LSU / SEC Week 8 Picks

The Tigers are back in action (if you can call it that) against the War Eagles of East Alabama Male College this Saturday. LSU stands at 5-1 on a one-game losing streak; Auburn at 5-2 on a two-game losing streak. But there is a giant perception gap between the two teams. LSU has a human poll average of 9.5, while Auburn is considered the 39th best team by the human pollsters.

So the question going in to this weekend is: Where do perception and reality cross with these teams? It’s a question I struggle with.

On body of work, LSU has a single win over a non-patsy team with a winning record (4-3 Georgia). Auburn also has just one (5-1 West Virginia, which itself has a questionable resume this season). On stats, LSU has a very poor offense (112th in total offense) and a decent defense (35th in total defense) while Auburn has a very good offense (No. 8 ) and a poor defense (No. 72).

LSU lost to No. 1 Florida in a game that reflects its character (no offense, decent defense – though thoroughly gamed by Urban Meyer) while Auburn lost to Arkansas and Kentucky (both 3-3) in games where their offensive production diminished greatly. And that’s a trend that started against Tennessee. Going in to Knoxville, Auburn was averaging 526 yards and 45 points per game. But in the three games since, Auburn’s production had dropped by 143 yards and 24 points per game. And the big problem is in the passing game. Before the Tennessee game, Chris Todd had just one game where he threw for fewer than 250 yards (against MSU, when Auburn ran for 390 yards). Since then he has thrown for 235 yards (UT), 133 yards (Ark) and 95 yards (UK). His sole TD pass against Tennessee was his last of the season after tossing 12 in the first four games.

Could it be the return of Todd’s “dead arm”? I wouldn’t call it live at this point.

LSU, on the other hand, has been a fairly consistent, unspectacular team. Leaving aside the Florida game for the moment, LSU’s offense operated in a pretty right range through its first five games. The low yardage total was 263 against MSU and the high was 368 against Georgia. There’s a consistent balance between rush / pass yards (except for the MSU game) and a scoring range in each game between 20 and 31. There may not be much to like about the LSU offense, but there’s at least an identity.

Until the Florida game, of course. But I think it’s important to understand Florida’s defense (No. 2 nationally in total defense) is simply much better than LSU’s offense. The Tigers certainly could have done more in that game, but the stats there aren’t too concerning as a trend. Come Nov. 7 at Bama (No. 1 total defense), it’ll be a concern, but not this week.

Defensively, after being burned for 478 yards by Washington and holding Vandy to 210, LSU has also operated in a tight range. The best showing was against USL (272 yards) and the worst against MSU (374 yards). Nobody has put 200 rushing yards or 250 passing yards on the Tigers since the Washington opener, so there’s a measure of consistency there.

So what’s the reality? I think it’s this (right now): LSU is a decent team that is missing some key elements. Surely not the No. 9.5 team in the country, but that identity is apparent. Auburn, on the other hand, has become something of late that doesn’t resemble the team that started 5-0. It seems that they have themselves a quarterback problem again, and that weakness exposes the known problems on defense.

Might Chris Todd return to early-season form? Maybe. But given his “dead arm” history, recent performance and what I saw in the Kentucky game, I’m not going to count on it. At the least, LSU needs to make him prove himself. Focus on the run, give Todd some opportunities to hit single-covered receivers if he can. Maybe he does that and LSU digs itself a hole. But that’s clearly where LSU needs to be defensively.

After the Florida game, I think it’s a given that LSU will open up the offense. OK, “a given” is too much faith to put in Leslie & Co., but I would hope that’s the case. A return of the mysteriously-absent Russell Shepard, getting Jordan Jefferson out of the pocket and – God I hope – no more Jefferson running the “option”.

Once again I’m projecting a prediction on what I think LSU should do in the game. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

LSU 28 – 17

Elsewhere in the SEC:

Tennessee at No. 2 Alabama. I expect to see the Florida Crompton (11-19, 93 yards, 2 INT) rather than the Georgia Crompton (20-27, 310 yards, 1 INT, 4 TD) in this game. Tennessee might be able to keep Bama’s run game in check (Vols are No. 31 in rush defense), but they don’t have the horses to overcome Fonzie’s defense.

Alabama 17 – 10

No. 1 Florida at Mississippi State. MSU isn’t quite as bad as their record indicates (3-4 with wins only over Jackson State, Vandy and Middle Tennessee). They’ve averaged 26 points in their four losses (Auburn, LSU, Georgia Tech, Houston), so they can move the ball. But they gave up an average of 38 points in those games. Should the offensive brownout at Florida continue, might the Bulldogs have a chance? A slight one, perhaps. But Meyer and Tebow are too good at game management to let that happen.

Gators 38 – 26

Arkansas at Ole Miss. If ever there was a chance for Ole Miss to regain some respectability, it’s this game. The Rebels have shown absolutely nothing to like this season. Amazing stat: It looks good that Ole Miss held UAB to 121 yards passing until you see that the Blazers got 23 – yes, 23 – passing yards against Southern Miss. And 74 against Texas A&M. Sorry, I can’t buy the defensive stats of the Rebels (No. 23 in total defense), and their offense shows no reason to like them.

Arkansas 48 – 20

Vanderbilt at South Carolina. As a running team, Vandy has an advantage of not needing to worry much about the Cocks’ stout pass defense. But outside of their patsies, Vandy is averaging 8.4 a games and has zero wins.

Cocks 28 – 9

LA-Monroe at Kentucky. Patsy game alert!

Kentucky 35 – 13

P.S. I forgot to do a weekly wrap up last week (I blame the LSU open date). I was 5-1 for the week; 46-7 for the season.

SEC Week 7 Picks

I’m happy to not have an LSU game this weekend. Hopefully it will be a good thing that our open date falls smack-dab in the middle of the season – these Tigers need to start fresh after the endless parade of frustration that culminated with the Florida game last week.

And the rest of the SEC features a pair of quietly interesting games in Florida / Arkansas and Alabama / South Carolina. Plus we’ll get a better gauge of Auburn with them facing Kentucky in advance of our game next week. So on to it:

Arkansas at No. 1 Florida. Would you believe the most prolific offense the Gators have faced this season is Charleston Southern (No. 34 in total offense)? Patsies aside, the Gators have beaten Tennessee (No. 48), Kentucky (No. 89) and LSU (No. 109). So now Arkansas (No. 15) comes to town. This one could be interesting if Ryan Mallet and the gang have a big day and Tebow & Co. don’t. Whether we get the Arkansas offense against Auburn (495 yards, 44 points) or Alabama (254 yards, 7 points) is the big question. And the Gators would have to make some mistakes and not perform well to blow this game. They have the No. 2 rushing offense in the nation to go up against Arkansas’ No. 73 rushing defense. Meyer should be able to keep the ball away from the Hogs just as he did the Tigers and will have more motivation to do so since Arkansas actually has an offense.

Gators 24 – 12

No. 3 Alabama at No. 22 South Carolina. The Cocks are pretty unimpressive offensively (No. 63 total offense) and fairly strong defensively (No. 15 total defense). The Tide is No. 17 in total offense and No. 2 in total defense. This game also has the potential to be interesting just because it’s an SEC game between 6-0 and 5-1 teams with the underdog at home. Anything can happen, but this is the Tide’s game if Fonzie keeps them together.

Alabama 23 – 15

Kentucky at No. 25 Auburn. I’ll make this one quick. Auburn has the No. 7 rush offense in the nation; Kentucky has the No. 101 rush defense.

War Eagles 31 – 10

Georgia at Vanderbilt. We’ll see Saturday if the Dawgs have gotten over that bad call on A.J. Green yet.

Georgia 10 – 9

UAB at Ole Miss. Hey, it’s like the Ole Miss Glory Days (mid-September) when the opponents were weak and the Rebels ruled!

Ole Miss 3- 0

Mississippi State at MTSU. Did I read that right? The SEC Bulldogs are traveling to Murfreesboro to play a game? At the 31,000-seat Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium? Yow.

Mississippi State 17 – 14

LSU / Florida & SEC Week 6 Recap

I just finished watching the home-TV version of the LSU / Florida game (as opposed to the on-campus TV version I watched Saturday night), and a lot became clear that I didn’t really gather on the first watching.

The first watching, it’s fair to say, wasn’t a very attentive one. There was the fact that it came after a long day of tailgating (the best part of the trip), the fact that the TV we were watching on was getting a satellite feed while another TV near us was over-the-air (and about 8 seconds ahead), the fact that me and another guy tried to switch ours to over-the-air and screwed that up badly (pissing off a guy named Big John pretty seriously), the fact that much of the rest of the first half was spent talking to a Baton Rouge Police sergeant (not called by Big John – an old friend) and the fact that we tried to go sneak into the stadium at halftime and missed the start of the third quarter. So another watching was clearly in order.

And here’s what I saw:

- LSU’s offense is inept. Purely and completely. I think it’s partly the coaching, partly the play calling and partly the problems of Jordan Jefferson. It’s easy to just go down the list and see problems. Offensive line: can’t protect the pass well and can’t create a run game at all. On the telecast, Gary Danielson said Les Miles told him this is the most physical and best offensive line he’s had. I’m not sure how smart Miles is, but I would at least expect to old Michigan lineman to know offensive lines. So what’s wrong? Play calling: LSU’s sole scoring drive, and the only one that went for more than 31 yards (aided by 35 yards in penalties), was the only one that showed any life at all. Brandon LaFell caught a 26-yard pass that looked good; and represented 27% of LSU’s passing offense. Otherwise, it’s all a big WTF? If I make it to another LSU game this season and they run that ridiculous “option” sweep, I’m going to come out of the stands and charge the field. I’ll do that because a) it will have driven me insane and b) I think I’d have a pretty good chance of getting to the ball before as the play develops. Quarterback – Jefferson again crumbled like a Dixie cup in the second half. I think Joe Namath would do better escaping a pass rush in the pocket … today.

- LSU’s defense is getting a lot more credit than it deserves. The Tigers held Florida to its lowest rushing total of the season (193 yards) and its lowest score (13). But it was clear in watching the game again that Urban Meyer played the Tigers just as he planned to. The Gators controlled the ball for 36:30, their biggest time-of-possession advantage of the season. Florida ran four more plays, put up 168 more yards and scored 28 more points against Kentucky in 32:03. Meyer wanted to control the clock and thought he could pound the middle of LSU’s line to do so. And he was right. I don’t think it was lost on Meyer that this was LSU’s winning game plan in 2007. LSU held the ball 35:52 in that game. Had LSU stopped Florida’s dive plays, I imagine Meyer would have opened up the offense and asked Tebow to carry more of the load. He didn’t need to. It was a brilliant game plan in a contest where Florida didn’t need to show the world a blowout.

- I do love our defensive speed. As witnessed by Perry Riley and Chad Jones chasing down Brandon James on 4th-and-2, the speed of LSU’s secondary and linebackers is impressive and fun to watch. And it reinforced the wisdom of Meyer running inside, not trying to rely on a speed advantage outside.

- Coaching head-scratcher of the week. It was mentioned several times that Florida’s center (one of the Pouncey twins, but I’m not sure if it’s Ma or Pa Pouncey) was signaling to the line by jerking his head before the snap, which helps overcome crowd noise. Danielson said it’s something he’s seen on tape and he’s sure LSU coaches have seen it as well. He gives Miles & Co. too much credit. It took five offsides penalties before LSU’s coaches apparently reacted to it. With just over five minutes left in the second quarter, Tracy Wolfson reported that John Chavis had instructed his line to charge into Pouncey the next time he did it, draw the false start penalty and end that nonsense. I can’t imagine she would make that up, but Pouncey continued doing it for the rest of the quarter without getting bull-rushed. Then on the opening play of the second half, Rahim Alem made a point to work the crowd noise, Pouncey jerked his head and he was charged into. On that play the ball was snapped too quickly to draw the penalty, so LSU did it again on the next play, the penalty was called and Pouncey didn’t jerk his head again all game. Several problems there. First, the LSU coaches obviously were not aware before the game that he would do it and that the smart move would be to charge him. I would not be surprised at all if they learned this via headset from somebody watching the telecast. Secondly, I guess Chavis’ line just ignored him when he finally mentioned it in the second quarter? And finally, it was comically obvious that stopping it was a huge priority to start the second half, which just reinforces how ridiculous it was that it wasn’t recognized and stopped early in the game.

In the end, I really don’t think LSU was anywhere close to winning this game despite being within a touchdown for the first 52 minutes of the game. Meyer knew what he was doing, and he was in control the whole game. LSU managed 52 yards of offense on one drive (26 on one play) and otherwise had nothing. And it was clear early on that the Gators would own the middle rush.

With Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas ahead (yes, I’m going to stupidly assume wins over Tulane and La. Tech), there’s a good chance for another LSU implosion this season. A 7-5 finish, unfortunately, is not out of the question. I sure wouldn’t say this team looks better than Miles’ 2008 squad.

Elsewhere in the SEC:

Bama beat Ole Miss in sufficiently-convincing fashion. The Tide offense has come down a bit of late (303 yards per game against Kentucky / Ole Miss vs. 461 per game against Va. Tech / Arkansas), but Fonzie had his guys rolling right along.

Arkansas did, in fact, deflate the Auburn balloon. Turns out giving up 500 yards can come back to bite you sometimes. I shouldn’t have believed in the War Eagles.

I picked the Vols to beat the group of guys who used to play football for Georgia, but 310 yards for Crompton? Yow. Seeing that score was the point on Saturday where I knew LSU was going to lose.

South Carolina beat Kentucky, as I guessed. Second-tier SEC East teams we don’t play; not much interest beyond that.

I missed the call on MSU / Houston. But 490 yards of offense looks good for the Bulldogs, until you see they gave up 553.

Vandy lost to Army in overtime. But LSU beat Vandy, too!

For the week: 3-3; for the season: 41-7.

LSU / Florida Preview & SEC Week 6 Picks

I don’t see a lot of value in analyzing the matchup of No. 4 LSU and No. 1 Florida. I think Florida is the better team, and though their experience to this point consists of two patsy blowouts, a big win over Kentucky and an unimpressive win over Tennessee, it’s safe to say Florida is very good.

But the Tennessee game does offer some hope for LSU. In that game (at The Swamp), Florida was held 100 yards below both their rushing and passing averages, and the Vols stayed within 10 points of the Gators. And 10 of Tennessee’s 13 points came off of Florida’s two turnovers.

Contain the run, force some turnovers, slow the game down and execute on offense and LSU has a chance, especially at home on a Saturday night. That’s a lot to ask, but it’s not outside the realm of the possible. If the weather forecast holds (rain & thunderstorms likely), LSU may gain an advantage. Florida’s run game (No. 1 in the country) relies on Jeff Demps (5’8″, 183 pounds), Chris Rainey (5’9″, 175), Emmanuel Moody (6’0″, 210) and, of course, Tim Tebow and his now-delicate head. They are a speed game, not a power game (especially if Tebow is out or not running). If the turf at Tiger Stadium is soft and wet, motion, misdirection, option runs, etc. become problematic.

And then, all of a sudden, Charles Scott (5’11″, 230) and Keiland Williams (5’11″, 229) pounding the line for 4 yards a pop doesn’t seem like such a bad deal. If we get the weather we’re expecting, I think Miles & Co. could engineer something similar to the 2007 game, where LSU held the ball for 35:52 and Jacob Hester plowed away with 23 carries for 106 yards. And the Tigers won. There’s a very real question about whether LSU can engineer such a game this year, but Scott’s 4.5-yard average isn’t looking so bad now.

An aside on the Tebow thing: I hope his head is OK and I hope he plays. And I hope if he plays, it’s because his head is OK. Should LSU win this game with Tebow out, it’s yet another excuse for ESPN (the worldwide leader in shaping sports opinions) to discount LSU. And even if Tebow plays and LSU wins, I can already see Chris Fowler wondering if the game would have been different if Tebow was 100%. But LSU can’t control any of that; it’s just the ESPN reality this year.

I’m going to stop short of making two picks – a rainy one and a not-rainy one. But I’ll count on the rain, count on execution, count on Tiger Stadium … and be a bit of a homer.

LSU 21 – 17

Elsewhere in the SEC:

No. 3 Alabama at No. 17 Ole Miss. Bama’s dominant on defense, that’s not a surprise. But with the Tide averaging 35 points a game in its non-patsy affairs (Va. Tech, Arkansas, Kentucky), Fonzie’s boys may well be the best team in the SEC. Ole Miss still only has a win over Vandy (and a loss to South Carolina) to gauge them. Maybe the Rebels are actually good, but they’ve not shown it. Have to go with the Tide here.

Bama 35 – 24

No. 19 Auburn at Arkansas. The nation’s No. 5 offense (total and scoring) in Auburn against one of the nation’s worst defenses (No. 97 total; No. 90 scoring) in Arkansas. The War Eagles don’t shine on defense (No. 53 total; No. 58 scoring), but the numbers favor them over a reasonably potent Hogs offense (No. 18 total; No. 17 scoring). Arkansas might be able to win this one in a big shootout, however. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Arkansas take this game and deflate the Auburn balloon, but the numbers don’t support it.

Auburn 52 – 45

Georgia at Tennessee. Did you know – The Vols are ranked higher in total offense, scoring offense and total defense than LSU? I think it’s pretty clear in Knoxville that this is a game that 2-3 Tennessee needs to win; so they’ve got the motivation to go along with home-field advantage. And if I understand correctly, the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against A.J. Green last week has rendered the Bulldogs permanently incapable of ever playing football effectively again.

Vols 20 – 17

Kentucky at South Carolina. A game Spurrier really needs to win. And there’s no reason to think he won’t at home against a Kentucky team that has shown little in (albeit pretty tough) games against Florida and Alabama.

Cocks 28 – 24

Houston at Mississippi State. It’s too bad Houston lost its shine against UTEP. But this will still be a good second-level test of the Big 12 vs. the SEC. I’m with the Bulldogs here. No, really.

MSU 31 – 20

Vanderbilt at Army. Go ‘Dores!

Vandy 15 – 12

The unfair Georgia penalty – let’s be honest

I was all prepared to let this nonsense about the bad unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on A.J. Green costing Georgia the game go. Yes, some Dawg fans have been bitching pretty heavily about it, but weak minds produce excuses for poor results.

But watching ESPN’s College Football Live tonight, I saw the below exchange between John Saunders and Kirk Herbstreit in the wake of the SEC’s coordinator of officials saying he could not see evidence of a penalty watching the video of the game. UGA fans please take note – he did not say it was a bad call. He said:

“My sense of it is that the official reacted to what he saw, he didn’t make this up,” Redding said after reviewing video. “He reacted to what he saw, but on the other hand the video that we looked at does not support the call that was made on the field.”

Perhaps Green was yelling to the crowd “I’m the king of the world! Look at me! Look at me! I’m gonna celebrate all damn day and ain’t no official gonna stop me!!!”. But I doubt it. Seems like an over-reaction by the official and a bad call.

In any case, let’s assume it was a bad call (which I believe it very likely was). Here is the exchange between big-time, respected analyst Herbstreit and host Saunders:

Saunders: “In fact, LSU might not have had a victory over Georgia over the weekend if not for a celebration penalty that went against Georgia allowing a short kick-off and a short field for LSU.”

Herbstreit: “But who you really feel bad for here is Mark Richt and the Georgia football team. It’s not like we can do a re-do. You can’t have this play back, you can’t have this moment back. You feel bad for the Georgia team and at the same time you applaud the SEC for at least recognizing the mistake …”

Saunders: “Unfortunately, as you say, for Mark Richt, the apology doesn’t get him a victory.”

Very clear implication there that the bad call on Green was the cause of Georgia’s defeat (and the undeserved victory by the over-rated LSU). So I’d like to conduct an exercise that I invite you to participate in. Please rank the following events at the end of the LSU / Georgia game Saturday by the impact the events had on the outcome of the game (you can stop when you reach the UGA penalty). I will leave aside big-picture factors like Georgia mounting drives totaling 49 yards in the first half and failing to score in the game’s first 46 minutes.

1. Georgia required to kick off from their own 15 instead of their own 30 because of a penalty.
2. Georgia’s kick reaching the 17-yard line (penalty-adjusted reach of the 2-yard line).
3. Georgia allowing a 40-yard kick return.
4. Georgia committing a 5-yard illegal procedure penalty.
5. Georgia giving up a 5-yard run to LSU on first down.
6. Georgia giving up a 33-yard touchdown run to LSU on second down.
7. Georgia gaining 15 yards in kick-off position because of an LSU penalty.
8. Georgia receiving the kick on the 22 yard line (penalty-adjusted reach of the 7-yard line).
9. Georgia returning the kick 11 yards.
10. Georgia losing 6 yards on first down as the result of a fumbled snap.
11. Georgia needing to use their last timeout because of the fumbled snap.
12. Georgia failing to complete a pass on second down.
13. Georgia throwing an interception on third down.

So, let’s see. I’m gonna say:

1. Georgia allowing a 40-yard kick return.
2. Georgia giving up a 33-yard touchdown run to LSU on second down.
3. Georgia losing 6 yards on first down as the result of a fumbled snap.
4. Georgia throwing an interception on third down.
5. Georgia returning the kick 11 yards.
6. Georgia failing to complete a pass on second down.
7. Georgia required to kick off from their own 15 instead of their own 30 because of a penalty.

Even if one would like to discount the rather inconvenient fact (for Dawg fans) that Georgia enjoyed the same penalty advantage on their kick return as LSU did, the difference in execution between the two teams is stark. Very simply put – and it’s very simple – LSU had the opportunity to come from behind and score and succeeded. UGA had the same opportunity and failed. And it’s not that the Dawgs came up short; they failed miserably to do anything at all with their opportunity. Three plays, minus 6 yards and an interception.

That, dear Messrs. Saunders and Herbstreit, is why Mark Richt didn’t get his victory.

LSU / SEC Week 5 Recap

I was, until Saturday, a pessimist about LSU’s 2009 season. There was, quite frankly, not much to be enthusiastic about. And with the October games against Georgia, Florida and Auburn on the horizon, I hadn’t seen much at all to project a lot of success.

And while I am still not ready to predict greatness for this team, I saw things in Athens Saturday that give me a lot more hope and have me looking forward to more than just good food, drinks and seeing friends this weekend in Baton Rouge.

LSU had drives of 54, 37, 56, 65 and 19 yards in the first half. Georgia had drives of 7, 3, 33, 4 and 2 yards. Yes, LSU came away with just a 6-0 lead after that, but dominance on both sides of the ball has been hard to come by this year. Net difference of 182 yards in LSU drives over UGA drives in the first half. Compare that to LSU’s net difference in first-half drive yards against MSU (-37), USL (15), Vandy (112) and Washington (-91) to understand the difference. A great team turns that half into something like a 24-0 lead, which is quite helpful to manage the kind of drought LSU had in the third quarter (producing -7 yards on just two drives and yielding the lead to Georgia on a 7:32 drive that went 60 yards).

But LSU answered with an 88-yard touchdown drive and the winning penalty/Holliday/Scott drive in the fourth quarter. And after giving up two long touchdown drives to Georgia snuffed out the Dawgs’ final effort.

Dominated a half, but failed to fully capitalize. Held Georgia to 17 more yards and three more points than they got against Oklahoma State. Rang up its highest total offense numbers of the season against the toughest opponent so far. All in all, a lot of progress and leaves a reasonable amount of hope for a good game against Florida.

As for my suggestion about how LSU could win this game – we had more success (early) running in the middle than I would have thought, but the big hits on the ground were Jefferson’s scramble and Scott’s touchdown runs in the 4th quarter. Both of which were on the edges. Russell Shepard was also effective (6 carries, 32 yards – 5.3 average), but mysteriously disappeared from the game for most of the second half. I think he might have been being punished for his “fumble” as I saw him away from the coaches with his helmet off when LSU had the ball a lot after that.

We did throw the ball in the middle a lot, with more short and intermediate routes than home-run balls. But overall it was a pretty conservative air attack.

Defensively, A.J. Green was, of course, the key to UGA’s attack. He did account for 36% of the Bulldogs’ total offense, but caught just 27% of Georgia’s receptions (he was averaging 37% of catches and 30% of total offense). LSU contained him to 1.25 fewer catches and 8 fewer yards that his average going in to the game. That LSU held him to that while also giving up 67 fewer rushing yards than Georgia had been averaging is success.

So I’m happy today. And I’m really looking forward to the Florida game now.

Some random thoughts:

The Green penalty. I think the celebration rule as written is stupid, so of course I think that call was stupid. But for any Dawg fans who feel cheated out of a win, please consider:

- UGA takes the lead; gets ridiculous unsportsmanlike penalty; kicks from the 15 with 1:17 left.
- LSU returned the ensuing kick 40 yards and got another 5 from a UGA illegal procedure on the kick.
- LSU starts at UGA 38 with 1:02 left.
- LSU scores in two plays totaling 8 seconds on the game clock.
- LSU takes the lead; gets ridiculous unsportsmanlike penalty; kicks from the 15 with 54 seconds left.
- UGA returned the ensuing kick 10 yards.
- UGA starts at their own 33 with 42 seconds left.
- UGA loses six yards, throws an incompletion then throws a pick.

Execution, not excuses.

The scene. I’ll admit I have a fairly negative view of Georgia nowadays. It’s in large part a factor of having to live among their fans and also a factor of Mark Richt seeming very much like these Promise Keeper types that inhabit the Atlanta suburbs and whom I’m not very fond of. Then there’s the whole stupid “blackout” stuff.

But Athens is a great place for some football. Sanford Stadium is my third-favorite SEC venue (behind Tiger Stadium and The Swamp), but it was pretty dead for most of the game. And unlike The Swamp and Tiger Stadium, I think it’s a place that looks and feels best in the afternoon. Watching the TV version in HD, you see a really great SEC scene with the red of the stadium and UGA players and the white jerseys and purple and gold of LSU out in the sunshine. Beautiful, and it’s a shame that it’s been five years since I’ve been there – but that’s how the West/East schedule crumbles.

And since it’ll probably be another five years before I go back, here’s a tip for intown Atlantans – take the Stone Mountain Freeway. Yes, lots of red-lights for a while, but nobody goes that way. We may have seen a dozen other game-bound cars on our way out before hitting the solid wall of traffic when we came together with Ga. 316.

Elsewhere in the SEC:

Auburn piled up 459 yards on Tennessee, a full 136 more yards than Florida threw down on the Vols. Of course, the War Eagles also gave the Vols 200 more yards than Florida did. But Auburn couldn’t ask to be in a better position than they are right now, and even over a weak Tennessee, this was a big win.

Alabama wore down Kentucky, but I really don’t know that much about the game. But the Tide still sits high up in SEC rankings in offense and defense, so they’re doing OK.

Ole Miss beat Vandy pretty well, but it was expected. They get Bama this week.

Georgia Tech outlasted Mississippi State, with the Jackets surprisingly putting up more offense in the air than on the ground, more than doubling their previous passing average and coming in 50 yards under their rushing average. Not sure I understand that, but OK.

Arkansas dispatched Texas A&M as I suspected, though the Hogs’ defense fared better than I expected.

South Carolina beat their patsy.

For the week: 7-0; for the season 38-4.

LSU / SEC Week 5 Picks

I’m having a really hard time coming up with a rationale to pick No. 4 LSU to beat No. 15.5 Georgia on Saturday. I hope the Tigers win; I think the Tigers can win, but rational analysis doesn’t support it.

In broad terms, Georgia has a decent passing offense (42nd nationally), a bad rushing offense (90th), a decent rush defense (42nd) and a bad pass defense (90th). Odd symmetry of 42nd and 90th rankings aside, the lack of balance or dominance in any area leaves the Bulldogs vulnerable.

But the broad terms are even worse for LSU, which has a poor rushing offense (74th), a bad passing offense (90th – again!), a poor rushing defense (65th) and a decent pass defense (48th). The Tigers are more balanced … but sit on the lower end of the scale across the board.

And Georgia has played a significantly harder schedule to date. SEC games with South Carolina and Arkansas and out-of-conference games against Oklahoma State and Arizona State. Not a blockbuster set of opponents, but much tougher than Vandy and Mississippi State in the SEC and Washington and USL out of conference. Weaker schedule, worse performance in offensive and defensive yards does not inspire a lot of confidence in LSU.

Throw in a home-field advantage and the motivation to knock off a team Georgia doesn’t like very much that’s ranked No. 4 and you have to like the Dawgs’ chances. Maybe they’ll even wear black.

So it’s tough to pick LSU to win, but I can offer a winning scenario.

Obviously the Tigers’ biggest problem is the offense. Defense is a concern, but the offense is just plain missing and on the ground has regressed since the start of the season. Keiland Williams’ per-carry averaged has dropped from 7.2ish yards against Washington and Vandy to 4.3 against USL and then 2.2 against MSU. Charles Scott’s best game was a 5.25 average against USL, and he managed just 2.5 per carry against MSU. But then there’s Russell Shepard, who leads the team in yards-per-carry at 6.7 in limited use (11 carries in three games). Hmm.

Jordan Jefferson had his best game of his career against MSU, going 15 for 28 for 233 yards and two touchdowns. There was a key difference in his play last weekend that I’ll get to in a moment.

There’s a blueprint here for offensive success against Georgia, and I hope it’s what we see.

On the ground: LSU has nothing when it runs at the line. What’s the cause? I don’t know. But you’re not going to correct it against Georgia. Here we need Russell Shepard, and lots of him. Let him run the “Wild Tiger” a bunch; put him in the backfield with Jefferson at quarterback; put him in as a wideout in motion. Straight-up running isn’t working for LSU, so spread the defense and set up a bunch of ways to attack with the run.

In the air: In the first three games of the year, Jefferson was missing guys badly downfield. The throws he was making were mostly fly routes and others where he was trying to hit receivers in vertical stride. He missed. But in the MSU game, Jefferson’s long throws were post routes where receivers could get to the ball with horizontal movement, which took the pin-point pressure off of Jefferson. And it worked. Georgia’s secondary is very vulnerable; we just need Jefferson to connect. What we saw in the MSU gameplan was a much better idea and I hope we stick to it.

Defensively, the key is shutting down A.J. Green, who has caught 37% of Georgia’s passes and accounts for 30% of the Dawgs’ total offense for the season. The solution – Patrick Peterson. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by game announcers that teams try their best to not throw at Peterson. It’s hard to see what a guy is doing when the play doesn’t come to him, but I have to assume Peterson is throwing down some pretty effective coverage. If he can shut down Green without a lot of help, that would be huge for the Tigers.

The problem is that Georgia has the potential for a pretty strong running game. Focus too much on shutting down the Ginger Ninja’s passing and you can expose yourself to the run. So I think LSU is going to have to bet on the secondary to clamp down enough on its own to keep pressure on Cox and check the run. We need Georgia to rely on the pass, and we need them to fail more than they succeed.

So I think we can win this game. And what the hell, I’ll be a homer.

LSU 30 – 27

Elsewhere in the SEC:

Auburn at Tennessee. A pretty intriguing game for one featuring two teams on the mend. There’s a clear showdown here – the high-powered offense of Gus Malzahn against the supposedly-awesome defense of the Tennessee coach’s grandfather. Or something. It’s a very old school/new school thing, as Monte Kiffin began his career with the old Decatur Staleys of the NFL and Malzahn made his name creating an explosive new offensive strategy at the middle school level in Kansas. Or something. I’m going with Auburn here because, quite frankly, they seem to have one hell of an offense. And Tennessee doesn’t have an offense to match them and take advantage of the War Eagles’ somewhat-weak defense.

Auburn 45 – 31

No. 3 Alabama at Kentucky. The ‘Cats lost to Florida by 34 at home. And Bama appears to be at least as good as Florida. Barring a total collapse by the Tide, which isn’t Fonzie’s style, this one won’t be close.

Alabama 52 – 6

No. 18 Ole Miss at Vanderbilt. No, Ole Miss is not living up to the enormous hype. But Vandy isn’t living up to their little bit of hype, either. So default to normal conditions. Wouldn’t be a shock to see Vandy win, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Rebels 16 – 10

Georgia Tech at Mississippi State. This will be a good test to see if Tech’s option rush offense can stand up over time. The Bulldogs’ rush defense is 8th in the SEC but a middle-of-the-road 56th nationally at 128 yards a game. But that includes 390 rush yards given up to Auburn. Tech has hit 300 yards rushing in three of their four games, and even with the really bad day against Miami averages 262. I think Tech gets the job done.

Yellow Jackets 27 – 24

Arkansas vs Texas A&M. Ah, the old Southwest Conference showdown. And Texas A&M is 3-0 and No. 1 in the nation in total offense. But they’ve played New Mexico, Utah State and UAB. And against that weak start they’re still giving up 351 yards per game. Arkansas had a really potent offense until they played Alabama. The Hogs dropped 485 yards on Georgia, so I’m going with their offense prevailing over the weak defense of A&M.

Arkansas 48 – 41

South Carolina State at South Carolina. The sole patsy game on the schedule this week. Good.

Cocks 38 – 13

The new poll’s here! The new poll’s here! … We’re somebody now.

Ah, humans. So cute, so logical. So in control of the BCS rankings because computers can’t be trusted.

We got the first Harris Poll of the season this week. You know the Harris, it’s that one made up of such luminaries as Dick Bestwick, Rondo Fehlberg and Jim Vruggink that represents 33% of the BCS rankings and stays oh-so-above pre-conceived notions of “good” by waiting until the fourth week of the season to release its rankings.

So let’s look at what this pure method of unbiased evaluation has produced relative to the USA Today Coaches Poll (another 33% of the BCS formula) and, for kicks, that meaningless poll from the Associated Press that inexplicably remains the poll the media uses when displaying team rankings.

The Harris Poll has Florida ranked No. 1. So do the Coaches and the AP.

The Harris Poll has Texas ranked No. 2. So do the Coaches and the AP.

The Harris Poll has Alabama ranked No. 3. So do the Coaches and the AP.

The Harris Poll has LSU ranked No. 4. So do the Coaches and the AP.

The Harris Poll has Boise State ranked No. 5. So do the Coaches and the AP.

The Harris Poll has Virginia Tech ranked No. 6. So do the Coaches and the AP.

The Harris Poll has USC ranked No. 7. So do the Coaches and the AP.

The Harris Poll has Ohio State ranked No. 8. The Coaches and the AP have Oklahoma ranked No. 8.

The Harris Poll has Oklahoma ranked No. 9. The Coaches and the AP have Ohio State ranked No. 9.

The Harris Poll has Cincinnati ranked No. 10. So does the AP. The Coaches have TCU ranked No. 10.

Need you any further proof that the pre-conceived notions reflected in the Coaches and AP polls released before any games are played are absolutely freaking correct?? I mean, the Harris Poll doesn’t factor in pre-season opinions and their voters spit out an almost-identical Top 10 four weeks in! In fact, the human-voting system is so accurate that the exact same 25 teams in the Harris Poll are also in the Coaches top 25 and 24 of the Harris teams are in the AP top 25 (Harris likes Missouri; AP Georgia Tech – they have Missouri 26).

So whether you make assumptions before any balls are touched or wait until four weeks into the season, it’s clear that 3-1 Penn State, with wins over Akron, Syracuse and Temple and a loss to Iowa is a top-15 team (Harris 12, Coaches 13, AP 15) while 4-0 Auburn with wins over Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, West Virginia and Ball State (and boasting the nation’s No. 3 scoring and total offense) isn’t quite a top-25 team (Harris 26, Coaches 28, AP 27). That really makes no sense to me, but apparently I’m completely wrong. Objective human voting backs up those pre-conceived notions, after all.

LSU / SEC Week 4 Recap

Thank you, Chad Jones. Not just for saving LSU’s butts with your punt return TD and goal-line defense to preserve the Tigers’ win, but for giving me something to remember about this game that doesn’t make me want to slit my wrists.

I wish I could say I don’t remember being this frustrated watching LSU football. But, you know, there was Arkansas, Ole Miss, Troy, Alabama, Georgia and Florida just last year … It was ugly. Mississippi State was giving up 161 yards per game on the ground going in to this game. Even if you cancel out the bad punt attempt and intentional safety, LSU got 67. Keiland Williams averaged 2.2 yards per carry; Charles Scott 2.5. We gave up 374 yards to a team that managed just 341 against Vandy.

Without MSU’s four turnovers this game is lost. But we all know this. LSU is where LSU is going in to Georgia and Florida. I really see no point in looking back now. But I will say there are things that give me hope for the Georgia game, which I’ll get into later in the week.

Elsewhere in the SEC:

Ole Miss flamed out in a manner so spectacular that it is not to be believed. That was good to see, and I’m glad I didn’t give them any benefit of the doubt and picked South Carolina. That Ole Miss (2-1) was only dropped to No. 18 while South Carolina (3-1) remains unranked is a severe lack of justice.

Alabama shut down Arkansas in a major way, which has to make Georgia fans nervous. The game played out in the extreme of what I figured – Fonzie’s defense made the one-dimensional Hogs offense look silly.

Tim Tebow got his head cracked, and I hear Florida also won the game. Tebow’s status for our game Oct. 10 isn’t known, and it’s a hard thing to celebrate or regret. Obviously it would be an easier game for LSU if Tebow’s out, but I’d rather face their best than a second-teamer. But at the same time I would hate to see Tebow rushed back in for his own sake. Mock the Chosen One all we want, he’s a hell of a college player and apparently a good kid. I’d rather he not be concussed and get beaten up by LSU.

I called for a high-scoring game for Georgia against Arizona State, but we got something far different. Again, it’s something that informs my final view on LSU / Georgia this week. But the Dawgs were lucky to get out with this one.

Auburn made things interesting against Ball State, but ultimately threw down 560 yards of offense and 54 points. They pass the offensive test and will be interesting to watch in the next few weeks against Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky.

Vols, Vandy … blah blah blah.

For the week: 8-1; for the season 31-4.

LSU / SEC Week 4 Picks

I’m celebrating this week, because it may be the last time until Halloween that I feel somewhat comfortable in picking LSU to win. Simply put, I can’t project greatness for this team based upon past performance. Maybe things will improve. I certainly hope so, because this isn’t a team I’m comfortable with right now.

But let’s forget our troubles this week and focus on Mississippi State. Of course this is a winnable game for No. 7 LSU. The Tigers’ ugly offense should be able to pound through a Bulldog defense that gave up 390 rushing yards and 6.6 yards per carry to Auburn. If LSU can’t, well this team’s troubles are deep.

Statistically, however, these teams are pretty comparable. LSU has produced 325 yards and 28.3 points per game against Washington, Vandy and USL. MSU has produced 349 yards and 28 points per game against Jackson State, Auburn and Vandy. Defensively, the Tigers have given up 320 yards and 11.7 points per game; the Bulldogs 313 yards and 19.7 points (including 49 points vs. Auburn). Call it a bias, but I have to figure this LSU team coming off of 8-5 and two years removed from a national championship is better than this MSU team coming off 4-8 and installing a new coaching staff.

And that’s pretty much what I have to go on – the assumption that LSU is a better team. They certainly haven’t given us much to demonstrate that through the first three games.

LSU 19 – 15

Elsewhere in the SEC:

No. 5 Ole Miss at South Carolina. The Thursday SEC abomination. A quick aside – it’s an absolute joke that Ole Miss is ranked No. 5 having played only Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana. The Rebels started the season at an inflated No. 10 and have moved up through attrition. Meanwhile No. 13 Miami began the season as No. 31 and have beaten Florida State and Georgia Tech. No thinking brain on the planet would put Ole Miss’ body of work to this point ahead of Miami’s. But be that as it may, it’s the Nutt and Cocks show (sorry) on Thursday night in South Carolina. I can’t put rational analysis against what Ole Miss has done this year, so I’m going to go with the flu, a somewhat desperate Spurrier, lack of trial for the Rebels, home-field advantage and Thursday Night Madness.

Cocks 38 – 35

Arkansas at No. 3 Alabama. A pass-happy, one-dimensional team with no defense against Fonzie. I’m betting on Bama to be able to slow down or stop the Hogs’ offense and to be effective moving the ball and scoring.

Bama 31 – 24

No. 1 Florida at Kentucky. Angry, angry Gators. How dare you doubt the Chosen One? Barring a bigger funk than showed itself against Tennessee, Florida will regain its footing against the ‘Cats.

Gators 48 – 20

Arizona State at No. 17 Georgia. There’s not a lot to go on with Arizona State. Wins over Idaho State and UL-Monroe don’t mean much. I guess we can assume Georgia does have a potent passing attack, and at some point they might get a running game. Their defense should be able to outlast whatever the Sun Devils bring.

Dawgs 45 – 31

Ball State at Auburn. War Eagles are gonna cut it loose in advance of their trips to Tennessee and Arkansas. They need a nice blowout to cap their 4-0 start.

Auburn 59 – 6

Ohio at Tennessee. Ah, it’s like the old days, when Western Kentucky came to town. Turn Crompton loose!

Vols 48 – 10

Vanderbilt at Rice. Bringing the ‘Dores back to .500!

Vandy 24 – 10

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