Delusional Optimism, LSU Style

Each year, it seems that LSU football loses a ton of talent and we are left to wonder if this will be the beginning of the end of the Tigers’ run of success that began way back in the last decade under Nick Saban.  As the Valley Shook put up a good post recently describing this annual phenomenon:

Before the 2010 season, popular wisdom was that The Decline had begun at LSU. The Tigers had failed to win 10 games in either of the past two seasons, and both Arkansas and Auburn had seen their win totals increase for the past two seasons. Of course, those win totals had never exceeded LSU’s, but still. Miles was doomed and the LSU Golden Age was at its end.

Reflecting this opinion, the assembled media at SEC Media Days voted LSU to finish fourth in the West prior to the 2010 season. LSU had never finished fourth in the West under Les Miles, and this was a clear statement from the SEC media: the good times at LSU were at an end. The Decline was here.

That’s when one lonely blogger predicted LSU would win 10 games in 2010, for the simple reason that LSU was loaded with talent and had a track record of success. He then gave the piece a tongue in cheek title: Delusional Optimism.

LSU won those ten games and finished second in the West, behind the eventual national champion Auburn Tigers. In 2011, the SEC media picked LSU to finish second in the West. LSU won the SEC title. In 2013, the SEC media picked LSU to finish third, and LSU finished secondin the West.

Okay, the media did pick LSU to win the West in 2012, but that was before Mathieu’s suspension which caused the AP poll to re-vote and drop LSU from the top spot. LSU still finished second in the West, the only time Miles has failed to live up to the general media’s expectations.

That’s a good effort at putting things in perspective.  Generally speaking, folks assume the decline of LSU football is at hand, but each year, Miles’ team tends to out perform expectations.

I have to admit, this doubt of the Tigers is occurring again this year and I’m part of this camp.  I wouldn’t imagine a huge drop off for LSU, but it seems reasonable to give an account for the huge losses of talent that have occurred over the last couple of seasons.  ATVS would like to disagree, though:

Well, we’re back to doing what we do best: running it down your throat and relying on the defense to make stops. The high roster turnover has one major positive: there’s only three three-year lettermen on the roster. The BCSCG really is in the past. LSU goes back to being the team it has always been under Miles which, frankly, make me feel more comfortable. I know this team. I know this style of play. And I like it.

I don’t totally disagree with this logic, but I’m not sure, for this season at least, that this logic makes sense.  Usually in the SEC, you figure a stout, talented defense, plus a meat-grinder running game would equate to wins and championships, but lately, the irrational is becoming the norm.  Teams are HUNH-ing, trying to out-hustle and out-score opponents and defense is an after thought.  Basically, I’m not sure if LSU can keep up with some teams, despite their talented roster.

LSU’s Offense in Good Hands for 2014?

I wasn’t thinking so given this:

Junior receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are likely headed to the draft, as is third-year sophomore Jeremy Hill. Up front on the offensive line, it’s still hazy but conceivable that left tackle La’el Collins and right guard Trai Turner could also depart for pro ball.

Factor in the loss of starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, as well as the possibility of Alfred Blue spurning a fifth year and junior Kenny Hilliard also moving on, and, well the math is very similar to the equation LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis had to crunch last offseason.

Apparently an LSU beat writer thinks differently.  Mainly because of…

First and foremost, while replacing guys like Mettenberger, Beckham, Landry and Hill isn’t a simple task, there is traditionally a much smoother transition for younger, inexperienced players on that side of the ball than on defense.

And then…

Secondly, at the quarterback spot in particular, LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is getting a jump start on next season with the spectacular emergence of freshman Anthony Jennings in the season finale against Arkansas.

Could this beat writer be reading a little too much into Jennings’ “spectacular emergence?”  We shall see, I guess.

More LSU Post Game: “Challenge accepted”

Saban and Belue

You’ll have to admit, things looked rather bleak for the ‘Bama defense at half time of Saturday night’s LSU game.

The Tide was physically whipping the Tigers on first and second down, but couldn’t get off of the field on third downs.  LSU was 6-of-7 in third down conversions in the first half.

Alabama fan boards were in melt down status and, I’ll have to admit, from my vantage point on the couch, things didn’t look good.  I thought that statistically things had to average out sooner or later, but, on the other hand, wondered if Zach Mettenberger had indeed dialed up another Johnny Manziel-Stephen Garcia type of I’m-on-fire-all-night mode.  Like I said, things looked bleak.

The second half, as it turns out, was a different story.  This AL.com article sheds some light on what happened in the Alabama locker room at half time:

“I just told them at halftime, ‘Look guys, you’ve got to cover them,'” he said. “‘We’re not playing split safeties all the time and keeping somebody behind you. We need to pressure the quarterback, we need to affect the quarterback. We’re going to have more of an attack mode and you’re going to have to cover them.'”

Senior cornerback Deion Belue, who has played with a nagging toe injury but looked as healthy as he’s been in months Saturday, embraced the added responsibility. His colleagues in the secondary followed suit.

“He put us in man-to-man, so it was all on us,” Belue said. “We had to bring our best in the second half and we did just that.

I love this.  Saban essentially says, “We’ve taught you the technique, we have the right game plan, but we can’t baby you any more.  Just cover them.”  He kicked the training wheels off and pushed them down the street.

And, you know what?  It worked.

This brought back memories of Alabama – Arkansas 2010.  The Tide was trying to defend its 2009 national title and Hog quarterback Ryan Mallet was trying to eat the lunch of Alabama’s rebuilt secondary.  And he did for a half by throwing for 250 yards in the first two quarters.  But something happened at half time of that game, too:

What actually happened, Saban said, was that his defense grew up and quit playing scared.

“We were much more aggressive,” Saban said. “We were so worried about making mistakes in the first half, we played plain vanilla. The best thing (the Razorbacks) do is when you try to rush four guys and cover with seven, the guy (Mallett) will eat you alive. You’ve got to try to mess with him, get him out of rhythm, get some pressure on him, show it on this side, do it on the other side.

“That was our game plan, and we didn’t do it in the first half because we were afraid. We were making mistakes on the basic things, so we assumed we would make mistakes on more difficult things.”

‘Bama limited the Hogs to three points in the second half of that game, too, and won 24-20.

I think that game was won by Saban making the same adjustment:  kicking the guys out of the boat and saying sink or swim.

Our guys swam Saturday night and I think we’ll see this secondary getting better and better in these few games we have left in 2013.

First Day After Thoughts: LSU

All in all, the game played out a lot like I expected, although I did expect the defense to play than they did in the first half.  LSU has some play makers and they made some plays.  Their defense isn’t dominant and, eventually, ‘Bama’s offense took over the game.  Once the Tide was two scores ahead and the clock was against LSU, the pass rush became much more effective.  The running game and play calling in general was a little out of sync in the first half.  I expected a faster start by the offense, but AJ McCarron and the offense seemed tight and the play calling was way too predictable.  

But in the second half, things wore on in our favor.  We decided to run the ball no matter what and LSU basically couldn’t stop it.  You gotta love that.  A few more thoughts:

* Wow, what a physical game.  No matter which is your team, we can all be proud of the physical, hard-fought way the game was played.

* If ever there was a targeting call to be made, Kevin Norwood was on the receiving end.  I don’t like the rule, but that was a text book example of why the rule is a rule in the first place.

* Funny how we found a pass rush once the Tide made them one-dimensional.  Getting up by two scores was huge because it shut down their run game and let the bulls loose.

* I was not a fan of the first quarter play calling.  Maybe the holding call on the opening kickoff took ‘Bama out of its offensive game plan, but the offense was way too predictable for much of the first half.  And, again, that played right into the hands of LSU’s offense.

* I wasn’t a fan of the clock management at the end of the first half, either.

* T.J. Yeldon ran like a beast and Kenyan Drake complemented Yeldon perfectly.  Yeldon is a hoss and Drake runs like a 100 mile per hour fastball.

* Did ‘Bama drop like four interceptions?

* Not a fan of Zach Mettenberger mouthing to the crowd on the way to locker room at half time.  He might want to save that for after the game.

* The Tide should also jump a few notches in the sack category as well.

Final Thoughts: LSU

Well, when you’re Alabama all the games at this time of the year are big.  This one’s big on it’s own.  LSU.  Two losses or not, this is the only team in the SEC that can physically match the Tide.  They are big, strong, fast and have lots of skill players on both sides of the ball.  This year’s Tigers may be a bit younger, but they are just as big and strong and talented and fast.

With two weeks between games, that has been, of course, tons of talk and analysis.  But if you want to see how the game could go, I suggest you go back and take a good look at the last seven minutes or so of game time from last year’s clash.  [The video is below.]

At one point in the fourth quarter, LSU had run 74 plays to Alabama’s 47.  There are two things to blame for this.  One, Alabama’s offense played out of sync all night (until their final drive).  Second, the Tide could not get LSU off the field on third down.  As you will see in the video below,  third and six was not all that uncommon – and that’s usually where a Nick Saban / Kirby Smart defense wants it’s opponents, but Zach Mettenberger played huge most of the night and made throw after throw.  And despite all of that, the defense held the Tigers to 17 points.

So, here’s the dime store analysis for you:  the offense has to step up tonight.  Of course we need points (duh), but we need consistent play from the O.  We need to show the LSU defense we can move the ball on them, we need to put pressure on the LSU offense and make them play from behind, and we need to keep our defense fresh.  Makes sense, no?

T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake also need to hold onto the football.

Like I said earlier this week, I think AJ McCarron shines tonight.  I also said Alabama 31 LSU 21 earlier this week and I’ll stick with that, too.

Roll Tide!

LSU: 5 More Things to Think About

Yesterday, I mentioned a few things to think about concerning this Saturday’s game against LSU.

If you are a perceptive reader, and I know you are, you picked up that yesterday’s thoughts had more of a negative flavor.  These were possible bad things that could happen – and if they do, we have trouble winning.  Today, though, I want to look at the other side.  These are a few more things consider, albeit with a more positive flavor…

1) Expect the offense to be aggressive from the start.  I think the Tide offense will be wide-open from the beginning and I think this for several reasons.

  • A quicker tempo helps to eliminate any big-game jitters;
  • ‘Bama has the offensive tools to do this – quarterback, line and receivers;
  • We need to get ahead, stay ahead and make LSU play from behind.

2) Expect a big game from O.J. Howard.  The freshman tight end has sparkled at times this year, but mostly, he’s been kept under wraps.  Howard presents match-up nightmares and there’s no better time to exploit this than against the Tigers.

3) Expect T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake to shine.  There’s probably not a more talented running back duo in the league.  I don’t expect Nick Saban and Doug Nussmeier to put the game on their shoulders – that spot is reserved for AJ McCarron, but I do expect these two talented runners to play a major role – especially in the second half.

4) Don’t worry about the defense.  In conference games, LSU is a middle-of-the-road offense.  They only rank 6th in yards per game with 436.8.  They have talent – they always do – but what they do is fairly simple.  They run the ball with Jeremy Hill and then Zach Mettenberger chunks it down field to Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr.  I wouldn’t be surprised if LSU scores a bit, but I also will be surprised if they can sustain moving the ball the entire game.

5) Expect a big game from McCarron.  This will likely be the first game all season where all of our offensive weapons are loaded and ready to go.  For most of the year, since the competition was suspect, I’ve felt like we’ve played with one hand behind our back.  LSU is the best, most talented team on the regular season schedule, so expect all of the weapons to be used if necessary.  And McCarron is the guy pulling the trigger on those weapons.  All of this games against the Tigers have been memorable.  In the 2011 regular season, he played tentative and was responsible in a big way for losing the game.  In the 2011 title game, he carried the load and brought home #14.  Last season, he orchestrated one of the most memorable comebacks in Crimson Tide history.  This year, I believe he’ll play his best game yet against LSU.  The offense was lethargic for most of the 2012 game.  I don’t expect that this year.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCarron operate the hurry-up with four wides and then go from there.  Whatever, though, I expect him to have a big game.