LSU / Auburn: The myth of the last second

It”s a shame that the incorrect and hysterical ranting of ESPN”s announcers following LSU”s brilliant touchdown pass to beat Auburn last night is being adopted as reality. “If that ball is incomplete – they lose. THEY LOSE!” said ESPN”s Mike Patrick after the touchdown.

“If he even bobbles that, the clock runs out!” followed Todd Blackledge.

Then, after a few moments of calm reflection following one of the most surprising and brilliant plays of the year, Patrick gave us this nugget:

“Here”s the situation – if that ball is incomplete, you have a timeout in your pocket when a field goal would have won the game. And you have blown it. And everything is gone. Your season is done.”

Um, yeah.

Here”s how things actually stood when when Demetrius Byrd came down with the pass in the endzone:

See the “:04″ up there in the score bar? That”s how much time was actually left when the play ended. The refs waited a couple of seconds to make sure Byrd came down with the pass and was in bounds, so that ran it down to :01. And don”t discount the hometown scoreboard guy effect.

If that pass falls incomplete or is bobbled, there”s still 2-3 seconds left on the clock. And Patrick”s “If that ball is incomplete – they lose …” comment is just flat-out ridiculous considering there was still 1 second on the clock after the completion … which runs more time than an incompletion.

ESPN opted for “good TV” over informed analysis, which is not surprising for a network that trots celebrities out to present the opening lineups as the actual game progresses without comment in the background and where a feature on Glenn Dorsey hanging out with a handicapped kid takes precedent over updating the viewers on Dorsey”s injury.

But ESPN”s manufactured drama is now being picked up by “journalists” covering the LSU win.

-”s Steve Megargee says “If the pass had been deflected or dropped, time may have run out before LSU (7-1 overall, 4-1 in the SEC) could have attempted a field goal.”

-”s Chris Low says “A bobble and an incompletion, and the game”s over with Auburn walking away with a one-point victory and LSU coach Les Miles being hanged in effigy in the Bayou.”

- also took that bait, saying “Were the ball, say, tipped by the cornerback in the end zone, perhaps that extra second falls off the clock, and Les Miles is given the warmth and love from fans and boosters rivaled only by Lloyd Carr in September”.

I guess that”s what happens when you write about what ESPN said, not what actually happened in the game.

- Even Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp apparently watched ESPN to decide how to react, telling the AP “If we tip the ball in the end zone, the game”s over”. Sorry, not true. Maybe, Will, if you recognized the soft spot in your defense the game might have been over, but the clock wasn”t an issue.

Yes, LSU cut it close. But the clock was manageable, and Matt Flynn managed it. That ball was either going to get caught, or the Tigers would have had a couple of seconds left on the clock.

Great call.

The ESPN announcers would have liked to see LSU call a timeout to set up a final heave to the endzone, but that would have played right into Auburn”s hands. What made the call brilliant was that LSU kept Auburn from thinking Flynn would go to the endzone.

That”s what makes a great call a great call – the other team”s not expecting it. And what makes for great game analysis and reporting is actually understanding what happened on the field. Too much to ask, I guess.

SEC Week 8 Predictions

LSU / Auburn has become the defacto battle for the SEC West, and unless Fonzie gets things turned around in Tuscaloosa, this year will be no exception. Both the No. 4* Tigers and the No. 17 Birds are coming into Saturday”s game with 3-1 SEC records, although the Tigers have much more on the line than “sure, we lost to Mississippi State – but we beat Florida!” Auburn does. The series of late has been defined by smash-mouth, old-school, low-scoring close games, with the home team winning in each of the last six contests. LSU leads with the run (232 yards per game), and Auburn excels at stopping the run (109 yards per game) – though not as well as LSU does (68 yards per game). Auburn is second in the SEC in total and scoring defense (LSU leads in both categories).

And with the Birds” anemic offense (10th in the SEC in total offense, ninth in scoring offense), they”ll need to lean on their defense to win this game. A final score of 6-3 is what Auburn is hoping for.

Coming off its 9-7 win over Arkansas, where Auburn held McFadden and Jones to a combined total of 85 rushing yards, the Birds are itching to shut down the Tigers” ground game, and they stand a good chance of doing that. So LSU needs to open up that spread offense I seem to remember seeing a few weeks ago and crack the Auburn defense somewhere other than the middle of the line.

If Early Doucet is back and in playing shape this week, that”ll go a long way toward success. I also think this is the week to work Ryan Perrilloux in for more snaps and balance the offense with something other than Jacob Hester plowing the line followed by a slant pattern pass. Innovation will be key to cracking Auburn.

LSU 20 – 13

Elsewhere in the SEC:

No. 15 Florida at No. 7 Kentucky – If the battered and bruised Wildcats beat Florida a week after surviving a marathon slugfest against LSU while the Gators have had two weeks to recover from and stew over their loss to LSU, it”ll mean Kentucky has arrived as a real SEC contender. I don”t see it happening. Florida 45 – 27

Vanderbilt at No. 6 South Carolina – The Cocks don”t have much of an offense, but they”re one spot ahead of Auburn in total and scoring offense in the SEC. Auburn beat Vandy 35 – 7. South Carolina 38 – 13

No. 21 Tennessee at Alabama – Tennessee and Alabama both feature pretty weak offenses (the Vols lean real heavy on the pass, though, which is Alabama”s soft spot), and Tennessee is plain horrible on defense, giving up the most points of anybody in the SEC. Whether Alabama can capitalize on the Vols” generous defense is questionable, however. I”ll go with Fonzie focusing on making Tennessee run and the Alabama home-field advantage. Alabama 13 – 10

Arkansas at Ole Miss – Congratulations to winless-in-the-SEC Arkansas for making this a completely meaningless game (winless-in-the-SEC Ole Miss, I knew you had it in you). Arkansas 17 – 9

Mississippi State at No. 9 West Virginia – Sylvester is a brave man for scheduling this game. West Virginia 48 – 13

* Rankings will be quoted as BCS ranking from here out.

SEC Week 7 Recap

Colt David”s 57-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation Saturday marked the point where LSU stopped playing like the national title contender they are and started focusing on not losing to Kentucky. That strategy, of course, went as flat as Charles Scott on fourth-and-two.

What happened to make LSU think “run it up the middle” was the only option in the third overtime; why didn”t Ryan Perrilloux take a snap after the 6:35 mark in the third quarter; why was Matt Flynn cut loose to throw a critical long-ball pick with 7:20 to go and LSU up three and why – in God”s name – did LSU run a Jacob Hester play with the game on the line and Jacob Hester out of the game?

I wish I knew the answers to those questions. Clearly these were errors in judgment by the offensive coaching staff that turned what should have been an ugly win by LSU over a talented Kentucky team into a disheartening loss. But overtime is a crapshoot, and little breaks either way can spell victory or defeat.

Instead of ragging on Crowton & Co. some more, let me focus on some positives:

- At the start of the fourth quarter, Kentucky was on a roll. The “Cats had just scored to bring the game to 27 – 21 and forced LSU to punt on its next series. Kentucky then drove 50+ yards to the LSU 11. But the Tigers held and Kentucky settled for a field goal to make it 27 – 24 instead of 27 – 28.

- After Matt Flynn handed Kentucky the ball back two plays later, the “Cats again drove the ball 50+ yards to the LSU 9. But again the Tigers held Kentucky to a field goal that tied the game at 27 instead of putting LSU down 27 – 31.

- The LSU defense played without Chevis Jackson and Kirston Pittman in the fourth quarter and without Craig Steltz for a bit of the fourth quarter and still managed to keep Kentucky out of the end zone.

- Clearly on the wrong side of momentum, LSU managed to eat up the last 4:21 of the fourth quarter and deny Kentucky a final chance to score, thanks in large part to a really gutsy run by Matt Flynn on third-and-10 and a beautiful sideline screen to Richard Murphy on third-and-11.

- Giving Colt David a shot at a 57-yarder to win it was an unexpected – and very good – call. He clearly had the leg, but hooked it just a bit.

Had LSU made the last-play kick or pulled out an overtime victory, the aforementioned tidbits would loom very large. As it happens, the lasting image of this game will be Charles Scott face-down in the turf a yard short of where he needed to be. That”s too bad, because LSU did a lot of things to keep this a game when it could have gotten out of hand.

Elsewhere in the SEC:

Hey, what do you know – the only game I didn”t get right was LSU. The weekend”s result can”t make the folks in Athens, Auburn and Tuscaloosa feel very good, though.

For the week: 5 – 1

For the season: 47 – 10

Les Miles hunts for the real killers

More to come on a proper Week 7 Recap, but after the game Saturday, Les Miles said to The Advocate (the Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper) about some penalties against LSU:

“I’m going to have to review it very closely,” Miles said. “It appeared to me that some of those penalties that aided drives, they should be reviewed.”

Then on Sunday he told the advocate:

“There seems to be a discrepancy with some of the calls that I must review more thoroughly.”

Leslie – the penalties did not cost LSU the game. Poor execution and questionable play calling did. Put down the TiVo remote and work on those things; forget about the penalties.

After the game Saturday, Miles did take the blame for the loss, as a coach should do. Focus on that – Auburn”s coming to town.

SEC Week 7 Predictions

So here we go. LSU passed the “gut check” against Florida and sits as the undisputed No. 1 team in the country. The Tigers” reward is to hit the road to take on No. 18 Kentucky for the first time since the Wildcats doused their coach in Gatorade and their fans rushed the field to celebrate the Bluegrass Miracle (I mean, they must know not to celebrate until you”ve won, so I have to assume they were just really happy for us).

Sounds like a setup for a Kentucky upset. And, sure, it could happen. Playing in the SEC, on the road, against a team that doesn”t necessary suck and has a lot of motivation to beat you is always a challenge. But looking at the teams, I don”t like Kentucky”s prospects in this game.

Sure, the “Cats are 5-1, and there was a time when it was believed they had two quality wins. But now, their victory over Louisville looks about as impressive as their win over Kent State, and Kentucky”s only other respectable win was over 3-2 Arkansas (three wins: Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga). And against South Carolina, former Heisman Trophy candidate Andre Woodson was embarrassed.

Against their weak schedule (Sagarin rank – 76), Kentucky has racked up a lot of points (42.7 per game) and yards (474 per game) with a balanced offense, but they netted far less than that against the Cocks (23 points, 384 yards) while yielding South Carolina 38 points and 342 yards. The reason – the Cocks” defense totally rattled Woodson.

Mr. Woodson, meet the nation”s No. 1 defense.

Defensively, the “Cats give up 24.7 points and 377 yards of offense per game. LSU puts up 37.8 points per game and averages 432 yards in total offense. LSU is balanced and can play the run, play the pass and play the spread. In four of LSU”s six games, the Tigers are their opposition”s highest-scoring team so far, and in all games the Tigers put up more offense than their opponents” average allowed.

So, in short, nothing surprises me in the SEC, and the Tigers could be brought back to Earth by a decent Kentucky team, but Les and the boys should take care of business.

LSU 45 – 24

Elsewhere in the SEC:

No. 10.5 South Carolina at North Carolina – North Carolina is 2-4 coming off a win against Miami, and three of their four losses have been respectable. The Cocks are 5-1 coming off a win against Kentucky, and two of their five wins have been respectable. Spurrier is gaining respect and Butch Davis is seeking it. I could see an upset here, but I”ll go with the Cocks. South Carolina 24 – 21.

No. 23 Georgia visits Vanderbilt – Hey, I”m gonna be in Nashville, too! The Dawgs were embarrassed last week at Tennessee, the “Dores were themselves and got blown out by Auburn. Third place in the SEC East is at stake in this one. Georgia 24 – 20.

No. 25 Auburn at Arkansas – Wins over Troy, North Texas and Chattanooga don”t impress me, nor does getting blown out by Kentucky. The Hogs have a lot to prove, and Auburn seems to have found an offense after a horrible start. Auburn 31 – 24

No. 26 Tennessee visits Mississippi State – OK, Vols, I believe you. Tennessee 41 – 13.

No. 43.5 Alabama at Ole Miss – Oh how Fonzie has fallen. Things looked so damned good after the Arkansas game, then came the OT loss to Georgia, the worthless performance against Florida State and the stinker win over Houston. The Tide should be happy they”ve got Ole Miss this weekend. Alabama 19 – 14

LSU fans smell like corndogs – and other thoughts

Outside of Louisiana (because nobody who lives there seems to know about this), the phrase “LSU fans smell like corndogs” appears to be gaining some traction. Apparently this was started by an Auburn fan visiting Baton Rouge a few years back, and I guess it”s supposed to be the Auburn equivalent of UGA fans saying “Florida fans wear jean shorts.” I find it funny that an Auburn fan would take the aroma of LSU tailgating as being that of corndogs. I guess that”s the height of fried food at Auburn games – the cuisine their fans associate with the fried-food smell. LSU fans absolutely end up smelling “fried” after a long day of tailgating, but that comes from boudin balls, fried turkey, things like the amazing etouffee-stuffed fried bread I had Saturday and – last weekend, especially – fried alligator. No self-respecting LSU tailgater would serve corndogs.

And if “you smell like corndogs” is the insult the rest of the SEC wants to lay on LSU, have at it. Auburn fans smell like people who watched South Florida and Mississippi State beat them.

Leslie”s Balls – As somebody who”s never been much of a Les Miles fan, I had to ask myself how his determination to keep the ball against Florida and LSU”s amazing success – seriously, who ever goes 5-for-5 on fourth downs? – in doing so changes my perception. Right after the game, my thought was that Leslie displayed a ton of guts, but I wasn”t sure if the calls necessarily showed him to be a great coach.

Later I learned that keeping the ball away from Tebow was a key strategy going into the game, and it was a good one. The Gators had the ball for a total of 2 minutes, 27 seconds in the fourth quarter, which left little room for Timmy to do his magic. It was a great gameplan, and Leslie showed the balls to stick to it when the decision to do so got really tough. He left the execution to his coordinators and his players, but the strategy and decision-making was his. That”s what a head coach should do, and Leslie did an outstanding job with the Florida game.

Today I am officially changing my stance on Leslie from “questionable” to “favorable”. I wanted the coach to prove me wrong this year, and so far he”s doing that.

Miles and Michigan – Les Miles is a Michigan Man; there”s no way around that. If the job comes open this year, next year or ten years from now (if he keeps winning), Miles will be a candidate, and he will think hard about taking it. I can”t fault him for that. Unlike Nick Saban, who nobody believed would stay in Baton Rouge forever, I could see Miles making LSU his long-term gig. But Michigan is a big-time job, and a Michigan Man rightfully would kill for the chance to lead that team. LSU fans realize this, and would wish Leslie well if he decided to go.

Now, if he left to coach in the NFL and re-appeared at Ole Miss a few years later, that would be another story. So, Leslie, if Michigan offers you the job and you want to take it, I”m cool with that.

Bo Pelini”s prospects – There”s a really good write-up on Bo Pelini at Yahoo Sports this week, with the crux being Bo should already be a head coach and no doubt will be soon. There”s no doubt about that. Pelini is a defensive genius and demonstrates the kind of leadership, drive and personality that would make him a successful head coach. He seems to be cut very much from the Nick Saban mold.

And he”ll get a head coach job, maybe this off-season. I just hope the timing works out so that if Leslie leaves for Michigan, LSU can elevate Pelini to head coach and keep that talent in Baton Rouge. If there”s anybody left at LSU from the Mike Archer days, that might be a scary thought, but Pelini is a keeper.

LSU tailgating from the Gator perspective – The generally excellent college football blog Every Day Should Be Saturday took a roadtrip to Baton Rouge for the Florida game and ended up with an astoundingly accurate depiction of LSU tailgating from the visitor”s perspective. The most significant observation is the unique LSU fan behavior of lobbing crude insults at the opposing team”s fans then turning around and offering them a drink and some awesome food. That”s the LSU way – we hate you, but we love a party even more … so come on in!

The blog hints at the other thing LSU is becoming known for – there are a lot more people tailgating than will actually go into the game. LSU estimated that between 160,000 and 170,000 people were on campus Saturday, and only 93,000 of them got into the stadium. I was among those who spent all day eating, drinking and socializing before settling in to the best TV experience I”ve ever had:

Tiger tailgating lends itself to not necessarily caring about getting into the game. It starts early, finishes late and the food, drink and fun as a standalone event beats just about anything else you could be doing on a fall Saturday.

I think LSU supports the idea of huge crowds coming out for Tiger game days, so I”d like to offer a suggestion. The university should set up a low-power UHF transmitter and broadcast the games across campus. The Florida game was perfect because it was at night and on CBS, but that”s a rarity. When ESPN has the game, the only way to watch is with a portable satellite rig, and those are still not quite common. Give every tailgate the chance to watch the game with a 13-inch Sylvania and a pair of rabbit ears, and you”ll get 250,000 people out to the games.

SEC Week 6 Recap

I intend (key word – intend) to write more about last weekend”s LSU / Florida game, Leslie”s guts, No. 1, corndogs, etc. sometime later, but before the week slips completely away, a recap of my expectations and results in SEC Week 6. LSU, of course, met the “gut check” ESPN was hyping and beat a very good Florida team Saturday night. I said it would come down to execution and mistakes, and 5-for-5 on LSU 4th downs and two Florida turnovers in the 4th quarter were examples of just that. No, I don”t want to see Florida again in the SEC Championship Game. Go Cocks!

I was right on South Carolina / Kentucky, Auburn / Vandy and the scrub games played by Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. My only miss was the Tennessee smackdown of Georgia. I haven”t been particularly impressed with Georgia, so this didn”t really shock me. There was just no way I was picking Tennessee after their Florida disaster and nothing to measure them by since then.

For the week: 7 – 1

For the season: 42 – 9

SEC Week 6 Predictions

This one”s going to be short and sweet. Kentucky and South Carolina are blaspheming with a Thursday night game, I”ve had no Internet at home for two days and I gotta pack for Baton Rouge tonight. I don”t see much point in deep analysis of No. 7.5 Florida visiting my No. 2 Tigers Saturday night. These are the top programs in the SEC and the game will likely turn on mistakes and execution. It could go either way, and neither way would surprise me. I”d be shocked at a blowout by either side, though.

Homer pick: LSU 31 – 28

Elsewhere in the SEC:

No. 7.5 Kentucky visits No. 16.0 South Carolina tonight. Are the Cats a top-10 program? I have a hard time buying that, but Kentucky has the chance to prove me wrong. Just beat South Carolina, LSU and Florida in the next three weeks. I like the Evil Genius here. Cocks 24 – 21.

No. 11.5 Georgia at Tennessee. I can”t pick Tennessee in this game after what Florida did to them. Georgia 31 – 17

Vanderbilt at Auburn. I”m going to assume the Tigers have their groove back. Auburn 24 – 20

Everybody else is going with scrub games, so Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all win.

SEC Week 5 Recap

Who would have thought playing an 11 a.m. game in New Orleans in the world”s ugliest uniforms would result in a sluggish start? Once the daquiris finally made their way out of LSU”s system just before halftime, everything started to happen like you would expect. The first-half problems were laid at the feet of LSU”s offense, which sputtered throughout 30 minutes of mistakes, penalties and breakdowns in protection. On its eight first-half possessions, the Tigers averaged just 12 yards per drive. Outside of the two scoring drives, the average LSU possession went for a scant 1.6 yards. And despite the pressure put on it by the inept offense and Bob Toledo”s bag of tricks, the LSU defense gave up only 7 points and 135 yards to Tulane in that first half.

In the second half, the LSU offense averaged 33 yards per possession and scored on four of their seven drives. That”s much more like it.

So, in the end, the Tigers ended up beating Tulane 34 – 9 while racking up 391 yards of total offense and giving up 88 yards on the ground and 227 total. Not bad for only playing about 40 minutes of football.

That performance, and the bumbling of USC in Seattle led the Associated Press to hand over their meaningless No. 1 ranking to the Tigers. Like Leslie said – those voters must have slept in on Saturday and missed most of the LSU game. USC was playing a conference game on the road; LSU was beating up on Tulane in a semi-home game. Neither played a great (full) game, so just based on last weekend”s results, I don”t see pushing LSU ahead. Of course, maybe the human voters are waking up to the big picture, but the No. 1 ranking is meaningless for a couple of reasons:

- It”s meaningless. The AP poll is wholly irrelevant. I”m sure there”s some blogger in Tampa who says South Florida is No. 1, and that bears as much impact on the season as the opinion of AP writers. LSU is No. 2 in the only rankings that matter.

- It”s early. LSU will face No. 7.5 Florida (4-1), No. 7.5 Kentucky (5-0), No. 33.0 Auburn (3-2) and No. 44.5 Alabama (3-2) in the next four weeks. If the Tigers don”t successfully run that gauntlet, they won”t be No. 1. If they do win these games, only a biased human could keep USC – which plays unranked Stanford (1-3), unranked Arizona (2-3), unranked Notre Dame (0-5) and No. 13 Oregon (4-1) in the next four weeks – at No. 1 ahead of LSU.

And I don”t like having the distraction of “being No. 1″ hanging over the game this weekend. Leslie is doing a good job of poo-pooing that notion, but it gives a little extra motivation to a wounded Florida team that already has a ton to play for Saturday.

Elsewhere in the SEC:

The Gators succumbed to a revived Auburn offense and maybe a little bit of looking past the lesser Tigers a week before the LSU game. It wasn”t the level of upset it”s being made out to be (this is the SEC, after all), but shame on me for not believing in SEC Justice.

Fonzie and Major Applewhite left their offense back at home, which gave Old Man Football a win in his first shot at redemption against his once-beloved Tide. I didn”t see the lack of Alabama offense coming.

All else played out as I picked. Stock rising for South Carolina, so the showdown (seriously – showdown) between the Cocks and Kentucky this week is a big deal now. Not much to glean from Arkansas taking apart North Texas, and Georgia posted what seems like a good win – though at least one Dawg fan might disagree.

For the week: 6 – 2

For the season: 35 – 8

SEC Week 5 Predictions

I”ve been distracted for most of the day mucking around in a desperate bid to rescue my iPhone from the not-cool firmware update Apple sent down (yes, I was dumb enough to install it), so let”s see what we have going on in the SEC tomorrow. LSU, of course, is taking on Tulane down in New Orleans (with those ugly but noble uniforms on). And in a preemptive move, Tulane has already taken their starting quarterback out of the game, saving him the pain and humiliation the starters in each of LSU”s first four games have experienced.

So the Greenies, who are 96th in total and scoring offense, will start a sophomore who”s attempted 16 passes this year (completing 9 of them for 75 yards and an interception). Good luck with that. And whoever is No. 2 on the depth chart now – stay loose on the sideline.

LSU 56 – 7

Elsewhere in the SEC:

Auburn visits No. 3.5 Florida. The reeling Tigers look to knock off the Gators for a second straight year; Florida looks for revenge (at home) against the team that turned Urban Meyer into a beggar on national TV. The way SEC Justice works … Auburn wins this game. The Tigers aren”t bad enough to be a team Florida looks past in anticipation of the LSU game next week, but the Gators may be tempted to do so. But given the Gators” scare last weekend against Ole Miss, I think Florida gets past Auburn. Gators 24 – 20

Florida Atlantic at No. 14.5 Kentucky. Yes, Kentucky is the third-highest-ranked SEC team right now. Any chance another small Florida school (currently 3-1) pulls one over on the SEC? Yes – this is Kentucky. But I”m not picking it. Kentucky 45 – 32

Ole Miss at No. 15.5 Georgia. The Dawgs are overly-impressed with themselves after beating Alabama, and the Rebels are overly impressed with themselves after not getting blown out by Florida. Georgia 34 – 24

Mississippi State at No. 19.0 South Carolina. So MSU is on a three-game win streak. Congratulations, Sylvester. Mention that at contract time. Cocks 28 – 17

No. 23.0 Alabama at Florida State. Bobby Bowden is from Alabama and has never coached against the Tide. Nick Saban probably doesn”t know that and surely wouldn”t care. Alabama 31 – 13

North Texas at Arkansas. Hogs 41 – 10

Eastern Michigan at Vanderbilt. Vandy 24 – 13

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