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Posts Tagged ‘Nick Saban’

LSU/Auburn Series and Preview

In College Football, History, Preview, Rivalry on October 25, 2019 at 7:45 PM

As I’ve been doing with these series recaps, I’m only going to focus on a portion of Auburn’s rivalry with LSU.  The rivalry did pick up intensity in the 1990s as I’ll explain, but the really interesting time was 2000 to 2007.

My original entry in the Rivalry Series covers mostly the same games, but there are different emphases.  Here I won’t talk as much about the records or rankings of teams going into the game, and I won’t refer back to the significance of each game within the greater rivalry.

Deciding the SEC West and Home Field Advantage

When LSU became relevant in SEC title races starting around the time Saban showed up, the main obstacles every year were Florida and Auburn. Except for Arkansas in 2002 and 2006 (the Hogs had the benefit of not having an annual series with either Georgia or Florida), the winner of the LSU-Auburn game would represent the SEC West in the title game every year from 2000 to 2007.

By the way, for some reason, the SEC calls you a winner of the division if you don’t play in the title game; but the way I look at it is if you lose the tiebreaker for first you’re second.  You’re not still in the broken tie for first.  So when I talk about winning the SEC West, I’m going to mean winning the tiebreaker as well. 

LSU has still never won the SEC West in an even year largely because the Tigers play both Auburn and Florida on the road in even years (and historically LSU is less likely to beat Alabama at home than on the road anyway).  You’ve probably seen it mentioned that LSU hasn’t lost to Auburn at home since 1999, but for a while that was mutual.  Nick Saban went 0-3 at Auburn as LSU head coach, and Les Miles also lost his first game at Auburn.  Miles would win two of the next three before losing his last two, the last of which lost him his job. 

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

LSU would end that streak in 2008, but speaking of Nick Saban, that was when Alabama became the team to beat in the division.  LSU beat Alabama and Auburn to win the SEC West in 2011, and Auburn beat LSU and Alabama to win the SEC West in 2010.  The three teams went 1-1 against each other in 2013; but LSU lost to two other teams (Georgia and Ole Miss), so that allowed Auburn to win a two-team head-to-head tiebreaker.  I think we all know who won the other 8 SEC West titles since then. 

In addition to being less important for the division, those three games just didn’t have the drama to go into much detail.  The 2010 game was the relatively close one, decided by only 7; but the LSU defense and offense both seemed defeated once Auburn took the lead with a about 5 minutes to go. Auburn could have scored again at the end of the game but ran out the clock instead.  They took the last snap from the LSU 3.

The 2012 LSU win, which at the time was only the second win at Auburn since 1998, was close; but Auburn turned out to be a terrible team.  Gene Chizik has not been a head coach since that season and may never be one again.  There were also only 6 points scored after the first quarter – a field goal by Auburn in the second quarter and a field goal by LSU in the third quarter. I like to watch good defenses more than most fans, but there are only so many ways to describe not scoring points. 

Other than it being an important game since one or both teams has been a major force in the conference (if not nationally), it’s also been a close game – again, not unlike LSU-Florida.

The Making of a Rivalry: 1993 to 1999

Unlike Florida though, it was typically a competitive game even going back before 2000.  It wasn’t even an annual series until 1993. That first game wasn’t very close, as Auburn went undefeated that season (but since they were on probation they weren’t considered in the national-title hunt), but that changed in a hurry. 

LSU led 23-9 in 1994 before Jamie Howard threw three pick-sixes and the Bayou Bengals lost 30-26.  Auburn had a quarterback named Nix, but other than a field goal drive in the second quarter, he was unsuccessful.  The four defensive scores were enough for the Plainsmen though.

In Death Valley the next year, the home team won by only 6 points.  That would be LSU’s first winning season in 7 years.

In 1996, LSU won on “the night the barn burned”.  It wasn’t a barnburner as neither team was able to get to 20 points.  It was 17-15 with 38 seconds to go when the home-standing War Tigers decided to go for two.  That backfired (no pun intended) as LSU returned the botched conversion attempt for two points.  The game was given the nickname because an old gym caught on fire during the game.

The next year, an Auburn touchdown in the last minute of the game would make the difference as LSU was only ahead by 4 before the score. 

Both programs went downhill the following two seasons with the road team winning fairly easily both times.  However, Auburn made a coaching change between 1998 and 1999, while LSU waited until after the 1999 season.  Auburn’s new coach Tommy Tuberville happened to have been the coach of Ole Miss when they beat LSU in 1997, which in retrospect would keep LSU from winning the SEC West for the first time.

After that 1999 win by Auburn, Tuberville smoked cigars with his team on the field.  He rationalized it by saying it was only Auburn’s third win there since World War II, but he didn’t mention that it was also Auburn’s third win at LSU in four tries.  Now he explains that it was also his birthday, but you don’t have to linger in an opponent’s stadium to celebrate your birthday.  Even if he just had shared a big cake on the field with his team, that would have been weird. 

2004 to 2007 Game Narratives

That wouldn’t be the end of the weirdness.  It was a big game, but none of the games were very interesting or exciting the next few years.

Then in 2004 it got interesting again.  I know a lot of people blame Les Miles for ushering in low-scoring games, but the offense wasn’t always exciting in Saban’s last year either.  LSU led 9-3 after 58 minutes of play. Auburn would score on third and 12 from the LSU 16, but the extra point was blocked. Apparently a new rule had been implemented in the offseason that if you land on another player after attempting to block or successfully blocking a field goal, it was a personal foul. Auburn got to try again and would win by that one point.

Since 2004 would become known as the extra point game, it only followed that we needed a field goal game.  This would happen 13 months later when the two teams would miss a combined 7 field goals in 10 attempts. 

LSU led 14-10 after Auburn made its one field goal in the second quarter and the teams exchanged touchdowns in the third.  The Plains Tigers would score another touchdown with just under 5 minutes to go in the game. LSU would get its first field goal a few minutes later to tie the game at 17 and eventually send it to overtime.  LSU would have the ball to begin the overtime and would settle for a field goal.  The Bayou Tigers had gotten one first down to help out the kicker Chris Jackson.  Auburn would go nowhere during their possession, and John Vaughn would miss from 39 to end the game, his fifth miss of the game.

Auburn K John Vaughn collapses to the field after missing a field goal (his fifth miss of the game) to give LSU the win in 2005.

2006 was another weird low-scoring game.  Les Miles was the coach, but he had inherited his offensive coordinator from Saban.  That was a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Jimbo Fisher.  But somehow (with the help of the referees of course), he only managed to guide the Tigers to 3 points for the whole game.  Auburn didn’t need any field goals and won 7-3 despite LSU having gained about twice as many yards.

Nonetheless, Fisher would do an impressive enough job with LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell the rest of the season to be offered a similar position with Florida St. but with more incentive and under an aging head coach being gently nudged into retirement.

LSU’s offense seemed to work just fine without him in 2007 (although you can’t really say the same for the 10 years afterward).  LSU-Auburn was another close game though.  Auburn led 17-13 going into the fourth quarter.  Matt Flynn led the home team on an 8-play 85-yard drive to put LSU up 20-17.  After a punt, the Fighting Tigers expanded that lead to 23-17.  Auburn responded with a 9-play, 83-yard drive to go up 1 with 3:21 remaining.

Unlike the last time Auburn played in Tiger Stadium, K Colt David was having a good day, having gone 3 for 3 on field goals.  It seemed like that was what LSU was playing for.  There was a number of running plays (including spontaneous runs by the QB) that took time off the clock as Flynn drove the Tigers downfield.  LSU also converted a key third and 3 from the Auburn 41 to keep the drive going (on a Richard Murphy run). Jacob Hester, the hero of the Florida game a couple of weeks before, would come in with his own 10-yard run. 

When LSU had a third and 7 from the 23 with just under 10 seconds left, Auburn probably expected another run to set up a field goal (LSU still had a timeout).  Instead Flynn threw to the end zone just to the outside of Demetrius Byrd, who turned at just the right time to catch the ball (see here if the picture doesn’t do it justice).

Along with Jacob Hester’s winning touchdown (see the final picture) two weeks earlier, Demetrius Byrd’s catch in the final moments against Auburn was one of the iconic plays in LSU’s national-championship season in 2007.

Since the extra point was taken with 1 second left, a lot of people thought the pass was an unacceptable risk.  I never bought into that since Byrd began to catch the ball with :04 showing on the clock.  It just didn’t really matter whether they stopped it at 4 seconds or 1 second at that point.  If he had dropped the ball or missed it completely, it probably would have been 3 seconds.  Maybe if he had juggled it several times and then dropped it, it would have run out the clock though.

2016

One second would make all the difference 9 years later, but I’d rather not rehash that game again.  SBNation did a good job though. You can’t tell for sure that the center wasn’t beginning the snap in the picture though.

(I already said all I needed to say about the games from 2008 to 2015.)

2017

I mentioned in the Florida summary how LSU had two ugly losses in the first five weeks of the season in 2017 but came back to beat Florida by 1.  The next week, it looked like the Tigers were going to have three ugly losses in seven weeks when #10 Auburn went out to a 20-0 lead in Tiger Stadium. 

See my 2017 blog about the game for details, but I’ll just set up how LSU reduced the lead to 9 before halftime.

The defense holding Auburn to a field goal (meaning it was 20-0 and not 24-0) wouldn’t have meant anything if the LSU offense hadn’t gotten into gear on the next drive. LSU wouldn’t even require a single pass to be thrown.  Six rushing plays got the Fighting Tigers 90 yards and touchdown (70 of the yards by on a carry Russell Gage).

Auburn looked ready to bring the lead back up to 20 a couple of drives later, but once again the defense bent but didn’t break.  After a first and goal from the 10, Auburn was only at the 8 before settling for a field goal. 

LSU took possession back with 2:16 left.  Given the passing struggles, success didn’t seem likely, but that didn’t stop Danny Etling.  On the drive, Etling completed 5 of 6 pass attempts for 67 yards and a touchdown. 

The comeback wasn’t complete yet, but a 9-point deficit at halftime looks a lot better than a 20-point deficit early in the second quarter. 

2018

I didn’t even talk about the details of the last LSU-Auburn game last year, I just debunked some of the whining after the fact by Auburn fans. 

LSU went out to an early 10-point lead midway through the second quarter, but Auburn roared back to go up 21-10 with about 25 minutes to go in the game.

Like in the previous year, it just seemed like the LSU defense drew a line in the sand at that point.  Auburn went three and out on their next drive, then after one first down Stidham threw an interception in LSU territory.  The next drive, Auburn missed a 52-yard field goal.  The only reason they got that far downfield was a targeting call, and Auburn would not get beyond their own 30 again.

LSU also had to score in the meantime of course.  After one three and out, LSU was able to vary run and pass to get into first and goal at the Auburn 8 but had to settle for a field goal.

The next drive was really quick, too quick to watch in real time.  Here is the slow-motion replay.

Derrick Dillon catches a pass over the middle before running for the end zone on a 71-yard completion to bring LSU within two at Auburn last year.

But LSU couldn’t get the two-point conversion.  As mentioned, Auburn could do nothing on offense, so LSU had to win the game with a field goal. 

LSU had a third and 11 right away, but that’s when there was one of the major pass interference calls I talked about in the blog above. After an incompletion on first down, Burrow ran a few yards on second down to make it a more reasonable third and 7, which the Fighting Tigers just barely converted. 

Burrow also ran on the next second down (which was also 2nd and 10), but he was tackled for a loss on third down.  Again, LSU was just able to get past the marker, this time to Stephen Sullivan. After yet another first-down incompletion, another pass interference was called on third down.  This put LSU into field goal position, and of course Cole Tracy made it.

This Year

Until the game last week (when LSU settled for field goals on the first three offensive possessions), I might have said how Auburn shouldn’t expect to hold this offense out of the end zone for long stretches of time.  LSU would eventually score as many points against Mississippi St. in the first half as they scored against Auburn the whole game last year though, so I’m still expecting this year’s LSU team to easily outscore last year’s in this game.

I watched parts of the Auburn games against Oregon and Florida.  Although, the LSU defense hasn’t always been great (though it is underrated by people who look at scores rather than watching games), I still think there will be stretches where Auburn can’t score.  Auburn scored only 3 points in the first four drives and 6 in the first nine drives against the Ducks   Against Florida, which let’s remember allowed 42 to LSU, Auburn couldn’t score for the last 40 minutes of the game. 

I do think Auburn’s pass rush will cause some incompletions and might get sacks (unlike Florida’s), but the defensive backfield might be even less able to keep up with LSU wide receivers.

Auburn does have a good front, hence the concerns about the pass rush, but pass rush and run defense aren’t the same thing.  If Auburn sends too much pressure, that could leave open lanes for Burrow or one of the backs.  If Auburn is trying too hard to defend the run, that often requires staying near the line of scrimmage rather than rushing the backfield. 

Auburn also has a good offensive line, so LSU could have some of the same dilemmas.  But I’m more confident in Burrow making good decisions in a game like this than Auburn fans should be in (the younger) Nix even if Nix ends up with more time.  Whitlow ran for about 4.5 yards per carry against both Oregon and Florida, but he won’t be playing.  Kam Martin (who had a few good carries against Florida but ran poorly against Oregon) ran well in his first full game as Whitlow’s replacement, but I don’t know how comparable running against Arkansas is to running against LSU.

I would lean toward taking the points.  I know I guessed wrong about Florida, but Auburn can probably score about what Florida did and maybe hold LSU out of the end zone on one or two more drives.  Maybe LSU just doesn’t have that final score to go up double digits like they did against Florida.  I would give Auburn about a 1 in 3 chance to win.  I think having a week off after Florida and not having to do anything fancy against Arkansas could be a slight advantage.  Florida did beat Auburn, but I think it was harder for the Gators to get back up for the LSU game than it will be for Auburn.  Also, despite the eventual loss by 14, Florida did still have a decent chance to win late.

Defending Coach O and Comments on Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Orgeron

Finebaum

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

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

John Hayes

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

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

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

Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lincoln Riley

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

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

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

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

Kirby Smart

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

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

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

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

Other Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU/Mississippi St.: Recent Games and Coaches

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

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

Coach O and Intro

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

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

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

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

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

Worse: LSU 0-3, Alabama 0-6

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

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

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

Dan Mullen vs. LSU and Rivalry Intro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Mullen discusses his first Bulldog recruiting class in 2009.

LSU vs. Mississippi St. 2009 to 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mullen goes to Florida

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

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

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

2019 Preview and Joe Moorhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 7 SEC Big Games and Top 25

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

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

South Carolina Upsets Georgia

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

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

LSU Somehow Beats the Spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s #1 (and Who’s Going To Be #1)?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Sausage is Made

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

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

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

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

Top 25

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

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

LSU/Florida Series Recap and Preview

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

Utah St.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LSU/FLORIDA SERIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chart of recent games

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saban in Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Reactions

In College Football, General LSU, History on September 25, 2019 at 4:15 PM

This started out as an afterthought, but I can get on a roll when it comes to media people not doing their jobs well and narratives getting out of control. I was going to write something else for my midweek blog, but I changed my mind.

If you didn’t hear, Nick Saban will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. You can follow the link for his quotes; he seems genuinely grateful.

Nick Saban holds the BCS Championship “crystal ball” after the Sugar Bowl in January 2004. Saban would leave LSU for the Dolphins 368 days later.

I’m OK with it, although he was barely even eligible since he only lived and worked in Louisiana about 5 years total. 

The reason for the rant is the local sports media sounds really dumb when they write and talk about it.  I’m reminded of all the journalists who were so sure Miles was going to Michigan (more than once in some cases), then they were so sure Jimbo was replacing Miles (even if they weren’t sure about Jimbo, there were sure that A&M game was Miles’ last), then they were so sure Jimbo was replacing Orgeron, and then they were so sure Herman was replacing Orgeron (or at least there was an agreement in principle).

I wanted to dissect this column from Glenn Guilbeau. You can see that link for more quotes; but it was quotes from Guilbeau, not Saban, that bothered me.

What I don’t like is the idea that LSU was some kind of toxic wasteland that he arrived in and that everything that happened for the five years after he left was inevitable.

Saban won as many games in his last two seasons (which were half a game from being his best two seasons and which included the national championship) as Miles won in his first two seasons (which did not include the national championship, and neither of which was in the top two of Miles’ seasons). Guilbeau says Saban “set LSU up” for the 2007 national championship, which was three years after he left. That’s three years of practices, three recruiting cycles, three seasons of games coached that Saban had nothing to do with.

But everything was just “set up” for Miles to just a national championship in 2007. I understand making that argument about Larry Coker, who won 24 consecutive games to start his career, but his third season was a modest 9-3 and he went downhill from there. I’ll write more below about how you don’t really get an idea of what kind of coach someone is in two seasons.

Gerry DiNardo (left) chats with Les Miles. This was probably in the lead-up to the 2011 BCS Championship game that the Tigers lost to Saban’s Tide.

This is the part that started to get under my skin: ” after what he inherited – a program that had losing seasons in eight of the previous 11 years and lost 10 straight SEC games in 1998 and ’99 under Coach Gerry DiNardo,…”

None of that is false, but it is misleading. That makes you think there were only a few random winning seasons sprinkled in and there wasn’t a dramatic change in the middle of those 11 seasons.  That doesn’t make you think all three of those winning seasons were within the five years before Saban arrived. 

It wasn’t just Guilbeau. I’ve also heard others, most recently T-Bob Hebert echo similar sentiments. He wrongly said there had been 7 losing seasons in 8 years. He remembered the number 8 I guess; but it shows that the impression is there were only a few lonely winning seasons, not some recent group of winning seasons.

I take more issue with Gulbeau’s conclusion of the last quote: “whose (DiNardo’s) roster was depleting of talent and numbers.”

Yes, there was a conference losing streak under DiNardo, and it seemed the team lost confidence; but LSU easily beat a ranked Arkansas team in the season finale (under and interim coach) in 1999 to end that losing streak. Also, if you look at the streak, the Tigers were in a lot of close games against good teams. Five of those 10 losses were to winning teams AND by less than a touchdown (including 10-win Mississippi St. and Alabama teams in 1999). The following were not part of the streak, but in 1998 there was also a 1-point loss to Georgia and a 3-point loss to Notre Dame. Both the Irish and the Bulldogs would finish 9-3.

The Bulldogs celebrate after a controversial touchdown gave #11 Mississippi St. a one-point win at home in October 1999. State would win the SEC West, and DiNardo would lose his remaining games.

So Saban did great with what he got (as did Miles), don’t get me wrong; but he didn’t take over a team full of chumps who didn’t have the talent to keep up with many of the best teams in the SEC.  It wasn’t hard for a guy like Saban to look at LSU and see 3 or 4 wins a season in those last two years that DiNardo had left on the field. If you want to give him credit for what came after him, then you need to give Gerry DiNardo credit for giving Saban something to work with.  If Saban had taken over for someone like Hallman (DiNardo’s predecessor) or the transfer rules were as they are now, Saban might not have ever won an SEC championship not to mention a national championship at LSU.  He might not have even come to LSU.  Michigan St. might have been a better opportunity to do something nationally.  Maybe he goes to Miami or Alabama directly from there.

Even factoring in those disappointing 1998 and 1999 seasons, DiNardo’s teams still had an average of 6.6 wins and 4.8 losses.  That’s in contrast to the previous six seasons where there was an average of 4.17 wins and 6.17 losses.  It wasn’t night and day when Saban showed up either.  His first season wasn’t as good as the 1996 or 1997 seasons. Neither was his third season.  Even his SEC championship 2001 season (his second) wasn’t as good as DiNardo’s best season (which was his third).  Saban averaged 8.67 wins and exactly 4 losses in his first three years; so it was another step up, but it wasn’t a giant leap from the basement to the ceiling.  It was only the fourth and fifth years where you got a big contrast between the two coaches. 

This part infuriated me: “Miles failed in his first two seasons to get the most out of the tremendous amount of talent he inherited.”

Not in 2001, but certainly by 2004 Saban was responsible for the level of talent that was on the team. He won 9 games. The great Saban 9 games in the 2004 season. Miles comes in and wins 11. Failed? Are you joking? Then he does it again the next year, winning the Sugar Bowl. Another failure! Then he goes 12-2 with a national championship in his third season. Ah, that was all due to Saban!

Let’s compare Florida, which had to replace a couple of really successful coaches lately. Urban Meyer took over about 3 years after Spurrier left, but there was still a good amount of residual talent. He improved as many games in his first season as Miles did, and surely it’s harder to improve from 9 wins to 11 than 7 wins to 9. What a failure!

Urban Meyer (with Chris Leake) in 2005.

That’s sarcasm, but I can agree it’s a failure when Florida went from just under 10 wins a season (in Spurrier’s last 5 years) to just under 8 (in Zook’s 3 seasons. Another example of a failure is when Florida fell from 43 wins in 4 seasons (almost 11 wins per year) under Meyer to only 28 wins (7 per year) under Muschamp. Then it’s fair to say you weren’t getting the most out of your talent because talent doesn’t evaporate that quickly.

Any team could theoretically have done better, certainly including all of Saban’s teams. I mentioned Ron Zook. Why did Saban lose to Ron Zook at home with his best team? I guess he failed to get the most of his talent that season and every other, right? That’s just a ridiculously condescending statement.

Les admittedly hit a lull in his fourth and fifth years (dropping from an average of 11.33 wins to an average of 8.50 wins); but then in the next three seasons, he got the average (in those seasons, not his average at the school) back up to 11.33.  So Miles followed his own 9-win season with just as much success over the following three seasons as he had in the three seasons following Saban’s 9-win season in 2004.  Saban definitely helped for 2005 to 2007, but how do you give Saban credit for 2010 to 2012? 

Actually if he weren’t a couple of states away, we win two more games in that span for an average of 12 wins even (not to mention a win each in 2008 and 2009… we almost beat Alabama in those years even with Saban).  When Saban was at LSU, he didn’t have someone like Saban at Alabama he had to coach against every year.    He did get his butt kicked twice in his first 16 LSU games by Spurrier, but that was years after Spurrier had won a national championship and he would not win another.  Those two Florida teams went a combined 20-5, so that falls short of recent Alabama quality anyway.

That leads me to another point about how much more competitive the SEC became between when Saban started at LSU and when Miles was still early in his tenure. Saban was the only SEC coach in his 5 years at LSU to even play for a national championship. Miles had had to deal with three national-championship Alabama teams (one of whom he coached against twice), a playoff-qualifying Alabama team, a fifth Alabama team that was undefeated through 12 games, two Florida national championship teams, a third Florida team that went 13-1, a national-championship Auburn team, and a national runner-up Auburn team. I know this is over more seasons for Miles, but it’s no comparison

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.

[Updated after game] LSU leads the all-time series, 23-7-1, and leads in Nashville, 12-5. In this 2019 game, LSU won 66-38. Even Vanderbilt’s total points were fourth in the series history and the second-most for the Commodores. LSU broke its single-game record (49-7 in 1985) by 17 points. The only other teams to score more than VANDY did was LSU in 1945 (39-7) and Vandy in 1948 (48-7).

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).

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.

Alabama Offense vs. LSU Defense

In College Football, General LSU, History, Preview, Rivalry on November 2, 2018 at 4:24 PM

For more on what to expect from the LSU offense and general comments, please see Part I published on Wednesday.  This page links the major previous discussions of the LSU-Alabama Series.  LSU seems to have better kickers, but I’m not going to spend any time on that point.

Proposition: Alabama runs away with the game to score 40+ again (Intro)

What made me decide to split this into two blogs was how annoyed I was with how many people were picking Alabama to score 40+ while picking LSU to score <22. I listened to a couple of somewhat credible prognosticators on YouTube who did that based on Alabama’s stats.

One of them (SECfans, which I mentioned before) actually replied to my comment and asked if I thought Alabama’s offense was severely overrated due to the schedule.  I said that I didn’t think they were severely so, but in all the years I’ve been watching college football (I would say I had something like an adult appreciation of it starting in the mid-90s), there hasn’t been a top team who scored over 40 every game.

Historical Precedent in General

In the video, they had mentioned the 2005 Texas team that scored 41 points in the title game against USC.  A neutral-site bowl game isn’t really analogous to Tiger Stadium.  What might be analogous was when the Longhorns went to Ohio St. that year and were held to 25 points.  Also, late in the season the USC team in question had allowed 42 points at home to a Fresno St. team that would finish with 5 losses.

Vince Young runs for a touchdown in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

The best offense I’ve seen through 8 games was probably 2010 Oregon.  They had an even higher average (by less than a point, but still) than Alabama does now at 54.8 points per game.  That was despite having played a top 10 team at home and a top-25 team on the road, neither of which the Tide has done.

The 9th game was consistent with that, but in their 10th game, the Ducks went on the road to play the unranked Cal Bears and only won 15-13.  That was a Cal defense that would allow three different teams to score 48 or more against them.  Cal finished with a losing record that year.  I’d say it’s pretty likely LSU has a better defense this year than that team did then.

The Cal (Berkeley) defense held Oregon to about 40 fewer points than the Ducks’ average in their 2010 matchup.

One of the best SEC offenses was the 1996 Florida. Early on the Gators beat #2 Tennessee on the road, but apart from that game the Gators averaged 54 points per game through the first 8 games.  Then in early November, the Gators escaped Nashville (hardly an intimidating road environment by SEC standards) with only a 28-21 win.  A few weeks later, Florida St. held Florida to 21 for the Gators’ only loss of the season.  Of course Florida would then run away with the national championship against the Seminoles, 52-20.

Florida’s Danny Wuerffel led the Gator offense to over 50 points per game before being brought back down to earth in Nashville and Tallahassee (pictured).

I don’t mind if people are picking Alabama to score 35, for instance.  Maybe this Alabama offense is able to produce points just as well as and just as consistently as 1995 Nebraska, who was only held under 40 twice and never below 35.  That was the only team since World War II that won each game by at least 14, but the team who got within 14 was unranked and playing in Lincoln.  I just need to see this year’s Alabama play a better defense than Texas A&M or Missouri to believe they’re better than that Nebraska team.  Despite the Cornhuskers’ having won the national championship in 1994, the voters in 1995 were skeptical of Nebraska and did not move them up to #1 until the Huskers had beaten top-10 teams in consecutive weeks.

Historical Precedent in LSU-Alabama Series

I can also refer to past games in the LSU-Alabama rivalry. I mentioned the 2013 game in the last blog. LSU didn’t keep Alabama very far below their average, although they were on pace to do so for most of the game. More relevantly to this blog, the Tigers had averaged 40 points per game going in, and Alabama held LSU to less than half of that average.  The Tigers have a lot of work to do if that’s the best their defense can do this year, one reason I think the Tide wins, but 27 points wouldn’t make it an impossible task.

Alabama teams of the last few years probably don’t compare to this one in terms of how strong the respective offenses and defenses are, but I think we may also be able to learn a little from 2011 and 2009.

People act like in retrospect the 2011 regular season game was destined to be in the single digits, but it really wasn’t.  I don’t remember the over/under, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t 16. Alabama was averaging 39 points per game and had only been held below 37 twice (27 @ Penn St. and 34 against Vanderbilt).  LSU had almost the exact same average despite having played Oregon and West Virginia, two eventual winners of BCS bowls. Only Mississippi St. had held the Tigers below 35 (like this year, LSU scored only 19 against the Bulldogs).

Granted the points given up were lower in both cases in 2011 but not ridiculously so. LSU has only allowed one team to score over 21 this year (but two right at 21).  They’d allowed two to score over 11 in 2011.  Alabama has only allowed two teams to score more than 14 points this year.  In 2011, they’d allowed double digits 3 times. So maybe not 9-6, but 20-17 wouldn’t be a shockingly low score.

I want to mention one other Alabama team, and that’s 2009.  That was Saban’s third year and his first team there that really tipped the SEC off about what was to come.  The Tide opened against #7 Virginia Tech and then played four unranked opponents, two in SEC play and one on the road. That’s not a body of work similar to what they have now, but in those five games the Tide scored at least 34 points in each one and averaged 40 points.

Patrick Peterson grabs an apparent interception in Tuscaloosa in 2009. The pass was ruled incomplete. LSU may not have won the game in Tuscaloosa, but a different call here could have changed the score.

The Tide went to #20 Ole Miss and point production fell by 45% as they only scored 22. A similar reduction in this case would result in the Tide only scoring 30. Ole Miss had a good defense in 2009, but maybe LSU’s is better this year. The Rebels did allow 33 to Auburn and 41 to Mississippi St. that year. I don’t envision LSU giving up that many to an unranked team this year.

Comparison to Other Games This Season

It’s odd for two teams in the same division to have only one common opponent at this point, but in this case it doesn’t tell us very much.  It was Ole Miss, who really didn’t have much of a chance in either game.  I think the games worth considering are ones where either LSU or Alabama had to get out of their comfort zone in some way.  The Rebels did not force either team to do that.

Again, the best team Alabama has played is Texas A&M, who I believe is justifiably outside of the top 25 in the coaches poll.  The Texas A&M defense, which made Mississippi St.’s Nick Fitzgerald look like a Heisman contender doesn’t compare favorably to LSU’s defense at all.  Mississippi St. scored a combined 16 points against LSU, Florida, and Kentucky, 12 less than A&M gave up.  The point being that we really don’t have a model when it comes to how Alabama does against a defense that can really affect an offense the way LSU’s affected Fromm of Georgia and Fitzgerald.

If it’s a similar game with Alabama holding the opposing offense in the low 20s, LSU will likely take at least one touchdown opportunity away that A&M couldn’t, especially given that A&M was playing in Tuscaloosa.

I haven’t seen anyone suggest this, but I did want to add a caveat. I wouldn’t be upset if someone thinks Alabama wins 41-34. That wouldn’t show LSU’s defense is almost as bad as A&M’s; it would show Alabama’s offense had to keep going in high gear the whole game when it could pretty much relax in the second half against A&M. I’d be surprised to see that much offense from LSU, but they did score 36 against Georgia despite settling for field goals 5 times and despite a quarterback who could only complete half of his throws.

A better measuring stick for Alabama offense (though the Tide defense did extremely well) is the Missouri game. That was the best comparison I could find to a tough game Georgia had to play (partly because it was on the road) before coming to Baton Rouge. Missouri had been the only team to score more than 17 against the Bulldogs (they scored 29) and the only team to come within 14 points (and that was despite a defensive touchdown by Georgia).

Tua Tagovailoa is sacked by Missouri’s 
Kobie Whiteside in Tuscaloosa on October 13.

For Alabama vs. Missouri, I’m more going to look to see what we can gather about things LSU might be able to do on defense.  Missouri did have the second-closest game with the Tide so far (after A&M), but more impressively (and more relevantly to this blog) the Tigers are the only team to hold Alabama below 40, and they did this in Tuscaloosa.

Giving up 39 isn’t that impressive on its own (unless LSU really does give up 41 without producing much on offense); but as I’ve said before, you can score into the 40s against almost anyone if you’re given easy points. Twice while the game was still competitive, Missouri committed a turnover deep in their own territory. So where it was 27-10 with 10 minutes left in the half, it probably would have been Missouri ball down only 17-10. I’m not that Alabama didn’t deserve to beat them like they did, but what I am saying is the Missouri defensive unit did even better than Alabama’s point total indicates.

It’s also somewhat impressive that Mizzou limited Tua to only 2 of 5 on third downs and 12 of 22 overall (though it was still an average of over 10 yards per attempt) with only one positive run. Missouri has neither a good pass rush nor a good secondary. I couldn’t get the stats on how many sacks and hurries they had against Bama, but I know they had one sack and no hurries against Georgia. That’s one reason LSU was able to limit Georgia to fewer scoring drives than Mizzou had.

LSU was able to improve significantly on what Missouri did with Georgia. Even if we cut out the defensive score, LSU roughly cut Georgia’s point-scoring in half. So I think the low end of Alabama’s point total (barring a disaster or freakishly low-scoring game) is a lot lower than some people have it. I would put it in the low 20s. So I think the route for LSU to win would most likely be LSU scoring between 24 and 31 and Alabama scoring 1-7 points fewer.

Prediction

My prediction is that LSU holds Alabama to 31, which is two touchdowns fewer than Texas A&M allowed, and that the Tigers score 24. I think chances are the Tigers score closer to their point total against Auburn and Florida than the point total against Georgia. Most other people seem to be picking either a narrow LSU upset or a complete blowout by the Tide, either of which could happen of course, but I think these are two really good teams and LSU is just slightly outmatched.

Betting Line & LSU Offense vs. Alabama Defense

In College Football, General LSU, Preview on October 31, 2018 at 6:05 PM

I’m going to do another blog after this about what to expect when Alabama has the ball, but for now I’m going to talk about the line and what to expect from the LSU offense.

I remember some disappointing Alabama games (see series blog for more), but even mediocre LSU teams have come within a touchdown in recent years, especially at home.  In fact, LSU hasn’t lost by more than 10 points to Alabama at home since 2002, when a man named Nick Saban coached the Tigers to a 31-point mauling at the hands of Dennis Franchione’s Tide.  That was also the last time Alabama scored more than 21 in regulation in Baton Rouge.

I also wanted to mention that the last time a top-5 team was a 14-point underdog at home, both the favored team and the loser of that game was Alabama.  You might remember a certain Iron Bowl game in 2013.

The famous Kick Six. I forgot how close Chris Davis came to being pushed out by the kicker.  The linemen never had a chance though.

So the 14.5-point early line makes it mighty tempting to take LSU.  One recent Alabama game (on the road though) gives me a little pause: the Tide won by 21 in 2013 (the season I just mentioned), but it was a tied game with under 5 minutes left in the third quarter.  I think that was the only recent game with a similar offensive production on both sides as I’d expect here.  Other than that game and the 2011 BCS Championship, every other LSU-Alabama game since that 2002 result I mentioned was decided by fewer than 14.5 points.  In short, a closer game seems more likely than not.

LSU was able to relax for the last quarter or so of a few games; but Auburn and Florida went down to the end, and LSU only really had a few minutes of leisure against the two Bulldog teams (Miss. St. ended the game theoretically within two possessions, and LSU was only up 13 against Georgia until about 4 minutes left).  I don’t think given Alabama’s inexperience in such games that they would do what they did in 2013 though.

On LSU’s side, Georgia was favored by 8.5 in early betting, and LSU won by 20 at home.  A few weeks before, Auburn was favored by 10, and LSU won by 1 on the road.  In the first game, Miami was favored by 3.5, and LSU won by 16 in Arlington.  So this wouldn’t be the first time that the Tigers out-performed expectations this season; and if LSU wins, it will be the third time they did so by more than two touchdowns.

RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire fights for extra yards at home against Georgia.  The Tigers beat the spread by four touchdowns.

I’ll discuss it more in the next blog, but the best teams I’ve followed in the last 27 or so years of really paying attention have been tested at some point. The most consistently dominant team I remember was Nebraska in 1995 (I’ll talk more about them next blog), but even they had a game against an unranked team at home that they could only win by 14.

LSU’s results against Auburn and Georgia also help my argument that this will most likely be the toughest game for Alabama.  LSU also beat Mississippi St., who plays the Tide on November 9.  Both that game and Auburn will be home games for the Tide, and the Georgia game (if it happens) would be in Atlanta with about half the audience on Alabama’s side.

In the last blog, I mentioned that it hurt Alabama in the computer that Texas A&M lost to Mississippi St.  It also hurts the real-life argument that the Tide really has been tested.  Alabama only had one extra score on the Aggies than Mississippi St. did (they won by 22 points rather than 15 points), although Texas A&M was in the Mississippi St. game a good bit longer.  Texas A&M justifiably fell out of the coaches poll and is now 25th in the AP poll.  Despite the Tigers’ loss to now-#13/14 Florida, playing LSU is a significant step beyond a #25-to-30 type of team.

The Alabama media, despite in many cases claiming it will be an easy game anyway, seems to agree that this will be the toughest test of the regular season.  I know they don’t think in unison; that was just a good example. 

I think Nick Saban made a good point on Monday that you can’t really apply the statistics from earlier to the Tide’s schedule going forward.  This is especially true on offense given that the A&M team I mentioned doesn’t have much of a defense. 

Saban was complimentary of Burrow as he tries to be of every upcoming opponent, but if you’ve been following LSU you could imagine that he was leaving out.  I’m going to leave out the ellipses, but I thought these were the key sentences about him: “Their quarterback play is well-formed.  They’ve got good receivers.  [Burrow] has been, I think a very very effective player.  He’s a good passer. He’s athletic enough to pull the ball and run it   They’ve got some very very good receivers.”

Saban also said LSU has the ability to be explosive in the passing game, which is true, but he didn’t even give Burrow one “very” when calling him a good passer.  The full sentence in my head ended with “but he’ll be lucky if he completes half his passes.”  Saban didn’t say anything about Burrow knowing when to step up in the pocket or throw the ball away when there is a pass rush outside of his field of vision.  Maybe I’m cynical by nature (or maybe I’ve listened to Saban point out problems with own teams often enough), but when I hear a coach talk about what can go right on the very best plays, I think of what can go wrong on the plays that aren’t so good.

Like this year, the best opponent Alabama had faced before the LSU game last year was Texas A&M.  Although A&M may be better this year than last year, I think last year was better preparation for LSU because playing A&M on the road was probably a good approximation to playing LSU at home. I don’t think you can make the same argument about the reverse this year.

In Alabama’s five SEC games before LSU last year, they gave up an average of 7.6 points, or about 2 ½ less than LSU scored. The average points given up in those games this year?  18.4. 

Last year the SEC average for the Tigers was about 22 points (1 fewer game though), and this year it was 28 points.  So whether you want to say Alabama will give up 11 more or LSU will score 6 more, I think if it were a similar game plan and similar circumstances, LSU would score between 16 and 21.

I think this year’s game being at home puts LSU’s upper limit more into the upper 20s (maybe even 30 or 31) than lower 20s though.  In Alabama’s two road games against ranked teams last year (then-#16 Mississippi St. and then-#6 Auburn), the Tide gave up 24 and 26 points, respectively.  As I think I’ve demonstrated, this Alabama defense isn’t as good as that one (though they can partly blame the offense for scoring faster).

I think LSU can only get above about 31 if something weird like the Georgia game happens (basically along with LSU playing them harder than anyone else has, the Alabama offense hurts itself a lot more than it has before and puts more pressure on the defense).  On the other hand, if the LSU offense hurts itself more than usual (basically if it looks like it did after the first drive and a half against Florida) and lets Alabama hold onto the ball most of the game, you could see LSU’s score going below the mid-teens and possibly into the single digits.

So I think the best to look at how you get there is that LSU will have to score about the top 45% of its range of points, and Alabama will have to score in the bottom 45% of its range out points for LSU to win (just to throw out a number, maybe 25 or more).  I’ll talk about the range for Alabama next time.  I might even give a guess as to the final score.