Wow, what a game! Sorry yall tonight's Hot Takes™ w/ T-Bob will not be as in-depth as normal as I am about to head over to Bayou Burger for the post game show!
The LSU Defense is Going to be Good for a Long Time
Tonight the Tigers defense played like the great defenses that LSU fans are used to seeing in Death Valley. Time and time again the defense stepped up to the plate and rose to the occasion no matter how bad of a hand they were dealt. The best part is that the players who were continuously having their names called are YOUNG. Jamal Adams, Davon Godchaux, Kendell Beckwith, Tre White, Rashard Robinson, ect these are all guys who can't leave next season! As in like, legally not allowed to! Yay for the NCAA!
Turnovers are the key to the game (or not)
Throughout the week all the experts and analysts (myself included though I am neither) were saying that if LSU was going to rise to the occasion and beat Ole Miss turnovers would be the key! Well, I wrote not long ago that football has a funny way of making us question what we really know and that was once again on display tonight as LSU lost the turnover battle to Ole Miss 4-1….. 4-1!
That is absurd especially considering that Ole Miss only gave the ball away on the final play of the game. It is a credit to this team's mental toughness that they were able to overcome all the early miscues and still win the game!
Death Valley is Where I Want My Ashes Scattered
My God I fell in love all over again with college football today. The campus was electric and it was impossible not to be in a good mood while walking around in this beautiful weather. Unfortunately I was not able to go to the game (see above about the post game show) but even through the television I could feel the magic of Tiger Stadium. The rising and falling cacophony emanating from the stadium made it almost impossible for Ole Miss to communicate all night.
Also, there is no doubt in my mind that these players played better because of the crowd. I myself have experienced that feeling. It doesn't matter how tired your body is there is a tangible energy that exudes from the stands and players can tap into it in order to play harder, faster, and stronger. What a game… Death Valley truly is the place where opponents dreams come to die.
The very essence of what makes college football so great will be on display this Saturday when the Ole Miss Rebels take on the LSU Tigers in Tiger Stadium. Saturday Night in Death Valley is a magical setting that produces timeless football games from which tales are told for generations. During LSU's storied history there have been many games in which it was thought the Tigers were not going to win, but the power of Tiger Stadium proved to be too much for the opposing team to handle.
Even through the TV it is possible to feel the pulsating energy emanating from the concrete cathedral of football. A steady hum of nervous excitement will slowly build throughout the day, the pressure continuing to mount before it peaks in a beautiful crescendo when the ball is kicked off. It is at this moment when the stadium truly comes alive. Death Valley takes on the form of an ancient, vengeful spirit. A dark, swirling mass angry at those who would dare step foot into it's domain with ill intentions for the Tigers. The spirit seems to imbue LSU players with extra abilities. Young men run faster, jump higher, and hit harder as Death Valley wills them to soar to greater heights.
LSU will once again look to call upon their old friend to meet the Ole Miss Rebels head on in a battle for pride. A battle for revenge. A battle that will decide who owns the modern era of this series. Let us once more unite with our base instincts and call upon the power of the swamp in order to repel the Rebel invaders.
Keys to the Game
As if it wasn't obvious enough from the intro, crowd noise will be critical to slowing down this Ole Miss attack. Bo Wallace has been excellent this season and has played virtually flawless football in SEC matchups. However, Saturday night Tiger Stadium will play host to more people than have ever watched a game in Baton Rouge. The new off season additions will be called upon to add every single decibel of noise they can. If Tiger Stadium was already legendary let us find out what it can be with 100,000+ going all out for four quarters. I don't care how composed Wallace and the Rebels may seem, they have a ton of pressure on their shoulders and pressure cracks pipes.
The home crowd can intensify this pressure by making it impossible for Ole Miss to communicate. In football there are two things that are absolute drive killers, sacks and pre-snap penalties. The crowd can have a huge impact on making both of these happen. While the average bystander won't be able to rush the passer he/she can yell their lungs out in order to stop the Rebels from being able to communicate their protections. Also, as an offensive lineman it is extremely tough to hold your water and not jump offsides when you are struggling to hear yourself think. I will be keeping a sack and pre snap penalty counter going Saturday Night in order to attempt to quantify what kind of impact the crowd has had. Ole Miss may be the better team, but a raccous environment can even the scales.
Les Miles & Staff Must Outcoach Hugh Freeze and staff
It has been said that the culprit for the LSU Tigers' struggles this season is the fact that LSU had 18 players combined leave early for the draft the last two seasons. This means that two years ago this was a much more talented, much more experienced LSU team. If you look at where Ole Miss was two years ago it wasn't even close. Hugh Freeze had just arrived and was attempting to piece together a program left in shambles by Houston Nutt. Yet despite all this Ole Miss took LSU down to the wire and if it were not for an Odell Beckham Jr punt return for a TD LSU may not have won 41-35.
Fast forward to last season and the talent gap had been closed somewhat but Ole Miss was still extremely young and was missing 6 defensive starters going into the game against LSU in Oxford. Despite all this, the Rebels managed to win the game 27-24 and hand the Tigers one of their most disappointing losses of the entire season. One can make a clear argument that in these two games Hugh Freeze and his staff outcoached Les Miles and his staff. Fast forward once again to 2014 and suddenly the shoe is on the other foot.
Two years of LSU talent leaving early combined with a couple stellar Ole Miss recruiting classes and the Rebels are the more talented team entering this match up. Some may be discouraged by this realization; if the Tigers already struggled when they were better how could they possibly win now? I believe, however, that instead of treating this as a negative the coaching staff should view this as a golden opportunity. It is the perfect chance to get one back on Freeze and show that two can make wine out of water.
Needless to say I am excited for this game. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing the LSU legend Billy Cannon. As I was talking to Mr. Cannon about his feelings on Ole Miss I realized the more things change the more they stay the same. On the surface college football looks wholly different than it did back in 1959 when Cannon returned a punt on Halloween night in order to beat the hated Rebels. Multi million dollar corporations and TV deals now dominate the Saturday landscape. Conferences have been realigned and old rivalries have become defunct.
Despite all this change the ESSENCE of what makes college football so great remains the same. Cannon spoke of the students and how eager they were to get a chance to beat the rebels. He spoke of the excitement pouring out of the stands and breathing new life into the players. He spoke of competition, prowess, and giving it everything you have got in order to help your team, school, and community go home proud!
THIS is what college football is all about and THIS is what will once again be on display Saturday night. Anything can happen. 60 minutes of madness full of peaks and valleys await us, here's to hoping the Tigers come out on top on the other side! GEAUX TIGERS!
The quarterback position has been a hot button issue for LSU in 2014 as Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris have been unsuccessful in their bid to secure the starting job and make Tiger fans sleep a bit easier at night knowing their program is in good hands. Ole Miss, on the other hand, has had no such issues as Senior Quarterback Bo Wallace is preparing to start his 34th game under center for the Rebels.
I don't believe it to be a coincidence that both Mississippi State and Ole Miss have senior quarterbacks and find themselves ranked in the top 5. Bottom line, QB is the single most important position on the field which makes this Saturday's matchup all the more worrying for LSU fans. If you have watched the last couple LSU vs Ole Miss games than you already know just how good Wallace can be.
Two years ago Wallace threw for 310 yards and 2 TDs along with rushing the ball 11 times for 54 yards and 2 touchdowns. On that day, however, Wallace also threw 3 INTs and the Rebels would fall to LSU 41-35. Last year, with revenge on the mind, Wallace had an incredibly efficient game that saw him go 30/39 for 346 yards with zero turnovers. This performance was good enough to lead Ole Miss to a 27-24 win in Oxford. As you can see, Wallace has been something of a Tiger hunter and the scary part for LSU fans is that he is playing far better than he ever has before.
Currently Wallace is on pace to break pretty much every single season quarterback record at Ole Miss. This includes total offense, passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, etc. (you get the point).
Remember now, this is a school that has had a few famous quarterbacks in its history. In fact, Wallace is currently tied with Eli Manning for the most 300-yard games in school history with ten of them. I would have never guessed how good Wallace would be this season after watching the first half of the Reb's opening game against Boise St. It was a half in which he threw three interceptions and looked as if he hadn't improved and maybe he shouldn't be the Rebels quarterback moving forward.
I don't exactly know what clicked in the locker room at halftime but Wallace came out firing on all cylinders in the 2nd half and hasn't looked back since. In the 13 halves of football since his initial struggles Wallace has thrown 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions. This includes not having thrown an interception in his last 94 pass attempts and he has yet to turn it over in SEC play. It is not as if Wallace hasn't been taking risks either has he is currently second in the SEC and tenth in the country with 82 passing plays of ten yards or more.
So whats the key to stopping Wallace? Perhaps if you jump on him early he will fold up right? Wrong, as far as the stats read, Wallace seems to get better as the game goes on. In the 2nd half of games this season Wallace is completing 71% of his passes for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. This completion percentage bumps up another 3 points if you start looking at the fourth quarter alone. What this tells me is that LSU will have a four quarter dog fight on their hands even if they make a couple big plays to jump out to an early lead, and God help the Tigers if Wallace and the Rebels start fast I'm not sure how LSU would keep up.
I believe the key to stopping Wallace is two-fold. The Tigers must make him uncomfortable in the pocket while not allowing him to use his considerable running ability to make plays. I know much easier said than done, especially when you look at this Ole Miss Offensive Line. Danielle Hunter has been great lately and he must continue to be great for the Tigers to have a shot. Hunter will have his work cut out for him when he goes up against the big Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil. The sophomore left tackle was one of Hugh Freeze's prize recruits a couple years ago and it is easy to see why. Tunsil was a freshman all-american last season and has already been named to the ESPN mid season all-sec and all–american teams. If you are a fan of watching top tier battles in the trenches the matchup between these two is sure to please. But forgive me, I digress… back to Wallace.
As you can see the Ole Miss signal caller is in the zone right now. He is a well-seasoned quarterback at this point and it seems obvious that the game has slowed down for him. When you combine his level of play with that of Ole Miss' defense the picture as to how the Tigers win this games gets muddier and muddier however perhaps there will be a bit of Halloween Magic in the air. Tiger Stadium will be electric Saturday night and this LSU team has no pressure on its shoulders. They can play with reckless abandon because they are already supposed to lose.
If they win GREAT! AMAZING! WONDERFUL! But if they lose its ok because its according to the expert's predictions. Many have argued that Coach Hugh Freeze out coached Les Miles the past couple years and Saturday's game presents the perfect opportunity for Miles to flip the script. If LSU manages to win this game with their sub par quarterback play and freshman laden roster it will truly be a statement game for Miles. The best way to accomplish this will be to shut down Bo Wallace.
On this week's edition of the WWL NFL Podcast, we talk midseason NFL QB rankings as we attempt to break up the 43 quarterbacks who have started into one of six different tiers.
- Tier 1: Elite
- Tier 2: Not Elite yet/anymore
- Tier 3: The Trent Dilfers (solid, can win some playoff games, but needs major help)
- Tier 4: Placeholders and Young Gungs
- Tier 5: Replacement Level (should be backups)
- Tier 6: CFL/AFL Stars
We also break down the last week's games while looking forward to this next week's, and we introduce a couple new segments with Lock of the Week and Sucker Line. Hit us up on twitter @TBob53 or @SethDunlap or you can email the show at WWLNFLPodcast@gmail.com!
The LSU Tigers surprised me once again with a dominating 41-3 win over the Kentucky Wildcats. I predicted that the game would come down to the last minute and once again I was WAY OFF. I crunched the numbers, compared the stats, and all of my "research" pointed towards these two sides being much more evenly matched than the 9+ point spread that was assigned to this game. Well once again Vegas has proven that they know much more than I do as LSU dictated the outcome of this game from start to finish.
LSU's special teams units were outstanding tonight. The success that the Tigers had in this phase of the game was made all the sweeter by the fact that it was these same special teams units that almost lost LSU the game last week against Florida.
Terrence Magee set the tone early with a 49 yard return that set up an easy drive (albeit one nudged along by UK penalties) that ended with freshman phenom Leonard fournette diving into the end zone to give the Tigers an early 7-0 lead. Tre White would pile on in the 1st quarter by adding a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the Purple and Gold up 17-0, but the Tigers weren't done yet.
Just before halftime LSU busted out an interesting kinda-onsides/kinda-not kickoff that gave the Tigers the ball right back and led to them entering halftime with a 27-3 lead. Kicker Colby Delahoussaye continued to be automatic as he was 2/2 on the night (by the way he definitely called bank) and punter Jamie Keehn had a nice night as well punting four times for an average of 44.5 yards.
So many times when covering football we get caught up in the offensive and defensive aspects of the game and we forget that there is a third phase. Well tonight, that third phase was on display as the Special Teams units for the Tigers set the tone and let Kentucky know early on that it just wasn't their night.
Terrence Magee did the number eighteen proud tonight. The SR running back has often been overshadowed by Leonard Fournette this season, yet tonight Magee reminded everyone why he was chosen to bear the most important of LSU numbers. We already mentioned TMG's excellent kick return to start the game, however that was not all that he would contribute on the night. Magee was unstoppable in the running game despite not having a ton of touches. #18 carried the ball 9 times for 127 yards (14.1 avg!!!) and found the end zone twice on a night in which it seemed he could do no wrong.
Overall Magee finished with a career high 220 all-purpose yards and in my mind was the MVP of this game. Terrence's success once again proves that LSU truly is a running back by committee school that values the hot hand. Rather than trying to pick and choose which running back will have the big game each week we should just accept that there is enough talent to go around back there and any single one of those running backs could be the key to victory.
I loved the way that LSU's defensive front seven played tonight. I knew coming into the game that LSU would be able to run the ball against Kentucky, but I was unsure about the ability of LSU's defense to stop the Wildcat offense. How unbelievably wrong I was. LSU allowed Big Blue just 217 total yards and the Wildcats converted on just 5 of their 17 3rd down attempts. Stellar performances by the LSU defensive line pleased me more than anything else. LSU fans should watch out for FR DT Davon Godchaux. I believe he has the potential to carry on the LSU tradition of producing excellent Dlinemen.
I loved the way LSU showed up for this game. I had this one pegged as a dogfight yet the Tigers had other ideas. Perhaps we judged this team too harshly following losses to two of the best teams in the entire country… then again perhaps not. The only thing I have learned from this football season is that I don't know a thing. At least we can put the "bowl eligible" conversation to bed. This LSU Tiger team is improving rapidly and will look to continue their success next week against Ole Miss.
The LSU Tigers are gearing up to face the Kentucky Wildcats in a match that looks wholly different then it did at the beginning of the year. Surely playing Kentucky in Death Valley was the least of Tiger fans worries, but football is a funny game and has a way of proving that we don't always know what we think we know.
In Kentucky's second year under Head Coach Mark Stoops the Wildcats have made a drastic turnaround fueled by creative and aggressive recruiting. In fact, Stoops' two recruiting classes are the highest rated in school history. The classes are comprised of a mixture of young talent, juco transfers, and players taken from states as far as Ohio.
The results have been impressive and immediate. 73% of UK's rushing output this season and 67% of its overall scoring has come at the hands of those who did not play for the Wildcats in 2013. Currently Kentucky finds themselves sitting tied atop the SEC East with a 5-1 record. This record includes an upset win over the favored South Carolina Gamecocks and a triple overtime loss in the Swamp to the Florida Gators. The further you dive into the statistics the more even the playing field becomes. The Wildcats proved in Florida that they aren't scared of the big stage and will be hungry to make a statement and strengthen their lead in the East. LSU will have their work cut out for them but I believe that the Tigers are still the better team.
Keys to the Game
AS ALWAYS, TURNOVERS ARE KEY
As I mentioned earlier these two sides are incredibly similar statistically. They are averaging within two points per game of each other. They both average 21 first downs per game. LSU is good for 20 yards more on the ground than the Wildcats but UK is out-throwing the Tigers by 60. LSU converts on 36% of their 3rd downs compared to Kentucky's 40% conversion rate. Kentucky allows ten more yards on defense and both teams give up 19 points per game.
When you look at common opponents, LSU beat ULM 31-0 while Kentucky defeated the Warhawks 48-14. LSU edged out UF in the swamp 30-27 while UK fell in triple OT 36-30. The key statistic (as it is almost every game) remains turnovers. Both Kentucky and LSU have been excellent in this department as the two schools are tied for 2nd in the SEC with +8 turnover ratios. Going into last weekend's bout with Florida, the Gators were number one in the SEC with that same +8 ratio. The Tigers won the battle 3-0 on the night and it is no coincidence that they won the game. I still think this Tiger secondary will give the Wildcat receiving corps a lot of trouble, but at the end of the day the pass defense will start with the front seven's ability to stop the run.
START FAST AND MAKE KENTUCKY ONE DIMENSIONAL
Kwon Alexander has really come into his own lately. The dominant level of play he has been displaying must continue this Saturday if the Tigers are to win. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the season has been freshman DT Davon Godchaux. The young defensive tackle plays with strength beyond his years and packs a powerful punch or, as the scouts would say, "dude's got heavy hands."
Kentucky currently averages about 180 yards on the ground with running backs averaging 6.2 yards per carry. The most impressive of the backs is sophomore Jojo Kemp who has 297 yards on 56 carries and is the key piece in Mark Stoops' "Wild-Kemp" formation where they line Jojo up at quarterback and let him make plays. Against South Carolina Kemp had 17 carries for 131 yards and 3 TDs.
The interesting part about Kentucky's running game is that although it doesn't look too dominant on its own, it compliments what has become an extremely efficient passing attack led by quarterback Patrick Towles. The sophomore quarterback is completing 62% of his passes for 1541 yards and 10 touchdowns while throwing only 4 interceptions. UK runs a balanced offensive attack and the best way for LSU to have success will be to manipulate the Wildcats into becoming one-dimensional.
I believe that perhaps the biggest talent discrepancy between the two teams comes from UK's receivers against LSU's DBs. If LSU can jump on UK early and show the ability to stop the run while simultaneously scoring points to force Kentucky into throwing situations I believe that the DBU moniker LSU has earned in recent years will once again come to the forefront as they come up with a couple big interceptions.
THE OLINE NEEDS TO PUT THE TEAM ON ITS BACK
It has become clear that this passing game is not going to scare any opponents. Earlier in the season I wrote that LSU needs to try and take some pressure off of the box by making teams respect the pass. However, after watching the Florida game, I now believe that the offensive line needs to step up and carry this team. I don't care how many people Kentucky wants to put in the box, the Tigers should be good enough to average at least four yards per carry.
The big men up front were supposed to be the backbone of this team and I feel that last week was the first time in which they lived up to that billing. It was no coincidence that one of LSU's best rushing performances came in the same game that RG Vadal Alexander won SEC Lineman of the Week. If LSU can manage to run the ball effectively against a loaded box it will force Kentucky to focus more and more on the ground game thus providing Jennings/Harris with the perfect opportunity to strike out of nowhere (think of the big pass plays Jennings hit at the end of last game).
Bottom line, LSU needs to use the ground game to open up the passing game. No excuses, the O-line must carry the day and I believe they are much more suited to doing so after such a positive outing last week.
On this week's edition of the WWL NFL Podcast we debate whether or not the Dallas Cowboys are for real. We'll also take a look at the week in review as we discuss the best games of week six and then we will look forward to week 7!
The further into the season we get the more apparent it becomes that parity rules the day and any team, can beat anyone else, on any given Sunday... see what I did there?
So sit back, relax, grab a drink, and enjoy the WWL NFL Podcast!
MMMMMmmmmm….. *munch munch*…. Mmmmm… I swear, this must be the best tasting crow I've ever had. I said multiple times leading up to this game that I just did not see how LSU would win the game. It seemed as if the deck was stacked against the Tigers. I said it would take someone stepping up in a way we had yet to see if the Tigers were going to win. Well it wasn't just one person who stepped up in the end, rather, it was the whole team. Last night's win over Florida belongs to every single player on that LSU sideline and although the game may not have held national relevance it was absolutely critical to a fanbase whose confidence was in the gutter. The conversation of whether or not LSU will be bowl eligible now seems silly and hyperbolic.
LSU has been excellent in the turnover battle all season, and it finally paid off
One of the most discouraging statistics I was rattling off coming into this game was the fact that LSU had won the turnover battle against both Miss St and Auburn and yet they lost those games badly. Coming into this game Florida was leading the SEC with a +8 turnover ratio. Florida was 22-4 when winning the turnover battle under Will Muschamp and 3-13 when losing it. The Tigers finished the night +3 on turnovers including the excellent pick by Rickey Jefferson to set up the game winning kick by Colby Delahoussaye.
Colby Delahoussaye has ice water flowing through his veins
Colby Delahoussaye had only missed one FG attempt in his entire career coming into this game. That is why it seemed so ominous when he missed an extra point early in the game. Throughout the rest of the night the missed extra point was gnawing at the back of my mind. As the game went on it was becoming clear that the missed extra point would be the difference in the game. I know that Delahoussaye must have been hoping and praying that he would get a chance to redeem himself and those prayers were answered in the form of a Rickey Jefferson interception that set up a 50 yard FG attempt to win the game. While Delahoussaye had trouble hitting from the two yard line, he had no such issue kicking from the 33 as he sent it straight throught the uprights and helped LSU avoid their fist 0-3 start in the SEC since 1999.
Leonard Fournette had a big time game
Buga Nation rejoice! The chosen one showed everybody why he was the number one running back in the entire nation last year. LSU gave Fournette the ball early and often and once #7 got going the coaches knew that he was their best option to have success on offense. Fournette finished with 27 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns. That is a 5.2 yards per carry average against what was the fourth ranked rush defense in the SEC (UF was only allowing 2.7 ypc coming into this game). Fans and media members alike have been critical of Fournette's play this year and It was great to see him silence the critics. Also, I'd be lying if I don't start to salivate at the thought of just how good he can be after the performance I saw last night.
The LSU Tigers and Florida Gators will square off for the 61st time on Saturday, but this year's edition doesn't have the amount of fanfare that both schools have become accustomed to. Over the past fifteen years both LSU and Florida have been consistently great programs that are in and out of the national championship hunt. The 2014 matchup, however, marks the first time in which neither team will be ranked since 1989.
Coincidentally this is also the year of my birth, which means for the first time since I have gained the ability to form words, both LSU and Florida will not be sporting a number next to their name. During this time we have seen the fall of the Soviet Union, Y2k, and Britney Spears kiss Madonna on the mouth. While I cannot guarantee that this Saturday's game will be as exciting as the aforementioned kiss, I do believe this will be a great measuring stick as to how bad each team truly is.
As of now LSU has lost to two top five teams and there is a chance that the Tigers might be better than we are giving them credit for. I still think that Florida wins, however and I will gladly stuff my face with a super sized helping of crow if proven wrong.
Keys to the Game:
Can LSU stop the run?
The LSU defense must prove that they are capable of stopping a major college Division I rushing attack. Wisconsin, Mississippi State, and Auburn all had huge success against the Purple & Gold on the ground. While porous may have been an apt description of last year's defense, I believe that this year's rush defense resembles that of a giant, gaping hole. Simply put, the Tigers have not been able to stop anyone. Wisconsin averaged 6.9 yards per carry while racking up 268 yards, Mississippi State threw down a 6.2 yards per carry average for a 302 yard total, and Auburn scampered for 298 yards on 49 carries which is good for 6.1 yards per rush.
Catch your breath… I didn't punch you in the stomach… that was just you realizing how desperate the situation really is defensively. On the positive side, Florida's rushing attack is respectable but not as the same level as the three schools listed here. In a 10-9 win last week against Tennessee the Gators were largely ineffective running the ball as they racked up 156 yards on 48 attempts. This is just a 3.3 average yards per rush and if the Tigers can emulate the Volunteers performance LSU might have a chance of stealing one away in the Swamp.
Can LSU run the Ball?
LSU wants to run the ball. In fact, I believe the Tigers ran the ball 17 out of their first 20 plays last weekend. The issue LSU is having is that they haven't been too successful despite their persistence. Against Mississippi State, LSU ran the ball 35 times for 89 yards. That is the football equivalent of repeatedly banging your head against a wall until you pass out. LSU improved slightly against Auburn gaining 138 yards on 36 attempts (3.8 avg).
While I enjoy the signs of improvement I remain skeptical of the running game's chances because Florida is bringing their own excellent rush defense to the party. Incredible stat here, since 1996 Florida has allowed SEC opponents just 3.3 yards per carry. The 2014 version of the Gators defense remains stout. Florida currently ranks 4th in the SEC allowing just 103 yards per game. More impressively opponents are only gaining 2.78 yards per carry. When you throw all of these different ingredients into the gumbo that is this game, it doesn't smell too good for LSU.
Depressing thought of the day
LSU has actually been quite good as far as disciplined football goes. This hasn't been a team that has cost themselves games because of their mistakes. In both the Mississippi State and Auburn losses, LSU actually won the turnover and penalty battles. Normally this is an indicator of success - however, the Tigers were so outmatched in other aspects of the game that these statistics were rendered irrelevant.
I expect both of these stats to play a big role in this matchup with Florida as the two sides are on a more even playing field. LSU will have their work cut out for them though as Florida is currently 5th in the nation and 1st in the SEC at with a +8 turnover margin. Florida may have played in one less match than the Tigers, but they have forced a school record 15 turnovers during these four games. This does not bode well for either Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris, as the Gator defense will look to prey upon their inexperience.
As you can see I am not very bullish on the Tigers chances this Saturday. Add the fact that The Swamp is one of the toughest venues in the entire SEC and it is not looking too good for the purple and gold. Watching these two offenses on Saturday will be like watching two people slap each other in the face with wet spaghetti noodles. I think Florida wins a low scoring game by seven but I would love to be wrong.
Saturday was one of the greatest days in the history of college football. LSU fans, however, may see it as one of the most forgettable. On a day in which five of the top ten teams fell, LSU failed to make it six as they lost to 5th ranked Auburn 41-7. The result was the worst for the Tigers in fifteen years.
To put that in perspective, fifteen years ago there were would-be Jedi and Sith Lords lining up weeks in advance for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (personally I love the prequels; I think it has become "cool" to hate on them). The Tigers second lopsided defeat in as many SEC games has thrust LSU into unfamiliar territory as they dropped out of the rankings for the first time in over eighty weeks. This now defunct streak was the second longest in the nation and for the first time since 2008 LSU will not be appearing with a number by their name.
In fact, Tiger fans are so discouraged that the new topic of conversation is whether or not they will be bowl eligible by season's end. I cannot remember the last time I thought about whether or not LSU would make a bowl, especially not this early in the season. I literally think I was too young. On the surface, the question of bowl eligibility seems hyperbolic, however when observed more closely, the Tiger's schedule reveals a tough road with no guaranteed wins. Even Kentucky, who is the worst team of the bunch, is riding a wave of positive momentum following a win over South Carolina. Personally I think when push comes to shove the Tigers will find a way to win two games, but if they are going to do so they MUST start faster.
LSU has been obliterated in their first two SEC games. In both games the Tigers fell behind early and were never able to recover. In fact, starting games poorly has been a big problem for the Tigers in 2014. During the first half against Auburn, LSU ran a total of 33 plays for a paltry 170 yards. AU, on the other hand, gained 247 yards in the first quarter and the enemy Tigers would go on to finish with 566 total yards, literally doubling LSU's own 280.
If you combine the first halves of the Mississippi State and Auburn games, Tiger opponents have gained 642 yards and 48 points. These statistics are tough to look at but they illustrate to fans that this year's Tiger team just isn't able to hang with the top teams in the SEC. That said, I expect the games to be closer moving forward as both Mississippi State and Auburn are excellent this season (can't wait to watch them play each other this Saturday).
I believe now is the time for Tiger fans to adjust their expectations for this season once and for all. LSU will be an underdog in almost all of their remaining matches and things may get worse before they get better. I, for one, will continue to watch and cheer for these players because regardless of how they are performing on the field I know they have worked their butts off. I will hope for victory, but expect nothing of the sort. I would advise you do the same.
On this week's edition of the WWL NFL Podcast T-Bob and Seth:
It seems Rome isn't quite done yet and instead of a full-on revolution the Chiefs-Pats game may have been nothing more than a political uprising.
We take a look back at all the big games from Sunday and look forward to the best matchups of the upcoming weekend. Do you feel better or worse about the Saints after Sunday's win over Tampa? Cowboys are preparing to play the Seahawks... are they for real? We also will hand out awards to the best players of the week and take your questions in our mailbag segment!
Saturday, LSU suffered its worst loss against Auburn since 1999. Coincidentally, the game in '99 and the game in '14 both finished with a score of 41 to 7. I tried to remain hopeful going into the game and I wrote an article in which I attempted to discern how LSU could win. At the time it felt as if I was grasping at straws. Now it seems as if I was attempting to conjure magic out of thin air. Bottom line, LSU is at a time in the program in which the Tigers are not as good as the majority of their SEC West opponents.
The team is too young and the loss of 18 underclassmen over the past two years has proven to be detrimental. However, that is not to say that there isn't hope for the future. This game reminded me of playing Florida in 2008 when the Gators beat the Tigers 51-21. The 2008 team would end the season 8-5 (3-5 in the SEC) and most felt the season was a disappointment. However, there were hard lessons being learned by young players… young players that would eventually go on to helm runs of 9-4, 11-2, and 13-1. The young guns on this team can learn from the experiences of the last two games. When you know what it feels like to be beaten this badly it motivates you to work as hard as possible in order to start handing out the beatings. LSU is currently in a downward cycle while others are soaring (The entire state of Mississippi anyone?) but I believe that the Tigers will start rising over the next couple years. The question is, how patient are LSU fans willing to be?
Doesn't matter who is in at Quarterback, the offense as a whole has problems.
Brandon Harris was faced with a seemingly impossible task and it seems the long odds were justified. Despite the hopeful optimism surrounding him, Harris' stat line against a quality opponent was no better than Anthony Jennnings. The true freshman finished 3/14 for 58 yards. The offense as a whole managed just 280 yards. Opponents still do not have to respect the pass. LSU's total yards look even worse when held up next to the Auburn's dominating total of 566. There are just too many mistakes being made by all position groups. LSU's inability to start a game on the right foot finds them constantly falling into holes that are too deep to climb out of. Simply put, this is not a very good offense right now and they are going to have to take their lumps.
The 3rd Down % statistic tells the story of this game
When I look at this box score there is one stat that jumps of the page. LSU was zero for thirteen on third down. That's right… not one 3rd down conversion on the entire night. This is the sign of an offense that is not executing in any phase of the game. This stat tells me that the problems on O are bigger than any single position group. Auburn on the other hand was six of twelve. Fifty percent. That's the sign of an offense that is clicking on all levels. Last season LSU converted on an incredible 57% of their 3rd downs. They also became the first offense in SEC history to have a 3000 yard passer, 1,000 yard rusher, and two 1,000 yard receivers. The ability to extend drives and inversely get off the field on third down is a great measuring stick for how good a team can be. Right now LSU can't do either.
LSU and Auburn have a couple things in common. They are both Tigers, and they have both been top tier programs over the course of the last decade and a half. In 19 of the last 20 meetings at least one of the teams has been ranked. In 15 of the past 20 matchups at least one has been ranked as high as tenth in the country. In 11 of the past 20 BOTH teams have found themselves in the top 25. This Saturday's matchup will add another tally to each one of these statistics.
LSU's running back group is still extremely strong.
I know that LSU's rushing attack struggled in the Mississippi State game, but I still believe that this is arguably the team's most talented position group. The offensive line has been up and down up to this point, but I expect them to continue to improve and cut down on the number of missed assignments. If Brandon Harris can at least make Auburn's defense respect the pass, this rushing attack should be good enough to have success.
LSU currently has three different backs averaging at least five yards per carry. Leonard Fournette has 322 yds/4 TDs, Kenny Hilliard has 298 yds/4 TDs, and Darrel Williams 144yds/3TDs. Terrence Magee is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and also has a touchdown. When I look at this I see a group that is extremely deep and diverse. They all bring slightly different skill sets to the table and four capable bodies are more than enough to make sure everyone stays fresh deep into the fourth quarter.
Look at how LSU was able to beat Auburn in 2013. It wasn't necessarily through the air. Zach Mettenberger was 14/22 for 229 yds with a TD and an INT. This is efficient yet not unattainable. Brandon Harris can replicate that stat line. Also this year's group of receivers continues to improve. It is scary to think about how high the ceiling is on Dupre, Dural, and Quinn. But I digress… the real key to last year's game was Jeremy Hill. He could not be stopped. Hill rushed for 184 yards and three scores (almost four). I am not sure if any one of these backs can replicate this performance on their own, however as a group, they can match and exceed these numbers.
Most games can be won by winning two out of the three phases of football
The three phases of football are offense, defense, and special teams. Much of the time in the media we tend to focus heavily on both offense and defense while relegating special teams to an afterthought. However, as the talent gap starts to close and games become more competitive, special teams are often the weight that tips the scale between victory and defeat.
If you want an obvious example of the impact special teams can have, look back to the 2011 "Game of the Century" versus Alabama. LSU did not win offensively that night, however the Tigers managed to win the game 9-6 thanks to a mixture of dominant defense and special teams. Everyone remembers the missed field goals from Alabama's kickers, however the performance that is often overlooked belongs to Brad Wing. LSU's Aussie punter was spectacular that night and helped the team by consistently winning the field position battle time and time again. I have never seen a game in my life in which the punter had such a discernable impact.
LSU place kicker Drew Alleman was a perfect 3/3 on the night while Bama's kickers were a combined 2/6. Tiger fans will be happy to know that LSU has continued this tradition of kicking excellence. LSU's placekicker of the last two years, Colby Delahoussaye, has the 2nd highest career field goal percentage in the nation with a mark of 94.4% (has only missed one attempt). The Australian punting craze continues as well with Junior Jamie Keehn. Keehn currently leads the SEC with twelve punts of fifty yards or more but he's more than just a strong leg. He has shown impressive accuracy as well with an SEC leading 13 punts landing inside the 20-yard line. He is currently averaging 46.6 yards per punt, which is good for second in the league. All this is to say that LSU can win the Special Teams battle. As far as the other two phases are concerned I think that LSU has a better chance of being successful offensively rather than defensively.
Can the defense stifle this Auburn attack?
There have been multiple writers much more talented than myself who have pointed out the similarities between Mississippi St and Auburn offenses so I will not attempt to do so here. Basically the two offenses operate in a similar manner. Against Miss St LSU allowed 302 rushing yards on 49 attempts, which averages out to 6.2 yards per carry. The Bulldogs also had scoring drives of 98, 73, 75, 77, and 88 yards. This is the sign of a team that is doing what they want when they want to. Auburn's offense is akin to this attack in that they both want to spread you out and then attack up the middle.
The problem comes in that once you over commit to stopping the run they have the ability to hit you over the top with a big pass. LSU looked completely lost against the Bulldogs, however, sometimes the most effective training is to take your lumps and learn from your mistakes. I believe that the rotation with Kendell Beckwith and DJ Welter at Middle Linebacker could have a positive impact on both players. One position to keep an eye on as well is the Nickel Back position. Because of Auburn's spread attack the Nickel formation (in which there is an extra defensive back on the field) expects to play a big role and Dwayne Thomas had been having an excellent season up until he got injured last weekend.
In steps five star recruit true freshman Jamal Adams. Everything I have heard about Adams up to this point has been positive and I'm excited to watch how he performs on such a big stage. Despite all this, I still believe the most critical part of this defense remains the interior defensive line. Quentin Thomas is out which means that LSU is down to just two DTs who have significant playing time this season. The Tigers MUST get contributions from Greg Gilmore, Frank Herron, and Maquedius Baine in some way if they are to be successful. A defensive line without a rotation against Auburn's overwhelming pace of play is doomed to fail.
This is but the first step in a grueling stretch of SEC games remaining on LSU's schedule. A win here could go a long way towards accelerating the confidence of this young team and maybe propel them to playing above their head. However, from a purely objective standpoint I believe that Auburn wins this game. This is not to say that LSU cannot win, but the odds are stacked against them. A win Saturday would be the 100th of Les Miles' time as the head coach of LSU. What a win it would be.
If you just look at the final score from LSU's game against New Mexico State, you would never guess that such an easy competition could hold so much drama. 63-7 isn't exactly a score line that screams of upset fans and home crowds boo-ing, yet all of this took place.
Anthony Jennings entered this match as a man on the precipice. There was plenty of grumbling the entire week leading up to the game over whom the starting quarterback should be. Many felt that Jennings performance against Mississippi State was uninspired and Brandon Harris' furious rally at the end of that same game convinced swathes of Tiger fans that Harris was exactly what LSU needed. I'm sure Anthony Jennings knew of everything that was on the line going into this otherwise boring matchup with the Aggies and he was ready to do his best. Unfortunately the game could not have gone worse for the young sophomore quarterback.
Jennings fumbled on his first drive, punted on the second, and then threw back-to-back interceptions to end the next two. In a game in which he needed to play his best he had done anything but and I felt for him. Anthony Jennings didn't set out to have a bad game, they just happen. I believe that Jennings knew about the pressure that was on him and in an effort to secure the job he ended up pushing a bit too hard. By the second interception you could tell that Jennings was off his game. He wasn't doing the things that had won him the job in the first place and the boos raining down from the crowd were getting too him. It must be incredibly tough to be his age and feel as if the fan base for the team you have devoted yourself to wants you out the game. It is one of the unfortunate realities of playing quarterback in major college football. You don't get paid like a professional player but you sure do get treated like one.
The fans finally got their wish when Jennings was taken out the game and Harris inserted. Number six immediately seemed to turn the tide of the game. LSU quickly went 80 yards in 11 plays to score just their second touchdown of the game. Harris only threw the ball once yet the offense did seem to run more efficiently when he was on the field. Harris would go on to lead 7 touchdown drives in as many attempts and captured the imagination of Tiger fans everywhere. "Surely this is the quarterback that will right the ship and save the season!" Harris finished the game 11/14 for 178 yds and 3 TDs. On the year he is now 22/30 for 394 with 6 TDs and 1 int.
These stats are very impressive and I believe that Harris has earned the starting job by making the most of his opportunities, but I would caution fans about setting their expectations too high for the young man. When Harris entered the game Saturday it was about midway through the second quarter. I only bring this up because in my experience in games against lesser opponents this is around this time in which the better team starts to pull away no matter how the game started. I myself was a part of many matches where we started slow only for pure talent to win out in the end. Point being, the offense was going to be successful on those next few drives no matter what. Now I think that Harris obviously outperformed Jennings but going into a packed Jordan-Hare stadium is slightly different than playing in garbage time against a checked out Mississippi State team, and wholly different than anything he saw against New Mexico State. We mentioned earlier how harsh the life of a starting SEC quarterback can be and Brandon Harris is about to find out first hand. This next stretch of games would be tough even for the most veteran of signal callers yet the 18-year-old Harris will attempt to shoulder the load of entire school and fan base as one of the toughest stretches in recent memory lays before him.
Much like Frodo and the fellowship, Brandon Harris and LSU are faced with a seemingly impossible road ahead. Back to back away games at Auburn and Florida are nothing to scoff at even when the Plainsmen aren't ranked #5 in the country. Follow that up with games against Kentucky, Ole Miss (ranked 11), Bama (ranked 3), Arkansas, and Texas A&M (ranked 6) and you have yourself a group of enemies almost as powerful as the Nazgul. There will be tough times ahead. The question is how will LSU respond.
If the first couple games don't go well will the Tigers give up and quit? Or will they continue to fight and try to improve? I still think this Tiger squad can win any one of these games but it will be an uphill battle. I would advise fans to be patient with the young quarterback as football is a team game, and LSU, arguably, has more pressing concerns than the person taking the snaps.
LSU has struggled to stop the run this year as both Mississippi State and Wisconsin had their way with the rushing attack. The defensive line depth (or lack thereof) has put a strain on the defense as a whole as the Tigers are unable to consistently win the line of scrimmage. Up to this point LSU has only used three different players in significant points of the game and with Quentin Thomas hurting his arm (the one without the torn bicep) that number has dwindled to two.
As much as everyone will want to keep an eye on Harris I find myself more intrigued by who will see increased playing time at defensive tackle. Maquedius Baine, Greg Gilmore, and Frank Herron were the subject of much offseason praise and they were expected to contribute early and often yet to this point the young men have been largely absent. How will they respond when pressed into action? For as much attention as Harris will get over the next few weeks the key to success may lie in this group's ability to step up when the level of competition is the highest. Needless to say these next seven games will harden this young team and the future will be all the brighter for it. The question is how will LSU fans handle the struggle that is required to get to the top?