

Last Week

I haven’t been right about an LSU line since Missouri. I justifiably felt really good when LSU had a great chance to go up 11 midway through the second quarter, but the second touchdown never came. It’s baffling to me that LSU scored almost 40 against Arkansas on the road but only scored 10 against a decimated Florida team at home the very next week.

I’ll talk about Texas A&M more below of course, but feel free to check out my LSU/A&M Rivalry blog. Despite the offensive deficiencies, LSU has not allowed more than 21 points all season, and A&M has not scored that many against LSU since the Aggies joined the SEC.

But the good news is I got every other FBS game right against the spread last week. The only other winner I got wrong was Vanderbilt. That was also kind of bizarre that Ole Miss scored 23 points in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M but only came up with 17 all game against Vanderbilt (including 7 after the game was out of reach). Even worse than that, they made Vandy’s offense look terrific. It could have been ugly had the Commodores not let off the gas after three quarters. I knew Vandy would run better, but I was surprised by almost twice as many yards per pass.

Vanderbilt's Ralph Webb ran for three touchdowns against Ole Miss and is only 27 yards short of the school career rushing record.

Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb ran for three touchdowns against Ole Miss and is only 27 yards short of the school career rushing record.

I pretty much nailed everything else. There was no reason to believe Georgia would win by over 20 or A&M would win by almost 30. Tennessee cleared the spread by 10, which was about as expected. It makes sense to beat Kentucky by 13 and Missouri by 26 in consecutive games. I don’t know why the gamblers have over-valued the Tigers in all but one game in the last two months.

I really was not seeing Mississippi St. beating Arkansas under any circumstances (not that that’s a guarantee), but I was a bit surprised neither defense showed up. 100 combined points in an SEC FOOTBALL game? Were the quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton?

It’s usually pretty easy to pick the SEC team to beat FCS opponents. There were no real scares, although South Carolina winning by 13 (against a team that is winless on the road) is nothing to write home about.

I didn’t provide an updated total last week (probably a result of subconscious embarrassment), but my records improve to 82-20 and 40-45-1 against the spread.

SEC WED

Next Week

As is my custom, I am looking at the line on Wednesday even though this is published on Thursday.

I’ll take A&M +7.5. Maybe the LSU team that went to Arkansas shows back up and we win by 28, but last week we looked like we would struggle to win a rematch with Missouri by 7.5 or more. Ed Orgeron’s only road loss as an interim coach was @Notre Dame in his second game in 2013 (4-0 on the road as an interim coach since). I guess I’ll pick us to win, but I’m not confident at all. If I were an A&M fan, I wouldn’t be confident either though.

Speaking of Missouri and Arkansas, again I don’t see Arkansas being as bad or Missouri being as good as the gamblers do. The Hogs won by 16 in Starkville, so I have no idea why they don’t win by 8 in Columbia.

Georgia has had a problem with showing up in unexciting games against mediocre opponents. I don’t think the chance to close out the season with a home win over the Rambling Wreck qualifies. I also don’t think Georgia Tech is as good as a team like Tennessee and will beat them despite a great effort from the silver britches.

The two teams have the same record, and Georgia has played the better schedule. I have to go with the home team to win, and 4 points makes it hard to try to split the difference. I think if you played the game 10 times, Georgia wins by 4 to 14 points at least half the time, and there might be one in there they run away with.

Ole Miss didn’t play well in Nashville, but I don’t think that means they let Mississippi St. eliminate them from bowl eligibility. Do they win by 7.5 though? I’m going to guess yes based on the Bulldogs’ last couple of games, but I would not put money on it.

Maybe this year will be the exception, but rivalry games can generally be expected to stay within a couple of touchdowns more often than not. None of these next three underdogs are 3-8 and on a 6-game conference losing streak like Auburn was in 2012.

Louisville has played well at home, but I don’t know if home field is enough to go from losing to Houston by 26 to beating Kentucky by over 26. The Cardinals’ last home win was over Wake Forest by 32. Kentucky is better than Wake and is coming of a virtual bye against Austin Peay. Louisville hasn’t beaten Kentucky by more than 18 since 2006 despite the fact that the Wildcats had two 2-10 teams over that span. I think a Louisville win by between 14 and 21 points is most likely, but don’t discount the possibility that it could go down to the wire like it did two years ago even though the Wildcats entered that game on a five-game losing streak.

Against recent experience, I’m going to pick against Alabama. I just feel like if I finally break and pick them they won’t beat the spread. Auburn is a weird team that struggled in the last two weeks of the SEC schedule, but I just find it hard to imagine that they don’t find some inner strength to make it competitive. This is strange, but if Alabama is ever tempted to look ahead, this might be the situation. 17.5 is a relative beat-down compared to similar games. Alabama didn’t win by that last year, and the Tigers are improved. I don’t think the Tide plays better than they did last year in this game.

South Carolina is a mediocre team, but they have not lost ugly once (although I do scratch my head a bit over the Mississippi St. game back in Week 2). Clemson has won ugly more than they’ve won any other way. So I’ll take the Gamecocks +24.

About half the time Tennessee-Vanderbilt comes down to one possession. I think this is such a year. Vandy just beat another annual rival in Ole Miss handily at home, and this game is also at home. Obviously most of the time the Commodores are not playing for a bowl berth (even though they went to three in a row from 2011 to 2013). That has to add a little bit of motivation. I’ll take Vandy +7.5 but not to win. Apart from the three seasons I mentioned, losing close games is just more often than not something they do.

Same line for Florida-Florida St., but the home team is favored in this one. Like Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, the teams have the same number of wins (the Noles have an additional loss though). Actually in this one Florida has a weaker schedule, but I’d argue the Gators had a better conference schedule. Averaging in weak non-conference opponents can be misleading.

I’m going to go against the odds and pick Florida to win. Normally I pick the home team to win in a game like this, but I just have a weird feeling. Florida wouldn’t let LSU beat them 4 in a row for only the second time ever even though that was on the road. My guess is they won’t let the Seminoles beat them 4 in a row for the first time since 1990 (and third time ever) even though that will be on the road. The Gators’ last win in the series was at Florida St. in 2012 when both teams entered the game with 10-1 records.

Nega-Tiger Time & Head Coach Position

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 20, 2016 at 4:14 PM

A few preliminaries:
Computer ratings of all teams after Week 11
Updated Florida Rivalry Blog
Texas A&M Rivalry Blog

I don’t know where this comes from exactly, but somehow on message boards there developed the concept of “nega-Tigers,” the more skeptical and pessimistic LSU fans, and “sunshine pumpers,” those who were more optimistic and stressed the positives. I try to be accurate and have seen the merits of both sides, but people have called me a sunshine pumper in recent seasons for pointing out that Les Miles had the best winning percentage of any coach of a substantial number of games in LSU history. Nega-Tigers tend to stress things like recent losses to teams like Alabama and Arkansas and the issues I’m about to discuss below.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to talk much about the Arkansas game was I didn’t want to get my confidence up too high. It’s just so disheartening that we can’t win a close game to save our lives. I don’t understand how you score one touchdown, you get a few yards away from another touchdown after driving for 75 yards, and then you can only come up with a single field goal for the last 37 ½ minutes of the game.

Technically, the Tigers beat Mississippi St. in a close game, but LSU was ahead by 17 with five minutes left. So let’s look at it another way:

Close game (<17 points) with 5 minutes left … result
Wisconsin 16, LSU 14 … Wisconsin 16, LSU 14
Auburn 18, LSU 13 … Auburn 18, LSU 13
Alabama 7, LSU 0 … Alabama 10, LSU 0
Florida 13, LSU 10 … Florida 16, LSU 10
Total: 0-4, scored 0 points, gave up 6 points

I don’t see a way out either even with a coaching change. We have to know how to win close games somehow. I know we were one positive play from beating Wisconsin, one second away from beating Auburn, and maybe one foot away from beating Florida, but losing all three is almost unforgivable.

Jimbo Fisher (right) with Nick Saban.  Fisher also coached under Les Miles for two seasons as the offensive coordinator.

Jimbo Fisher (right) with Nick Saban. Fisher also coached under Les Miles for two seasons as the offensive coordinator.

Jimbo Fisher is going to fix it (assuming we can get him anyway)? We had one of our best offenses in 2006 when Fisher was the offensive coordinator, and we lost to Auburn 7-3 and Florida 23-10. We also only managed 20 points in regulation against a pretty sorry Ole Miss team (coached by a guy called Ed Orgeron). You can’t tell me we can rest assured about not having games like this again.

Florida State has 3 losses against an ACC schedule and their best out-of-conference opponent was Ole Miss. If they’d played Wisconsin instead, that likely already puts them at 4 losses right now even if we pretend their conference schedule was just as hard as LSU’s.

Had the Seminoles played SEC opponents instead of North Carolina St. (won by 4) and U. Miami (won by a missed extra point), that could have made 5 or 6 losses.

That’s great that they only had two regular-season losses over the previous three seasons, but again, I think that has a lot to do with schedule. In 2014, there were five games that came down to one possession.

Jameis Winston was a great college football player and 2013 was a great season for the Noles; but we’re not talking about Gene Chizik, and he had a great season with Cam Newton as his QB in 2010. This is not a motivated team who plays to the best of its ability every week either. When you have an off game in the SEC, you lose the majority of the time no matter how good of a coach you are.

One big reason Alabama doesn’t have more losses is they don’t really have off games against teams that can beat them. They have sloppy games sometimes, but they seem motivated and ready to play every time, and the sloppiness is rare in big games. So I don’t mean that you can prevent guys in their late teens and early 20 from having an off night in all cases, but you can have a focused team that responds appropriately when things go wrong.

The Guice fumble was an example of sloppiness, but there is no way in the world Alabama would respond to something like that by shutting down on offense and allowing the other team to get ahead like LSU did. Outside of maybe a bowl game or two, I can’t think of an example of Alabama doing that since Saban’s first season.

Houston's Tom Herman

Houston’s Tom Herman

I’m even less impressed with Houston, led by Tom Herman (who actually beat the Seminoles in the Peach Bowl last year). There is no way Navy or SMU has even close to Houston’s level of talent, but the Cougars lost to both within 3 weeks this season. They had a full month of subpar play. In addition to those two games, they needed overtime to beat Tulsa in between, and then after the SMU game (which they lost handily), they struggled against Central Florida. Tulsa and Central Florida were home games. Houston apparently needed a bye week to snap out of it before easily beating Tulane and Louisville.

Maybe if we get a better offensive coordinator or maybe even if Ensminger is allowed to develop his own offense and playbook over an off-season, Orgeron can still be the guy, but how many chances did Les Miles get to figure out the right combination of coordinators to no avail?

Pretty soon recruits aren’t even going to remember the 2011 regular season, and LSU is going to be that team that gets hyped up every so often only to lose the big games.

I hope we give A&M a serious beat-down, and Orgeron somehow figures out a better plan for the offense and keeps his job, but here we are waiting till next year again. I’m not even talking about a national championship. I’m talking about losing fewer than 3 conference games in a season. 2011 was the last time that happened.

LSU-Alabama Preview and Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 6 Top 25 and LSU Comments

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on October 4, 2016 at 6:46 PM

Orgeron Tenure Weeks 1 and 2

Since I haven’t posted about LSU in a while, I’ll start with just a few comments. Beating Missouri doesn’t mean a whole lot on its own, but the way the Fighting Tigers did it has to mean something. Mississippi St. is a similar team, and LSU could never quite put them away. Granted, LSU was up 17 somewhat late against the Bulldogs, but even despite the onside kick, State would have never been able to make it close had the LSU offense not stagnated.

LSU is given about a 4% chance of running the table in the regular season, but it improves to about 10% if you allow for one loss.

The Fighting Tigers scored their first points of the season in the fourth quarter. Even though the game was over, I think the changes to the play-calling and to the practice schedule are already having an impact on stamina.

I think everyone knows the LSU coaches would be crazy not to call a lot of running plays with the current team, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that if you don’t have a particularly mobile quarterback (although he can pick up 5-10 yards in a pinch), it’s probably a good idea to throw some play-action in there somewhat regularly.

Derrius Guice (left) and Darrel Williams combined for 314 yards and 6 touchdowns against Mizzou.  LSU's total offense of 634 yards was the most in an SEC game in program history.

Derrius Guice (left) and Darrel Williams combined for 314 yards and 6 touchdowns against Mizzou. LSU’s total offense of 634 yards was the most in an SEC game in program history.

A lot of LSU fans have whined about the I formation. If you soften up the defense with the pass effectively and you can tempt the defense into focusing on the wrong part of the line, it can be a great formation. It just doesn’t work very well if it’s play after play with the same blockers and the same running backs doing the same things. You can at least switch up the people in the backfield, which they finally did in this game.

Orgeron talked about using elements of the USC offense (not 100% sure if he meant Kiffin or Chow), and I think there were a few minor things that were adapted, although obviously a major overhaul doesn’t happen in a week. New offensive coordinator Ensminger handled two running backs well, Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams. The full-time fullback J.D. Moore was also helpful.

There was a vertical passing game that was at least credible. It’s a long way from what Matt Leinart did, but the defense at least had to be mindful of the receivers.

I don’t know if Leonard Fournette will play next week, but I’m hopeful. I know sometimes the next day it feels worse, but Fournette was able to play (but limping) toward the end of the game against Auburn. I doubt anything happened since then. Maybe there is something major they’re just not telling us.

I know we’re not short on people in the backfield who can gain yards, but Fournette does have a gear that Guice doesn’t have, and he’s not as likely to slow himself down with stutter steps and hesitations. Being tackled inside the 10 versus scoring a touchdown might make a much bigger difference next week.

I almost always enjoy this rivalry though. This isn’t the best game on paper, but I think it’s much more likely to have a stereotypical SEC final score. 21-17 would not surprise me a bit. A lot of these games have been very close over the years. Click here for more on the rivalry.

Rankings Commentary

LSU still has a long way to go before they’re relevant here.

I don’t like to alter what the computer tells me, but for the first couple of weeks of the computer ranking, I think it’s OK to substitute my own #1 and perhaps include a team over another in the top 10 or top 25.

I need to say upfront that I messed up by ranking Louisville so high the last two weeks. When they beat Florida St. so easily, I thought they would also beat Clemson. Before the Florida St. game, I had them #23; so keep in mind they’re only one spot lower now.

Most of the new additions are just teams lucky enough not to have a loss or it’s fairly obvious that they beat a team who fell out. An exception is Air Force, which beat an undefeated Navy team (easily) and moving into the driver’s seat for the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Navy would have been ranked last week had it been an objective system last week, so the Midshipmen may make it back at some point.

Although he completed only 8 passes, Air Force quarterback Nate Romine led the Falcons to a 28-14 win over Navy.

Although he completed only 8 passes, Air Force quarterback Nate Romine led the Falcons to a 28-14 win over Navy.

I realized that with my new formula, losses aren’t going to subtract enough points this early, so I modified the formula slightly for the purposes of this blog (I did not change my mind about the formula on the ratings site). I tried to rely on objective numbers as much as possible though. I’ll explain how I did that.

I am keeping Alabama #1 (I don’t like to change #1 without a clear problem with the current #1, and I especially don’t like to do this if the computer #1 will play the current #1 soon), and I’m making Western Michigan #11 for now (I’m a little bit skeptical of how good they are, and it just a little bit too far on one week; U. Miami moved farther, but it was justified). Then for #17 to #23, I actually like the order better in the formula on the site. It is somewhat objective, but I chose one objective order of teams over another.

I’m hoping I won’t feel the need to do anything like this next week. If Alabama loses, I plan to follow the site from beginning to end. If Alabama wins, they stay #1; and if Tennessee wins as well, I expect the winner of the game between Tennessee and Alabama will be the computer #1 in two weeks. Their respective opponents on Saturday are no joke though.

I know Western Michigan is a weird one, but they keep beating teams with decent records. It also doesn’t hurt that they don’t have a bye week yet. Also, their FCS opponent hasn’t lost a game against the FCS. It’s kind of a quirk in my system at this point if you’ve played an FCS team like that because very few (if any) of these teams will finish that way.

The system as a whole is designed to be ideal at the end of the year of course, not now. But I still like to know how far along teams are.

Tennessee and Louisville

It makes perfect sense that Tennessee is #1 in my system because they’ve had a big game almost every week. This means they’re the farthest along toward a national championship. If they were to have 3 more intervals that were just as strong, they’d probably have twice as many points as Alabama had last season.

Tennessee celebrating the win at Georgia.

Tennessee celebrating the win at Georgia.

But of course that won’t happen. They’ll play Tennessee Tech, Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. So far, the only somewhat easy opponent statistically was Ohio, which nonetheless has a winning record. The non-conference opponents may lose ground as the season goes on. If Florida loses to LSU, that would hurt the quality of that win and the quality of the East as a whole. Same thing if Georgia were to lose to Auburn, for instance.

I know things are unstable right now, which is part of why Louisville fell so dramatically (as I mentioned, it was also partly my fault). All their opponents lost. Adding four opponents’ losses makes a big difference at this stage.

You might notice Maryland up there. They have no losses, and the teams they beat also have the same number of combined FBS wins as the teams Louisville beat (but Maryland has no losses).

Anyway, Louisville may fall out of the top 25 next week as they are idle; but if it comes down to Florida St. or Louisville, I will give the Cardinals the edge for about 43 reasons. That being said, my formula is win/loss (although close home wins only count only get 9/10 of the credit and close away losses only count as 9/10 of the normal “debit”), so it would arguably just be one reason. It will be a long time before Louisville has another shot at a strong win, possibly not until Houston in November. Until then, 1-1 against good teams (provided Florida St. even qualifies as a good team after next week) only takes them so far.

Top 25

rank/team/previous
1 Alabama 1
2 Tennessee 2
3 Michigan 8
4 Clemson 4
5 Texas A&M 6
6 Washington 19
7 Houston 7
8 Ohio St. 9
9 West Virginia 21
10 U. Miami —
11 W. Michigan 24
12 Wisconsin 5
13 Stanford 10
14 Wake Forest 12
15 Boise St. 13
16 Nebraska 16
17 N. Carolina 25
18 Arkansas 11
19 Florida 15
20 Air Force —
21 Maryland —
22 Baylor —
23 Cal —
24 Louisville 3
25 Virginia Tech 22

Out of rankings: (14) Ga. Tech, (17) Utah, (18) San Diego St., (20) Florida St., (23) Arizona St.

Full ratings 1-128