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Posts Tagged ‘Les Miles’

LSU/Vanderbilt Series and Final Week 3 Notes

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, Rivalry on September 18, 2019 at 9:22 AM

Neither LSU’s nor Kansas’s games last week had an effect upon the top 25, but as a fan of both LSU and Les Miles, obviously I have some interest there. When LSU has a big national game like the one against Texas, I’m probably going to cover it along with my rankings (unless I can’t wait until the next day, which happens sometimes); but when the only reason I’m writing about something is because I’m a fan, I prefer to do that in a separate blog. I will cover the LSU/Vanderbilt series in depth below.

Kansas @ BOSTON COLLEGE

The Jayhawks only scored three offensive touchdowns in their first two games and had gone scoreless in the last 57 minutes of Game 2 against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers did win five games against an FBS schedule last season, so it wasn’t the most ridiculous upset; but KU still should have won.

It wasn’t something that was drastically out of character for the Kansas football program in the last few years.

When you’re trying to turn a program around, there may be some bumps in the road like that in the first year at any given school.  Even Nick Saban lost to UAB in his first year at LSU and to ULM in his first year at Alabama.

Anyway, given the offensive struggles, it was remarkable that the Jayhawks managed more offensive touchdowns in one half than they had scored in two full games.

It was out of character to win a road game against a Power 5 opponent, which the Jayhawks had not done since 2008 (and that was against a bad Iowa St. team).  It also wasn’t a very normal Kansas thing to beat the spread by over 40 points.

Until his last couple of seasons at LSU when the Tigers struggled after losing to Alabama, you never wanted to play a Les Miles team after a loss. I’m glad he seems to have brought that attitude to Kansas so quickly.

Kansas RB Khalil Herbert ran for 187 yards on 11 carries in Chestnut Hill, MA, Friday.

NORTHWESTERN ST. @ LSU

Before getting to the LSU-Vanderbilt series, I wanted to comment about the last LSU game.  This is the only preview of sorts I’m going to write.  I’m not saying the win is guaranteed, but I’m not going to give in-depth information about every opponent.

LSU’s first half last Saturday was ugly, I’m not going to lie, but there were positives in the game.  First of all, Joe Burrow and Myles Brennan combined set the LSU home record for most passing yards in a game with 488. Rohan Davey, who contributed in the previous home record, still holds the overall record (that one is by himself) with 528 at Alabama in 2001.  That Tommy Hodson individual home record (which I mentioned last week) also still stands, but Burrow did set a new single-game record for completion percentage with at least 20 attempts (87.5).

Brennan looked better than he did against Georgia Southern, with a QB rating almost as good as Burrow’s, and he was given more of the playbook to work with.  If  the one incompletion of his had been completed, he would be in the LSU record book individually for being one of only two quarterbacks (Fred Haynes in 1968) to go 9/9 in a game. 

I don’t think that 528-yard record will be broken in Nashville Saturday; but if there isn’t any kind of record in that game, the home game against Utah St. in three weeks might be a good opportunity to update some records.

The defense – no matter what was going on – should not have allowed 14 points in a half and should not have needed a drop to avoid giving up 21, but it is important to note that at least six important defenders, including three starting linemen, did not play.  This obviously contributed to Northwestern St.’s ability to sustain drives.  The defense made good adjustments in the second half though, so it’s at least encouraging that they can respond well to the proper guidance.  The Demons only gained about 80 yards in the second half.

Burrow did throw a silly interception, but I think he just got a little too confident in the ability to complete a sideline throw regardless of coverage for a moment there.  I don’t think he would have tried the same throw against Alabama, for instance.  I can’t think of another bad decision all night though. 

LSU still needs to work on the run game, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Tyrion Davis-Price, and Lanard Fournette (not to mention the quarterbacks) did find some running lanes on key plays, especially after the passing game got to be more consistent. Burrow said after the game that he doesn’t want to run the ball at all; but we didn’t hire Mike Leach, and even he runs it sometimes.

RIVALRY SERIES: LSU vs. VANDERBILT

I wasn’t going to write too much about the LSU-Vanderbilt series, but there were more close games than I realized even though LSU has dominated the series in the last 60+ years (winning 11 of 12).

This will be the second game in a row in the series to be held in Nashville.  The last time Vandy had consecutive home games in the series (1985 and 1990), they won the second contest, so this is very scary information. None of the historical problem areas stopped LSU from beating Texas though, so hopefully it will be the same here.

The good news is LSU leads the all-time series, 22-7-1, and leads in Nashville, 11-5.

See here for previous installments of my rivalry series. If you’re a Vanderbilt fan who stumbled across this blog, I did write about the Vanderbilt series with Ole Miss last year.

EARLY GAMES

Senator Huey Long, who was still the de facto governor, stands in front of the Vandy Express in 1934. Long would not live to see another football season.

Sorry for the older people reading, but I consider anything before 1988 an early game since it’s before I remember football. I only felt the need to elaborate slightly about one of the games that took place between 1957 and 1990 anyway.

The Commodores won at least 70% of their games, playing at least 7 games per season, between 1902 and 1912.  LSU had started playing football earlier, in 1893, but sometimes played three games or fewer in a year and often posted losing records or records at or around 50%.  With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Vandy won two games during this period by a combined score of 49 to 5. 

LSU would continue to have strong years occasionally surrounded by mediocre seasons. 1931 would be the first time in several years that the two teams would even finish with the same record. Vanderbilt’s four losses came to teams with a combined 4 losses while LSU’s four losses came to teams with a combined 8 losses, but the gap was narrowing. Vanderbilt would be the superior team again in 1932; but with the creation of the SEC the next year, LSU would get to see how they stacked up on the field for the first time since 1910.

LSU would play 10 games in the 1933 season and not lose a single one; whereas it was more of a rebuilding year for Vandy, who would suffer three losses after losing only one game (at Alabama) the year before.  And yet the game in Baton Rouge ended in a somewhat demoralizing 7-7 draw. 

The U.S. Senator (and still de facto governor) of Louisiana, Huey Long, was very insistent that since LSU would not play the Commodores in front of a home crowd the following year, they would bring the home crowd with them.  To facilitate this, he though the students should be given a 70% discount.  When the railroad was not so fond of that idea, he threatened to reassess the taxes that the railroad might owe.  According to one report I read, the railroad was only being taxed at about 2.5% of its actual worth.  He also gave “loans” to students who claimed to still be unable to afford the trip.  I imagine similar “loans” were given to players back then, but that’s another topic.

The Tigers had already been tied twice in four contests to begin the 1934 season, but the Commodores were undefeated. LSU may have gotten the upset anyway, but the enthusiastic fan supported probably contributed to the impressive 29-0 score in favor of the Tigers.  This was a clear turning point in the series.  The Tigers would remain undefeated until a one-point loss to Tulane denied LSU a berth in the inaugural Sugar Bowl, but LSU did finish with a better record than Vanderbilt for only the second time since 1914.  The Tigers would make the Sugar Bowl the next three years, so it was clear they were now part of the hierarchy of the new SEC.

Due to Long’s interference, head coach Biff Jones would resign following the season. The good news was his replacement Bernie Moore was one of LSU’s longest-tenured and most successful LSU head coaches. In this way, Long may have contributed to many LSU victories after his death.

Although Vanderbilt would host the next three contests in the series as well, the Commodores would only win one of them (by 1 point in 1937).  By 1947, the Tigers had built a 9-3-1 lead in the series. 

LSU head coach Bernie Moore (pictured in 1939) went 8-1 against Vanderbilt over 13 seasons. Les Miles, 3-0, is the only other LSU coach to have coached at least three games against the Commodores.

Moore, after whom the track stadium is still named, retired after the 1947 season.  The Tigers suffered only two losing seasons in his 13 years. He was replaced by Gus Tinsley, whom he coached to a claim of the national championship in 1936.  (Minnesota won a split decision in the AP poll, but LSU is recognized as the best team that year by Jeff Sagarin.)  Tinsley, who still went to LSU games until shortly before his death in 2002, proved to be a better player than coach though.  He posted only three wins in his first season and would never lead consecutive teams to winning records. 

Vanderbilt won two of the four contests against LSU with Tinsley as the head coach.

Although the series has been sporadic since the 1940s, only one of the last 12 full-time LSU head coaches who coached a game (Jerry Stovall) avoided a game against Vanderbilt.

For the LSU program overall, things eventually turned around under Paul Dietzel, Tinsley’s successor, but Dietzel’s first three years was the worst three-year stretch for the Tigers since the early 1920s.  LSU would lose 7-0 in Nashville in 1957 for the third loss in five games in the series.  The series would not resume until 1976.

LSU won the next four games easily… apart from the 1984 contest.  LSU led the whole game in that one but let the Commodores back into the game with three fourth-quarter turnovers that reduced the lead from 28 with about 12 minutes left to 7 with just over 2 minutes left.  All LSU had to do after that (in hindsight) was recover the onsides kick and hand the ball to future Saints star Dalton Hilliard, but I imagine there were some nervous moments in the final minutes.

1990: Vanderbilt Ends Four-Game LSU Winning Streak for First Win in Series Since 1957

Even when Vanderbilt won in 1990 (the first game in the series I remember), the Tigers were quickly going downhill as a program.  They had gone from 10-1-1 in 1987 to 8-4 in 1988 to 4-7 in 1989.  LSU would score a huge upset over Texas A&M in the following week, but once again the Tigers would finish with a losing record.  After  Vandy was a running team the whole game in 1990 (2 completions on 13 attempts to that point), LSU took the lead with 4:06 remaining, 21-17. 

Apparently forcing the ’Dores to throw was the worst thing to do.  Five completions and two quarterback runs (along with two incompletions and a third-down handoff) would give Vanderbilt the lead with 1:09 left and soon thereafter the win, 24-21.  That would be Vanderbilt’s only win of the season.

Neither LSU HC Mike Archer nor Vanderbilt HC Watson Brown would make it until the next season.

1991: LSU Begins a New Winning Streak

The Tigers did get revenge by winning a close game in 1991.  Vanderbilt out-gained LSU and got more first downs, but the Tigers won with a combination of forced turnovers and special teams.  LSU had 117 turnover-return yards to Vanderbilt’s 0 as the Tigers won the turnover battle 4 to 1. 

The Tigers took their first lead on an interception-touchdown early in the third quarter, but the Commodores responded with a 15-play, 80-yard drive to go back up, 14-10.  LSU had a long drive of its own to complete the third quarter, but it resulted only in a field goal.  Vandy still led 14-13 at the start of the fourth.  The ’Dores were forced to punt after going backwards on their next drive, and LSU QB Jesse Daigle was able to engineer another FG drive.  He passed for 44 yards and ran for another 5 on the drive, which put LSU ahead, 16-14.

In the nest drive, it looked as if Vanderbilt would both take the lead and nearly run out the clock.  After 7 plays, the Commodores already had the ball at the LSU 16.  Three straight running plays gave Vandy a first and goal from the LSU 5 with 2:13 to go in the game.  After two more runs, the Tigers took their last timeout with 1:18 to go and Vandy facing a third and goal from the 2.  As LSU had not managed a touchdown drive the whole game, a Vanderbilt score on the next play might have essentially ended the game.  Even if LSU forced the fourth down, the ’Dores could have run down the clock to well under a minute before kicking the go-ahead field goal.  Neither of those happened though, as LB Ricardo Washingon would force a fumble, returned 76 yards by DB Wayne Williams. 

It was LSU who would run out the clock and hold onto the two-point win. Both teams would finish 5-6, which was thought to be solid beginning for the two new coaches Gerry DiNardo and Curley Hallman.  DiNardo turned out all right for a Vanderbilt head coach, but Hallman turned out to be the worst modern head coach of LSU.

1996 and 1997: The Gerry DiNardo Bowls

LSU would not post another winning record until 1995, the year after Hallman was fired, but one coach was the same in 1996, the next time the Tigers faced the ’Dores.  That was Gerry DiNardo, who was in his second year with the Tigers after winning a whopping 18 games in four years at Vandy.  The LSU fans were so excited to see him face his former team, it was one of the largest crowds in Tiger Stadium history at the time. 

The Tigers wore gold jerseys (which were especially popular in light of the baseball team’s success in the 1990s) in protest of the Commodores’ refusal to allow LSU to wear white, the traditional home color.  For some reason, white was allowed at home but only with the visitor’s permission at that time.  I’m not sure how premeditated this was, but it was sort of like promoting a boxing match by engineering a big feud between the boxers.

In the following June, the baseball team would win its fourth College World Series in 7 years.

Vanderbilt QB Damian Allen throws to the flat to avoid a sack in Baton Rouge on October 5, 1996.

The ’Dores almost got some amount of revenge in 1997.  Both teams had chances to score in the first quarter, but LSU would miss a 44-yard field goal attempt, and Vanderbilt would fumble at the LSU at the LSU 24.  Vanderbilt dominated the second quarter, but the Commodores could not score.  This time Vandy would miss a 38-yard field goal.  On the following offensive drive, the ’Dores fumbled again at the LSU 11.  LSU finally recorded the game’s first score late in the third quarter to go up 7-0.  Before that 53-yard touchdown drive, the Tigers only had 96 net yards for the game.  Vanderbilt had gained more yards than that in the second quarter alone.   

After both offenses struggled for most of the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt was forced to punt to LSU with just under 6 minutes left.  The Tigers seemed intent to either score or run out the clock.  This strategy was bolstered by a 23-yard run on first down to the Commodore 38.  After being penalized for a hold, the Tigers would to advance to the 32 on a third and long.  Since it was too far to feel comfortable with a field goal, the Tigers went for it on 4th and 4.  LSU QB Herb Tyler dropped back to pass but was sacked, giving Vandy the ball at their own 41.  After an incompletion and a run for no gain, the ’Dores were forced into a third and long with just over 2 minutes left, but then the passing game came alive.  Fourteen-, 31-, and 11-yard passes were completed (with a negative rushing play mixed in) to give Vandy the ball at the LSU 12 with 21 seconds left and no timeouts.  The first-down pass fell incomplete, but the Commodores scored on the ensuing second down.  They elected to go for the tie, but lineman Arnold Miller blocked the extra point to give the Tigers the 7-6 win. 

The Tigers would finish 9-3 on the season following the 10-2 campaign the year before, but DiNardo would win only two more SEC games after the 1997 season. The silver lining in his struggles was the hiring of Nick Saban of Michigan St. (whom DiNardo had ironincally beaten in the 1995 Independence Bowl) after the 1999 season.

Vandy finished the 1997 season only 3-8, so even a tie would have been an upset of sorts.  LSU has won the four subsequent meetings by at least 14 points apiece (and the ’Dores didn’t score double digits in any of them).

DiNardo’s replacement at Vanderbilt, Woody Widenhofer, was also fired before getting to coach in this series again. 

2004 and 2005: Jay Culter and More Vandy Defense

I mentioned how DiNardo’s tenure went downhill after the 1997 season, but LSU did not play Vanderbilt again until 2004, the year after Saban won the BCS championship at LSU, the Tigers’ first recognized by a major poll since 1958.  It also happened to be Saban’s last season.  Vandy had only gone 2-10 the year before, but the Commodores drew some attention by having a quarterback throw for over 2300 yards in that season.  That QB, Jay Cutler, also was the third-leading rusher on the team, so there was a glimmer of hope in the early years of Bobby Johnson, but 2004 would be another 2-win season. 

LSU had more problems at the QB position that year, alternating between a talented but rough-around-the-edges JaMarcus Russell and the more experienced but often lackluster Marcus Randall.  So the Tigers weren’t known for their offense that season to put it nicely.  It was only 10-7 at the half, but the Tigers pulled away in the third quarter, and the ’Dores didn’t have an answer.  LSU would only manage 102 passing yards (in just 11 attempts) for the game.  Cutler was not very good either with 111 yards in 20 attempts, but he did run for 39 yards not counting yards lost on a sack.

LSU Safety Jessie Daniels sacks Vandy QB Jay Cutler in Nashville on October 8, 2005.

In 2005, Les Miles’ first year, it was another defensive stalemate until late in the third quarter.  The Tigers offense scored a touchdown early in the first quarter but would go scoreless for the next 2 ½ quarters.  The LSU defense helped out with a safety later in the first quarter, but Vanderbilt would respond with a field goal late in the first quarter and another early in the third.  In a reverse of the 1997 game, it was actually LSU who had multiple long drives and no points to show for it for most of the game.  At halftime, the Tigers held a 303 to 41 advantage in net yardage but only led 9-3.  The Tigers turned the ball over 4 times over the course of the game and missed two field goals. 

After the third-quarter field goal to get within 3, things were starting to look good for the Commodores.  LSU was forced to punt on their ensuing offensive drive, giving Vandy QB Jay Cutler a chance to give his team the lead. It looked like that might happen when he completed a 15-yard pass on first down.  An incompletion and a 6-yard run set up a 3rd and 4, but Cutler would throw his second interception of the game.  The other one had led to a missed field goal, but the Tigers took advantage of this one to extend the lead to 6 points.  Although it was close on the scoreboard for a few more minutes, the momentum shift would prove to be irreversible.  From that point until the final play of the game, Vanderbilt would only get one more first down that was not due to a penalty, and LSU would score touchdowns on its next three offensive drives.

Russell, who was the full-time quarterback in 2005, managed 285 total yards, many of them in the fourth quarter, when he threw his only touchdown pass.  Cutler barely threw for more yards than he had in the 2004 game but with 10 more attempts, so you can see why the Commodores could not get a scoring drive going unless they took over in field goal range.

LSU would finish 11-2, and Vandy would barely miss a bowl game at 5-6, which was a good record at Vanderbilt since the ’Dores at that time had not had a winning record since 1982.  They would not finally end the bowl drought until 2008 (while Johnson was still there).

2009 and 2010: LSU Maintains Dominance

LSU got lucky and did not face Vandy again until the twin rebuilding years of 2009 and 2010 (both 2-10 seasons).  2009 was the closer of the two at the final whistle, with the Tigers only winning by 14; but LSU led from late in the first quarter until the end of the game, and Vanderbilt never led.

In 2010, due in part to a lackluster passing attack, LSU didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter; but the Commodores never looked likely to win since they only managed 2 yards per carry to LSU’s 5.6. LSU won, 24-3.

LSU RB Stevan Ridley ran for 159 yards on 17 carries the last time LSU played Vandy (in Nashville on Sept. 11, 2010).
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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.

Comprehensive SEC Update

In Bowls, College Football, College Football Playoff, General LSU, Post-game, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on November 15, 2017 at 7:28 PM

This is going to be long, because parts of this I meant to post midweek last week, and I forgot. I’ll make subheadings so it’s not a long ramble.

CFP Top 25

I think it’s ridiculous that a two-loss team without an especially great schedule is in the top 6 right now, but I think the committee sent a clear message that Auburn isn’t going to spoil the SEC’s chances by winning. I don’t have a problem with that. I just won’t think Auburn deserves to be in the top 6 unless they beat Alabama (if then). Then, if they beat Georgia again, I probably won’t mind them being in the top 4.

I want to explain why I think this is silly now. If Auburn goes ahead of Georgia despite having one more loss, why doesn’t LSU go ahead of Auburn despite having one more loss? I don’t know why Auburn always gets special rules. You could say LSU lost to Troy; but Troy is 8-2, so to remedy that objection, it should be Troy, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Notre Dame, right? We don’t pay attention to other games, just how you did in your best game. Tell me that’s not the logic.

Going Bowling

Eight SEC teams are bowl-eligible: Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi St., LSU, and Texas A&M.

Christian Kirk and Texas A&M had no problem with New Mexico and in beating the Lobos became the 8th bowl-eligible SEC team.

Other than Ole Miss, which declared itself ineligible before the season, all other SEC teams have possible routes to bowl games.

Florida will finish with a losing record, which would make them ineligible for a bowl game in most cases. However, it’s possible that a 5-6 Florida team (given the canceled game due to the hurricane) would be allowed to play in a bowl over 5-7 teams if not enough teams are available to fill the bowl slots though. Mississippi St. made a bowl last year despite finishing with a losing record, for instance.

Of the teams which have not guaranteed eligibility, Missouri seems the best-situated, needing only one win. The Tigers play two of the worst teams, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, albeit on the road.

Arkansas would need to beat both Mississippi St. and Missouri, but the upside is both games will be at home. Despite being blown out by Missouri on Saturday, Tennessee is still alive and like Arkansas has its final two contests at home (LSU and Vanderbilt), needing wins in both.

Vanderbilt would also need two wins, one at home and one on the road.

The worst-case scenario for the SEC is as follows: Florida loses one of its two remaining games, Missouri loses both of its remaining games, Mississippi St. beats Arkansas, LSU beats Tennessee, and Tennessee beats Vanderbilt. The best case is: Florida wins twice, Arkansas wins twice, Tennessee wins twice, and Missouri beats Vanderbilt. The first scenario would mean only 8 bowl teams; the second scenario would mean at least 11 and possibly 12 bowl teams.

As I mentioned, Ole Miss will not be in a bowl game; but the Rebels could still finish at least 6-6 (which would have meant bowl-eligibility) by beating either Texas A&M or Mississippi St. At least the Rebels have no ability to stop another SEC team from becoming eligible.

Betting Tips

I went 3-1-1 with my betting recommendations over the previous weekend. So for the year my record is 7-2-1. When I try to give picks every week, I don’t do as well though. Iowa actually beat the spread by 48 1/2. You should get paid double for that. I don’t have any strong opinions this week, but I may for the rivalry week.

LSU-Alabama aftermath

I wanted to mention that I was touched by this tweet and the responses after the Alabama game. I feel bad for any of those young men who feel like they failed because the result wasn’t what they wanted. They failed to win, but the final score doesn’t always reflect the way you play. Any fan of this team should be proud of how we played Alabama or they’re not really a fan.

I don’t mean to dwell on Alabama, but like I said I thought this was worth saying last week and never got around to posting it. I think I would be remiss to omit it just because I was forgetful.

To quote Coach O, “We comin’, and we ain’t backing down.”

LSU-Arkansas Recap

I’ve updated the LSU-Arkansas Rivalry Blog

LSU did not play well in the first half against Arkansas, but I felt like we got on track fairly early in the second half. I found out afterward that Danny Etling was not at full strength and had some trouble warming up fully. This may have contributed to errant throws. I’m hoping this was just due to the fall chill setting in and the game being early. Don’t be surprised if the fans who want Myles Brennan to take over quarterback duties get their wish at some point in the regular season though.

After being absent since the Troy game, Myles Brennan saw some meaningful action toward the end of the Alabama game.

I’m very relieved that we have a coaching staff that makes necessary halftime adjustments and I believe does so better than the vast majority of coaching staffs in the country.

The problems weren’t all due to Etling of course. I know some players tried to get used to getting up early, but there is a difference between getting up early and having your usual energy when you’re accustomed to getting up.

The defense started pretty well, although it seemed like it got a bit lethargic on the Arkansas touchdown drive at the end of the half. If the offense had done its job during the half, that drive would not have happened though. Arkansas has not been shut out this season, so the fact that the Hogs would have been held to 3 points with some more first-half offensive efficiency bodes well for the remaining games. The only other teams to keep Arkansas below 20 points were Alabama (9) and TCU (7).

LSU-Tennessee Game Preview

The only way I can envision Tennessee winning is if the LSU offense is as bad as it was in the first half against Arkansas for the entire game. I struggle to imagine LSU scoring in the 30s again and losing. If LSU has incompletions and turnovers all game without any deep balls or long runs to compensate, they can lose to any SEC team under those circumstances.

I was not impressed with interim head coach Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, but I can’t imagine that the team will not be improved from last week’s 50-17 loss to Missouri.

Tennessee went down hard at Missouri on Saturday, leaving the administration no choice but to move on from Butch Jones.

After scoring 42 points apiece in their first two games (Georgia Tech, which went to overtime, and Indiana St.), the Volunteers have scored 20 points or fewer six times this season, including in their home win over Massachusetts (the only win among them). The Vols scored 24 in their home win over Southern Mississippi and 26 in their loss at Kentucky.

As of right now, Tennessee has lost its most-recent game against every other member of the SEC. I’m pretty sure outgoing head coach Butch Jones is the first head coach to ever have lost his most-recent game against all 14 SEC teams at the same time (he also lost to the Vols as head coach of Cincinnati).

LSU-Tennessee Series

Nick Saban went 2-1 against Tennessee as LSU head coach, although in 2001 he lost his only contest in Knoxville as coach of the Tigers. Before Saban, the Tigers had only beaten the Vols 3 times in all locations.

Before Les Miles came to LSU, the Tigers had only won a single time in Knoxville in their history (1988). Miles won his two games there in 2006 and 2011, respectively. After losing his first SEC game at LSU to Tennessee in Baton Rouge, Miles beat the Vols in the four contests since including in the “Have a Great Day” SEC Championship game in 2007 and in the 16-14 win on the untimed down in Baton Rouge in 2010.

So although Tennessee leads the all-time series 20-9-3, LSU is 6-2 since 2000.

See more in the LSU-Tennessee Rivalry Blog

Coaching Hot Seats

Scott Rabalais of the Advocate did a run-down of all the SEC head coaching positions, so I thought I’d chime in.
I wanted to mention that Kentucky’s Mark Stoops is now the most-tenured coach in the SEC East. When he was told this information, he responded, “That’s scary.” In all seriousness though, Stoops could probably coach there for as long as he wants if he can maintain the Wildcats’ winning percentage of late. As hot seats go, his isn’t much warmer than Saban’s.

Obviously two coaches in the East have been fired in the last couple of weeks now. I don’t think either interim coach will stay. Derrick Mason may survive just because he’s at Vanderbilt, but I don’t know if his job is secure.

I certainly think Muschamp and Smart are safe, as both have had more success than expected this season. After a rough start (5-13 overall, 2-10 in conference), Barry Odom has won four in a row at Missouri; and none have been decided by fewer than four touchdowns. I’m almost certain he’ll survive to see season three.

In the West, Ole Miss will probably be looking for a new coach, although interim coach Matt Luke has done an admirable job under the circumstances. I know he wants that Arkansas game back though.

Speaking of which, Bret Bielema seems to have been given a long leash at Arkansas, but at a certain point you have to make progress. Even if the Hogs win out, the best they can do is tie last year’s final record of 7-6. To be fair, Arkansas is improved from his first season in 2013 in which they went 3-9 and failed to win an SEC game. Kevin Sumlin is in a similar situation at Texas A&M. They’re not bad, but they’re not really making progress either.

Saban and Mullen are fine of course, and can probably stay as long as they’d like. Mullen, incidentally was mentioned as a candidate at Tennessee, but I’m not sure why he’d take that job. Both Orgeron and Malzahn took some heat after their respective second losses this season (LSU to Troy and Auburn to LSU), but both sets of Tiger fans seem to have settled down for now.

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-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.

Coaching Changes and SEC Wednesday #5

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, SEC Wednesdays on September 28, 2016 at 5:07 PM

This is going to be a little bit different from the other entries in this series of blogs. I really didn’t have enough time to reflect and gather information on Monday. I had work until fairly late that day and had not had much sleep over the weekend. I also don’t like to feature anything lengthy when I post my rankings.

I thought about maybe posting something on its own yesterday, but having posted blogs three days in a row, I didn’t want to do that either. I still have to write something tomorrow for my ratings site, so I needed the break. I won’t go into much detail, but the basic picks and recap for SEC Wednesday is at the bottom if you just want to get straight down to business.

With the housekeeping out of the way, I want to start by acknowledging all the well-wishes etc. that Les Miles and his family have received from fans and coaches throughout the SEC and college football as a whole.

I’m starting to get annoyed with Nick Saban trying to make me like him. A couple of weeks ago he tried to get in my good graces by yelling at Lane Kiffin. Then he had what seemed to be heartfelt remarks remembering his time at Kent St. and the shooting that took place there. Now he goes on for about a minute about Les Miles during his weekly press conference when they’re not playing LSU for over two months. He’s not normally someone who likes to go on about extrinsic information like that.

I know Saban is going to miss beating Les, but I also think Les is one of those guys that even Saban couldn’t help but like.

As an aside, apart from single comment in a forum, I haven’t heard anyone who met Miles say anything negative about the experience of meeting him or talking to him. Even if one assumes the story were true, I guess once in 12 years it’s allowable to momentarily not be in the mood to talk to a stranger.

I would disagree with Saban’s characterization of the decision that was made, but what he had to say about Les as a man and as a coach was fitting. There is some commonality with Georgia’s decision to fire Mark Richt at the end of last season, as Saban pointed out, but I think both Georgia then and LSU now were entering a kind of managed decline. I’ll get into that below.

I also wanted to share a fan tribute to Miles that was posted. I don’t know if I’m getting sentimental in my old age, so maybe it’s just me, but I dare LSU fans to watch these two videos without some kind of emotional reaction. The first link shows the Saban piece I mentioned, but several other coaches make contributions including Kirby Smart, Butch Jones (who never got to face Les), Mark Stoops, and Jim McElwain. These were coaches who happened to have been asked about it in their Monday press briefings. I particularly liked McElwain’s mention of the players and families.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=17645961

Gus Malzahn’s press conference wasn’t until yesterday, but he had good words to say as well. He said Les is a legend and one of the reasons the SEC is what it is today, and I agree. SEC defenses were getting spotty, traditional offenses had been eroded by those chasing Spurrier a few years before and were just about to be threatened by the emergence of the spread that Gus himself helped to pioneer. Of course the best offenses have elements of all of the above. I’m going to give the timestamp, so it won’t load the same way: https://youtu.be/QdqNqGKgKkk?t=15m28s

In the last year, the SEC lost all three coaches with longer tenures at their respective schools than Nick Saban has at Alabama.  It was fitting that Spurrier coached his last game against Miles last season.

In the last year, the SEC lost all three coaches with longer tenures at their respective schools than Nick Saban has at Alabama. It was fitting that Spurrier coached his last game against Miles last season.

Anyway, to get back to the decision, I first want to acknowledge again that Les Miles in my opinion is the best head coach of LSU in history.

There have been positive and negative trends at times. The first three years Les won 85% of his games. The Tigers went only 17-9 over the following two years, but then it was like nothing had ever happened. They went 44-9 (over 83% wins) over the following four years, improving Miles’ overall winning percentage to almost 80%. Had he stopped there, his tenure at LSU would have ended with a better winning percentage than his mentor Bo Schembechler had at Michigan.

Here is a list of the only notable major-college coaching tenures I can think of who did better with a comparable or greater number of games: Saban (Alabama), Carroll (USC), Switzer (Oklahoma), Parseghian (Notre Dame), Osborne (Nebraska), Devaney (Nebraska), Neyland (Tennessee), Wilkinson (Oklahoma), Bryant (Alabama), Spurrier (Florida), Tressel (Ohio St.). Urban Meyer hasn’t had a comparable tenure at one school, but of course combining Florida and Ohio St. puts him pretty high on that list. Pretty good company there.

There were a few other notable tenures who passed him up as his winning percentage decreased since then: Lou Holtz (Arkansas), Darrell Royal (Texas), and Mack Brown (Texas). Active head coach Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) is nearly 2 percentage points ahead of Miles, but it’s going in the wrong direction for him as well.

So despite a lot of young talent and despite an upset over Ole Miss and despite giving Alabama all they could handle, LSU went 8-5 the next year (2014). Combined with the 11-5 total between September 1, 2015, and now, that dropped Les to almost exactly 77%.

I’ve been thinking this was the year this group of LSU players would peak since two years ago, so I wasn’t that discouraged by the losses in 2014 and 2015 because we recovered when the same thing happened in 2008 and 2009.

I thought this year might have been like 2010 or even 2011. We would have recovered from the mediocre play of the previous two seasons and everything would have come together. I think those four games were enough to see that a similar resurgence just was not in the cards.

LSU had a spark around the second quarter of both the Jacksonville St. and Mississippi St. games, but with an experienced team like this, we would have run away with both of those games from beginning to end in past seasons. Either Wisconsin or Auburn might have been close, but I don’t think both games would have had to come down to the last minute, nor do I think we would have lost both.

I’ve defended Miles from people who wanted him gone for the last few years, but it just became clear that we were just going to get farther and farther away from that 80% mark I mentioned and the level of play (accounting for the normal ebbs and flows of experience that take place in college) was going to keep slipping.

That winning percentage was just going to keep going down. The same thing was happening to Georgia. I think Richt’s winning percentage would have continued to decline as well. He lost his job with just under a 74% total winning percentage, but that number was going down over the previous three seasons. In a couple more years without a change, I think Miles’ percentage probably would have fallen below Saban’s LSU winning percentage of exactly 75%.

Les Miles with TE Foster Moreau, who scored the only official touchdown of the game on Saturday.  (Moreau said he was not actually assigned a route on the play.)

Les Miles with TE Foster Moreau, who scored the only official touchdown of the game on Saturday. (Moreau said he was not actually assigned a route on the play.)

SEC Wednesday #5

Back to your regularly-scheduled programming…

Last Week

Alabama just had to get that extra touchdown. I could swear Lane Kiffin Is placing bets on the side. This has happened with Alabama a lot the past couple of years.

I was surprised by the Ole Miss margin of victory. I guess Saban was the driving force behind Kirby Smart.

I was also surprised how A&M pulled away.

Florida was way out ahead against the spread, but of course Tennessee had to score one too many times. It just turned out to be a big win weekend and I was expecting a series of close games. Why couldn’t this have happened with Auburn?

Well I thought South Carolina-Kentucky might be the magical bookie game, but I just couldn’t make a pick that didn’t make any sense to me.

I was right about Mississippi St. – UMass at least. The Minutemen are a little too good to lose by three touchdowns at home.

I saw final scores on the television or computer showing me that I picked the right team to win and the game was over! But they were both wrong somehow. At least I got the spread right in the Vandy game, but it’s another bad week in that category.

Missouri beat their FCS opponent as expected.

So given that I picked the wrong team to get credit for the last-second touchdown, I ended up with three losses straight-up, although the only genuine surprise for me was Kentucky.

Overall I fall to 36-8; against the spread I’m now 16-21.
SEC WED

 

Next Week

I’ll start with the easy one. If Arkansas can’t beat Alcorn St., they should just disband the football program.

Florida goes back to the state of Tennessee. I screwed up by taking the Gators with the points last time (but right winner), and I screwed up by not picking Vandy to win (but right on the point spread). On the other hand, neither team can be trusted week-to-week. Vandy can be mediocre at home after a win, and Florida has done really well with the lesser teams this year. Florida minus 10.

I don’t think ULM is a whole lot different from Arkansas St., so the Auburn offense should come back with a vengeance. I’ll take the War Eagle Plains Tigers -32.5.

I got burned by both Tennessee and Georgia against the spread last week. I don’t think Tennessee wins by 10 again, but 3.5 is too small to pick a team I don’t think will win, so the Vols -3.5.

I’m going to pick South Carolina and the points against A&M. I still think the Aggies will drop a couple, but they’ll be against the West. I just think South Carolina will keep it within 18.

If Lane Kiffin has Alabama throwing from the shotgun up 30, I’m not going to be happy; but I don’t think Alabama goes to Lexington and wins by 35 especially now that Kentucky has finally shown some fight.

Memphis made Ole Miss and people who pick the SEC look silly last year, but I don’t think the Rebels are resting easy this time, and they’ll be at home. The blue Tigers probably faced a tougher opponent in the spring game than they have since. I just think they’ll be out of their element. Ole Miss -14.5. 17 to 21 points seems about right.

My logic is similar with LSU-Missouri, but there is the added benefit that two touchdowns and two extra points would beat the spread. Missouri played Georgia to about the same level at home that Nicholls St. had between the hedges. SEC Network tried to sell me on the Mizzou offense based on the Tecmo Bowl performances against Eastern Michigan and Delaware St., but they only managed 11 points in Morgantown (3 points in the first 57:59 of the game). I think that’s the closest thing to a trip to Baton Rouge Mizzou has experienced this season.

If LSU is to be beaten it’s probably like they have been, one score in the teens against a slightly lower score in the teens. I haven’t seen any indication the black and gold Tigers can win a game like that.

If the most successful coach in program history getting canned isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is. Also, I’d bet Ed Orgeron is a hell of an alarm clock. I expect LSU to get a lead like they did in their last home game against Mississippi St., and then it will just be a question of keeping it.

Speaking of which, I had to post one more Les picture. This is him singing the Alma Mater for the last time in Tiger Stadium after Mississippi St.

lsu-football-6156_rs1

The King is Dead; Long Live Coach O

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 25, 2016 at 6:08 PM

This is the thought I left off with last night: “Anyway, the off-season decisions are water under the bridge. All you can do in this situation (assuming a decision isn’t made immediately) is win the rest of your games.”

It’s still true even though, as you probably know by now, a decision was made immediately.

Les Miles (with Larry Coker) before his first bowl game at LSU. So many great (and not-so-great) moments since, but yet it doesn't seem that long ago.

Les Miles (with Larry Coker) before his first bowl game at LSU. So many great (and not-so-great) moments since, but yet it doesn’t seem that long ago.

Before I get into it, I want to say that I’m grateful for Les Miles coming to LSU all those years ago. He’s done more than anyone in their right mind could have anticipated. As Joe Alleva said, he’s been a great ambassador for LSU, and as far as I can tell, he’s an all-around good person. I think he still has the best winning percentage of any head coach of a substantial number of games in LSU history. If you win 80 games more than you lose, you’ve done something at a program. I’ll research the specifics at another time.

He also seems to be going gracefully as he took part in the meeting with the players held with AD Joe Alleva and interim head coach Ed Orgeron. According to at least one of the players, Miles said he supports the decision. Some cynics say Les has been laughing all the way to the bank since the contract extension after the 2012 season; but I think he really cares about the players and the program going forward, so hopefully his reassurances will help to smooth the transition.

I’ve been calling for Cam Cameron to be fired for a while, but I also have nothing against him as a person. I just didn’t think he was suited to developing teenagers into good quarterbacks. He did a good job with Mettenberger, but Mettenberger was already a mostly-finished product.

I wish them and their families the best with whatever they do going forward.

As I said multiple times, if it were up to me, getting rid of Cam Cameron would have been an absolute requirement after last season, but given that Alleva’s attitude was essentially “as long as we keep calling you head coach, you have control over your staff”, I don’t blame him for pulling the plug the way he did.

This team is too good to have lost the game last night. Maybe that’s why I believed we had won it for so long. Assuming the clocks were run correctly and the replay booth did its job properly, all it needed was one guy getting out of bounds on one of the final plays.
I thought they would have waited until at least after the Florida game to make this move since the next week after Florida is a non-conference game against USM, but I guess the risk of losing another game they shouldn’t have lost due to Miles and/or Cameron was too high.

If the win against Missouri is jeopardized by this, I guess trying to save the season was a meaningless exercise anyway.

People have said LSU is out in the West, but last I checked Wisconsin isn’t an SEC team. Provided Auburn loses again (which I frankly can’t imagine not happening), LSU still controls its own destiny right now.

Ed Orgeron during his time as interim head coach at USC

Ed Orgeron during his time as interim head coach at USC

Any USC fan will probably tell you that in hindsight it was a great idea to make Ed Orgeron the interim coach, and it was a mistake to let him go. So I have no problem with making hm the interim coach. I don’t know if he’s the best option for permanent head coach (Ole Miss fans probably don’t remember him so fondly), but if he goes 11-0 or even 8-1, it would be hard to argue against him. I have my ideas about other potential candidates, but there are about two months for interested candidates to make themselves available if Orgeron’s position turns out not to be permanent.

So I think the timing is really good. As well as giving candidates time to prepare and allowing for communications behind the scenes (as opposed to the desperate scramble that firing Les after last year would have been), there is what in the old days would have constituted a whole season left to play to give Orgeron a trial run. (For instance, when LSU won the national title in 1958, the bowl game was only the 11th game of the season.)

My fear has been that we could descend into mediocrity with a coaching change like so many other programs have. I mentioned USC; another example is Oregon. Notre Dame and Oklahoma aren’t looking too hot this season either. This was the team where Les could prove he still has it. Maybe if he’d given someone else the reins of the offense, he could have, but he didn’t.

Oregon and Pete Jenkins after a USC win in the L.A. Coliseum in 2013.

Oregon and Pete Jenkins after a USC win in the L.A. Coliseum in 2013.

Speaking of which, the staff isn’t official until tomorrow (although the players seem to have already confirmed the below with the media), but I’ve also read that long-time LSU defensive coach Pete Jenkins, who also helped out Saban in his first year, will help with defensive line duties since Orgeron will have other matters to attend to. Jenkins had also joined Orgeron at USC when Orgeron became the interim head coach there.

The offensive coordinator will apparently be current tight ends coach and former LSU quarterback Steve Ensminger. I thought it might have been the running backs and OL coach, but I’m relaxed about it either way since I don’t think anyone will call plays worse than Cameron. Etling does seem to like throwing to tight ends anyway. I guess it’s Etling’s Big Ten background. Ensminger was most recently a quarterbacks coach at Auburn under Tommy Tuberville in 2003 before moving to tight ends but has extensive experience as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at multiple schools.

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

New offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger

To be fair, I felt that the series of plays LSU called last night was not bad, but I don’t think the players were ready to execute the plays as well as they should have been. There was too much uncertainty and confusion in the final plays. We don’t have to call fancy plays; we have to have a team ready to execute what is called, and we should be fine.

Missouri isn’t a bad team. They nearly beat Georgia last week, and they had a good non-conference win over BYU late last season. But this is the kind of team, particularly at home, that LSU should be able to dispense with without too much trouble.

I think it’s important that we not only win but have the luxury of giving Fournette some rest. We’ve been putting too much on his plate, and he wasn’t at full strength at the end of the game last night. That led to one of the sacks, and obviously sacks cause you to lose time.

The real test will be at Florida in two weeks; but regardless of the outcome, I doubt that we’ll feel that after that game we should have kept Les and Cam and it would have been better.

Instant Reaction: LSU vs. Auburn 2016

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on September 24, 2016 at 6:53 PM

First of all, given the limited information for the television viewer, the replay decision seemed to have been wrong. There has to be indisputable evidence to overturn the call on the field, which was that the snap was made on time, and the touchdown pass to give LSU a 19-18 win was completed. There is no doubt about the touchdown pass being completed if the first call were correct. If such evidence exists to overturn the call on the field, it was not shown.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that the play is not to be ruled dead if the snap is already in progress unless there is a dead-ball foul or something of that nature. This seems to be the rule every time there is a borderline delay-of-game situation, I just can’t find clear textual confirmation. Even if the quarterback has to be in the process of receiving the ball, there still wasn’t enough to overturn the call on the field based on what was shown.

DJ Chark's winning touchdown that wasn't.

DJ Chark’s winning touchdown that wasn’t.

There is a picture that I’ll post below where it appears that the clock is at all zeros and there is no snap being made (although hard to tell from a still picture); but once the play clock starts, you can’t tell. My next question is whether they started at the same time or different times. If they started at different times, maybe the play clock started at the correct time. (No whistle could be heard in the replay.)

000

There are two additional things I need to see established before I will believe the call was correct: (1) another still after this with no movement OR for someone to point out in the rules that the quarterback has to be touching the ball when time runs out for it to count as a timely snap; and (2) the two clocks started at the correct time, but the game clock went to 0:00 because it was less than 0:01.0 when the play was whistled ready, OR the game clock started when the play was whistled ready but the play clock did not.

It also seemed like there was unnecessary time taken off the clock after the previous completion (which was called back).

This is the third time in seven trips to Auburn that there has been some kind of referee foolishness that decided the game (see rivalry series blog). The first time was in 2004 when Auburn’s winning extra point was blocked, but there was a questionable penalty called regarding the LSU player who blocked the ball using another player for support (Auburn was successful in the re-kick and won 10-9). In 2006, there were multiple questionable calls, including pass interference when LSU was on offense, in a 7-3 loss. So this is the third time LSU has “lost” to Auburn in such a way at Auburn, but LSU won in 2008 and 2012. So in seven games, 2 LSU wins, 2 clear Auburn wins, and 3 disputed Auburn wins.

The good news is I had already started writing about the loss, so at least those few paragraphs below are not wasted. Also, I didn’t have enough time to delete them since I was too busy celebrating the win that was eventually taken away.  I guess now I know how Tennessee fans felt in 2010.  See video below if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

All right, well, I never expected the Auburn or Wisconsin games to be easy this year. All we needed was a fourth-quarter score, and I think we win both games. Against Wisconsin, we were in field-goal position and turned the ball over in the last minute of the game.

It’s not like we haven’t been able to do this in the past. I know the offense hasn’t been good the past couple of seasons, but we still got what should have been game-winning scores against Alabama and Ole Miss two years ago when many of the current juniors were freshmen who were getting significant playing time. That was an 8-5 team, and Alabama (who would go on to get a last-second field goal and win in overtime) and Ole Miss were top-5 teams when LSU played them. How was I to know that two years later, as one of the most-experienced teams in the country, we wouldn’t be able to figure out how to beat or tie the other team in fourth-quarter points?

Had we gotten the field goal against Auburn, then we would have only needed a field goal at the end instead of a touchdown. I know it’s easier to get into field goal position when you need a touchdown, but again, I think based on what we were doing at the end of the game on offense, I think we could do that. Not to mention that all Etling had to do was look toward the middle of the field on 2nd and 1 and it would have been an easy pitch-and-catch for the probable win (although Auburn might have had a chance to hit a winning field goal).

One of the reasons I like college football is it’s not particularly predictable. Of course people will call me a homer because I expected LSU to do a lot better than it looks like they’ll do this season. LSU could easily be in better position nationally right now than Alabama is, but once again it seems that Alabama is just that little bit better when it counts the most. At least I predicted that much when I picked the Tide #1.

I just would have never guessed that LSU would have two losses that were this close. Regardless, my reasoning for predicting a good LSU season was sound. A lot of people whose careers are based on college football picked LSU for the top four, so that’s really an annoying attack I’ve gotten.  If people who do this for a living said LSU wouldn’t get out of September without two losses, I might have re-evaluated my position.

Also, feel free to give me credit any time for going against the experts by ranking Wisconsin and not ranking Notre Dame or USC in the preseason.

Les Miles

Not surprisingly, people are calling for Les Miles’ head already.  I don’t agree that the last sequence was his fault though.  What was he supposed to do?  Tell Etling not to throw the ball on fourth down to put them in that situation?  Get on the field and snap the ball himself when it was whistled ready?  Ideally, there would have been more time, but there are only so many variables in actual game play you can control.

ap_les-miles_ap-photo3-wi-640x452

Les Miles being carried off the field the last time everyone said he was done.

I think the problem – more  than finishing the game – is there wasn’t a drastic change on offense that would have allowed LSU to run out the clock against Wisconsin and Auburn instead of having to try to score at the end in the first place.

Some people say the LSU AD was overruled by the president about keeping Miles.  If so, I thought he should have fired Cam Cameron as a substitute for firing Miles.  If Miles does not keep his job, some will say it’s because Les is just bad with quarterbacks (not to mention clock management), but I think his undoing will have been loyalty to Cam Cameron.

Etling has shown better control and the ability to execute a good drive, but obviously he hasn’t done so consistently.  The announcer who said he wasn’t an improvement over Harris didn’t know what he was talking about.  Cam was the one to bring in Etling, so I guess that was at least a marginally good thing; but we’ve had inept offenses for a few years now, so it doesn’t make up for his other inadequacies.

Anyway, the offseason decisions are water under the bridge.  All you can do in this situation (assuming a decision isn’t made immediately) is win the rest of your games.

 

Misconceptions about Miles and LSU/Ole Miss

In College Football, General LSU, Post-game on November 27, 2015 at 11:52 AM

I’ll preface this by saying that all of my recent arguments (including those below) in defense of Miles would, I believe, be overcome by another loss, which would mean a four-game losing streak (worse than 7-4 on its own). That’s a situation that a head coach of a team like this no longer has a grasp of. It may be a done deal anyway, which I will discuss below, but I also wanted to talk about where we have challenges for whatever coach going forward and where I think we’re in good shape.

By the way, these are the two relevant rivalry blogs for the last week:
Ole Miss
Texas A&M

I first wanted to respond to some LSU fans who have been telling me Ole Miss was just a repetition of the two previous games, and that the result means Miles needs to go. I disagree on the first part, and I’ll talk more about the second.

I’ll be the first to criticize the Tigers’ game plan against Alabama and Arkansas. Against Alabama, the only two choices we seemed to have on our offensive menu were “throw downfield” and “run up the middle”. Arkansas wasn’t a whole lot better.

Against Ole Miss, however, we did some different things on offense. The problem was plays such as Fournette’s long run to open the game were called back, and other plays were made more difficult with pre-snap penalties. A number of short- and mid-range passes (including pitches in the backfield) were completely off-target, such as the one that would have been a touchdown before the drive that eventually ended in a missed field goal.

Finally, a number of drives just stalled after some nice plays. The Tigers had 13 failed third downs, three turnovers, and three failed fourth-down attempts. Granted, some of those were after no progress at all, such as the three three-and-outs in the first half. Also, the Tigers were penalized 13 times for 95 yards.

The Rebels responded to the first two three-and-outs with touchdowns. The LSU defense stopped them on the next possession, but ultimately a third touchdown was allowed after a Brandon Harris interception deep in LSU territory.

Yet one reporter wrote that the 24-0 deficit was “forced upon” Brandon Harris, as if he had nothing to do with the interception he threw (although the tip helped the defense) and nothing to do with any of the offensive failures that repeatedly put the LSU defense back on the field.

QB Brandon Harris was allowed to throw the ball, but it didn't usually go as Tiger fans hoped.

QB Brandon Harris was allowed to throw the ball, but it didn’t usually go as Tiger fans hoped.

There is also the stock response that LSU’s offense is caught in the 1950s and doesn’t respond to a game situation. Is that what you call 51 passing attempts for 324 yards? Of course, it would have been for a lot more yards if the balls had been more accurately thrown and without some of the other problems mentioned.

When I criticize the lack of ball control leading to the 24-0 deficit, people have misused facts by pointing to the overall statistics of LSU having the ball for longer and having more first downs.

Sure, Ole Miss was happy for LSU to run out the clock on itself in the second half, but that doesn’t undo this exchange in the first half (starting at 1:30 to go in the first quarter):
LSU – 3 plays, 7 yards, 1:45, punt
Ole Miss – 8 plays, 80 yards, 2:23, touchdown
LSU – 3 plays, 4 yards, 2:41, punt
Ole Miss – 10 plays, 70 yards, 2:36, touchdown

The Rebels’ strength is not ball control because they’re comfortable with 2-3-minute TD drives, but LSU’s lack of ball control still played right into their hands. Also note that Ole Miss only has an advantage by a few seconds in its two drives above versus LSU’s two drives above.

After the drives outlined above, the two teams exchanged three-and-outs, followed by this:
LSU – 3 plays, 11 yards, 1:11, interception
Ole Miss – 1 play, 11 yards, 0:06, touchdown

LSU gained a minute over Ole Miss in time of possession! Yay! Yet somehow factmongers like me have to go and ruin it by pointing out LSU was the one with the lack of ball-control there.

So that’s why LSU being allowed long possessions in the second half has a relatively large impact upon the final time of possession statistic.

This issue is brought up in the larger context of the LSU offense being the dysfunctional unit as compared to the LSU defense. Despite barely getting a breather for the last quarter and a half of the first half, the LSU defense still forced the Rebels to punt twice. But for the interception, the halftime score would have likely been a manageable 17-7.

The 57-yard completion on the Rebels’ first set of downs was a result of a huge LSU defensive mistake, but the defense responded well enough to hold Ole Miss to three points there. Furthermore, it forced Rebels to punt in their second and third possessions. It just needed some help from the offense that didn’t come.

So it’s not a both sides of the ball issue. If there is better quarterback play (the detractors are correct that either Jennings or Harris must have some talent isn’t being brought out) and therefore a more balanced attack, I believe LSU wins this game despite a couple of defensive mistakes against a very good quarterback and offense.

A misread or blown coverage happens to any defense, including Alabama’s, so I don’t think there is anything unusual there.

The lack of a consistent credible passing game, however, does not happen to most offenses and most offensive coaches. Also, there is enough talent on the offensive line that the penalties and mental errors should not be happening so often at this point in the year. So I’m not saying that a shakeup on the offense isn’t needed, whether this involves removing the head coach or not, but I don’t think we need to scrap everything on both sides of the ball and start over.

Also, save it with the argument that this is a trend.
8-0 in conference in 2011
6-2 in 2012
5-3 in 2013 (even though we won a bowl game that year and didn’t in 2012)
4-4 in 2014
4-3 now

Let’s backtrack though.
7-1 in 2005
6-2 in 2006
6-2 in 2007
3-5 in 2008

Should Les have been fired then? What about when LSU fell to 4-3 in conference after a loss at Ole Miss in 2009?

Never mind the fact that LSU went 24-3 (14-2) over the next two seasons. I’m sure just about any decent coach could have waltzed into Baton Rouge and done that, right?

I guess some did want him fired then in 2009 and never stopped wanting him fired. Good for them for being consistent, but that’s ridiculous.

Les Miles after LSU wins its 14th game in a row and 24th of 26 in 2011.

Les Miles after LSU wins its 14th game in a row and 24th of 26 in 2011.

Others compare Miles to Charles McClendon, who went six consecutive seasons with at least four losses (each regular season was 11 games then, no chance of a championship game, bowls were much rarer) before he was forced to retire. So firing a guy who merely lost three (usually of 13) for four seasons in a row isn’t quite the same thing. Also, let’s not forget that LSU did worse over the four seasons after McClendon left than it had over his last four seasons even though the bar wasn’t as high as the one Les has set.

There are people such as Jim Kleinpeter, who covers the Tigers for Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, who say it’s all over but the official announcement (he said there was 0% chance Miles will remain coach); but if you agree with that decision (if in fact it has been made), make your arguments based on an accurate portrayal of reality.

As I’ve already said, if LSU loses to A&M, then we should go to someone else anyway. Maybe that’s why an announcement hasn’t been made. They don’t want a backlash now that would be largely avoided with another loss. Maybe, just maybe, they haven’t told Miles what’s going on because they don’t know for sure yet. One can hope.

Rumors of Miles’ Demise Greatly Exaggerated

In College Football, General LSU on November 20, 2015 at 9:38 PM

I know it’s late, but I had to get this out there. Before I forget, here is the LSU-Ole Miss Rivalry blog again. I also recently uncovered a blog I wrote about former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt before his last game against LSU. I’ll talk about him a bit below.

Les Miles is the most successful coach in LSU history.

Charles McClendon won more games, but let’s look at what it took to push him out. LSU lost four games or more in McClendon’s final six seasons. In 1973, his last year in which the Tigers only lost three games, LSU got out to a 9-0 start before dropping the final three. Tulane was one of the three teams to bear the Tigers that season.

So all of a sudden Miles is coaching for his job after a 7-game winning streak (should have been 9 games considering the Norte Dame debacle) turns into 7-2 record? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Miles taking responsibility after the Arkansas loss.

Yes, the 1970s were a different era, but we aren’t suddenly in an age where a coach who wins 78% of his games over 10 years is on the hot seat because of two games, one of which was played against the #4 team in the country.

Let’s look at what had to happen to other coaches to get fired.

I’ll just stay in the SEC because some fans will claim anything else is apples to oranges.

Will Muschamp was only 18-8 in his first two seasons, yet he survived a 4-8 year before finally being fired after a 5-5 start the following year. Florida is pretty similar to LSU being that they won BCS titles in 2006 and 2008 under urban Meyer. 2008 of course was just one year after LSU last won. We’re not talking about a patient group of fans and boosters since the Spurrier years.

Spurrier’s successor Ron Zook was only allowed two 5-loss seasons, the most LSU can possibly lose this year, but that was out of only three.

Auburn-LSU was THE GAME in the SEC West before Saban first won the division with the Tide in 2008.

Tommy Tuberville was nearly fired after an 8-5 season in 2003, but Tuberville’s best mark up to that point was only 9-4, a record he had reached twice in five seasons. Of course, he redeemed himself with an undefeated year. I’ll go into why that might be relevant for Miles below. What actually got Tuberville fired was a 14-11 mark over two years in 2007 and 2008. The worst Miles will do is 15-10 over two seasons, but Tuberville only had two seasons with double-digit wins in 10 seasons. Miles has had six.

Staying with Auburn, Gene Chizik was of course fired a couple of years ago despite having won the national championship in 2010. Chizik only went 11-14 over his final two seasons. The team had apparently given up on him in the final season during a five game losing streak and finished only 3-9.

At Alabama, Mike Shula was fired after going exactly .500 over two consecutive regular seasons.

That takes care of the other relevant national-championship-level programs in the SEC being that of course Urban Meyer left voluntarily.

Georgia came close to the national title game in 2012, so maybe you could argue that’s a similar program, but of course Richt has been at Georgia for years longer than Miles has been at LSU and still has his job. Richt survived a 14-12 stretch in 2009 and 2010, by the way.

Is Miles the new Houston Nutt?

So nothing like firing Les Miles has happened.

There is some precedent for firing a generally successful coach after a 5-loss season, and that was when Houston Nutt was fired at Arkansas. Nutt of course was never a national-championship-level coach, although the Hogs were briefly in the conversation in 2006. However, his tenure in Fayetteville was a significant step forward from the years prior to his arrival.

Arkansas went from one winning season between 1990 and 1997 to seven in Nutt’s 10 seasons there.

There are two good reasons for this though. 2007 was the last year of Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, so not only was that season disappointing, but Arkansas was not looking at a good 2008. Bobby Petrino is not without his personal issues, but I don’t think many coaches including Nutt would have done better than his 5-7 mark in 2008.

The other good reason was the fact that Nutt had already survived a bad stretch and was given the benefit of the doubt. Arkansas had gone a total of 9-13 in 2004 and 2005 before surprising everyone with a 10-game winning streak in 2006.

What does 78% as a coach mean?

I also wanted to take a moment to consider how good 78% is as compared to others.

At LSU, Nick Saban only won 75%. Joe Paterno’s overall winning percentage at Penn St. was almost identical depending on how you count ties.

Lou Holtz won 76.5% at Notre Dame and 78.6% at Arkansas.

Woody Hayes only won just over 76% at Ohio St.

Miles does fall a bit short of Hayes’ rival (and Miles’ mentor) Bo Schembechler though. Schembechler won 79.6%.

At Ole Miss, John Vaught only won 74.6%.

At Texas, Darrel Royal won 77.4%.

At USC, John McKay won 74.9%.

At Florida St., Bobby Bowden won 75.6%

At Army, Red Blaik won 76.8%.

There are coaches with better records, such as Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer. Of course, factoring in Alabama puts Saban higher. Are any of them coming (back in Saban’s case) to LSU? I wouldn’t bet on it. Maybe if LSU offers $10 million a year or something ridiculous like that.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

I was thinking about photoshopping Carroll in purple and gold, but then I found this.

Here are some others that Miles doesn’t quite live up to: Spurrier, Parseghian, Byrant, Osborne, Devaney, Wilkinson, Switzer, Neyland.

So if you’re not of those, you don’t get a job at LSU? Those are absurd standards to live up to.

Young players represent an opportunity, not an “excuse”

There was one other thing I wanted to mention. I made some reference to it above. This is not Leonard Fournette’s last season with next season being some abyss we’re staring into. Brandon Harris is also a sophomore.

I’m not just selectively picking two examples. Look at this depth chart.

Three of the top four receivers are underclassmen. There is only one guard who is older than a sophomore. There is one junior and one senior tackle on the depth chart, the rest are underclassmen. Actually, that’s true on both offense and defense. The #2 tight end right now is a true freshman. Two junior defensive ends, the rest underclassmen. Both strong safeties are sophomores.

I think anyone looking at this team and saying it’s a failure and we need to give up and start over next year with a new head coach is just insane.

Few people expected this to be the year for LSU until they surpassed expectations by starting 7-0. Of course, it almost certainly would have been 8-0 had the first game not been cancelled. Why are the problems that have emerged since then insurmountable because we have some younger players in key positions and it looks like the national semifinals are off the table? That could very well jeopoardize a great year like the one Auburn had in 2004.

Even if some other coach comes in and wins a national championship next year, maybe that same coach leads us to a 3-9 season a few years later like Chizik did. `There is no guarantee of being able to replace and develop talent as well as Miles has even though we can probably find a coach better at calling plays (which I don’t think Miles actually does that often). You might remember a coach named Larry Coker. He went undefeated at U. Miami in 2001 and nearly went undefeated in 2002 before a controversial overtime loss to Ohio St. The ‘Canes have been mediocre for 10 years now.

That said, if we go 8-5 next year with a healthy Fournette in what would almost certainly be his last season, I might see their point.

Edit: Given the third loss in a row which came after this was written, I might see their point with a fourth loss in a row.