The high school player once cast as the savior to LSU's quarterbacking woes has decided to re-open his recruitment. Myles Brennan was one of the top ranked pocket passers in the country and Tiger fans have been eagerly anticipating his arrival.
This all changed Saturday when Coach Orgeron was hired as the long term LSU head coach. During his introductory press conference, I thought it was interesting to note that O went out of his way to state that he believes in a spread offense with a true dual threat quarterback. Dual threat Brennan clearly is not; although I believe he could still be a good QB should he decide to come to Baton Rouge.
Remember, high school players have to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their potential careers. DO NOT BE THAT GUY OR GAL THAT YELLS AT HIGH SCHOOL KIDS FOR CHOICES THAT AFFECT THE COURSE OF THEIR LIVES. It makes a lot of sense for Brennan to re-open his recruiting and re-evaluate what is in his best interests.
For Orgeron it's a bit of a tricky situation. This is not a popular development amongst the LSU fan base. Many believed Brennan to be the answer to their prayers, and I am intrigued to see if Orgeron and his staff can land a QB recruit that would inspire similar levels of confidence as that of Brennan.
On Thanksgiving Day, the LSU Tigers put on an appropriately gluttonous offensive performance as they defeated the Texas A&M Aggies for the 6th year in a row 54-39. When it was all said and done, the Purple and Gold amassed 622 yards of total offense against their former defensive coordinator John Chavis.
It was the most balanced and complete attack LSU has displayed all season, gaining 324 yards through the air and 298 on the ground. The outcome is made all the more impressive when you consider all the factors LSU had working against themselves, coming into an away game on short rest following a truly demoralizing loss at home on Senior Day. Additionally, there is the ongoing noise and distraction currently surrounding this program due to the coaching search.
The cherry on top was that LSU was down 4 starters, including their best pass rusher in Arden Key and their offensive and defensive leaders in Leonard Fournette and Kendell Beckwith. Without a tangible Bowl goal on the line, many of us questioned where the team’s motivation would come from. Still, despite all of this LSU came out and dominated from the start. It was a team that seemed eager to wash away the bad taste from last week and end a roller coaster of a season on a hight note.
Steve Ensminger is the Hero We Need, Not the Hero We Deserve
The tale of Steve Ensminger is truly a Shakespearean tragedy. Not afforded the benefit of merit, he completely saved the season by turning around a torpid, lifeless, and tedious offense despite being constantly told that no matter what he managed to accomplish, he would not be the next offensive coordinator of the LSU Tigers. When you take a look at the numbers Steve Ensminger has been nothing short of incredible. He truly is LSU Moses, the one destined to lead the Tigers out of offensive captivity. However much like Moses, the Promised Land will be denied to him due to a cruel twist of seemingly unfair judgement. Lets take a look at the record setting numbers that Steve Ensminger amassed while demanding offensive freedom for his people. Some of these numbers come from an excellent article on AndTheValleyShook by Billy Gomila.
Offensive Numbers Pre-Ensminger:
Total Scoring LSU- 84 Opponents- 67
Avg Total Yards Per Game- 339
Avg Passing Yards Per Game- 147.8
Avg Rushing yards Per Game- 191.8
Avg Points Per Game- 21.0
Red Zone TD%- 46.1%
4th Qtr Points- 0
Offensive Numbers Post-Ensminger:
Total Scoring LSU- 227 Opponents 113
Avg Total Yards Per Game- 475 Yards
Avg Passing Yards Per Game- 210.5
Avg Rushing Yards Per Game- 264.5 yards
Avg Points Per Game- 32.4
Red Zone TD%- 70.1%
4th Quarter Points- 61
It doesn’t take a mathematician to see what an unbelievable job Ensminger did at the helm of this LSU attack. Add to this the fact that during his tenure the Tiger offense twice broke the LSU single game rushing record, gained most total yards ever against an SEC Opponent, converted most first downs ever against an SEC Opponent, and on Thanksgiving became the first Tiger offense in school history to feature a 200 yard running back and 300 yard passer in the same game.
Throughout his 7 games in charge Ensminger’s play calling and instincts have been nearly flawless. So although he will be denied the Promised Land after freeing his people from captivity, it is only right that we should take a moment and appreciate how incredible of a job Steve Ensminger did with this year’s LSU offense. All the talk the next few days is going to be about “sexy offensive gurus” who will “fix” LSU’s offense. I don’t know about y’all, but Steve “Moses” Ensminger looks pretty damn sexy to me.
Exciting Hope for Next Season on Display
LSU will be losing a prodigious amount of talent next year. Leonard Fournette, Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, Kendell Beckwith, Duke Riley, Tre White, Ethan Pocic, Dwayne Thomas and others will no longer be a part of the Tigers come January. How reassuring then that LSU fans were given a glimpse of the future last night.
With DJ Chark and Russell Gage, and Dee Anderson all racking up impressive plays it seems as if the wide receivers are in good hands. Donnie Alexander did a fine job filling in for Beckwith, and Devin White proved why he has been a freshman sensation behind the scenes since day one. The running back turned linebacker had one of the most athletic strip recoveries that I’ve seen.
The plays made by these younger players last night is a testament to the consistent recruiting of the Miles era. Although you will be losing a ton of talent, there are plenty of young stars waiting in the wings to for their chance to shine. Oh yeah, there is also some guy named Derrius Guice who will be back next season. Since I have yet to work it in, here is Guice’s stat line from Thanksgiving: 37 carries 285 yards 4 TDs. My God… gluttony in the extreme.
The next few days hold colossal implications for the future of the Tiger program. Currently, it seems as if there are two true candidates left in the running for the head gig at LSU and they are Tom Herman and Ed Orgeron. Obviously, everything you hear should be taken with a grain of salt; however, you should also acknowledge that there lies a kernel of potential truth in each rumor and report as well.
The precedent set by coaches and administrators through the years of outright lying means that it is near impossible to sift through the informational madness.
It is my OPINION that LSU extended an offer to Jimbo which he denied. Next, I believe they extended a similar offer to Tom Herman. I then think Tom Herman’s camp (although this is constantly shifting) leaked the news to arouse the Texas senses. This is why myself and others were upset when the “news” broke during last night’s game. As per the outline laid out by Joe Alleva no offers would be made until the audition was done and Orgeron had been given his chance to see Alleva on his vision for the future of the school. I believe that Orgeron and the staff have ample reason to be upset.
Still, I also recognize that college football lends itself to shady dealings and sometimes the price of doing business may be breaking your word. Perhaps the duplicitous pursuit is merely the ends justifying the means. In the end though, it seems as if the coaching race has clarified itself a bit.
With the emphatic statement made by Orgeron last night in the big win over Texas A&M I am of the opinion that Coach O separated himself from the Gundy/Fedora/Feunte crowd (#NeverMikeGundy #NotMyCoach). However, biased as I am towards Orgeron, I believe Herman is still the number one choice. The bidding war about to take place for Herman will make for a great spectator sport so grab some popcorn. I believe that either Tom Herman or Ed Orgeron will be the next Head Coach of LSU, but madness is the reason for the season and you never know what will happen in Coaching Search 2k16.
I hope that good health and fortune find you on this fine Thanksgiving. Please send your family my love as well. I don’t mean to bother, but I must speak to someone and I felt there was none other to whom I could write.
I know I should be bursting with holiday joy at the moment but I find myself a bit curmudgeonly this Thanksgiving. Acute pangs of nostalgia for the Arkansas-LSU clashes of my youth call to me. Perhaps my yearning for the old enemy Hogs betrays my age, but I care not. Some of my most cherished memories growing up stem from attending the Arkansas-LSU games that were biennially held at Tiger Stadium.
Though, to be sure, there were not always positive memories, as I also remember yelling at my Father before locking myself in my room weeping, sure that he had jinxed a game in which the Razorbacks had achieved a last ditch victory in dreaded Little Rock. It is a series that will forever remain near and dear to my heart.
Now what do I have? A corporate-influenced manufactured mess of a game. While I certainly respect Texas A&M and believe them to be a fine and upstanding member of the SEC West, at first blush the matchup fails to arouse the senses. There are no harsh defeats or glorious wins from which to draw bitter resentment or fond memory. Worst of all, I was one of the most vocal supporters of the accursed change implemented two years ago.
I found myself awed by the baubles and riches of Texas A&M. An unbelievable fan base, with an unbelievable stadium, and a seemingly endless hoard of resources. Truly this was a program on the rise. A few years later however, and the rise has not come quite as quick as one would have expected. In the post-Manziel era, Texas A&M has been a respectable, yet consistently overrated program.
How depressingly appropriate then, that the same mixed description would describe that of our beloved LSU. In the end, a series that a short time ago seemed destined for greatness now finds itself lost amongst the cacophony of College Football Rivalry weekend. Two respectable regional powers meeting in the tilt in order to decide who is the MOST respectable, but not of much consequence to anyone else.
Now, I’m sure that given time, this series will begin to generate its own special moments and memories, and I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t any intriguing storylines floating through the air. For one, I am most excited to witness the Defensive competition between the Old Lion John Chavis and the Young Cub Dave Aranda. Both masterminds in their own rights, Chavis has 16 additional years of experience than that of his younger counterpart. Still, Dave Aranda is a bit of a prodigy and this game will help us glean who is the true master of his craft.
Additionally, there is no denying that this game is of great importance to Ed Orgeron and his quest to become the long term head coach of LSU. Should Texas A&M emerge victorious in College Station, than it is assured that Orgeron will not attain his dream. However, should he win, then it would mark a fine ending to a great audition and will keep him squarely in the thick of the LSU coaching search.
Hmmm, perhaps I was too rash to judge this series so harshly. Forgive me my dear friend, in my old age I view the past as though through a rose colored filter. After all, there’s certainly nothing wrong with being respectable. In fact, upon further rumination I suppose I do quite desire to be the MOST respectable. After all, we don’t wish for these Aggies to become too confident of themselves. We must consistently remind them that they have yet to defat us since their heralded return to the fine and upstanding SEC West.
I don’t know if I’ve drunk too much of the gaffer’s ale while writing you my friend, but I daresay I find emotions stirring in my breast! Even though the world at large will not care of our deeds, I will still relish the sweet taste of victory! Perhaps this shall be a fine Thanksgiving after all! Down with the Aggies and Geaux Tigers!
Tom Bobbo Bearfoot
PS When you write back will you be sure to include some of those Honeycakes you sent last time,
PPS I did not write you this letter sole for the Honeycakes, it just dawned on me it may appear so, still… they are quite delicious and I know my wife would most appreciate them…. Until next time my friend!
Coach Ed Orgeron’s dreams of becoming the next head coach of LSU took a potentially fatal turn last Saturday when the Tigers lost to the Gators despite being a 2 touchdown favorite. The game was truly heartbreaking, as despite crucial error after crucial error, LSU still had one play from the one yard line to decide it all. A play carrying the potential to have a major impact on the future of the LSU program as a whole.
In the end, it was one final crucial error that sealed the Tigers fate as Derrius Guice ran the wrong way and LSU fell to UF at home on Senior Day. The loss marks a proverbial opening of the flood gates as the search for the next head coach of LSU has now begun in earnest.
Do not misunderstand. This does not mean that Ed Orgeron does not have a chance of being the next head coach, rather he just has far less of a chance. Had LSU won out, a 6-1 Coach O heading to the Sugar Bowl would have made the decision very tough for even the staunchest of Orgeron opponents; however, the second loss provides those who would rather see someone other than O at the helm with ample ammunition with which to state their case.
It is strange to me that one game would make such a difference when you are talking about a decision that will span years and millions of dollars. It is even stranger that I understand why one game makes such a big difference. This “audition” was going to be judged on merit and merit is defined by wins and losses. There is still a case to be made for Ed O that starts with beating Texas A&M on Thanksgiving. After that, it will be up to O to sell Joe Alleva and the LSU power brokers on his vision for the future.
Orgeron remains an excellent recruiter and delegator who is beloved by both the players and fanbase alike. I still believe that Ed Orgeron would do an excellent job as the long term coach of LSU, but there is a familiar name waiting in the wings that has Tiger fans’ hearts a flutter… the Great White Buffalo… Jimbo Fisher.
There is no doubt that Jimbo Fisher has the most attractive resume of any of the potential hires that LSU is looking at. It starts with the all important National Championship. Many Tiger fans believe since they fired a National Championship winning coach they should hire one; while I believe this to be an unrealistic requisite, Jimbo does satiate this desire. More impressively perhaps than the sole championship, Fisher is 76-17 having won at least 10 games in 5 of his 6 seasons at the head of Florida State.
Sprinkle on 3 ACC Championships and you have a resume sundae that has Tiger fans salivating. There are no great arguments to be made against Jimbo Fisher. While I’m always nervous about the inherent risk of a full head coaching change, it cannot be avoided if you go anywhere outside of Orgeron and Jimbo appears to carry the least amount of risk. I still have questions about the public perception of LSU spending such unbelievable amounts of money on football while the academic side of the school struggles financially, but right or wrong, it does appear that money is not an issue.
The biggest issue with Jimbo is whether he would actually leave FSU for LSU. Fisher has a good thing going on at Florida State. The ACC is a respected conference that allows for a clear path to the CFB Playoff should you win, yet it is not filled with the top to bottom talent of the SEC West, nor is it occupied by a behemoth as powerful as that of Nick Saban.
While LSU remains an elite tier college football job, we must recognize that Florida State is one as well. The argument over which one is “better’ is subjective and in the end, a waste of time. Just recognize that the two jobs are similar in level of prestige and that LSU doesn’t have too many unique advantages over an FSU and vice versa.
So then, how do you lure Jimbo away? Money, and lots of it.
What happens then if Fisher turns down LSU to remain in Tallahassee? Welcome to Westworld. There are no rules here, and Joe Alleva can go any direction that his heart desires. At this point, the hire would be decided less by resumes and accomplishments and more by interviews and salesmanship of a vision for the future. Coach O remains a viable candidate in this bunch, as does UNC’s Larry Fedora, VT’s Justin Fuente, Ok St Mike Gundy (please no), WVU’s Dana Holgerson, and who knows who else.
As it stands now, it appears that Fisher remains the only resume that fans would deem acceptable. Once you move into this tier, all the pressure is on Joe Alleva to make the right choice because the future of the program rides on said choice. These are the type of decisions that make a break an Athletic Director’s legend.
Do you manage to snag the next big up and comer that shakes the foundations of College Football and returns LSU to being a perennial championship threat? Or do you follow so many of your peers into the desert of despair? Do you join the ranks of Texas, Tennessee, USC in wandering around the never ending dunes searching for a leader to restore you to the promised land?
The eventual answers to these important questions remain unclear presently, but what is clear is that we are living in turbulent times as LSU football fans. After more than a decade of stability and success, LSU’s future now hangs in the balance, and though this may be disconcerting, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t also terribly exciting.
The LSU Tigers and Florida Gators are set for a showdown at high noon, and there is more on the line than anyone could have imagined just a few short weeks ago. For LSU fans, this was a season that felt as if there was little left to play for after the second loss against Auburn, so needless to say when Alabama tacked on a third L, Tiger fans started looking up travel plans to Jacksonville for the Tax Slayer Bowl. However, college football is a funny game, full of unpredictable twists and turns that can lead to even the most unlikely of outcomes.
Because of this, the Tigers now have a Purple and Golden opportunity to head to the Sugar Bowl should they defeat both Florida and Texas A&M in these final two games. However, standing in their way is a tough Florida team that has ample motivation of its own. If Florida wins this Saturday they will head to Atlanta for a record 12th time. Should they lose, it will most likely be Butch Jones and the Volunteers being declared champs of the Least, I mean East.
On top of the postseason implications, this game will also have a major potential influence on the direction of the LSU program as a whole. Coach O is tantalizingly close to to establishing himself as the head coach moving forward, but it appears that Jimbo Fisher may be waiting in the wings.
Finally, there is the public bickering that took place between Florida and LSU following Hurricane Matthew. The eventual postponement of the original game, and the subsequent rescheduling turned both colleges into grade schools as they each accused the other of being a scaredy cat. Fortunately for us, the time for guesswork is nearly at an end. All the questions, hopes, and aspirations of these two sides will be decided this Saturday in Death Valley at Hiiiiiiigh Nooooooon (this is for all you McCree fans out there).
LSU Must Take Advantage of an Injured Florida Team
When this game was originally postponed many LSU fans saw a Florida Gator team that was riddled with injuries and came to the conclusion that it was one of a few reasons why the Gators did not want to play. While there may be some element of truth there, Tiger fans may have been noticing the speck in their opponents' eye while ignoring the plank in their own. If LSU had to play UF of the original Oct 8th date you would have seen a Tiger team in the Swamp without Leonard Fournette and with one of the top centers in the Nation in Ethan Pocic playing left tackle against one of the top defenses in the nation. Most likely, this would not have ended well for LSU, but what a difference a few weeks can make.
LSU now has Leonard Fournette back in the lineup, even if not fully healthy, and the offensive line is as healthy as they’ve been all year with the top 6 guys ready to roll. Unfortunately for Gator fans over the last few weeks instead of the Gator injury situation improving it has been exacerbated. Currently Florida will enter Saturday’s game missing 7 starters. Four of which come from Florida’s vaunted defense, including their top three tacklers in LBs Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, and safety Marcus Maye. Despite the injuries, this is a UF defense that is 2nd in the SEC in points per game, 2nd in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game, and 1st in the SEC in passing yards per game. This LSU offense MUST play well, and take advantage of the break that fate has given them softening up this nearly impenetrable Gator defense.
LSU’s Defense Should Dominate Saturday
This is a Florida offense that has really struggled at times. In a win over Vanderbilt the Gators managed just 13 points. In a loss against Arkansas two weeks ago UF managed just 10 as the Hogs handily defeated the Gators 31-10. It is a side that failed to score in the second half in a come from behind victory for Tennessee. UF is still without their starting quarterback as Austin Appleby steps in for the BoilerMaker Bowl (both Appleby and Etling are former Purdue transfers). LSU’s defense, on the other hand, has only become more dominant as the season has rolled on. The Tigers currently lead the nation having only given up 10 touchdowns on the year. Needless to say this should be a battle that LSU wins handily.
Send these Seniors and Juniors Out on the Right Note
Originally LSU was slated to play South Alabama this Saturday. It represented a very safe Senior Day. The perfect opportunity to send one of the largest senior classes out on a high note with an easy win. Following Hurricane Matthew, this Senior Day is now much more challenging. That said, with great challenge comes great opportunity. A convincing win over the Gators in front of the home crowd would be immeasurably more satisfying to the players leaving than an automatic cupcake win would be.
Remember, its not just a 19 player senior class playing their final Death Valley game this Saturday, but also a talented batch of juniors. Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre, Jamal Adams, and Davon Godchaux could all potentially make their final Tiger Stadium appearance this weekend. Many people question whether the circumstance or ceremony is a distraction given whats on the line, but I think this misses the point.
Although the Senior Day celebrations do cause a slight change to the routine (which coaches hate) it also reinforces everything thats on the line. In every Senior Day I participated in, I found the ceremonies to be less of a distraction and more of additional motivation. The ceremony drives home the fact that its one of the final times you will get to share the field with those you have worked so hard with over the years and it motivates you to play even harder.
LSU should win this game and move one step closer to a Sugar Bowl berth. As talented as the Gators are, the Tigers represent too much of a matchup problem for UF currently. Florida’s defense is just injured enough to allow for a now healthy LSU offense to have success. On the other side of the ball, the Gators offense just doesn’t appear to be a true threat to a Dave Aranda led defense that plays better and better every single game. In the end, I see LSU continuing their recent run of momentum with another convincing win that will set up a Thanksgiving Day Battle against Texas A&M with both Coach O’s and LSU’s future potentially on the line.
It may have been cold in Fayetteville Saturday night, but Coach Orgeron had LSU looking like it was Spring Break, as there were no hangovers allowed in the 38-10 dismantling of the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The win is especially important for the future chances of Ed Orgeron as the head coach of LSU as it marks the first time that O has separated himself from the recent Miles years. If Alabama caused the wound that put Coach Miles’ job in peril, than back to back losses against Arkansas was the gangrenous infection that finished him off. Coach O has now avenged both the Ole Miss and Arkansas losses from last November in impressive fashion beating the two sides by a combined score of 76-31.
Derrius Mr. Nice Guice is the best 2 Back in the Country
It is a sign of how dominant Leonard Fournette is that Saturday felt a bit like on off night for the premier back. He “only” had 17 carries for 98 yards and 3 touchdowns. Still, as impressive as this stat line is the offensive star of the night was Mr. Nice Guice. Derrius carried the ball 21 times for 252 yards and 2 TDs including a nail in the coffin 96 yard burner that ensued the Golden Boot would return to Baton Rouge.
On Sunday the talk will begin as to whether or not Guice needs a bigger role. In my opinion, this is manufactured drama. LSU fans should reassure themselves with the fact that they have the most intimidating one two punch in the nation when it comes to running backs. Leonard Fournette is still your main guy and when he needs a break or is having an off night you have Derrius Guice ready to pick up the slack.
This LSU Offensive Line Displayed Top Tier Mental Toughness
The talk around the LSU program this week was all about how Alabama outclassed LSU in the trenches. About how LSU’s offensive line wasn’t big or strong enough to hang with the Tide’s front. While this may be true, it is clear that this is less an indictment of the Tigers Oline and more a compliment to Bama. Pro Football Focus came out with an article this week that ranked LSU as the number 1 Oline in the Nation when adjusted for competition.
Don’t take this too literally, rather use it as proof that this remains a very quality group capable of dominating the majority of teams in the country. On the night, LSU averaged 7.6 rushing yards per attempt on 51 carries for a bone crushing 390 yards on the ground. My favorite part of how the O-line played Saturday was how they started. Following a week in which they listened to constant prognostication about how "LSU must get better on the offensive line in the future” they came out and dominated Arkansas from the jump. The big men up front cleared the way for 75, 18, and 80 yard drives to put LSU up 21-0 and put the game out of reach early in the second quarter. Ethan Pocic, Josh Boutte, Will Clapp, Maea Teuhema, Toby Weathersby, KJ Malone, and Garrett Brumfield take a bow.
I’m Going to Miss Watching This 2016 LSU Defense Play
No stats here, just musings. The defense that LSU and Dave Aranda have fielded this year has been incredible to watch. It is a group that features legitimate NFL talent on every single level and I fear that they will never get their just due when it comes to the great defenses in Tiger history. Arden Key, Frank Herron, and Davon Godchaux have been dominant on the defensive line. Kendell Beckwith has continued to show why he belongs in the pantheon of great LSU linebackers while Duke Riley has emerged as a legitimate NFL prospect after waiting his turn his first three years in Baton Rouge.
Jamal Adams has been the playmaking heart and soul leader of this defense while Dwayne Thomas has emerged as quite the playmaker in his own right. Tre White’s accomplishments and play speaks for itself. Unfortunately, many of these players will be gone next season. Which brings me to my other great fear, that LSU will not see another defense like this for a couple of years. With that in mind Tiger fans, enjoy these last two weeks and the bowl game because after that they ascend to Sundays.
LSU put an end to the dominant Arkansas run of the past 3 years (yes 3 years, Arky should have won in TS in 2013) and took the Golden Boot from the Mountains and have brought it back to Baton Rouge where it will be displayed as a token of the Tiger’s football dominion over our beautiful lands. Now that the greatest trophy in all of college football has returned to the Tiger Stadium it feels as if all is right in the world and the healing can begin.
The big quesiton is who will be the man to lead that healing. For Coach O the path ahead is clear. Win both of these final two games and you give yourself the best possible chance to be the long term head coach. However, the road remains challenging as LSU will welcome in one of the best defenses in the country in the Florida Gators for the 2016 Beef Bowl. After all, everyone knows the best way to settle an argument is on the field, so why not figure out once and for all who was right in #FoleyGate2016?
The Saints sit on the precipice of becoming a winner once again. New Orleans has the opportunity to rise above .500 for the first time since 2013. However, the challenge to do so will be great as the Black and Gold will face not one but both of the participants in last year’s Super Bowl within a five day span.
The NFL offseason is roughly 215 days long. The Saints’ bipolar regular season has lasted 61 days thus far. Meaning that after approximately 276 days of grueling training, intense studying, and brutal contact the Saints ultimate fate will likely be decided within the next five days, and what a five days it will be!
On Sunday the Saints will welcome in the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. Interestingly, to show you what a difference momentum and a few weeks can make, the 4-4 Saints actually opened up as 2 point favorites over the 6-3 Denver Broncos who have lost 3 of their last 5. The Saints newfound rushing attack will look to be impactful as the Broncos are 29th against the run giving up 128 yards per game. However, the Saints passing attack and excellent pass protection will be pushed to their limit by Von Miller and this Denver pass rush.
Still, the Saints have an unlikely hero in Zach Strief as he is currently the top rated Right Tackle in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. The wily old vet will face his toughest challenge yet in Miller who many consider to be the best pass rusher in the NFL today. Offensively, the Broncos are nothing to write home about as Trevor Siemian has struggled as of late. Denver is 28th in total offense gaining just 323 yards per game; however, they are 13th in scoring averaging 23.8 points per game.
Still, this Saints defense is an improving unit and with the ongoing return of Sheldon Rankins and Delvin Breaux, this is a side that might be able to once again do just enough to help the Saints win. If New Orleans can manage to keep rolling and win their third straight home game there will be no rest for the weary as they will hop on a flight a couple of days later to play the loser of last year’s Championship, the Carolina Panthers.
Following a close loss to New Orleans in the Superdome, Carolina has gone on to win two games in a row over the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. The wins have given Panthers fans a bit of hope that they too can fight their way back into the playoff hunt. Carolina will be tested greatly on Sunday as the Kansas City Chiefs come to town, but if they manage to win, then Thursday’s matchup suddenly carries significant playoff implications. The Saints win over Carolina in the middle of October was a battle, a game in which a furious rally from Cam Newton fell just short as rookie kicker Will Lutz nailed a clutch 52 yard game winning field goal. This is a game that the Panthers feel they should have won and will be looking for revenge next Thursday night. The Panthers have an advantage in that they will play in Carolina both Sunday and Thursday so the accelerated practice schedule won’t be as impactful as the team will be in familiar settings. Can the Saints stare into the maw of the Panther, and come out victorious?
The answer is unclear at this time, however it is now increasingly clear the impact that the five days from Sunday to Thursday will potentially have. If New Orleans manages to win both of these matchups, then you are talking about being at the forefront of the wild card race with a favorable schedule for the rest of the season... if New Orleans loses both of these games, then you are talking about a season that will most likely end in 7-9 disappointment once again for the 4th time in the last 5 years. Split them, and you are essentially treading water.
When viewed in this light, you see that these next five days have the potential to not only shape the final month of the season, but the direction of the franchise as a whole. What I mean by that is the fact that if the Saints manage to win both games and go on to make the playoffs, then all of a sudden all of the criticism of Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton would be lessened greatly. This renewed confidence in the front office and leadership would be a significant change of attitude from what we have heard and witnessed from fans over the vast majority of this season.
However, if you lose, then all the negative perceptions are reinforced and an already tenuous situation worsens as fans and ownership become increasingly dissatisfied with the product they are paying for. Does this discontent lead to seismic shifts in the direction of the franchise? No way of knowing right now, but I do know the next five days will give us an idea.
Tigers will travel to icy climes this Saturday when they head to Fayetteville to take on the dreaded Arkansas Razorbacks. This is a series that has been DOMINATED by the Hogs the last three years. When you factor in the spread from the last 3 matchups, Brett Bielema and the Hogs have won by at least 20 points each of the last 3 years. It is unheard of for a consistent underdog to dominate this consistently. For Vegas to be SO wrong for three years in a row tells me that Brett Bielema has coached circles around the Tiger staff in recent years. Which is why this Saturday mean’s so much to interim LSU Coach Ed Orgeron.
Outside of the Alabama game, this Saturday represents O’s best chance to separate himself from the recent Miles years. If we are being objective it is easy to surmise that Les Miles would have beaten Southern Miss, Mizzou, and Ole Miss and then lost to Alabama. Part of the gangrenous infection in the Alabama wound that eventually did Coach Miles in was the back to back embarrassing losses to the Arkansas Razorbacks. For two years the Hogs have taken the Golden Boot from LSU and in my opinion that is two years two long. If LSU is going to rectify their season and retake possession of the Golden Boot as their own, what will be the keys to the game?
Shut Down Arkansas’ PASSING Attack
But wait T-Bob… Arkansas is a running team, right? That’s what Brett Bielema has built his career on, a massive offensive line and a punishing rushing attack. So of course nothing is different this year, except that everything is different this year. Under the radar, Bielema and company have adapted to their personnel, and morphed this Razorback team into one of the top throwing teams in the SEC. Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen (younger brother of former Arky QB Brandon Allen) is currently leading the SEC in passer rating.
On the year Allen has completed 61% of his passes for 2294 yards for 18 TDs and 9 Ints. As ironic as it sounds, LSU’s best path to defensive success may be to keep Allen out of the game and force the Razorbacks to rely on a rushing attack that has been less than impressive due to its personnel turnover in the backfield and on the offensive line. Currently the Hogs are 9th in the conference with 167 yards per game and just 4.05 per carry. Most surprisingly, Bielema’s squad is second to last in the conference in rushing touchdowns. I like this matchup from the LSU perspective. The pass rush of Godchaux, Key, and Herron combined with the coverage skills of Adams, White, Jackson, and Thomas means that LSU should have success against the Hogs ariel attack. Still, these are the same matchups that LSU has had for the last two years and it hasn’t paid dividends. The key difference this year will be Dave Aranda stepping up and out scheming Brett Bielema’s staff.
LSU’s Offense Needs to Stay Poised after Last Week’s Beating
Although people may not be inclined to believe this after last week’s struggles, LSU’s offensive line is still one of the top groups in the entire country. In fact, Pro Football Focus has LSU’s oline as THE BEST oline in the entire nation when you adjust for level of competition. I don’t say this so that you take PFF’s word as gospel and get into arguments over whether or not LSU truly is the best O-line in the land, rather, I point this out to show that this offensive line is one of the premier groups in the country and last week’s game is not a true indicator this crew’s skill level. After last week’s demoralizing loss to Alabama, the offensive line will be critical to restoring the confidence of Leonard Fournette, Danny Etling, and this Tiger team as a whole.
Last year in Death Valley the Razorbacks held LSU to just 2 yards per carry. Two years ago in Fayetteville the Tigers ran 54 plays for just 123 yards. Bottom line is that the Razorback defense has dominated the Tiger offense for two years running, and the reason being is that the Arkansas front 7 has outschemed, and outplayed LSU’s front 5. Ethan Pocic, Josh Boutte, Will Clapp, Toby Weathersby, KJ Malone, and Maea Teuhema will need to prove they are up to the challenge and take the Golden Boot back for Baton Rouge.
LSU NEEDS to win back the Golden Boot. I know that there are plenty of Purple and Gold elitists out there who like to think the Golden Boot isn’t that big of a deal or that Arkansas isn’t on LSU’s level. To those who would believe such nonsense I name thee fool! I recognize that we tend to use the passage of time as the top metric when judging the value of a rivalry; however, a more accurate measurement of a rivalry is the quality of the games, and when I look at the LSU Arky series I see games of the highest quality. I see a series that promises excitement no matter who is the favorite coming into the matchup. I see a series in which the winner alternates every couple of years. I see a series that fulfills the three cornerstones of any legitimate rivalry - competitive balance, history, and proximity. LSU and Ark will face off for the 25th time since the two started playing every season back in 1992. The Tigers are just 14-10 in the past 24 years of this series.
It is time for Tiger fans to embrace this rivalry and embrace the Golden Boot! While the Boot may have originally been designed to be a meaningless token to add some legitimacy to the series, it has now attained legitimacy of its own. The Boot is more than just a beautiful golden sculpture of two of the best states in the US, it is a sign of regional dominance. It is a sign that when it comes to playing our beloved sport of football, NO ONE is better in our region than he who holds the prize. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of those pig suey screamin' Hogs puttin' their greasy hooves all over such a beautifully wrought trophy. I don’t care who the coach will eventually be, I don’t care how much talent LSU is losing next year, I don’t care what happens against Florida or Texas A&M, I just care about the Tigers taking back the Golden Boot and re-establishing themselves as the dominant football power in THE BOOT.
Unfortunately for Tiger fans, the song remains the same as LSU fell to Alabama in a familiar fashion Saturday night. In what was a knockdown, drag out, bloody battle, the Tide emerged victorious once again by employing a tried and true formula against the Tigers by refusing to yield even an inch to the LSU offense.
Never before have I witnessed a game in which incremental gains and first downs felt so impactful. This was a matchup that didn’t see a single point scored until the 4th quarter when Quarterback Jalen Hurts stepped up to the plate and on 3rd and 9 scrambled around for an Alabama touchdown to put the Tide up 7-0.
Never before have I witnessed a game in which a 7 point lead felt so insurmountable. Credit this Alabama defense. In the end, it's another disappointing loss for LSU that proves that while LSU might be closer to Alabama than many of their SEC counterparts, they remain far behind the Crimson Tide. Welp…
Dave Aranda and the LSU Defense Did an Amazing Job
We’ll start with the positive as we highlight what was an incredible performance by Aranda and this Tiger defense. Kendell Beckwith, Tre White, Duke Riley, and the rest did everything they could to will the Tigers to victory. Twice the LSU defense forced turnovers to give the ball to the LSU offense in Alabama territory only to come up empty handed. Essentially, the Tiger D caused three turnovers as they forced Alabama to turn it over on downs after the Tide had 1st and goal from the LSU 7. Still, in the end it was not enough, as the Tiger offense’s inability to gain a first down in the second half led to a slow erosion of this mighty LSU defense.
A Combination of Poor Offensive Line and Quarterback Play Doomed the Offense
We all knew going into this game that the LSU offense was going to be tested as they had never been before this season. Still, I expected the offense to perform better than what we witnessed Saturday night. In the end, LSU’s offense was clearly just outmatched and outmaneuvered by a superior Alabama defense. Saturday’s result called into question the theory that “bad play calling” was the downfall of LSU in recent years. Steve Ensminger varied his calls throughout the night and never became too predictable, yet it amounted to nothing in the end as Alabama’s defensive line dominated LSU’s Oline and Danny Etling.
The offensive line failed to open up any holes in the running game and set the tone early giving up 3 sacks in LSU’s first 9 plays. Etling himself wasn’t anything to write home about as he missed a couple of easy throws that could have potentially extended drives in the first half. In the second half Etling became so unnerved that he became wholly indecisive only leading to more sacks and further ineffectiveness. In the end, Leonard Fournette remained an afterthought. As amazing as Fournette’s career will end up being on Sundays, he will never be able to say that he bested or even impacted the Crimson Tide.
Credit Jalen Hurts and Alabama
So often when we discuss these games we take a very egocentric view. We only ask what OUR team did to affect the outcome; ignoring that there are two participants in these dances. And on Saturday night Alabama proved to be the far superior dancer. The Tide defense lived up to their billing. Because of their dominance Jalen Hurts was able to weather what was an incredibly tough first three quarters before finally breaking through in the fourth. In the final 15 minutes it would be Hurts’ ability to convert on 3rd and long with his legs that would make the ultimate difference.
For all the complaining, for all the excuses, for all the hindsight, there is no denying that Alabama simply outplayed LSU. This makes sense, considering Alabama is simply a better team. Now it is up to LSU to decide who they want to be. It is up to these seniors to decide how they want to be remembered. The Alabama game is now in the past. There is no changing the outcome. Over the next 24 hours LSU must process this loss and put it from their mind. There is much football left to be played and the formidable month of November has only just begun. It is up to the Tigers to prove that they are bigger than just one game and just one opponent and finish this season strong. Coach O will be greatly tested as he attempts to rally this team after such a deflating loss, but if he can do so he just might make a case for the LSU job in the long term.
Have you ever heard of the Punic Wars? They were fought roughy 2200 years ago, from 264 BCE to 146 BCE between Carthage and Rome. Essentially it was the ancient world’s version of World War II. A battle of sovereign super states fighting for control of the Western world. Both Rome and Carthage were the super powers of the region and eventually they decided that the world wasn’t big enough for both.
Full scale war broke out. Eventually, following more than a century of fighting, Rome would emerge victorious and wipe Carthage from the Earth. The colossal repercussions of this are plain to see. Our money still says E Pluribus Unum. Court systems around the world use Rome as an example. Our very system of government is rife with Roman echoes. As far as Carthage? Barcelona is named after the famed General Hamilcar Barca, father of the more famous General Hannibal. Does this story sound familiar yet?
Ah I see you already guessed where I was going. The arc of the Punic Wars perfectly mirrors that of the LSU Alabama football series from 2007 CE through present day. Two regional superpowers vying for control of the college football world. The clashes continuously escalating for years until they reached a crescendo in 2011. The two sides fought a winner takes all National Championship battle and much like the Punic Wars, the Red team emerged victorious.
Since that day, Alabama has gone on to dominate the college football landscape, while LSU has been reduced to a national afterthought. A school teeming with talent, yet unable to challenge the might of the dominant Tide. However, it was not as if Carthage was void of victory through the Punic Wars. Before the war’s end a leader would rise that would threaten Rome to its core. Hannibal, son of Hamilcar, is one of history’s most famous generals for the genius he displayed in handing three massive defeats to the vaunted Roman Legions.
It is from Hannibal that Tiger fans can draw inspiration. Though LSU’s eventual fate may lie in tragedy and ruin, the Tigers need only concern themselves with the battle at hand. Alabama may go on to continue to dominate the national landscape year after year with Saban at the helm, but on this day, nothing is decided. LSU doesn’t need to be the better program, they don’t need to spend more money, they don’t need to recruit better, they only need to play better on this day. This day in which LSU will attempt to restore hope to the Tiger nation that there is fight in them yet. Hope that they will not be kowtowed by the Crimson menace. Much like Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae, LSU doesn’t need a superior force to come away singing songs of victory. Rather, they need perseverance, superior strategy, and a dash of luck to encircle the Crimson Tide and crush them in Death Valley.
If the Tigers are going to come out of Saturday’s clash victorious, Generals Orgeron, Ensminger, and Aranda will need to plumb the depths of their minds and call forth all their cunning and guile. After all, Dictator Saban is one of the most feared leaders in all the college football world and he brings with him a seemingly unstoppable army. A fearsome fighting force that has made short work of their foes this campaigning season. If LSU and the Tiger nation is going to stand up to such an implacable foe what will be the keys to the game?
LSU’s Defense MUST Win First Down
Credit Lane Kiffen for the masterful job he has done at Alabama. Year after year, with Alabama it seems as if they lose a Heisman Trophy winner and signal caller from their backfield and yet don’t appear to be the worse for it. Like most great coaches, Lane Kiffen is a malleable mastermind. He is not opposed to making changes to his scheme to mask his players’ weaknesses while highlighting their strengths. This year is no different as true Freshman QB Jalen Hurts is flourishing despite his youth. Lane Kiffen has transformed this offense into a zone read run heavy scheme that takes to the air by putting the QB in a position to make quick and easy decisions. He doesn’t ask his players to do too much thinking, as the gameplan will do much of it for them.
Currently Alabama is running the ball 69% of the time. This sort of heavy ratio would lead you to believe the offense is one dimensional; however, that would be a bit of a misnomer. The runs are varied enough in both formation and style and contain enough pass options to make a defense feel as if it has 4 fours to put out yet only 3 buckets of water.
To be sure, the challenge is great. How lucky for LSU then, that they have a wunderkind of their own in Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda.
All the same glowing praise I heaped on Kiffen appropriately describes Aranda. A mad scientist that is constantly tweaking, tuning, and refining his scheme to match whatever the situation demands. Thus far, LSU’s results speak for themselves. The Tigers are currently 5th in the nation allowing just 15 points per game. Another one of Aranda’s greatest attributes is his ability to make in game adjustments. Look no further than the Ole Miss game in which the highly touted Rebel offense went from scoring 21 points in the first half to zero points in the final two quarters.
If Aranda and this defense can win on first down and force Alabama into second and long and third and long situations, then they force the Tide to become truly one dimensional. Alabama will have to rely on the weakest part of their offensive attack, throwing the ball. If LSU can accomplish this goal, than the Tigers can fully utilize the skill sets of pass rushers like Arden Key and defensive backs like Tre White. This side of the ball is doubly important to the Purple and Gold because this matchup represents LSU’s greatest potential advantage between the two teams.
It's Obvious, But LSU’s O-line MUST Hold Their Own in the Trenches
Throughout the week cases have been made for what LSU needs to do offensively. Some say the key lies in the two backs that average over 8 yards a carry, Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. After all, is there a comparable one-two punch in the country? Others believe the play of Danny Etling to be the most critical piece. After all, if LSU can stretch Alabama deep then the run game should open up as well right? Some believe the Wide Receivers the group that must step up the most. After all, they will be the ones fighting for the critical jump balls, no?
All of this is true. More importantly, what all of these strategies have in common is they rely on the offensive line doing their job against what is one of college football’s most fearsome defensive lines ever assembled. There are pro scouts who believe the six deep of the Tide’s D-line will eventually play on Sunday. The group is led by a defensive end Jonathan Allen, who is currently making a legitimate case to be the first ever defensive line Heisman winner.
Fortunately for Tiger fans, what at times looked to be a rather disappointing unit in the offensive has gotten healthy and has continued to improve throughout the year. LSU currently leads the SEC with 6.74 yards per carry and is 19th in the country having allowed just 11 sacks on the year. If Leonard Fournette is going to have success, if Danny Etling is going to be able to deliver the deep ball, it will all rely on the play of the offensive line.
As much criticism as Fournette received after last year’s game, many realized that the real battle was lost up front. Stalwart Senior Ethan Pocic must lead this group to play the game of their lives. They don’t have to dominate Alabama, they just have to do enough. If they can keep Etling relatively clean, and open up some holes for Leonard, this offense could have their first successful game against Alabama since 2012.
Alabama is the class of college football. Of that, there is no doubt. And if numbers and statistics were all that was needed to decide the winner of a game, well, the Tide would win them all. However, football is a funny game and fate a fickle mistress. The eerie magic of Saturday Night in Death Valley has a way of turning things upside down and inside out. Plus, 2016 has already been an odd sports year. Hell, with two NFL ties and the Indians losing in game 7 of the World Series it almost feels like 1997 all over again. Hmmm, what else happened in 1997? LSU beat a number 1 ranked team. In more ways than one, LSU will hope for history to repeat itself this Saturday night.