Monday, December 31, 2007


It was a nice win for Bama last night, even though it didn't go at all like I expected. I expected one of two things:
  • Bama to blow them out by two touchdowns or more, or
  • Bama to lay an egg completely and lose, looking bad in the process.
In a way, I guess we did see that, but we saw both of them within the same game. Bama scored the first 27 points of the game and looked like they completely overmatched Colorado. Then they laid an egg and let Colorado score 24 of the next 27 points, ultimately winning 30-24.

I really don't have much else to say about this game, except that it was very interesting that Bama did not play Terry Grant at all. Instead, they relied on Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch.

I don't yet know how good this team will be next year. They sure lose a lot of their best players, but that's common. Most teams have a lot of seniors who are major contributors, and Bama is no different. The question is how good the young backups to Gilberry, Castille, Hall, Mustin, Saunders, Brown, Carter, Caddell, and the offensive linemen are. Also, it will be important for Bama that Antoine Caldwell return.

Today, while I'm at work, Kentucky will begin playing Florida State. I expect Kentucky to win that game, because I'm not sure FSU has enough players to field a team. Plus, Kentucky's actually pretty good.

Then later tonight, the Peach Bowl, which I absolutely refuse to call the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. It's the Peach Bowl, dammit. It will be Auburn against Clemson, in one of the best bowl matchups not in the BCS, and it's not even on New Year's Day. I think this is a true 50-50 game.

Then, I get the day off to watch a lot of football on Tuesday.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Basketball and Bowl Games

OK, I didn't mean to slow things down quite this much. Combinations of holidays, the baby not sleeping well, Mrs. GeauxTuscaloosa wanting access to the computer, and a lack of topics to discuss have conspired to keep me from posting like I should.

I try to blame most of my shortcomings on my wife and my child. It makes me feel better about myself.

One of the ways in which I differ from Poseur is that I do not watch all of the minor bowl games. Sure, I glue myself to the couch on New Year's Day and I definitely try to watch every bowl game in which the SEC has a representative. However, my interest in non-SEC bowl games is limited, as is my football stamina. I watch some of the non-SEC games, but I try to save my energy and focus for the SEC games and the really exciting non-SEC matchups.

For example, I watched Texas vs. Arizona State. For the record, I don't know what that replay official was looking at to say that Mac Brown's redheaded stepchild touched that ball. I know SEC officials were on the field, but I don't know if it was an SEC replay official as well. Of course, SEC officials are known to be horrible this year, and that was a terrible call. There was simply no evidence sufficient to overturn the call on the field that the guy did not touch it. I think the guy just wanted to increase the drama of the game by overturning that call.

Not that I mind that Texas and little-Mac were embarrassed. I was rooting for ASU in that game. I just don't like bad officiating, on principle.

I also watched much of the Texas A&M vs. Penn State matchup last night, though I don't really have a whole lot of comment on it.

That's not my main focus. I am, of course, and LSU-guy first and an SEC guy second. I wanted to watch the Mississippi State vs. Central Florida matchup, and I was not disappointed. I got to watch the whole thing because the LSU basketball game was unwatchable by the time the football game started.

Digression: This is only the second time I watched this basketball team play this season. The first was against Villanova. The games were remarkably similar. We looked great in the first half of both games and then looked like a bunch of rookies in the second half. I don't have an explanation for it except that, you know, we are a bunch of rookies. This should be a fun team to watch as the season goes on though. I'm not convinced this isn't a tournament team, especially if they can accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. If they can do that, they may be one of the best teams in the country, not just in the conference.

Digression #2: Mrs. GeauxTuscaloosa, bless her, is a Kentucky basketball fan, and not a casual one. She's pretty hard core. It could be a long season for her, which could make it a long season for me. So please, for my benefit, root for Kentucky to win games.

Back to Mississippi State. I actually really like watching games like these. It's like watching a pitchers' duel in baseball. You know every play is key. Every mistake is magnified. Every punt is crucial because it may be the best chance for either team to score. Every yard and every first down is meaningful as teams try to get themselves into field goal position for the whole game.

It doesn't hurt that games like this usually move rather quickly. There were a lot of running plays, and not a lot of first downs, meaning the clock ran a lot and the game was over actually BEFORE the broadcast time expired. This is almost unheard-of in bowl season, as they sell more advertising and have longer halftimes.

I like this Mississippi State team. After their opening week trouncing at our hands, a team with lesser character would have folded up the tents on the season and checked out with another 3-9 record. They did not, and despite some rather serious limitations, they turned in a good season by playing good defense and running the ball well. And there's no reason to think they won't be just as good next season.

Tonight, we get another SEC matchup with Bama vs. Colorado. Some bowl games are very important to the teams playing them, and some are not. I'm not criticizing the attitude that bowl games sometimes aren't important. It's just true. For a team like Mississippi State, the bowl game was very important because those kids have never had one before. For Bama, the Independence Bowl is a big disappointment, and I get the feeling they do not think it's important and aren't particularly excited about being there.

Will this impact their play on the field? I don't know. Whether it does or not, I still think a bowl game (even a loss) is always a valuable experience, and you should never turn down the opportunity to go to one. I also do not buy the notion that a loss for Bama here would be devastating, as it would give them a second straight losing season. I think that to Bama fans, this is already a losing season and nothing that happens in Shreveport will change that.

That said, I think Bama is much more talented than Colorado, and if they are focused on the game they should win by multiple touchdowns. Remember, this is a team that had legitimate Sugar Bowl hopes going into November, and despite going 0-for-November, never once looked overmatched against any of their competition all season.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

If I Was a Big Time Recruit

Since recruiting is the topic of the week right now (we will have to get to the discussion of current football players at some point), I thought I'd share what I would look for if I was a high school junior/senior who was wanted by all the big schools for my football prowess.

1. I Wouldn't Limit Myself to Big Programs. Everyone always says that going to a big program is the road to the NFL. Picking an NFL team at random, the Seattle Seahawks, I see roster players from the following schools: Akron, Carson-Newman, Nevada, Bradley, Idaho, Western Michigan, South Carolina State, Northwestern, Southern Arkansas, and San Diego State. Clearly, if this is representative, you can make it to the NFL from a small school. Of course, your power schools are more heavily represented, but they also get most of the top recruits as well. They send more people to the NFL mostly because they get more NFL calibre players at the front end.

2. If I'm a QB, OL, or CB, I want to redshirt. These are the positions that require, in my observation, the longest learning curves. They require the most coaching of technique and recognition of opposing strategy. As such, I would want the maximum time to learn what I'm doing before getting an opportunity to showcase my stuff. If I'm playing any other position, I want an opportunity to play my first year.

3. I want to play backups and special teams in my (redshirt) freshman year, then have an opportunity to win a starting spot as a sophomore. Particularly if I'm a quarterback, I don't want to be thrown to the wolves early in my career. I want to be eased onto the field a little bit, but I don't want to ride the pine either. Get me on the field as a backup or a situational player (4th or 5th wide receiver, nickel back, etc.) and get me on special teams, and then let me compete for a starting spot the next year.

4. I need a good strength and conditioning coach. Probably more than anyone else, my strength and conditioning coach will pave my road to the NFL by teaching me what I need to know to make myself the strongest, quickest, and fastest player I can be.

5. Try to find a stable coaching situation, but don't choose a place strictly because of coaching. Coaching is unstable. You just have to accept that, but there are degrees of instability. I would probably shy away from a place with a coach who keeps talking about leaving (I'm looking at you Tommy Tuberville). I would want to find a place that looks stable in the head coach and in the position coach for the position I want to play, but I would have to realize that it is never possible to be completely confident here, so other factors will have to be more important.

6. Be very careful to go to a place where you fit into the game plan. If I'm a pure drop-back pocket passer, I avoid a Rich Rodriguez-coached school, because I know I'm a career backup. If I'm a tight end, I avoid any school that relies heavily on the spread, because you won't play a lot of snaps no matter how good you are. If I'm a linebacker, I avoid pass-happy conferences like the WAC. You'll be off the field in favor of another defensive back too often.

7. Go to a place with an active and passionate fan base. For one thing, this may be the most excitement you ever experience in your life, so why not make it as exciting as possible. Big, wild, loud crowds will do that. Plus, most big-time recruits don't end up making their living playing football, even if they have good college careers. When your playing days are over, a good fan base will often include many businessmen and entrepreneurs who want to give you a good job, or a lot of people who'd just die to let you sell them a house, or insurance, or let you handle their divorce for them. You probably don't get this very much if you play at Central Michigan. I realize this kind of contradicts point #1, but I'm willing to live with that.

8. Chicks! Chicks! Chicks!

9. Go to a city school.
I'm not talking about Los Angeles or New York City or anything like that. I would just want to go somewhere where there's plenty to do, which can be Baton Rouge, Des Moines or Tuscaloosa. I just wouldn't want to get stuck out in the middle of nowhere with little to do around the area. I can think of few things worse than living in Auburn. or South Bend for that matter. I just want a place with an active night life somewhere.

10. Find a school that does not have significant conflict. You don't want to ruin your college experience by getting onto a team that has a lot of cliques or a lot of unfriendly rivalry. It is reported that the LSU teams of the early '90s had a lot of racial tension. I would avoid that like Ebola. Not only would it ruin the fun, but it would also lead to underachieving on the field, which also wouldn't be fun. To me, it looks like Miami is a team where the players gave up, and that signals to me that there is probably a pretty bad locker room there. I would steer clear.

11. Win! Whether you're in the SEC, the Sun Belt, or Division II, find a place where you're going to have a chance to win. If you're in the Football Bowl Subdivision, find a school that will compete for conference championships and one that will probably go to a bowl game even in a disappointing year. For one thing, it will be more fun to win. For another, the extra practice time you get with a bowl game will be valuable to you. I'm not saying you need to go to a powerhouse, but I would avoid a place like, say, Minnesota, where you aren't going to make it to a lot of bowl games and you don't have much chance of winning the conference.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Recruiting Update

Even though we're in a "dead period" doesn't mean nothing is happening. There's still a lot of action on the recruiting front. It's just that the coaches can't really do anything about it because they can't do a lot of calling or visiting.

LSU sits with 21 commitments. It appears we'll probably sign about 27, expecting a couple not to qualify. On this Christmas Morning, it seems appropriate to put together a wish list of possible recruits who could sign with LSU:

Defensive Tackle

Moses McCray of Tampa, Florida is a 4-star projected defensive tackle. He is currently a commitment to Florida State, but the poor season in Tallahassee got him thinking about changing his plans. The massive cheating scandal, which looks like it could result in probation for FSU, got him to change up his MySpace page to deck it out in LSU colors. Word is that he hasn't given his commitment to the LSU coaches, but that he could do so soon. Incidentally, this young man clearly has his priorities in order, as he lists on his "Interests" the following items in the following order: church, money, girls, shoes, clothes, and sports.

I was thinking to myself yesterday before this broke that the one place this classes really needed another player in order to correct possible depth problems was at defensive tackle. We only have one defensive tackle committed to us right now, and he could be moved to offensive line. We lose Dorsey this year, and lose Charles Alexander and Marlon Favorite next year. We signed four defensive tackles last year, but one has already moved to the o-line (Joseph Barksdale). Another (Will Blackwell) could be moved to o-line or to defensive end, and another (Kentravis Aubrey) appears to be a tackle/end hybrid. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but a little tackle depth would be appreciated.


4-star linebacker Larentee McCray is another guy in Seminole country who is looking elsewhere at the moment. In looking at his recruiting videos, which are all from his junior year, he seems to be quick, aggressive and a sure tackler. A lot of people think this class really needs a linebacker added to it, but I disagree. We have 3 good linebacker prospects in Ryan Baker, Kellen Theriot, and Kyle Prater. Adding another linebacker is a luxury, and we should only do it if the prospect is really good. McCray looks pretty good, kind of line a young Ali Highsmith, in that he appears to be a good athlete, a sure tackler, and perhaps a little smaller than is typical. If Mr. McCray doesn't want to be a Tiger, I don't see any need to push for another linebacker.

Defensive Back

This is 5-star cornerback Patrick Johnson of Pompano Beach, Florida. His recruitment has been an adventure. He's currently committed to Miami, but has told various recruiting services various things about the status of his commitment. A lot of people think he just tells whoever he's talking to what they want to hear, including coaches. Word was, a month or so ago, he was leaning towards coming to LSU, but maybe not anymore. A lot of people now think he's just playing games and that he'll end up at Miami when it's all said and done.

I've also been told that this kid is a great athlete and, above all, a natural leader. Other athletes gravitate towards his personality and he seems to own whatever room he's in or whatever practice field he is on. This can be a good or a bad thing depending on how he uses this skill. If he uses it to step on the toes of veterans when he gets to campus, it could be trouble. If he just tries to fit in and get along, he will probably ultimately be a team captain in a couple years.

Alternate: This is high-4-star corner T.J. Bryant of Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida. Seminole CountryMany who've seen him play think he's just as good as Patrick Johnson, and we probably have a better shot at him than we have at Patrick Johnson, especially with the big scandal going on at FSU right now. You might start seeing some lifeboats paddling away from the S.S. Seminole. I liked our chances before all that, and I like our chances better now.

I don't think we really need a cornerback to fill out this class with Brandon Taylor and Derrick Bryant already aboard, and we probably only have room for one more. I say take whichever of the two wants to commit first and cut ties with the other.

Offensive Line

There are few positions less glamorous, but few more important, than offensive line. It's nice to have great running backs, or great wide receivers, but if you don't have a good offensive line, those backs and receivers won't do much good. If you have the offensive line, even average backs and receivers can be productive. This is Matt Patchan, one of the top rated offensive linemen in the country. He's a 5-star out of Miami, with family ties to the Miami program. He is currently uncommitted, but he's been Miami's to lose all along. There are rumors, however, that they just might have lost him, due to ongoing problems in their program.

I would love to have this kid. He made a splash when he attended Miami's last home game, the last game in the Orange Bowl. After Miami got waxed, Patchan called out the current players in the media, saying that they were not competitors, that they were more interested in where they were going out after the game than they were in the game itself, and that many of them were not the quality athletes Miami needed. The kid is obviously a big Miami fan, which has never been doubted, but he's also a big Miami criticizer, and one wonders if what he saw could make him turn his back on the Hurricanes. I'll believe it when I see it, but I'd take this kid in a heartbeat.

Alternate: This is Antoine McClain of Anniston, Alabama. He is a 4-star rated offensive tackle. His situation is kind of similar to Robby Green's from John Curtis Christian. He's highly rated, but his main home state school has backburnered him for one reason or another. The word from those with inside sources is that Miles and the rest of the coaches have ALWAYS been high on this kid, and consider him to be the best offensive lineman in Alabama, better than a guy currently rated as a 5-star, Tyler Love. I don't know why Bama has him on the back burner, but Auburn is going after him hard.


This is E.J. Manuel, a 5-star quarterback out of Virginia, who announced his commitment to Florida State over the summer. He said it came down to FSU and LSU, with FSU winning out simply because of Jimbo Fisher. With the cheating scandals at FSU and the prospect of probation in FSU's future, maybe he's open to changing his mind, particularly if the rumors of Jimbo Fisher leaving to go to West Virginia end up being true. Current rumors have him staying, however. I don't bet on him having second thoughts, but if he does, that would make our recruiting class. This kid is 6'5", 215# and reportedly runs a 4.6 in the 40 with a cannon arm. That's a prototype for the quarterback of the next 10 years. He's also reportedly a great kid, with a super character and great intelligence. He's the kind of person who would likely be a take even if he was 4 inches shorter and 2 tenths slower and you didn't think he could top out at anything higher than a backup.

Good quarterbacks are worth their weight in gold. No position is more valuable. If a guy like Manuel wants to join your team, you find a way to fit him.


This is Tyler Edwards. He is probably the #1 recruit on our board, as a 4-star tight end. I don't think he's the #1 recruit on the board because he's the top prospect available, but rather because, as an undecided Louisiana kid who is seriously considering going to Bama, he would be the biggest loss if we didn't get him. His brother, Eric Edwards, played tight end at LSU, and as everyone points out, Nick Saban was his coach. That relationship apparently was positive, but his family is also very much pro-LSU. We very much want this kid, as he is a receiving tight end, the heir apparent to Richard Dickson, who will be a junior next year.

Rumors are swirling that this kid, 5-star wide receiver DeAngelo Benton, who committed to play for LSU last year but did not qualify academically, is already practicing with LSU. I doubt that is true, because I imagine the rules forbid it unless he has already been approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse, but there is no doubt this kid is coming to LSU once his grades and test scores are in order. Hopefully that will be in time for Spring Practice. Benton has almost the prototype wide receiver body at 6'3" and 210 pounds, which are numbers that are more reliable than usual because they're coming from Hargrave Military Academy rather than from high schools. His semester at prep school has upped his profile, and he ended up getting a 5th star, after being "merely" a high-4-star recruit last year. When he gets to LSU, he will be an ordinary freshman with 5 years to play 4 years of football, but I sincerely doubt he redshirts.

There has been a lot of noise lately that DeAndre Brown of Ocean Springs, Mississippi will probably stay in-state and go to Ole Miss rather than to LSU, where he had reportedly been leaning for quite a long time. There are also rumors that this is a result of shenanigans involving his grades and his prospects of qualifying to enter school as a freshman. Benton is a massive wide receiver, a Mike Williams type at 6'6" and 220 pounds. He's not a speed burner in the Chris Tolliver sense, but he is a pretty respectable runner who easily runs away from the Mississippi high school players, and with his size he'll be a matchup problem for any cornerback or safety. His recruiting videos show him to be a tremendous athlete for his size. He plays wide receiver, running back, defensive back, special teams, and occasionally lines up as quarterback. He takes a lot of screen passes and reverses in his videos and breaks tackles, so he's good with the ball in his hands. If we sign him to go along with our other receiver recruits, and if they all qualify, our receiver corps will be very strong for the next several years.

Ranking these guys is not really a very fruitful exercise in my opinion, because they are not really comparable players. We probably wouldn't take BOTH Patchan and McClain, but we'd probably take either one of them in a heartbeat. But, in the spirit of putting together a ranking, here is mine:
  1. Tyler Edwards: You gotta lock up in-state kids
  2. E.J. Manuel: Great QBs are worth their weights in gold, but he is probably a longshot
  3. Matt Patchan: Great offensive linemen are also worth their weight in gold, or at least they're worth a quarterback's weight in gold.
  4. DeAngelo Benton: A great complement to our current crop of speedy wide receivers, and more polished than is typical of an incoming true freshman because of his season playing for Hargrave Military Academy
  5. Patrick Johnson/T.J. Bryant
  6. Moses McCray
  7. DeAndre Brown
  8. Larentee McCray
LSU is looking at more guys than these, including a couple running backs, but I don't feel qualified at this point to evaluate them. You're stuck with this instead.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

GeauxTuscaloosa Has a Friend

Someone out there has quoted and linked to me about a dozen times, and until yesterday I had no idea he was out there. The Best of the SEC Blogs, who is a Kentucky fan who specializes in surveying other SEC blogs and discussing the mood of various SEC fans, apparently includes me within its rotation of blog readership and quoteship. Here is a quote from BotSECB's introductory post:
So what are we doing here? Well, Best of the SEC Blogs is kind of a metablog, or "blog of blogs". What we intend to do is scan the Southeastern Conference blogosphere for the best, most cogent and interesting of commentary on SEC sports. We will also be offering commentary on select posts from SEC blog sites, and hopefully tie it all together into a running conversation that will offer interest and value to all fans of SEC sports.
[Emphasis added]. Well, it appears I often put together some of the best, most cogent and interesting of commentary on SEC Sports because I'm a frequent unwitting guest star, always in a respectful way, mind you.

He/she also has a considerable blog roll of other SEC blogs. Frankly, the posts on Best of the SEC Blogs show a dedication to blog readership I have not been able to match since I got out of school. But if any of you are looking for, say, a Georgia Bulldog blog, Best of the SEC Blogs lists 18 of them for your convenience.

Things are still pretty slow over here at GeauxTuscaloosa. The basketball team hasn't been on TV in a while. Football is quietly practicing for the championship game. Recruiting is in an NCAA-imposed dead period. During this "dead period", there can be no visits (official or otherwise) and phone calls to recruits are strictly limited. It began on December 16 and ends on January 4. After that, it's a one-month sprint to Signing Day.

Off the internet, the end of college football season and the television writers' strike has meant that the GeauxTuscaloosa family is reading more books and renting more movies. I read Meat Market, the book about Ed Orgeron's 2007 recruiting season. I will have a write-up on it soon.

So, in large part, this was a kind of scattershot post. I'm just letting you know I'm still out here and still keeping up.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Freshman Review

LSU had seven true freshman play some football last year, not a whole lot by any stretch, but it gives us an opportunity to review them all in one post. How'd they do?

First, let me say that it is the very rare true freshman who comes onto a team and is an immediate impact player. It just doesn't happen that often, especially on a talented, veteran team. This was a team with a lot of veterans around the field, and there just wasn't a lot of room for freshman to come in and play a lot. That said, we had some production from freshmen.

Wide receiver Terrance Tolliver, one of our two 5-star recruits from last year, had 10 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He also took three reverses for 36 yards. He started the season kind of fast, making a big play against Mississippi State to set up a touchdown, and scored a touchdown against Virginia Tech. Statistically, his best game was against La Tech, when he got 3 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown.

But don't be misled by that. He really struggled down the stretch of the season. He didn't catch a pass in the last three games, picked up a couple of costly penalties against Kentucky, and made a route-running mistake that led to an interception against Tennessee. We anticipate big things from this guy though, and with a full year of learning to play the position at this level he should have a big season in 2008.

Big Joseph Barksdale was probably the single biggest surprise recruit of the 2007 class, coming out of Detroit, Michigan. He enrolled in class in time for Spring Practice last year and played defensive tackle. He was moved to offensive tackle in the fall, and really excelled there. He was the second string right tackle behind Carnell Stewart, and a lot of fans called for him to start. I don't know if he needed to start, but he sure looked good when given an opportunity to play. He is clearly an excellent athlete and looks very comfortable at the position. He is likely to be the starting right tackle in the 2008 season.

This handsome gentleman is Jarvis Jones, who was expected to redshirt because he was way too small for offensive line, and it was anticipated that he would need a year to work up his body. He reportedly spent most of his life eating one meal per day, and so was approximately 250 pounds when he reported to campus. But they must have fed him some very fattening food, because he did not look out of place at all at offensive line. He started the season as the backup to Ciron Black at left tackle, and ended the season splitting time with Lyle Hitt at right guard. His role grew as the year went on, and he seemed to handle it fine. If his move to guard is permanent, he may be competing with Lyle Hitt for the starting spot in 2008.

Drake Nevis was expected to redshirt this season, and did not play in the first half of the season. When Charles Alexander was injured and other defensive tackles were slowed up with nagging injuries, the team needed to look for more depth at defensive tackle. They turned to Nevis to provide them with valuable snaps as a backup defensive tackle. He looked like another future star at the position. He recorded 13.5 tackles, including two for loss, and two pass defenses in seven games. He should be firmly in the rotation for 2008, even if he is not necessarily going to beat out incumbents Charles Alexander and Marlon Favorite if they return for their senior seasons.

I think we all know this kid is a stud. He's Chad Jones, and we better enjoy him because I doubt he'll ever see his senior season. He was the 5-star who announced he was signing with LSU the same day that Joe McKnight announced he was not. He did not get that much fanfare because LSU fans were too busy being disappointed about not getting McKnight to celebrate getting him. Our mistake. He's got All-American written all over him, as he is a phenomenal athlete with the size of a small linebacker and enough speed to chase down a streaking Darren McFadden from behind. Yes, he did that. He didn't make the tackle because he got blocked off at the last second, but he made up considerable ground on Darren McFadden chasing him from behind and would have made the touchdown-saving tackle if not for getting blocked off.

Jones started the season playing mostly special teams, and looked good at it. His role increased as the season progressed, and he flourished. He returned punts and was the dime back on defense. He eventually recorded 30 tackles, including two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. I'm sure you remember the sack and forced fumble at the end of the Bama game. The one that let us put the game-winning points on the board. That was Chad Jones. He's awesome.

These two guys are Josh Jasper and Andrew Crutchfield, kickers. They split time kicking off. Honestly, I have to say they were disappointing, considering we spent two valuable scholarships on these guys. They were not able to consistently kick the ball deep, usually dropping it around the 10 yard line, and our kickoff coverage suffered immensely. According to, Crutchfield had the slightly better average at 63.0 yards per kick, which would place the ball at the 7 yard line. Jasper would drop it at the 11 on average. In 72 kicks, these guys got 2 touchbacks. Eventually, Sean Gaudet took over kickoff duties. These two guys are going to have to improve if they are going to really help the team. Maybe a year working on leg strength and flexibility will help. If not, well, we're going to have to find another kicker.

Those are the seven true freshmen who played this past year, and if they are any indication, that 2007 class is going to end up being pretty special. Some very highly regarded players didn't get off the bench because of the depth in front of them. The ones that were able to get into the game looked great. Players like Stefoin Francois, John Williams, Phelon Jones, Ron Brooks, Will Blackwell, T-Bob Hebert, Jarrett Lee, and Ernest McCoy are waiting for their chances to shine. The depth chart will clear out in front of these guys a little this offseason, and we should start seeing more of them rotate in.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

LSU Lands In-State Big Fish

Rayville wide receiver Chris Tolliver finally ended the suspense of his commitment yesterday and committed to LSU. Tolliver is listed at 6'1" and 180# with a 4.4 second 40 yard dash. He is listed on Rivals as a high 4-star, the #10 ranked wide receiver in the country this year.

He was one of the most important recruits left on the board, and his recruitment was touch and go for a while. Early in the recruiting cycle, Tolliver was considered a dead lock for committing to LSU, but lately he had been talking up Bama in his interviews, and Nick Saban had made him a high priority.

The last week or so gave us some signals that his interest in Bama had cooled. First, there was the commitment of Robby Green to Bama, which I thought signaled that Bama did not sit well with other Louisiana recruits. Then, in the last two days, Saban took a commitment from another wide receiver, Chris Jackson, giving him five in the current class, with a spot certainly left open for 5-star Julio Jones. It was hard to believe that they would really get 7 wide receivers.

So, the signals proved true, or at least pointed us in the right direction, even if only coincidentally.

As for Tolliver, he is a speed guy with good hands. He's not particularly big, but he's an excellent athlete. He is very reminiscent of Demetrius Byrd, and stands to be Byrd's heir apparent as a speed receiver. He will make an excellent compliment to the tall, rangy young receivers we have on the roster, like Terrance Tolliver (no relation), DeAngelo Benton, and DeAndre Brown (if Ole Miss doesn't convince him to go there instead).

He also is a return man on his high school team, but it's unknown if he has to tools for that role at the next level. Frankly, for a speed guy with hands, you'd be worried if he WASN'T returning kicks in high school.

Tolliver is a guy who everyone says is going to struggle to qualify. At the beginning of the season, he reportedly had a long way to go. We won't know where he stands until he either makes it to Fall camp or enrolls in JUCO/prep school. This has been a problem in our wide receiver recruiting the last two years. We recruited 4 wide receivers last year, and NONE of them were safe qualifiers. Two ended up having to go another route. This year, we have verbal commitments from 4 players who project as wide receivers right now, and perhaps one of them is a safe qualifier (DeAngelo Peterson). The other two big uncommitted wide receivers on our board are also not safe qualifiers.

This is why we are recruiting so many wide receivers right now. We need to sign six or seven, hoping that 4 or 5 will qualify.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Performance Enhancing Embarrassment

I'm going to change directions just a bit and talk about what the sporting world seems to be talking about. In the wake of concerns about how performance-enhancing drugs seem to have transformed how baseball was played in the last decade-and-a-half or so, the Mitchell Report has thrown the baseball world into a tizzy.

Some people say that no one really cares about performance-enhancing drugs, but I don't think that's true. In fact, I think it's demonstrably false. A lot of people, including many in positions of considerable power within baseball, seem to care a lot. Rank and file fans seem to care a lot too.

Where were these fans who care so much when Barry Bonds' head was doubling in size? That's a good question, and I don't have an answer for it. Frankly, the steroid problem in baseball has been obvious for a long time.

The steroid problem throughout sports has been evident for a while. I even have on pretty good authority that college cheerleading squads had rampant steroid problems until they started testing more. When they started testing, the squads started doing a lot less aerial work from what I understand.

However, to me the Mitchell Report is much ado about nothing. The biggest names, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, are not accused of being rampant steroid users, or of remaking their bodies through performance-enhancing drugs. They are accused merely of using Human Growth Hormone for a short period of time to help recover from a specific injury. At least in Pettitte's case, the drug was not yet banned.

So, Pettitte and Clemens did not use the drug to prolong their careers, or to help beat out someone else for a roster spot, or to convert a mediocre career into an all-star career. That, to me, is the real sin of steroid use. Using steroids to alter how you play the game and to make you a more desirable player (Bonds, Barry) is what initially made this such a big deal. People don't like that steroids have so greatly affected how the game of baseball is played, and affected who is actually playing it.

But now we're getting into new territory. Buster Olney reported that a lot of Hall of Fame voters won't vote for Roger Clemens because of his connection to HGH. I think that's a shame, not because steroids isn't such a big problem, but simply because this is not a Barry Bonds-like case.

Barry Bonds is the poster-child for unsportsmanlike, irresponsible, and illegitimate usage of steroids to alter a career. He apparently used steroids on a near-constant basis for years in order to transform himself from a player with good power to a player with awesome power, breaking hallowed records left and right. He is the epitome of what the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs can do. It can shift the balance of power in the sport, and can turn the merely good into the great, and the ordinary great into the immortal great. Barry Bonds was an excellent player, on his way to a Hall of Fame career, before steroids. But steroids made him into the most feared hitter in the game, a Babe Ruth for the new century.

Clemens and Pettitte are different. They used HGH not to alter how the game was played, but to get themselves into the game a little bit earlier than they would have been in it otherwise. Their use of HGH hasn't altered record books, extended their careers, or made them significantly wealthier than they would be otherwise. It just got them on the field quicker following injury than they would have been otherwise. Is it fair to the AAA guy the Yankees brought up to replace them? Probably not, but it's still not anything close to what Bonds and others have done.

I don't see any great need to have a hard-and-fast rule of "steroids [or HGH] means no Hall of Fame" as Buster Olney described. Not all steroid/HGH use is the same, or even close to the same. It would behoove the sports world to approach this issue with a little bit more of an eye for subtlety and degree of wrongdoing.

And by the way, don't be surprised if the college football world is shown at some point to have rampant steroid use in its ranks. I don't have any specific information about this, just a gut feeling. It's sort of a "where there's smoke, there's fire" thing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My Hero

I had no posts this weekend because I was off visiting in-laws in north Alabama. Plus, you know, there's not that much to say anymore. But the week is now fresh and much is happening.

Thank you Rich Rodriguez. Thank you for ending this farce and letting us all get back to the business at hand, which is trying to read the minds and analyze the psyches of 18-19 year old athletes picking a school.

I like Rich Rodriguez as a coach. His track record is beyond criticism at this point. This is a man who took Tulane to an undefeated record, and made West Virginia a football power. He is, at that level then, a miracle worker. But Michigan is a different kind of job. Unlike with places like Tulane and West Virginia, Michigan has a lot of people attached to the program who think they're just as qualified to run a team as anyone in the country.

And I'm not just talking about the coaches.

Michigan has Tradition with a capital T, which can be a good and a bad thing. It's a good thing because good players want to play for Michigan. Good assistants want to coach at Michigan. Good donors want to give money to Michigan.

It's a bad thing because a lot of those people don't want you to change the strategies that made Michigan the power it is and has been, even if it's not keeping up with the times. Think about how the Bama team has occasionally been held back by forces that did not want to change the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust strategy that Bear Bryant rode to great success. I'm not a fly in the wall at Michigan booster meetings, but I'd sure like to be. Are they going to be excited about bringing a spread option game to the Midwest?

On the flip side, does Rich Rodriguez have the flexibility as a coach to adjust to the players that Michigan has? Michigan does not have a fleet-footed athletic quarterback at the ready. It has a tall, strong-armed Sasquatch of a sophomore quarterback returning next season in Ryan Mallett. This kid has all the makings of the next Jamarcus Russell, which is a very good thing, but Jamarcus could not have played like Pat White and should never be asked to. Can Rich Rodriguez achieve a level of comfort with a pocket passer while he waits for his recruiting classes to build his team the way he really wants it?

I'm not going to speculate out loud on the answer, but I will say that it is ALWAYS dangerous for a successful program to change coaches. A really good coach and a storied program don't always come together to make football magic. See Franchione, Dennis and Texas A&M. You just don't know how it's all going to work, and the biggest name is not always the best fit.

Also this week, LSU begins practice for the BCSNCG, and recruiting continues unabated. Today, 5-star Kansas linebacker Arthur Brown makes his decision known. LSU is in the final group, and Brown has been very closed-mouthed about where he's going. We haven't gotten the usual signals we get. Smart money is on... well, the smart money's sitting this one out. It would be something of a surprise if he picked LSU, but not a shock. Linebacker is a position where a young player could come in and compete for playing time right away at LSU, and then compete for championships. I don't know if it will happen, and I'm not making any kind of guesses, but Arthur-Brown-to-LSU makes a certain amount of sense.

If he commits to us, I'll certainly have more to say about it tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

More Coaching Changes

There have been some coaching changes lately, and finally it appears that Les Miles is out of the news, because the talking heads have something sexier to talk about. Bobby Petrino, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons, is the new head coach at Arkansas. The you-know-what has hit the fan.

I am somewhat ambivalent about the moral implications of this. Petrino has indeed left his team in the middle of its season, and that's generally not a respectable thing to do. But, in his defense, it's not like that team was fighting for a playoff spot. They were 3-10 and headed nowhere fast. It was also pretty clearly not what Petrino signed up for, given that when he signed with the Falcons, they had a dynamic quarterback entering the prime of his career.

On the other hand, one can look at this as a pattern. Bobby Petrino has never been at one job for longer than 4 years, and only made it as far as 4 years once in his career. He used every job he's ever had as a stepping stone to another job. What's more, he was involved in "Jet Gate", whereby certain Auburn officials, at the end of the 2003 season, flew up to Louisville to interview him, while Tommy Tuberville was still very much the head coach. The ploy backfired; Tuberville saved his job; and everyone involved ended up looking bad. He also made Les Miles-esque statements about his love for Louisville, and signed a contract extension, mere weeks before accepting the Atlanta Falcons job. And you see what's become of the Louisville program since.

Then there's his demeanor as a person. It has been said that he was a dark cloud over the Atlanta Falcons facilities during his time there. He was rude to everyone, and would verbally dress down veterans and consummate professionals like Warrick Dunn.

I am truly doubtful this is a good hire. Bobby Petrino will be mercilessly negatively recruited. He is the very definition of an unprincipled mercenary who will leave your program high and dry if he gets a better opportunity. He's done it twice in less than one calendar year. He's shown no evidence of bringing any stability to a program, as he's never actually stayed in one place long enough to develop any roots.

It would be one thing if this was Michigan, or USC, or Florida, or an NFL job. For an ambitious coach, those programs are definitely destinations, not pit stops. This is Arkansas. The recruiting base is not strong. The facilities are not among the greatest in the country. It's not in a sexy location. There is little prospect of Arkansas being a national contender on a regular basis, or even a consistent conference power. For an ambitious coach, therefore, I don't think Arkansas is a destination job. Therefore, I think that Arkansas will constantly face the prospect of Petrino leaving for a bigger gig if he has success there. He also has a demonstrated desire to coach in the NFL, though he may never get that chance again.

I wonder if this deal was entered hastily by both sides. Petrino reportedly was first contacted about this on Tuesday night, and was on a plane within hours, signing a contract on the plane. Did he just want out of Atlanta that badly? Did he really examine whether he was a good fit at Arkansas? Assuming McFadden is leaving for the NFL, do they really have a lot of talent next year, or are they set up for a bad season?

On the other hand, Petrino is a proven college coach, who took a real also-ran of a program and made it into a national contender. Of course, he was doing it in a conference that really didn't have any entrenched powers they had to unseat. It will be a lot harder at Arkansas.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Recruitment of Robby Green

Robby Green, a 4-star cornerback from John Curtis Christian High School in River Ridge, LA recently gave his verbal commitment to Bama. If you only casually pay attention to recruiting, you will think this is a big deal for LSU, and is very bad news for us. It really is not.

In particular, if you had been listening to WJOX yesterday at about 8:00am, you would have heard Matt Scallessi (spelling of last name unknown) of Rivals' Bama network saying, "Every big SEC team was after this kid," and that this was a big recruiting coup for Nick Saban. They weren't, and it wasn't.

I don't want to criticize a young player, because I assure you Robby Green is 500x the football player that I have ever been or will ever be, but he was a borderline major college prospect at best. To understand how this is known, you have to know a little bit about how recruiting works.

College coaches are strictly forbidden from talking about recruits in public or to the media. The purpose of this is to keep recruitment from being conducted through the media and to keep the kids out of the public spotlight as much as is possible.

One of the results of this is that there is a cottage industry of "insiders," usually anonymous people posting under aliases who claim (real or imagined) sources within programs who provide them with valuable and otherwise unavailable information about recruiting. These people are one of the two primary sources of recruiting information, and I won't say they're strictly reliable. Some are legitimate, some are not, and one should always be skeptical of someone claiming inside information who has not been demonstrated to be accurate in the past.

The other primary source of recruiting information is the recruits themselves. They are also not strictly reliable. They provide the recruiting media with information that is often self-serving or misunderstood. They may exaggerate their list of offers, or their 40-time, or their level of interest in particular programs.

The players are rated based on several factors, including a) who is recruiting him, b) his measurables, and c) statistics, film, and/or direct scouting. The problem is that the information on who is recruiting him can be very unreliable, as can the information about the measurables, as both of these often come straight from the player himself, who has incentive to exaggerate.

If you follow it enough, you start to be able to instinctively separate fact from fiction. You start to figure out whose information is really reliable, and how to spot an exaggerating player. You also figure out that the services' rankings are often based on misconceptions about a player.

This brings us to Robby Green. He is listed as a 4-star, with offers from Florida, LSU, and other big programs. He is also listed as 6'0" and 175#. This contributed to his 4-star status. According to multiple reliable inside sources, Green did not have an offer from LSU, and LSU would not have accepted his commitment if he offered it to them. He was, by some accounts, on the backburner, to be given an offer if some other possible commits failed to come through for us. According to other inside sources at Bama, their recruitment of him ran hot and cold, depending on who else they thought was coming available. We also know that USC brought him in for one of their summer camps and promptly pulled his scholarship offer upon seeing him in action.

His measurables were also questioned. People who claimed to have met him in person said he was closer to 5'8" or 5'9" than to 6'0". People who saw him on television said he appeared to be pretty short even on television. For a cornerback, there is a huge difference between 5'8" and 6'0". The prototypical size for a cornerback is between 6'0" and 6'1". A small cornerback will struggle with the big receivers you often find in the SEC, often 6'4" or taller. The shorter arms that come with a shorter frame will make it more difficult to break up passes as well.

In other words, a 5'8" or 5'9" cornerback is at a huge disadvantage in the SEC and had better bring great athleticism, or an ability to return punts, or great ball skills, or SOMETHING to the table. I don't know if Robby Green brings any of that.

I'm certainly not saying Robby Green won't amount to anything. I assure you I do not know that to be true, and neither does anyone else. Recruiting is about upside and probability. There is very little certainty when it comes to recruiting. There are very few, if any players that you can look at and say, "He's going to be great," and be completely confident about it. It's also true that people sometimes go from walk-on to All-American, and every year former 2-star recruits get drafted on the first day of the NFL draft. But the odds are longer for these guys, and the probabilities are low, as is the upside of a small cornerback.

Which brings us to why I think Saban recruited Green. I think it was because he wants, for public relations purposes, to recruit a guy out of Louisiana. He wants to show boosters and future athletes that he has a presence in Louisiana. He had been recruiting a few other Louisiana players, like Tyler Edwards, Chris Tolliver, and Chase Clement, but it is becoming apparent that these guys are long shots to commit to Bama, so he went to his fall-back player, one he knew wasn't getting a lot of love from the home state school.

I wish Robby Green luck at Bama, and word is that he may yet actually get an offer from LSU, if the other cornerbacks on the board fall through. If he does, that's fine with me. Just don't believe the hype you're hearing from Bama Kool-aid vendors and less knowledgeable sources that Bama just reeled in a big fish out of Louisiana. Green is not a big fish. He's a class-filler.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Les Miles to Remain at LSU... Again

I'm really tired of ESPN messing with our football team. And make no mistake, the hullabaloo yesterday was ALL about ESPN trying to manufacture a story to fill air time.

ESPN simply found out from a Detroit newspaper that Les Miles had a phone conversation last week with Michigan's people. They had no information about the content of that conversation. But because it was a slow news day, they decided to run with it, and the "story" appeared on all of their shows, including Mike & Mike In the Morning, the Mike Tirico Show, PTI, etc.

Nevermind that Les Miles has said in half a dozen different ways that he will not be Michigan's head coach. Don't misunderstand this point. He did not give standard coach-speak when denying rumors of involvement with Michigan. He did not say any of the following:
  • I'm not looking to change jobs
  • I have a team to coach
  • I'm dedicated to coaching this team
He did not give those vague non-denial denials. He could have, if he wanted. No one would have blamed him if he had. But he didn't. He's said several different times in several different forums in several different ways that he will not be Michigan's next coach.

The talk continued.

He then said he had reached an agreement in principle for a contract extension with LSU.

The talk continued.

He then signed a contract extension.

The talk continued.

He then came out again yesterday and said in unequivocal terms that he was not a candidate for Michigan's open coaching job. His precise words were:
I had a conversation with Michigan last week that covered a wide range of topics. I was doing nothing more than helping them with their search for a football coach, just as any loyal alumnus might do. It was nothing more than that. I'm not a candidate for that job and I will not be a candidate for the job. I was only assisting them in their search for a coach. I have a great job at a wonderful place, a place that my family calls home. It's time that Michigan goes on with their search for a football coach. I'll say it again, I'm going to be the coach at LSU next season.
What more can the man say? What can this man do that would actually end this "story"? He can't say it any more clearly or any more forcefully than he's said it.

ESPN has a lot of air time to fill, and this was an excellent way for them to fill it. First, they got to fill a lot of air time by, once again, talking about the possibility that Les Miles would go to Michigan, with a new angle. Then, several hours later, when they had run with that story quite a bit, they got to fill a lot of air time again by reporting that Les Miles, again, thoroughly denied the story. ESPN then filled its air time with retrospectives of Miles' denials of interest in the job.

ESPN took a nonstory and made two stories out of it. Of course, the second story mooted the first story and set the whole thing back to where we started the day, but at least they got to fill a lot of air time and cause a stir with what was, in essence, no story at all.

Responsible journalists would be embarrassed, perhaps even shamed out of the business. But not ESPN.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Recruiting Update

A lot has happened in recruiting lately, as this is the beginning of a brief season between the regular season and the bowl seasons where most of the news of a program will be in recruiting and/or coaching searches.

Winter Haven, Florida 3-star quarterback D.C. Jefferson, formerly a commitment to Rutgers, lately a commitment to LSU, decommitted from LSU and gave his commitment back to Rutgers late yesterday. No one is really sure why, but the answer could be the play of Destrehan 3-star quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who by all accounts showed out very well in the Louisiana state championships this past weekend. He looked so good (completing a pass 65 yards downfield in stride, and throwing very few incomplete passes), that there has been talk of moving him up to 4-star status.

D.C. Jefferson reminded everyone of a young Byron Leftwich, and that comparison still holds. I can't say why D.C. decided not to come to LSU, but I know we will be fine. We have Jarrett Lee who redshirted this year, and Jordan Jefferson who came on very strong at the end of his senior year of high school, plus what is supposed to be a bumper crop of quarterbacks coming along next year.

His scholarship slot opening up is considered by some to be a blessing, as it will allow us to pick up another recruit at another position. It looks like LSU will finish strong this year after a kind of ho-hum early part of the recruiting season. LSU recently got a commitment from Chase Clement, who is a nephew of former LSU great Eric Andolsek. Clement is a 4-star defensive end prospect from Thibodaux and is considered an excellent athlete for someone his size.

If you believe the recruiting services, LSU has solidified itself with other in-state prospects Chris Tolliver (wide receiver) and Tyler Edwards (tight end), who Nick Saban has been hard after this season, and who he had a week-long head start considering LSU was playing in the SEC Championship Game. It is now generally believed that neither will leave Louisiana, and yes, both are key players to this class. We also have at least outside shots at blue chip out-of-state prospects Arthur Brown (5-star linebacker from Kansas), Larentee McCray (4-star Florida linebacker, recently decommitted from Miami), T.J. Bryant (4-star Florida cornerback), Patrick Johnson (5-star Florida cornerback, currently committed to Miami), Antoine McClain (4-star Alabama offensive lineman), and Moses McCray (4-star defensive tackle currently committed to Florida State).

Don't misunderstand me. We will not get all of those 6 out of state guys, and may not get any of them. If we get one, be pleased. If we get two, be very pleased. We have about 6, maybe 7 slots left in this class, and a Tolliver, Edwards, DeAngelo Benton, and one or two others seem to have dibs on the first few slots.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Long Lull

Now that we're in a long lull in football activity, I am going to slow down posting a little bit. There just isn't that much to write about. The team isn't practicing for the BCSNC game yet, and there just isn't that much activity.

Well, that's not exactly true. There's plenty of activity. The coaches are working hard on recruiting right now, and Les Miles is probably busy working on finding a new defensive coordinator. The problem is that I don't have a whole lot of insight into those topics right now. At least, I don't have any that you can't find on the other sites.

I'll probably have a little recruiting overview some time soon, but I just don't have enough original to say on the topic to fill a lot of columns at this point.

I will definitely cover basketball, but I don't get a lot of the games on television here. When I get one, I will watch it and I will comment. By the way, I watched the first half of the Villanova game. We looked great. I didn't catch the second half, but I'm sure it was a big win for us.*

So, GeauxTuscaloosa will be pulling back just a little. In truth, since I started this blog in February, I have posted a lot more than I thought I would. I never anticipated it being more than a 4-5 post a week type thing in the offseason, but I ended up posting just about every day.

For today, feel free to read the post below about the Heisman Trophy winner.

*Yes, I'm kidding.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


You can argue the relevance of the Heisman Trophy until you're blue in the face, but you'll never escape the fact that winning the Heisman Trophy carries with it certain cachet that no other individual award carries, perhaps in all of sports. Also, I think no matter you look at it, the voters this year had a very difficult decision. They made a deserving choice, but I am somewhat ambivalent about it.

Tim Tebow is an outstanding player who had an outstanding year. He did things that have simply never been seen before on the college football field. We've simply never seen a strong-armed quarterback who is also a power running back and also a natural team leader. Or at least, we've never seen it from someone playing at so high of a level as Tim Tebow does.

It amazes me how much responsibility on the football field this kid has. Almost every play runs through him. On 90% of the offensive plays, Tebow is either throwing the ball, taking the ball on a designed quarterback run, or running an option play that requires him to read defenders and choose to either keep it or give it to a running back.

Colt Brennan is a good quarterback, but I don't think he can match Tebow's athleticism, and I don't think he could do anything close to what he's doing against SEC competition.

Chase Daniel is a terrific QB, but I put him just a notch below Tebow at this point.

I don't have any problem with giving the Trophy to a sophomore. Tebow will probably not have another season quite like this one. He scored most of his rushing touchdowns and got a lot of his touches in the running game more as a result of Florida's failure to find a running back to help him than any other reason. Florida will remedy that situation next year, and Tebow's rushing numbers will decrease. If Urban Meyer is worth a crap as a coach, Tebow won't have to have this much responsibility again in his career.

My only problem with Tebow winning the Heisman is that Darren McFadden is now shut out of the Heisman Trophy. I don't blame Tebow at all for this. In fact, I blame the Downtown Athletic Club voters from last year, who should have given the 2006 trophy to McFadden. I thought McFadden would win it, but that it would be a career award, or a do-over for last year.

Tebow had a better year, but McFadden deserves to have the honorific "Heisman Trophy Winner" after his name. He won't have it.

Let me close by saying how lucky we are, as SEC fans, to have so many truly outstanding players in the conference recently. In particular, I'm talking about Glenn Dorsey and Darren McFadden, who we've seen at high levels in the last two years, and Tim Tebow, who we've seen play at a high level this year and will continue to see for years to come. McFadden and Dorsey are the best players at their respective positions in the SEC in recent memory. Tim Tebow is, in my opinion, the most dangerous offensive player in the SEC since at least Bo Jackson. I don't know what Tebow's pro prospects are, but he is a great college player, unlike any we've ever seen.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Remaining of the King

Les Miles signed a contract extension yesterday. Hopefully, finally, the rumors of him going to Michigan will die.

Of course, Miles said unambiguously on Saturday that he would be LSU's coach next year. Forget his terse press conference hours before the game, where he did not unambiguously say he was staying. Look at his one-on-one interview with Tracy Wolfson at the top of CBS's broadcast, where he did. Unfortunately, I don't see a YouTube of it to show people.

He made a statement that, if he turned around and went to Michigan, would have been his personal Nick Saban "I'm not going to be the next coach at Alabama" moment. Yet still, a small but vocal contingent of the media continued to sell the Miles-to-Michigan story as something other than dead, even though Michigan officials had also declared it dead.

Now it's dead. I am pleased. Let me point you to an article in the LSU Daily Reveille. It appeared on Tuesday.
LaFell said he has always trusted Miles, and Saturday was no different for the sophomore receiver.

"[Miles] came and told us like a man that he wasn't leaving," LaFell said. "Since I've been here, he's never lied to me, so I took his word. We all took his word, and we just went out and played for ourselves."

LaFell has two more years of eligibility remaining at LSU. He said continuing to be instructed by the coach who landed him at LSU is meaningful.

"[Miles] is one of the guys that recruited me and brought me in, came and sat in my house and ate with my family," LaFell said. "He means a lot to me. He recruited a lot of good guys, a lot of good players. It means a lot to know that our coach is going to stick behind us. His alma mater is offering him a good job, but hey, he's taking the best job down here."

Miles has forged ties with LaFell and many other football players. Two Tigers Miles specifically mentioned as being dear to him were Steltz and senior running back Jacob Hester.

"The sincerity of the relationships between coaches and players, they're real," Miles said. "Jacob Hester, Steltz, these are great kids. To think that there's anything less sincere than the relationship that I have with my team, there's nothing more important."

Hester agreed with his coach's sentiments, saying his relationship with Miles is genuine.

"He came to me the other day, and he just apologized. 'I'm sorry this is even interfering with your game,'" Hester said. "And I just told him, 'Coach, I understand.' He said, 'No you don't. I want to be here.'"
"That just means so much. We have such a great relationship with our head coach. We feel like we can just go up to him and talk about anything. It's one of those relationships, and for him to pass up his dream job just to stay with the guys here, that means a lot to us."
This passage points, I think, to Les Miles' greatest strength as a head football coach. He has a wonderful ability to forge relationships with young players because he is genuinely on their side. He genuinely cares about the young players and wants what's best for them. The players sense that, and respond in kind.

That's his approach to coaching. He's a players' coach, trying to get the most out of his players by forging positive relationships with them. As the team gets more and more players who initially forged relationships with him on the recruiting trail, we will see more of his personality shape the team. As it is, it is clear he has won over players who were not recruited by him.

One thing that has always impressed me about Miles is his seeming lack of ego. Les Miles has never once been accused of playing his own recruits at the expense of his predecessor's players. He has never done what Curley Hallman did by falsely claiming his team was "young and inexperienced" while playing his own freshman and sophomore recruits over more polished older players. One can discuss the wisdom of playing Justin Vincent as much as he played last year, but no one can say Les Miles was throwing Saban's players under the bus in favor of his own.

In fact, no one can accuse Miles of ever throwing a player under the bus, period. Even when Brandon Lafell was struggling so much in the middle of the season, he was never criticized publicly by the coaches. Miles simply trusted Lafell to work his way out of his problems, and Lafell has, making a big catch against Tennessee that was eerily similar to the one he batted up for an interception against Bama. LSU would not have been well-served if Miles had benched and publicly reprimanded Lafell, and he didn't do it.

Players trust Miles, understand he will be honest with them, and want to succeed for him. This is what makes the continued rumors of him going to Michigan so senseless after Saturday. The man's greatest asset as a coach is the trust he develops in players. He could have said nothing and quietly left for Michigan after the SEC Championship Game, but if he did that after what he said on Saturday, he would have been sacrificing that trust. No player could ever say of Miles, "He's never lied to me," as Lafell said, because he would have lied to the player right there on network television for all the world to see.

It would have been like Samson wanting to get a job with the Yankees and cutting off his hair to comply with the grooming policies. He would never be able to be the same coach he is now if he had done that. But I guess the media just doesn't watch these people this closely, or just needs to fill up some column inches or television minutes and needs to talk about whatever they can talk about.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Who Is This Ohio State Team?

I have to admit, I know very little about this Ohio State team. Strangely, ESPN seems to give me little actual usable information about how to evaluate Ohio State. They cover sports 24 hours a day and they give me no usable information. How about that?

Here's what I know about Ohio State from ESPN:
  • Beanie Wells is reportedly a very good running back, though probably not on the level of a McFadden.
  • Their offensive line is reportedly one of the best in the country.
  • Their QB/receivers are adequate but not great.
  • The defense is considered rather good, especially James Laurinaitis
  • They have a reputation for being pretty slow.
That sounds pretty nice there, but it honestly doesn't tell me anything useful. What kind of formations do they run? Do they blitz a lot? Do they run a lot of play-action pass? Are their linebackers vulnerable in coverage? These are things a highlight clip just can't show you. Nor can a poignant human interest story really inform you on these things. If it can't be conveyed in a highlight clip or a poignant human interest story, ESPN's ability to convey it is limited.

I think I'm just going to have to try to find a few Ohio State reruns on ESPN Classic or something. I need to know these things.

There are a few more things that can be gathered about Ohio State by looking at their statistics:
  • Todd Boeckman didn't score a rushing touchdown all year and only got 70 yards rushing. Compare to Matt Flynn who rushed for 208 yards and 4 touchdowns. Even Ryan Perrilloux did significantly better with 203 yards and 2 touchdowns (and one 2-point conversion)
  • Ohio State is a running team, but we actually ran more and had a higher average per carry than Ohio State had, but we didn't have any rusher with Beanie Wells' numbers of 254 carries for 1463 yards and 14 touchdowns.
  • Ohio State has only 2 receivers with 20 or more catches, and 7 with 10 or more. LSU has 4 with 20 or more (all of whom have 28 or more, actually), and 8 with 10 or more. Ohio State's Brian Robiskie had as many catches as Early Doucet had, but outgained all of our receivers with 885 yards. Our leading yardage gainer was Brandon Lafell with 641.
  • By my count, Ohio State completed 24 passes to running backs for 159 yards. We completed 45 passes to running backs for 414 yards.
  • We got 1000 more yards than Ohio State over the course of the year.
Synthesizing this information, I think it means that we have a more diverse and more dangerous attack. We use more receivers effectively. We throw to the running backs and tight ends more and more effectively. We have a more dangerous running threat at QB. We run the ball just as effectively, if not more. That means, I think, we are a harder team to defend than is Ohio State.

That tells me about who gets their yards, but not how they get them. I simply have no idea how sophisticated their systems are or how they strategize to get their yards or make their stops.

If any of you can help me, I'd appreciate it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Go to a Bowl Game

Every year at this time, though oddly not in this year for some reason, you hear about some team that went 6-5 or 6-6 and whose fans say, "We should turn down a bowl because we don't deserve one." Rarely does any actual football team agree, and it would be utter foolishness to turn down an opportunity to go to a bowl game.

OK, let's say you're 6-6 and you've been invited to the Independence Bowl to play another 6-6 team. Have you had a great season? Well, no. Is anyone other than your fan base, some die hard conference followers, and the other team's fan base going to be really interested in watching? Probably very few people. Will you really be "salvaging" your season with a win? No. Will a loss, giving you a losing record, make the season an unmitigated disaster? Well, here I think the answer is "not really." The season is already a disaster and a loss in the bowl game won't make a hill of beans of difference.

But a bowl game gives you something. It gives you two weeks of practice, essentially another Spring Practice session. For teams not really playing for very much, this is an excellent opportunity to get young players a lot of reps, which they haven't really gotten since August. This is an excellent building block for the next season.

Back in February, in one of my first ever blog posts, I said of Spring Practice, "It is said that the typical player will make the biggest improvement he will ever make during his first Spring Practice." The bowl practices aren't exactly like Spring Practice, where the previous year's seniors are gone and the team is focused exclusively on trying to prepare for the following season, but it is a nice head start. You have an extra week of practice, so you aren't strictly installing a game plan for the next game like is typical during the season.

When installing a game plan during a game week, a team is pretty much limited to getting its regular rotation of players the practice reps. With an extra week of practice (and especially with a less than colossal matchup) there will be more instruction, more drilling, and more reps for the younger players. This is a valuable asset that non-bowl teams will not get.

It also rewards your players, who get to go to a new city (yay Shreveport!) and get some swag for their season. Granted, Rose Bowl swag is a lot nicer than I-Bowl swag, but hey it's free stuff that you can legally give your players. If you tried to do it without a bowl game, the NCAA would come and kick you in the groin.

It is my recollection, though I haven't actually looked it up, that Notre Dame once declined to go to a bowl game because they did not believe they deserved it. This was utter foolishness and it did nothing but hurt them.

I overheard some talking head saying that a win in a bowl game also gives a team momentum heading into the next season. While this may be true, I am doubtful of this particular alleged benefit. I'm not going to do an exhaustive study on the win percentage of teams that won bowl games last year versus that of teams that lost bowl games versus teams that did not participate in bowl games. Let me just say that in the National Championship game, we have a matchup of a team that won a bowl game versus a team that lost it. In the Rose Bowl we have a bowl winner versus a team that did not go to a bowl game. In the Fiesta, we have a team that won its bowl game versus a team that lost its bowl game.

The 2003 LSU team that won the national championship was coming off a loss in the previous Cotton Bowl (incidentally, our only recent bowl loss). The 2007 LSU team that is playing for the national championship is coming off a bowl win, but Ohio State is coming off a blowout bowl loss. Eh, if there's a correlation, it is not clear to me.

But anyway, if you get invited to a bowl game, be happy and go play it. College football tightly restricts and regulates practice time, and going to a bowl game gives you significantly more of it than you would otherwise have. Take advantage of it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

This is What the BCS Is For

Like it or hate it (and I am ambivalent), the BCS is designed to do exactly this. It is designed to decide who gets to the BCS National Championship Game between multiple teams with legitimate claims to it. It has done that, and we have benefited.

I won't pretend that we have a perfect claim to a shot at the national championship. We're the first two-loss team ever in it, and we lost to an unranked team late in the year. There's no question that we are not the 2005 USC team. But no one is this year. Not even Ohio State's claim to it is perfect (quick, name three good teams Ohio State beat). No one in history has backed into a title game more egregiously than Ohio State just did, by not playing for two consecutive weekends while moving up due to other teams' losses.

Heck, if we had stopped playing football the week before Thanksgiving, no one would be complaining about us getting in the game either.

I'm not saying Ohio State doesn't deserve to be in it, but if we're not the 2005 USC team, they're not the 2005 Texas team either. The computers ranked you a distant 3rd behind LSU and Virginia Tech, and the voters saved you, mainly because you failed to lose more than once.

And Georgia, you aren't the 2004 Auburn Tigers. You are not being screwed here. You're being passed over, but you're not being screwed. If you want to be crowned the best team in the country, you first have to be crowned the best team in the conference. It may not be a definitive rule, but the voters were pretty clear on this matter. Heck, even the computers didn't exactly love you, ranking you 4th overall.

I'm not saying Georgia is no good. I would not do that. I think Georgia is very good, and they aren't exactly wrong when they say that they finished the season as the strongest team in the conference. They didn't start that way though, and they weren't that way in mid-season when they got blown out by Tennessee. Tennessee beat them by 21, but I watched that game and they could have beaten them by more but they shut it down early because they knew it was in the bag.

Virginia Tech? They have a legitimate claim, as does Oklahoma and USC. But, this is what the BCS does. It decides between teams with legitimate claims according to a known set of rules. It chose us. USC would be sitting pretty if they hadn't lost to Stanford, and Oklahoma would be in if they hadn't lost to Colorado. Virginia Tech would be in it if they had even kept it close against us in September (I think).

I certainly think that whatever happens in this game, the legitimacy of this championship will be discussed for years to come. I don't have a problem with that. They don't call it the Mythical National Championship for nothing. And if it weren't for disputed national championships, what would Bama fans have to talk about?

I kid. I kid.

OK, bottom line. We won our conference. The voters made us a very strong 2nd place. The computers made us a very strong 2nd place. We're in. To the extent the whole thing is objective (computers), we passed. To the extent it's subjective (voters), we passed. No one beat more good teams. No one else won a conference as tough as ours. No one near the top played a schedule as strong as ours. We may not have dominated that schedule, and in other years we probably would not have made the championship game with our losses, but this is this year. It's not other years. We're in, and we deserve it. We have nothing to apologize for.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

SEC Championship Game: The Early Morning After

It's 4:30am and I can't sleep. This is absolute madness, but it seems to have all come down in LSU's favor, leaving us with a returning head coach and a trip to the national championship game against Ohio State. I don't even know what to say. I would say no one saw it coming, but that would be wrong. At least one person over on Tigerdroppings predicted it, but even he said he balked when given the opportunity to bet on it.

This crazy season had one more crazy day in it, didn't it? Today, for LSU fans may have been the craziest of all. Someone is going to write a book about this season one day. No, there will probably be two books. One about the season as a whole and another about LSU's season in particular.

Two highly improbable things happened today. Or maybe it was three improbable things. Or four.

The day started with Kirk Herbstreit reporting that Les Miles was certain to be the next coach at Michigan. I wasn't particularly surprised by this, but apparently Les Miles was, as were Skip Bertman and the players.

Second, Les Miles calls an impromptu press conference to announce that not only was the initial report erroneous, but that he was not talking to Michigan and was going to be the LSU coach for the future. He was clearly angry, and later said that players came up to him and said that they felt like he was just waiting to get on a plane.

When I saw this press conference, I thought, "Well that's great, but he did not say 'I'll be the coach for the 2008 season.'" While there were reports that he had agreed in principle to a contract extension, it was unsigned. Then in an interview with Tracy Wolfson before the start of the game, he said it. Unambiguously. He's going to be the coach next year. He later said he wanted to "challenge that person" who put out the information that he was going to Michigan.

So, instead of going into the bowl season looking for a new coach, which EVERYONE expected, we appear to have locked up our most successful coach in history for years to come.

Third, amid all the distractions and with our starting quarterback out and our best player not playing a lot of snaps, we went out and beat Tennessee. I know we were favored in this game, but I thought we were facing an uphill battle to win it. I thought our defense was reeling. I thought our team as a whole would be flat given the distractions. I had no idea what Perrilloux would do.

It turns out, our defense was excellent for most of the game. Our team played spirited football and really dominated the game statistically. Ryan Perrilloux started slow and ended slow, but in the long stretch in the middle he was terrific. We struggled to put the ball in the end zone, but the team moved the ball consistently with Ryan Perrilloux behind center. I sure hope those rumors of him leaving the team after the season are false. That kid is going to be a special quarterback if he can keep it together.

And finally, perhaps most improbably of all, it appears we're going to play for the national championship! Nothing is definite on this, but the BCS gurus think it's likely and the major talking heads are embracing an LSU-OSU matchup. This was of course all set up by Mizzou and West Virginia both losing. Missouri was half-expected to lose, but WVU was 28 point favorites over a Pitt team that was generally considered poor.

I didn't think it would happen even with wins by Pitt and Oklahoma, and it still might. We started the day at #7 in the BCS. Two teams ahead of us lost. Two other teams ahead of us did not even win their conference divisions. And one team ahead of us lost to us by 41 points early in the season. The BCS gurus think our computer rankings may be the strongest in the country, and the voters will likely put us ahead of the teams that failed to win their conferences.

I'm not a rah-rah kind of guy. I'm not going to blindly accept that we deserve it without analyzing it further, but I can say what we have accomplished.
  • We won our conference, the toughest in the country.
  • We scored big wins over Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Virginia Tech, who all finished the season ranked, VT in the top 5.
  • We beat South Carolina and Alabama at times when those teams were playing very well.
  • Our losses were both in triple overtime to credible teams while playing with one or more of our best players injured.
  • I haven't done an exhaustive study on this, but it strikes me that we probably had the most difficult injury situation of any decent team in the country. Our best player was a shadow of himself for the entire second half of the season. Our best offensive player missed several games with injury and couldn't finish the SEC Championship Game. One of our starting defensive tackles was lost for the year before the third game of the season. One of our key contributors on the defensive line was suspended from the team for the entire regular season. Our starting middle linebacker was limited against Arkansas. A starting cornerback busted up his eyes and had blurry vision for much of the year. Our starting quarterback missed two games to injury, including the SEC Championship Game, and was severely limited in several other games. Our backup quarterback had to play hurt for much of the second half of the SECCG. Our go-to running back got injured on the second-to-last play of the Kentucky game and wasn't available for a key 4th down, when his backup failed to get the 2 yards necessary to extend the game.
I'm not going to poor-mouth Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, and Ohio State, but I will say this: a team that fails to win its conference has no business playing for the national championship. Kansas, you beat nobody all season. Georgia, you finished the season very strong, but you did not even win your division, much less your conference. Georgia has definitely earned an at-large bid in the BCS bowls, but it does not deserve to play for the national championship. I would be saying the same about us if the roles were reversed. How can you be the best team in the country when you aren't the best team in your conference?

We'll know more tomorrow.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

2:15 pm

Game Day: SEC Championship Game

The game is here. The game that the entire SEC season is built to get to. The game that gives the winner a championship to brag about for all time. No one seems to care very much.

You know what? To hell with all this negativity. Yes, we appear to have a lame duck coach and a defensive coordinator with one foot out the door already. But we also have an SEC championship on the line, and we really have been the best team in the league from wire to wire. We don't have any bad loss on our schedule like Georgia's beatdown to Tennessee or Tennessee's beat down to Bama. We absolutely deserve to be here, and despite our struggles to dominate teams, we have won all those games.

The problems? Well, we still have a badly beat-up defense, and reports are that we will have to start Ryan Perrilloux because of injuries to Matt Flynn. Good luck Ryan. I hope you emerge as the next great LSU quarterback.

This is the last truly meaningful game for a great group of seniors, and while I remain saddened that they won't get the opportunity to play for the national championship, they have the opportunity to go out as champions and to get an opportunity for a very nice bowl game.

What are we going to do with Tennessee? Well, I think Tennessee has a pretty weak defense that is vulnerable both to the run and to the pass. It's not a particularly athletic defense up front, and not a very experienced defense in the secondary. I think our offense is strong enough and fast enough to really exploit it.

The problem is that their offense is very good, and our defense is struggling. They are capable of running and passing very well. Our defense will really have to pick itself up off the mat for this game because Tennessee's offense is just as powerful as Arkansas's or Kentucky's, the two that really lit us up.

Then when it's over, we can refocus on the coaching situation.