Posts Tagged ‘John Chavis’

LSU-Alabama Preview and Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

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

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

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

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

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

LSU/Alabama: Blog of the Century

In College Football, Rivalry on November 4, 2011 at 6:01 PM

(It’s not that great, but I had to put “of the Century” in there somewhere. It is pretty long though, especially if you follow the links.)

Even in the worst of years, LSU/Alabama is my personal-favorite rivalry. I don’t remember Bear, but I remember Gene Stallings and the early 1990s, so Alabama was the gold standard for me at that time. I was also aware that LSU notoriously had trouble against the Tide. LSU ended the Tide’s 31-game unbeaten streak in 1993, but that was LSU’s only win in an 8-year period which took place right around the time I started to become an LSU fan. I vaguely recall the 1988 season, which was LSU’s previous win in the series.

Almost as big for me as that upset in 1993 (a year in which LSU finished only 5-6) was 2000, when LSU defeated the Tide in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1969. That so happened to be Nick Saban’s first year with the Tigers. Interestingly, LSU still lost to a team from Alabama in Baton Rouge that year, but it was UAB. Alabama only finished 3-8 that year and LSU finished a respectable (at the time) 8-4, but it was still huge that LSU finally got that done.

So in light of this background, I’ve had a few different takes on the LSU/Alabama series.

I’m not going to do the entire history again, but to say a couple of things about recent history, Alabama has only won once at home in this series since 1999. That was of course two years ago with the Tide on its way to a national championship. Bama won by 9, but in reality it was much closer. In total, LSU has won in Alabama 10 times since 1982 (inclusive), while the Tide has only won 4 times during that period in the series. The series is knotted at 14-14-1 overall during that time. That tells you how far ahead Alabama was before that, but that’s part of why I enjoy cheering against them. As you can imagine, I’m also sick of the suggestion that playing at home is the trump card when I still have a very fresh memory of thinking that was the only place LSU would win. Alabama is LSU’s only annual opponent against whom the Tigers are exactly .500 during that time period (Tennessee and Georgia are the other two SEC opponents in that category, although of course LSU has broken the tie against Tennessee). So that probably has helped keep the intensity of the rivalry going as well, even through all the ups and downs of these two programs.

I’m just pasting the “Series Facts” from the Rivalry entry below (you’ll know it’s over when you see a line like this, “~~~~~”).

Alabama leads 45-24-5, including 25-9-2 in Baton Rouge, 10-8 in Tuscaloosa, 8-5-1 in Birmingham, and 2-0 in Montgomery.
LSU only leads in Mobile (2-1-1, the last meeting in 1958, the first game of Bear Bryant’s career at Alabama and of LSU’s last undefeated season), and the two tied their only meeting in New Orleans in 1921.
Largest win: Alabama, 47-3 in 1922 (largest shutout was 33-0 in 1930 in Montgomery)
Largest LSU win: 28-0 in 1957
(The most recent shutouts were 1997 {LSU, 27-0} and 2002 {Alabama, 31-0}. There have been 16 shutout wins in the series {only 3 by LSU} as well as a 0-0 tie in 1927.)

Longest winning streak: Alabama, 11, 1971-1981
Longest unbeaten streak: Alabama, 12 (9-0-3), 1919-1945
Longest LSU winning streak: 5, 2003-2007
Longest road winning streak: Alabama, 7, 1987-1998 and 1971-1983
Longest road unbeaten streak: Alabama, 15 (14-0-1), 1971-1998
Longest LSU road winning streak: 4, 1982-1988 and 2001-2007
Longest home winning streak: Alabama, 5, 1972-80
Longest home unbeaten streak: Alabama, 8 (7-0-1), 1920-1947
(LSU has only won two in a row at home twice, 1946 & 1948 and 2004 &2006)
Since this is a matchup of unbeatens, I will include one last paragraph about history that does not include history of one of the current coaches of either team. LSU was the first team to beat the Tide in 2005. Alabama last beat an undefeated LSU team in 1987, but (like when the Tigers beat Bama in 1993) there had been a tie earlier in the season. The teams faced one another in the opener in 1981, but that would turn out to be an awful year for LSU (3-7-1). Apart from that, the last time LSU and Alabama were both undefeated was 1973. Alabama won, 21-7 , in Baton Rouge but would suffer its only loss to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. LSU would fall to Tulane the following week and lose to Penn St. in the Orange Bowl to finish 9-3. This is LSU’s first 8-0 start since then. Both teams were also undefeated and untied when they met in Birmingham the year before. Alabama won that game, 35-21, although they lost to Auburn in the finale and again to Texas in the Cotton Bowl. After LSU won in both 1969 and 1970, Alabama started 10-0 or better (beating LSU) every year from 1971 to 1974 but finished undefeated none of those years. LSU did not finally beat the Tide again until 1982.

Les Miles (see here for a great OTL story about him) is 4-2 against Alabama. With a win, he would break the tie with (guess who?) Nick Saban for #1 in LSU history in wins against the Tide. Saban was 4-1 against Alabama with the Tigers, but to be fair, only one of those Bama teams he beat finished above .500 (7-5 in 2001). Miles’ Tigers have defeated two winning Alabama teams, in 2005 and 2010. Each of those Bama teams finished with 10 wins.

I’m also interested in John Chavis’s record against Alabama. I’ll just give a list of scores. Chavis was the defensive coordinator at Tennessee (a permanent interdivision rival of Alabama) from 1995-2008. He took the same position at LSU in 2009. (If location is not indicated in some way, the game took place in Tuscaloosa.)
Tennessee, 41-14 (Birmingham)
@Tennessee, 20-13
Tennessee, 38-21* (Birmingham)
@Tennessee, 35-18**
Tennessee, 21-7#
@Tennessee, 20-10
Tennessee, 35-24
Alabama, 34-14 (Knoxville)
Tennessee, 51-43
@Tennessee, 17-13
Alabama, 6-3
@Tennessee, 16-13
Alabama, 41-17
Alabama, 29-9 (Knoxville)
Alabama (hosting LSU), 24-15**
@LSU, 24-21
*=winner won conference championship
**=winner won conference and national championships
#=loser won conference championship

So his defenses have allowed over 24 points to be scored by Alabama only 4 times (2002, 2003, 2007, and 2008) since 1995. Of course, 24 points might easily be enough to win this game, as it was in the previous two games in this series. I doubt this Alabama offense is quite as good as the one in 2009 though.

We also have a short history of Nick Saban’s defenses against LSU. To be fair to him, his early Alabama teams did face a few players he recruited.
LSU (vs. Michigan St. in Shreveport), 45-26
LSU (@ Alabama), 41-34**
Alabama (@ LSU), 27-21, ot+
Alabama (hosting LSU), 24-15**
LSU (hosting Alabama), 24-21
+=winner won division championship
**=winner won conference and national championships

So after two games he probably wanted back, I think he was at least somewhat satisfied in the last three games. The LSU offenses were struggling though. Alabama probably would not have had enough points were it not for Jarrett Lee throwing to them in 2008, and LSU had, to be kind, inconsistent offenses in the past two seasons. I think this will be the Alabama defense’s toughest test against LSU, at least since it truly became Nick Saban’s team.

I wanted to give just a little bit of game analysis, which I don’t normally do myself. I’ll post a few links (mostly from Bleacher Report) and give my comments.

This is a good place to start: Strengths and Weaknesses…
(Hit “Next” to see the LSU info.)

If AJ McCarron completed less than 50% of his passes against Florida, I really don’t think he will complete more than that against LSU. The side-by-side comparisons may make it look like the LSU defense isn’t great against the pass, but a couple of things to keep in mind. When fumbles are forced, that doesn’t count in the passing statistics even if it’s a passing play. Alabama will at least have to be careful about avoiding such turnovers and this may lead to taking sacks (also not reflected in passing yardage) or throwing the ball away.

Also, the big number counting against LSU is 463 passing yards by West Virginia, whom LSU beat 47-21. It was 27-7 at halftime. Although at one point they closed the gap to 6 (at least until LSU ran back the ensuing kickoff), they were throwing the entire second half. They had 15 COMPLETIONS against 11 official rushes (this includes sacks and fumbles). There were also 11 incompletions by my count. The Mountaineers threw for 256 yards in the second half with only two touchdowns to show for it. In LSU’s other 7 games, the Tigers have averaged giving up 133.6 yards per game in the air, two yards fewer than Alabama has overall.

An under-reported statistic is that LSU has a +15 turnover margin (almost +2 per game) while Alabama only has a +6 turnover margin. This should make up for any small differences between the two in net yardage. This information was provided here: 11 Stats you Must Know.

There are also some other interesting numbers on ESPN.

The video only offers a very superficial analysis though. He mentions that LSU is good against the run against teams like West Virginia and Oregon due to its speed, but then he suggests that running straight at LSU will work wonders for Alabama. With speed, players can fill gaps, and LSU has plenty of players that can tackle well in the backfield or at the line. That’s how you get an advantage against larger offensive linemen. You run around them. Every defense does this in one way or another. And if it were so easy to run down the middle against LSU, it would have been done by now. I’m not saying Alabama won’t get rushing yards, but it won’t be three yards and a cloud of dust for the whole game with Alabama emerging on top.

I also enjoyed this piece which gives LSU and Alabama point totals based on different aspects of their respective games: Predicting Value for Each Key Element.

I especially liked that LSU won, 17-14, which would not be a surprising final score. This is despite the fact that Saban garnered Alabama one more point than Miles garnered LSU. Come on, they’re at least even, especially factoring in LSU’s assistant coaches.

This game is really a tough call though. I said that LSU’s relative advantages MAKE UP FOR Bama’s advantages, but I’m not sure they overcome those advantages. As the Daughters column (11 stats…game of the century) states,

“LSU has a slight edge due to two huge facts: one, they’ve earned their stats with stiffer competition (which would realistically level the playing field statistically in some areas), and secondly, the turnover category which in reality is three numbers in one.
The Tigers lead in fewest turnovers, most take-aways and, therefore, turnover margin, which combined with the opponent resume (another three prong category) gives LSU a narrow advantage in the game of the century.
How narrow?
Very, very, very slim…and this is why the 2011 LSU-at-Alabama extravaganza has all the right stuff to be one for the ages.”

I agree with that basically, but I’m not even sure there is ANY advantage either way. I’d like to think the Tigers’ most impressive start since the 1970s (or possibly even since the 1950s) will result in an undefeated season, but picking a winner here is really just a guess. I think it will come down to how on-target the respective quarterbacks are. If they can open up the defenses, that will provide a necessary advantage to the running game. McCarron will have to avoid the various ways LSU can create turnovers, and LSU can’t frustrate the efforts of its quarterbacks by rotating at the wrong time. There will probably be one or two special teams plays (see here) that can make the difference as well. So if the QB play evens out, I would give LSU the advantage on that basis. But despite what I just said, it’s also possible it could just be one team’s day and not so exciting after all. I am picking a close LSU win (10 points or fewer), but I can’t be too confident in that pick since I think there is about a 40% chance of that happening.