Friday, August 31, 2007

The Day After: Mississippi State

Sorry about the half-hearted live blogging. I watched the rest of the game, and then went to bed.

After a game like last night's, I think there is a great tendency to accentuate the negative. Most people want to nitpick a performance that ends up in a big win. I'll start with the positive.

The defense was dominant. With the exception of one first-half drive, the only movement MSU could get was when Henig threw up prayers that were answered. Just as often, those prayers resulted in interceptions.

Early Doucet looked like the All-SEC receiver we think he is. He didn't have a lot of big gains, but he made the catches (9 of them) and set up our first touchdown by drawing a pass interference penalty in the end zone.

Flynn looked shaky at first, but once MSU got down by 17, he looked a lot more comfortable. He didn't have a high yards per attempt, but he threw a couple touchdown passes and didn't turn the ball over. We took very few shots down the field in the game, and I hope that changes as the season goes on.

Ryan Perrilloux looked pretty good to me. He looked a lot more comfortable in the pocket than he has in the past. He scored his first rushing touchdown and his first passing touchdown of his career as well. He certainly looked like a legitimate QB at this point, and I get the impression Les Miles really likes the guy despite his well-reported flaws.

OK, now to accentuating the negative. The offensive line HAS to improve between this week and next. The announcers made much of Carnell Stewart's struggles, which were numerous, but experienced starters struggled as well. Ciron Black gave up a sack. Brett Helms allowed defensive line push. Herman Johnson got a big holding penalty. Stewart definitely needs to improve. Titus Brown is as good of a defensive end as he'll see, but he isn't really any better than Quentin Groves or Derrick Harvey, and Virginia Tech surely has quality players there. He's going to have to close the gap between himself and those players or we are going to have trouble.

We're also going to have to improve on our 4.0 yards per rush average. Hopefully, the problems with the offensive line can be corrected and the running game improve. Hester averaged almost 5 yards per carry, and Keiland Williams average was held down because he got a lot of his carries at the goal line, scoring two touchdowns. But Charles Scott is going to have to improve on his paltry 1.3 yards per carry average, and Trindon Holliday didn't exactly light it up on his runs, though they sure were exciting.

I think we need to not run the ball with Flynn quite so much. Particularly when we were struggling to throw the ball early, MSU had a lot of success keying on Flynn's running. He had some nice runs, but he also had a few no-gains, and his average was not particularly good. Plus, we really don't want him taking a lot of hits. i think we need fewer designed QB run plays, and Flynn needs to pick his spots better for scrambling.

Despite the 45-0 score, the offense clearly needs some work. Every score we had except one came after the defense created a turnover that gave us a short field. We aren't going to face a lot of QBs who take care of the ball as poorly as Henig, and we will need more sustained drives. Of course, that will require a solidified offensive line.

This game was a rout of course, but it was closer than the score. MSU kept it close until time expired in the first half, and once the game got out of reach, their offense seemed to give up. Their defense never gave up, but it seemed to wear down from all the pressure put on it, and it lacks depth.

This was a good tune up game, showing us the things we need to improve upon, but now we have to go and improve upon them.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Live Blogging: The Suckiest Suck That Ever Sucked

7:23 Due to storms, my satellite has been out for the last 15 minutes or so. I saw MSU's first possession and their punt. That's it. We're threatening to score, and I can't see any of it.

7:26 And I miss the first score of the season.

7:43 I'm back on TV now. We look a little sluggish, which I suppose is to be expected. At least the defense came up with a big stop earlier.

8:34 Halftime. For the record, I would have kicked a field goal there. I have no future in coaching.

Alright, we're winning almost despite ourselves here. I think that's pretty clear. First, let's hand it to the MSU defense, which is a lot better than I expected. Our offensive line is struggling, and it's not just Carnell Stewart. He's struggling the most, but he's not the only one. Flynn is out of sync, and hasn't come up with a big play.

Congrats to Terrance Tolliver getting his first college reception. Many more will come. It was a big reception too, because we wouldn't have scored that TD without him making that play.

The defense is just as dominant as advertised. MSU has put together exactly one sustained drive, but couldn't do anything with it because our guys made a play on 3rd down, and MSU never got the 4th down play going. Henig is not a great QB, but I admire his tenacity. Unfortunately, his tenacity is hurting his team. He'd probably make a VERY good Division II quarterback, but he's out of his league in the SEC.

In the second half, we can start rotating backups in a little bit to keep the starters fresh.

GameDay: Mississippi State

Wow. The fateful day is finally here. We play Mississippi State tonight at 7:00pm Central. There's been so much said about it that it's hard to think of new stuff to say.

Tonight, I will be parked in front of the TV, with a plate of jambalaya, watching the action unfold. I will have it on Tivo, so I'll probably watch it several times between tonight and next Saturday. A football game goes rather quickly when you can fast forward between plays and through commercials.

My routine is that I watch the game straight live. Then, assuming it's a win and I can stomach watching it more, I watch it a couple more times, each time focusing on certain individual players. Last year, I focused on players getting their first meaningful playing time. Last year, in replays, I focused on Ciron Black, Luke Sanders, Pete Dyakowski, Darry Beckwith, and Richard Dickson. It is quite informative to watch a single player on every play. It tells you an awful lot about how they play and what their assignments are.

Today, my child, in a move sure to win her a ton of friends at daycare, will be wearing her LSU onesie and a purple and gold bow in her hair.


I just want to say, I think it is always distasteful, no matter how it is meant, to say that it is a good thing for a college football team that a player got seriously injured. One of the Finebaum replacements yesterday, in discussing the injury to Bama defensive tackle Bryan Motley, said over and over again, that this would help the team in the long term. Motley injured his leg or ankle, and will be out for more than half of his redshirt freshman season, perhaps for all of it. It's not a good thing in any way that got injured, and I'm sure he, his parents, his teammates, and his friends appreciate hearing how Motley's suffering is in the long term best interests of the team.

Good job, guys.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's With All the Belly-Aching About Discipline

Both of the teams I follow have made some headlines recently revolving around football players getting into trouble.

Bama has had four players arrested in the offseason, all for what I would consider minor charges, including Simeone Castille who was arrested for disorderly conduct. Another player was arrested and allegedly mouthed off to the police, insulting Nick Saban in the process. LSU has also had 4 players arrested in the offseason, but for more serious violations, including the most recent incident involving Derrick Odom allegedly trying to kick a door down to get into an apartment. In addition, Bama has suspended two starters for the season opener for undisclosed reasons.

Sports talk radio here in Tuscaloosa has been all aflutter about what the Bama issues mean. I've heard a great deal of expression of disappointment in Nick Saban's hold over this team. Paul Finebaum said yesterday that he expected Saban to get to Tuscaloosa and crack the whip, having heard that he had a reputation for being a stickler about team discipline.

I have two questions:
  1. Where did Nick Saban get a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian?
  2. What's the big deal anyway?
I personally don't recall Saban suspending a lot of players or kicking a lot of players off the team when he was at LSU. Maybe he did and I don't recall it. Then again, I don't remember a lot of LSU players getting into trouble during that time. There were a few, such as Melvin Oliver who was arrested for domestic violence, but I don't recall very many, even in Saban's early years when he was coaching players someone else recruited. Oliver, as I recall, wasn't suspended. There were also rumors that he managed to keep a lot of small offenses out of the news, and tolerated a lot of casual recreational marijuana use.

Then when he got to the Miami Dolphins, he went on a well-publicized effort to get Ricky Williams back to the team. Ricky Williams had a well-publicized marijuana habit, and had pretty much told Dolphins and NFL officials that he'd rather smoke marijuana and travel the world than play in the NFL. Saban very publicly tried to get him back to the Dolphins, succeeding for a time before Williams tested positive again.

This is the guy with a reputation for cracking the whip on discipline? I'm not saying he's a permissive coach, but I don't see why he'd have a reputation for being particularly impermissive.

Also, what is the deal with the Bama fans' fetish for punishing their own players? Some were complaining that Prince Hall and Keith Brown (whose offenses were not disclosed) were only suspended for the Western Carolina game, rather than a conference game. It's like they really want to lose to Vandy and Arkansas. We don't even know what these kids did.

Why is it so necessary to have a football team whose players never get into trouble? Sure, you want to get the true bad actors and the malcontents off the team. Those guys will never help you. But a guy like Simeone Castille? He's been in the program for 3 years without getting into any trouble at all, and by all accounts is a leader of the team. He may have screwed up in some minor way, but if so, what's the big deal? The courts will punish him. Why should the football team punish him more?

If I went out on the Strip this weekend and starting talking too loud or yelling curse words and got arrested for disorderly conduct, would my employer suspend me or fire me? I sincerely doubt it. I sincerely doubt any of the people reading this would be in a great deal of trouble at their work over something like that. The punishment would be limited to whatever the courts did to you.

I think people are kind of bloodthirsty. They really want to see punishment, and want to see people suffer, with no regard for proportion or rationality. If I was Nick Saban, Castille wouldn't be suspended for even one second. Roy Upchurch, who reportedly told the police, "F--- [Nick Saban" and f--- all y'all," would probably be suspended for half a season, but only because he disrespected the coach and the team. Not because he got arrested.

I agree with Les Miles that Zhamal Thomas and Troy Giddens had to go, because they committed pretty serious crimes, and based on that, we can presume they would have been trouble during their careers. Kyle Anderson reportedly was a big-time trouble maker who got himself into even more trouble by supposedly attacking a man outside of a bar. I agree those guys, under those situations, probably had to go. But it wasn't about punishment. It was about protecting the team from bad influences. There's no reason to believe that Simeone Castille is a bad influence on this team. All reports are quite to the contrary in fact.

So my advice would be to just settle down and let the coaches handle the team without getting all bent out of shape over it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No update today

Work obligations prevent me from thinking up/writing a long post today.I leave you with this picture of Trindon Holliday hangin' with Herman Johnson.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dandy Don Has Never Heard of Me, But He Disagrees With Me

Dandy Don says,
While most Tiger fans believe that the game against Mississippi State is going to be like taking candy from a baby, that might not be the case if you take a look at the way MSU finished the 2006 season. The last five games of last season MSU lost 27-24 at Georgia, lost 34-31 to Kentucky, defeated Alabama 24-16 at Alabama (in my opinion the lost to MSU is what cost Mike Shula his job at Alabama), lost to Arkansas 28-14, and lost at Ole Miss 20-17.
(emphasis in original). Dandy is correct about those scores. After a terrible start to the season last year, they definitely improved. They just didn't turn many of those close games into win. It's also true that they return 9 starters on offense, though only 5 on defense.

Their problem here is that despite their poor defensive statistics, they really had a pretty decent defense last year. Defense doesn't exist in a vacuum. If the offense gives the opponent short fields or keeps the defense on the field most of the game, the defense is going to give up yards and points no matter how good it is. That happened to Mississippi State last year. Their offense put their defense on the field a lot, often in bad positions, and the defensive statistics suffered for it, but their defense was pretty solid.

And now most of that defense is gone. They haven't exactly recruited lights-out on defense to be able to easily replace players like Culberson and and DT Antonio Johnson, the only MSU player drafted last year, along with 4 other defensive starters. Simply put, the strength of last year's team is gone and cannot be replaced. They'll have to find a new strength. If it's going to be the offense that put the defense in such bad spots, I like our chances.

I don't want to make it look like we can go out there and play our second team, let the coach's kids call the plays, and let our players play one-handed and still win. MSU is an SEC team with good players and good coaching. They also have pride, and will be giving it 100% effort. They just don't have the horses LSU has.

If we're as good as we think, we should beat them easily. If they hang with us after halftime, we're not as good as we think.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

SEC TV Guide - Week 1

I think this is a nice idea for a regular feature. Let's preview which SEC matchups will be on television for week 1:

LSU at Mississippi State - Thursday, August 30, 7:00pm, ESPN

Of course, none of the LSU folks will be missing this game. It's a matchup of arguably the best SEC team against arguably the worst SEC team. But hey, it's US. How can you not watch us?

Western Kentucky at Florida - 11:30am, Lincoln-Financial outlet

Alright, I like the Jefferson-Pi.., I mean Lincoln Financial game. Their crew is solid and best of all knows their SEC football. A lot of people mock the JP guys, but I think it's mostly because they don't like their own team to be playing in the morning. I understand that, but I like getting my Saturday started off with these guys. Besides, I'm usually awake by about 6:00am. I get on here and do this, then run my errands, and then I'm ready for some football.

But I'm not ready for this game. This game will tell us nothing. Because of Tennessee playing on ABC this week, JP gets the 5th best SEC game (rather than the 3rd or 4th), but I suppose it may be interesting seeing whatever they'll show us about the new all-Tebow, all-the-time offense at Florida.

Ole Miss at Memphis - 2:30pm, College Sports TV (?)

OK, this game doesn't really interest me either, and frankly I'm only guessing about the TV outlet. There are three fascinating games Saturday evening that will all be on at the same time. Could they not have put one of them in the 2:30 slot?

If you want to watch this game, watch to see if Ole Miss's young but talented defensive line dominates. If Ole Miss is going to make a move this year, it will start with the defensive line. They have some excellent young defensive linemen including Marcus Tillman, who is emerging as one of the best in the SEC.

Oklahoma State at Georgia - 5:45 ESPN2

Georgia is a mystery. If they're an SEC contender, I think they should handle OSU easily. If they aren't, they could have trouble. Matthew Stafford is the best young QB in the SEC, (that's right, I said it), but the offensive line and receivers are big question marks. It is kind of amazing to me that Georgia has such a good QB and didn't have the quality line to protect him or the receivers for him to throw to. The running backs are also questionable, considering my favorite Georgia running back, Thomas Brown, is coming off a very serious injury.

Watch out for Mikey Henderson for Georgia, who may be the best return man in the conference.

Oklahoma State has a lot of athletes at receiver and running backs. This could be a fun game to watch, especially if you need to scout Georgia. Personally, I don't need to scout them, so I won't watch this game after 6:45 much unless the other ones are blowouts. If you really want to see Georgia, you'll get another chance next week with one of the best matchups of the early season when they go against South Carolina.

Kansas State at Auburn, 6:45pm ESPN

I've previewed this one before, but this game is growing on me. Auburn will have an inexperienced offensive line and inexperienced receivers. If you're going to get Auburn this year, it's best to get them early before their offensive line gets more experienced. If that offensive line is able to make holes and protect Brandon Cox this week, look out for the rest of the year. I'm not saying K-state's DL is that great, but they're respectable, and Auburn's line will only get better and better as the year progresses, barring injuries.

Tennessee at Cal, 7:00pm ABC

Tennessee will be without their best running back, and will be replacing quite a bit of talent that is moving on to the NFL. Cal, however, is replacing Marshawn Lynch and a lot of its defensive talent. This is the marquee matchup of week 1, but honestly K-State against Auburn is more important to LSU. However, this one should be a lot of fun, and will be fodder for a lot of SEC-Pac 10 bragging rights for a while, much like Tennessee's blowout win over Cal was last year. That was in Knoxville, however, and Cal was overwhelmed by the raucous atmosphere, the likes of which they've never seen in the Pac 10. They settled in after a disastrous first half and played even with Tennessee through the second half, but it was too late. Will the friendlier confines of whatever Cal's home stadium is make this a better game for the Golden Bears? I don't know, but I'm interesting in finding out.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Onward to Starkville

We are definitely now fully in the throes of game week, and to be honest I never really gave any thought as to how this blog would be organized when actual games were being played or were imminent.

I know I want to
  1. preview the game
  2. cover the game in some way
  3. summarize the game
  4. cover other games
I don't know if I want to do it in some form of routine, or if I just want to write about whatever is on my mind that particular morning.

Our opponent this week is Mississippi State. They were 3-9 last year. Here are their team statistical ranks for 2006 within the conference:
  • 11th ranked scoring offense
  • 11th ranked scoring defense
  • 8th ranked passing offense (in yards per game); 11th ranked passing offense (in yards per attempt)
  • 11th ranked passing defense (in yards per game); 10th ranked passing defense (in yards per attempt)
  • 12th ranked rushing offense in both yards per game and yards per attempt
  • 5th ranked rushing defense (in yards per game); 4th ranked rushing defense (in yards per attempt)
  • 9th in the SEC in total sacks
  • 5th most penalized team in the SEC
  • 12th ranked kickoff coverage team
  • lowest turnover margin in the SEC
In other words, this team was terrible last year. There also isn't a lot of reason to believe they'll be better this year. They were definitely a better team towards the end of 2006 than they were at the beginning, but that only tells you they were embarrassingly awful early in the season.

I'm not kidding. I saw their first two games on television last year, and I genuinely thought their offense was the most inept I had ever seen in the SEC. Their offensive line collapsed about half the time, giving the offense no chance to put together a successful play. They had trouble getting the ball snapped on time. They had trouble getting the field goal unit on the field on time. They were just terrible. It honestly looked like a JV team out there just learning how to play football.

Eventually, the offensive line stabilized and they became no longer embarrassing, but they certainly weren't good, even though they managed to beat Bama.

Unfortunately for them, they lost some of their best players to graduation. Quentin Culberson was the undisputed leader of that defense, and he is now gone. Also gone are some of their best defensive linemen. Their best returning players are Titus Brown at defensive end, Derek Pegues at safety, and Tony Burks at WR. Burks had a phenomenal 24.3 yard average per reception, and is their only big play threat. After that, they don't really have any game breakers.

If MSU is going to win any SEC games this year, their offensive line, which started out so poorly last season before stabilizing, will have to take even bigger strides. Some people are high on returning QB Michael Henig who was hurt much of last season, but he threw a lot of interceptions when he was in the game and was one of the weakest QBs in the conference according to the GeauxTuscaloosa QB rating system.

I've said already that I would be mildly surprised if they manage to win a conference game, and I would be shocked if they manage to win their opener against us. I am generally opposed to making definitive predictions, and I won't make one here. However, it would certainly be a very big upset, perhaps the biggest of the entire football season, if Mississippi State managed to beat LSU.

Can they do it? Is it possible? Sure. If LSU is unprepared, or if LSU goes out there assuming it will be an easy win, we will not be at our best. If those Bulldogs go out and play the game of their lives like they did against Florida a couple years ago, they could pull off the shocking upset. I just don't see the Tigers not being pumped for the season opener.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The 8th or 9th Shoe Drops

After all the craziness of this past offseason, after all the players who got into trouble, it didn't stop just because Fall Practice started. Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of redshirt freshman and reserve linebacker Derrick Odom regarding an incident that happened a couple weeks ago. According to the owner of Tigerdroppings, this is the sequence of events in questions:
  1. Reserve linebacker Ace Foyil and another player got into an altercation at an off-campus apartment complex. They believed they were "jumped".
  2. They called in their football buddies, approximately 14 of whom showed up at the apartment complex, including Ryan Perrilloux and former player Xavier Carter.
  3. A verbal altercation ensues, but Derrick Odom went further than everyone else. He threatened the owner of the apartment, tried unsuccessfully to bust through the door of an apartment, and vandalized the owner's car.
  4. The cops were called, and all the football players left the scene. After unsuccessful attempts to get Odom to pay for the damages, the owner swore out a warrant for simple assault, attempted unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling, and damage to property.
It should be noted at this point that it is basically glorified rumor being reported by someone who does not normally allow unsubstantiated rumor to be posted on his site. This means that while it is unconfirmed, it's not exactly a wild accusation. My response is, "WHAT THE #*$%?" Do these people not know that a potentially magical season is about to start? Do they not know that there is a real chance of achieving a lot of football glory this year? Why are they concerned about what some frat boy chuckleheads do off-campus enough to endanger the whole thing? Apparently at least 14 players on this team are willing to put themselves in a dangerous situation just to "have the back" of one of their teammates.

I'm not saying this situation is not without its positives. Hey, at least they acted stupidly as a team, suggesting a high level of cameraderie and team-bonding. I just wish they found a more constructive way to express it. What possessed these guys to think that it was a good idea for 14 of them to leave campus for the purpose of confronting these guys?

And when the redshirt freshman started getting especially out of hand, where was the leader of this group to say, "Hey Derrick, chill out! Don't do something stupid [like, oh, trying to kick in a door, for example]."

Now, it is certainly true that Les Miles has kicked players off the team for getting into legal trouble. It is also true that Les Miles has declined to kick players off the team for getting into legal trouble or for being implicated in illegal activity (Chris Mitchell). I think it basically comes down to whether or not the trouble a guy has gotten into is a culmination of other problems. I think that's fair, and that's the way it should be. If Derrick Odom has been a trouble-maker, this should be the last straw. If Derrick Odom has been an exemplary citizen up to this point, he should be given a chance to make it good. Word is that he has been suspended from the team. There is no word on whether the suspension is permanent or, if not, when it will end.

The next question is that of Ryan Perrilloux, who of course went through a lengthy probation process to get back into Les Miles' good graces, only to show up at this scene a week or two after being re-instated to the team. This could very possibly be the end of Mr. Perrilloux's career here, and maybe that's for the best. If he can't stay out of trouble for even a couple weeks, there's a serious problem there.

And finally, what of the rest of the 14 players who made a show of force and failed to stop Derrick Odom from making an ass of himself? Do we simply say, "They got caught up in a mob mentality"? Maybe. Certainly we can't be kicking 14 players off the team without it seriously affecting this team's ability to compete on the field, regardless of who those players actually are.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wait or Go

A few more words about running backs. A lot of people think that playing running back in college is just about getting the ball and running around a lot. They think a guy can come in out of high school and simply pick up where he left off.

In truth, few players are able to do this because there is a lot to learn about playing running back that few people learn in high school, and most of them (even the good ones) aren't nearly talented enough to simply play the high school tactic of "give me the ball and no one can tackle me." Even Darren McFadden wasn't good enough to do it. He didn't get a 100 yard rushing game until his 5th college game.

What does a running back have to learn. I can think of a few things, and there are probably even more than this:
  1. How to run without fumbling or being stripped of the ball.
  2. How to pass block.
  3. How to read blockers and defense.
In high school, few defensive players are strong enough or know enough about stripping technique to take the ball away from a talented running back. In college, everyone is strong enough to do it, and practices it. If you don't carry the ball correctly out of habit, you'll lose it.

In a college passing game, everyone has to be pushing in the same direction. If your assignment is to read a blitz and pick it up before going out into a pass pattern, you will get your QB hurt and your offense off the field if you fail to do it. If you can't pass block, you can't play on passing downs. If you can't play on passing downs, you can't play, because your presence on the field will tip the defense that the next play is a run.

The third thing is particularly difficult to pick up, and difficult to explain. Young running backs often do one of two things. They either fail to wait for their blockers and run headlong into the defense only to get tackled unnecessarily, or they wait for the gaping holes they got in high school to open up, and they never do, leading to a tackle for loss when the running back fails to get moving forward. Call it "impatient" and "too patient". A running back who gets a feel for when to wait and when to go makes himself a lot more productive. That is what Charles Scott was talking about when he said, "A lot of the game is slowing down for me. My reads are a whole lot better." He's saying he now knows when to wait and when to go, when he didn't know that before.

Fans who don't understand these concepts are the ones who always say, "We should have been playing Keiland Williams earlier in 2006." Nevermind that by Keiland's own admission he wasn't ready and was slow learning the things he needed to know. They scoff when you suggest that lack of competence in pass blocking can keep a running back off the field. They are absolutely wrong.

LSU does not have a great running back right now. We don't have a Reggie Bush or a Darren McFadden. But we do have several very good running backs. And they're learning. I can't wait to see them go next Thursday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Running Backs

Last year, Charles Scott started out the year very strong. He was ahead of Keiland Williams on the depth chart, and played quite a lot in the early season. He didn't manage to get on the field for the ill-fated Auburn game, which was a decision that baffled a lot of people at the time.

Then Charles Scott got hurt, and Keiland passed him on the depth chart. Keiland was a very good running back in the last part of the season, and everyone pretty much forgot about Charles Scott.

In the past few days, however, rumors have started to circulate that Scott had re-emerged as a force at running back, possibly even moving into the #1 position. There is a very interesting article over at Tiger Bait about it (subscription only). I can't publish the whole thing (because I am one of the few people my age who actually respects copyright law), but I will pull out a single quote that I think tells an awful lot.
"I feel a lot better now than I did last year," Scott said. "A lot of the game is slowing down for me. My reads are a whole lot better. I have settled in. I honestly believe off of the scrimmages and camp, I have gained the opportunity for the team to rely on me a lot."
A lot of people forget that players have to develop, and that even great players have a learning curve once they to college. Scott did. Keiland Williams did, and may yet still have learning to do. For Scott the game is "slowing down". What does that mean? It means he's better able to anticipate what's going to happen before it does. Whereas before, Scott had to react. Now Scott can anticipate, giving him an extra split-second in which to act on what happens. That extra split-second may mean the difference between a tackle for loss or a cut away from the tackler into the open field.

The ability to anticipate what will happen can take you a long way in athletics if you're really good at it. It has been said of Wayne Gretzky that he was not particularly fast, nor particularly strong. He was not in any way a phenomenal athlete. He just had the seemingly uncanny ability to be in one place and have the puck come to him in such a way that he could make a play. While everyone else was going to where the puck was, he was skating to where the puck was going to be. It made him arguably the best hockey player of all time, despite his lack of physical athleticism.

It's that ability Scott is tapping into now, and he believes it's making him a much better running back.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Least Favorite Type of Post

I follow a few message boards. I only post to TigerForums, but I read more than that. There's a lot of good information on message boards in addition to a lot of junk. Of all the junk, probably the junkiest is the post of the type you see about twice per day on your bigger forums that begins, "[Media member] just said . . ." followed by some remark interpreted to be disparaging of LSU and/or the SEC

A typical example would be something like, "Kirk Herbstreit just said that the SEC is overrated. Send him an email at to tell him what you think."

What people need to realize is that television and radio sports commentators don't get paid to be right. They get paid to generate conversation. It's a lot easier to generate conversation by saying "provocative" things than by being right. Just ask Pete Fiutak, who is probably the best and smartest national college football writer, and he toils at rather than making the big money at a network.

And by "provocative", and I mean they provoke people. Lee Corso didn't get rich because of his insightful and intelligent analysis, although he is, at times, insightful and intelligent. More often though, he's just a pain in the ass, and that's why he makes the big money. He makes friends by saying things that makes enemies with your enemies. Along the way, he generates a lot of email, letters, and buzz for ESPN, which makes him valuable to them.

Either you like media members who are pains in the ass, or you do not. If you do, quit complaining about them when they are a pain in the ass to you only to celebrate them when they're pains in the ass to someone else. If you don't like them, just don't pay any attention to them. Don't watch them on TV or listen to them on the radio. Don't get worked up when they say something you don't like.

And if you listen to them, don't bring it to the message board like you're tattling to the principal.

As an exercise, see if you can match up the media member with the "provocative" thing he said:

1. Lee Corso
2. Trev Alberts
3. Paul Finebaum
4. Glenn Guilbeau
5. Lou Holtz
6. Kirk Herbstreit
7. Mike Farrell

a. Les Miles is the 9th best coach in the SEC.
b. LSU will lose two games this year.
c. LSU is winning with Nick Saban's recruits.
d. The ACC is a stronger conference than the SEC.
e. USC was the 2003 National Champion.
f. Florida is the best SEC team of the decade.
g. Brady Quinn was the best QB in the country last year.

Answer key: 1c, 2g, 3f, 4a, 5d, 6e, 7b. Actually none of that's true. I made it all up and matched quotes to media figures randomly. Who knows, they probably all said all of those things at one point. No one will remember it, and no one will ever call them on it later. So, just don't worry about it.

Monday, August 20, 2007


There have been a few surprises in camp so far. Some players have come out of nowhere to get in the mix for playing time.

The biggest surprise of camp has to be Kirston Pittman (no relation). He's the last remaining player to have actually been a contributor to the 2003 national championship team. He was a defensive end and a pass-rushing specialist on that team, recording 15 tackles with 2 sacks. He earned Freshman All-SEC honors backing up Marquis Hill.

In his sophomore year, he continued as a pass-rushing specialist playing behind Melvin Oliver, and had another fairly productive year. But then the injuries came, and Kirston Pittman didn't play a down in either 2005 or 2006, taking a redshirt in one of those years. He was then pretty much written off by the casual fan, who expected nothing more than spot-duty for him if he could get himself healthy.

Well, instead of spot duty, he appears to have beaten out Rahim Alem and Tremaine Johnson for the starting job at right defensive end. He's reportedly been spending a lot of time in the backfield in practice. As an unlikely link to the 2003 team, he should provide leadership and experience.

Who knows, he could maybe even apply to get a medical redshirt for the 2006 season and return next year as well.

The other big surprise of camp has been quarterback Andrew Hatch, who transferred to LSU from Harvard. That's right. Harvard. He was recruited to a couple Division I schools but chose to go to Harvard instead, but decided to leave Harvard to walk-on at LSU.

It sounds like he's impressed coaches enough to let him slide into the #3 quarterback role, allowing the coaches to redshirt Jarrett Lee if they choose. Hatch will likely never play a meaningful down at LSU, but if he can be an adequate emergency QB, it will pay dividends down the road by giving Jarrett Lee an extra year of eligibility.

Hatch is, by eligibility, a sophomore.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More on Will and Other Topics

Brief points:
  1. It turns out that ESPN article on Will Arnold was actually ESPN The Magazine's preview of LSU in its pre-season rankings. That was the ENTIRETY of its LSU preview. Two paragraphs on our injury-prone left guard. ESPN The Magazine sucks.
  2. It looks like Chad Jones, the strong safety-linebacker hybrid who almost went to minor league baseball, will start the season returning punts. This kid must be a phenomenal athlete.
  3. It appears the starting O-line will be LT Ciron Black, LG Herman Johnson, C Brett Helms, RG Lyle Hitt, and RT Carnell Stewart, which was exactly how it ended in the Spring. Will Arnold, the oft-injured and now-recovering guard will begin the season as Herman Johnson's backup. If he gets to the point where he can be a starter, I suppose he'll move into the left guard position and Herman Johnson will move over to right guard.
  4. It looks like no one has so far challenged Brandon Lafell for the #2 receiver spot, and the #3 spot remains wide open. Newcomer Terrance Toliver has impressed everyone, but hasn't separated himself from Jared and Chris Mitchell.
  5. All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey has missed a lot of practice with various injuries, but claims it's all precautionary, and that he could play in a game at any time.
  6. Safety Danny McCray appears to have beaten out the competition for the nickel back spot in the defensive backfield. Jai Eugene appears to be the dime back. Danny McCray came out of nowhere last season as a true freshman to win meaningful playing time last year in a defensive backfield that included several pro prospects.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Media Expectations Game

Living in Tuscaloosa, I can't help but notice how media perceptions of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team have changed. Of course, back in January, there was great excitement about the program with the new hiring of Nick Saban as head coach. The media followed his every move as he put together a staff and recruited players. The media rejoiced as Bama packed 92,000 into Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Spring Game. The media further sung praises as Saban had success on the summer recruiting trail. Now, all that excitement and optimism is giving way to pessimism now that we're two weeks away from Bama's opening kickoff and people are starting to actually consider the product on the field.

I occasionally listen to sports talk radio. It's not my favorite thing in the world to do, but I do it at times. I particularly like the morning radio show with Tony Curry, Al del Greco, and Jay Barker, despite Jay Barker's absurd declaration that Tyrone's Prothro's injury, which ended his football career and likely will have him walking with a limp and parking in blue parking spaces for the rest of his life, was a good thing. I think he was just having a "stupid day" and I'm willing to let it slide. He's not a repeat offender. Tyrone Prothro is welcome to disagree with me.

All week, talk radio has had a somber mood as they have taken to discussing shortcomings of Bama's defensive personnel. More than one person has said that Bama will probably have to win some very high scoring games in order to have success. They take solace in the fact that Bama's offense appears to be solid, with key returning players at QB, offensive line, and wide receiver. The defense, in contrast, lacks playmakers other than Simeone Castille, and is particularly weak on the front 7, making the whole defense vulnerable.

I'm here to tell you that it's worse than you thought. The offense isn't as good as you're expecting it to be. John Parker Wilson was only an average SEC quarterback last year. He had decent cumulative stats, but those were inflated because he made an awful lot of pass attempts, because his team rarely put opponents away early. Wilson made more pass attempts than anyone in the SEC other than Andre Woodson, yet was 5th in the SEC in yards, 5th in touchdowns, tied for 4th worst in interceptions, and was the only full-time starting QB not to score a rushing touchdown.

His rate stats really tell the tale though. He was 9th in yards per attempt (remember, he threw more passes than all but one other SEC QB). He was 10th in attempts-per-touchdown. He was actually rather good in the attempts-per-interception stat (4th best), so he took care of the ball well. He just didn't produce a whole heck of a lot of yards or points, especially when you consider that he made so many pass attempts. Other than interceptions, Wilson's rate stats are very similar to those of Michael Henig at Mississippi State.

Of course, Wilson was just a sophomore, in his first year as a starter. That's an important consideration. It means there's a lot of room for improvement. He also has experienced and talented receivers and at least two very good offensive linemen in Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell. However, the offensive line is the same unit that couldn't open up holes in the running game and was below average in giving up sacks last year.

Then, there's the running back situation, in which it appears that a redshirt freshman will be the starting tailback. He could end up being very good, but you have to mark that down as a question mark at this point.

There are other offenses in the SEC that are just as potent as Bama's, at least on paper at this point before the season starts. Arkansas boasts a guy who probably should have won the Heisman last year. Vandy has a solid dual-threat QB, the best receiver in the conference, and a very good offensive line. LSU and Florida, of course, have talent all over the field. Kentucky has the best QB in the conference, and very good receivers and a running back. Georgia has arguably the best young quarterback in the conference. Tennessee has a solid QB and solid running backs, though they suffered a big loss when Lamarcus Coker was suspended for the season.

If Bama is going to have to win with offense, they're going to find that harder than they think. I don't think they're scoring 45 points on SEC teams, and may have trouble holding the better offenses in the league to less than 30.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Bit of Good News

There are two items of good news to report this morning.

First, the deadline for the Houston Astros to sign Chad Jones has come and gone, and Chad Jones will be at LSU this year, playing football and baseball. With Jones not signing a contract, he will be at LSU for at least the next 3 years.

Chad Jones is a great athlete. He's about 220 pounds and is being looked at to join Trindon Holliday returning kicks. He's as big as a linebacker and as fast as a cornerback. He was one of LSU's most coveted recruits last year. He will be an excellent player for the LSU football team, and it appears he'll probably stand out on the baseball field as well.

Second, according to a post on TigerDroppings, Will Arnold talked to ESPN about his health, and it appears that ESPN may have referenced little old me. I was unable to find the alleged ESPN article, but here's what it said.
Will Arnold doesn't cruise message boards for news. He might go for a laugh every now and again, though. LSU's senior guard knows he's got a past checkered by injuries, but some of the tall tales fans write about his well-being are priceless. The misinformed say Arnold has had 18 different surgeries (he's had seven, and five were minor scopes), and that he's fat (he's 319, six pounds below his listed high school weight). Some suggest he's so fragile, the coaches should determine now which games he'll play (their advice: Hold him out of the showdown with Virginia Tech; it's not a conference game).

"If I listened to all those people," Arnold says, "I'd be crazy." To be fair, the guy does offer plenty of fodder for white-coat wannabes. He missed half of last season after tearing ligaments in his ankle, and doctors used a piece of his hamstring to make the joint stronger. But while he's still on the mend, Arnold sees no reason his final season down on the Bayou can't be a healthy one. "I'll always fight it," he says of the injury-prone tag. "All I can do is play." When he does, he anchors the SEC's best line, and Arnold is as good as it gets in the middle. He has drawn just two flags in 23 games, and one was in his first game as a freshman. How sick is that?
(emphasis added). Hey! That's what I said. I also said it at Tiger Forums, but I can't find the post, no matter how much I look. Alright, in not so many words, they are saying I'm full of it.
But hey, at least they're talking about me.

At least the article strongly implies that Will will be healthy enough to play, and that the rumors of him having 18 surgeries on his knees is wrong, although 7 surgeries with two of them serious still sounds like an awful lot. Will Arnold patrolling the line of scrimmage makes our offensive line much better. I still think the coaching staff has to face facts and realize he won't be able to go full speed for a whole season. He hasn't yet, so why would he suddenly be able to do so now?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Confession

Alright. Here's the ugly truth. I don't like going to football games. Or at least, I generally would rather watch the football games on television. The action is easier to follow. The views are better. The weather is nicer. I can watch several games per Saturday, and it's all available just for the price of cable service.

That's not to say I don't enjoy visiting the stadiums and watching the games in person. I've enjoyed going to the LSU-Bama games at Bryant-Denny in 2005, 2003, and 2001 (all LSU wins, natch). I enjoyed seeing Jordan-Hare for the first time last year, though I wish the game had been better. I actually really liked going to Vanderbilt's stadium in 2005 as well. I would like to visit all the SEC stadiums at some point.

What I like about television, however, is that it plays into my appreciation for football. I'm not so much into the camaraderie of football, or the shared experience of football so much as I like the SCIENCE of football. I like seeing how it works with 11 guys all pushing in the same direction and working towards the same goal. While television may not have an answer for the "electricity" you feel at a live game, the stadium has no answer to the football understanding that television can give you. And in the battle between understanding and electricity, I'll choose understanding most of the time.

Plus, with television, I avoid all the hassles of going to football games. In the last ten years, going to a football game has become an all-day affair. It starts early in the morning, includes long treks from off-campus parking spot to on-campus destinations, is generally either incredibly hot or overly cold, and ends often long after dark. In between is a football game where I get to hear drunk grown men shout vile obscenities in the presence of children and display often a complete ignorance about football. Ignorance is OK as long as it's quiet, but loud ignorance is intolerable. Frankly, I'd rather spend my morning watching the Lincoln Financial game rather than hunting for a parking spot a mile from the stadium. I'd rather spend the afternoon with a nice lunch and a CBS game, and the evening listening to the ESPN announcers call their game. More often than not, one of those games will feature LSU, and I will be happy. If not, I can usually find the LSU game on internet radio or order it through ESPN Gameplan. Happy I will be.

All this is to lead up to the fact that yesterday I turned down an opportunity to go to the LSU-Mississippi State game. I was offered between 2 and 4 tickets at a reasonable price, but decided I didn't want them. I decided that I would either have to go alone or drag my wife and daughter with me, meaning I'd be on the road probably around midnight with a 6 month old baby out way past her bedtime, and then I'd have to go to work the next morning.

While I want to visit MSU's stadium at some point, I just couldn't bring myself to do it this time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

No Worries Mate, Part III

This is Part III of an as-yet indeterminately lengthed series on things I am worried about with this upcoming season. Part I covered kickoff coverage. Part II covered teh ever-present threat of injury. Part III will discuss punting and punt coverage.

LSU was not a particularly strong punting team last year. Chris Jackson was asked to change to the rugby-style punt, and his average declined dramatically. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the actual stats, but I believe his punting average declined 5 yards. In addition, many believe (though Miles would probably disagree) that the punt protection in the "spread formation" was less than ideal as well. I couldn't find a good picture of "punt ugly" as it's come to be called, but I'm sure people know what I'm talking about.

It's the formation where all the linemen are split wide apart and three men line up fairly close together and parallel to the line of scrimmage behind the center. The advantage is, allegedly, that it frees up the snapper to break downfield in coverage while still protecting the punter from an up-the-middle rush. The problem is that it seems to frequently lead to punt blockers overloading one part of the highly spread-out protection formation and getting in to block the punt.

This is especially worrisome against a team like Virginia Tech who prides themselves on blocking punts and kicks. Virginia Tech regularly wreaks havoc on special teams whereas LSU takes the attitude that it's best to get young players involved in special teams to get them experience and playing time. This could be a particularly dangerous attitude against Virginia Tech, who may genuinely be the best team we play all season.

This is to say nothing of the rugby style of punting, which sacrifices punt length for coverage by punting the ball away from the return man and giving the coverage team a smaller part of the field to cover. It remains to be seen if it actually works.

Maybe the team, with one year of the spread punt formation under their belts, will actually execute it better. I sure hope we stop seeing a rash of "illegal formation" penalties on punts, which seriously hurt us against Auburn last year when we got two of them in one game. I had never even seen it called on a punt before that game, and we got it called on us TWICE. We were called for it at least one other time in the season, and I saw one or two other teams get that call during the season. To my mind, though, there is absolutely no reason to have an illegal formation on a punt. Everyone should know exactly where to line up, and no one should move once they get to that spot.

Anyway, the baby is starting to interfere with typing, so I'm going to cut this short.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Discussion I Keep Getting Into

It seems like approximately once per month, I end up on some message board responding to someone who says something to the effect of, "South Carolina will never be any good as long as they have Blake Mitchell at quarterback," or, "Blake Mitchell sucks." I always respond with a post defending Blake Mitchell and saying that he will be one of the better QBs in the SEC. Then I always get a response expressing incredulity at how I can possibly defend a quarterback as terrible as Blake Mitchell.

It has become conventional wisdom that Blake Mitchell is a mediocre QB. The conventional wisdom is wrong. Blake Mitchell is not a great QB, but he's a pretty good QB. Short of great, but better than average. The proof? Just look at his stats.

Of course, I have talked about evaluating quarterbacks statistically in the past. I look at rate stats exclusively, which I think is the proper thing to do. Of course, a team that throws the ball 400 times in a season may be less effective at it on a per-pass basis than a team that throws the ball 300 times due to the defenses keying on the pass, but I think the sins of looking at cumulative stats is even worse. If you look only at cumulative stats, you start overrating system quarterbacks or quarterbacks on teams that fell behind in a lot of games and had to pass a lot.

I developed a formula for evaluating QBs:
Rating = (yards passing + yards running -yards lost by sack + 20*Touchdowns -30*Turnovers)/(# of designed passing plays).
I would have preferred a more sophisticated formula that took account of first down throws, but the statistics just aren't available in a form I can use. This formula however gives results that are useful in that they account for yards per attempt, touchdowns, and interceptions without artificially inflating the value of short completions like the conventional passer rating does. It also accounts for the skills a running quarterback brings by looking at rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, etc.

In evaluating SEC quarterbacks from last season, I was surprised to discover that Blake Mitchell had the second best rate stats in the league, behind only Jamarcus Russell. How did this happen? Well, Mitchell had a very high yards-per-attempt statistic, second only to Russell. Higher than Andre Woodson's. Higher than Erik Ainge's. MUCH higher than John Parker Wilson's. Much higher than Brandon Cox's or Matthew Stafford's or Chris Leak's. Granted, he had much fewer attempts than any of those guys, because he wasn't the full-time starter. But, he also had a better ypa statistic than the OTHER quarterback on his team.

"But he is inconsistent," they say. Well, he was benched at one point for several games last season. That is true, but was he actually an inconsistent quarterback? Again, the statistics say no. At least, they say that if Blake Mitchell was inconsistent, so was every other quarterback in the SEC. Let's compare Mitchell to a few of the better QBs in the SEC last year: Leak, Russell, and Wilson.
  • Inaccurate games: Mitchell had one game last season with less than a 50% completion rate, a game in which he only had 11 attempts. Jamarcus had none. Leak had none, but had one game with exactly 50% and another very close to it. Wilson had two such games.
  • Inaccurate games, part 2: Mitchell had two games last year with more interceptions than touchdowns. Jamarcus had one. Leak had 3 games with more interceptions than touchdowns. Wilson had two.
  • Games with fewer than 200 yards passing: In his 7 games with greater than 20 attempts, Mitchell had 2 games with fewer than 200 yards passing. Jamarcus had 2 such games (with more starts, of course, and to be fair he was much closer to 200 in those games than Mitchell was in his). Leak had five (!) games with less than 200 yards passing with greater than 20 pass attempts. Wilson had two.
  • Games without a touchdown pass: This is where Mitchell really falls. In 4 of the 7 games in which he made 20 or more pass attempts, he failed to get a touchdown pass. In one of those, he managed to get a touchdown run, but to be consistent we should say he wasn't particularly good at putting the ball int he end zone consistently. Russell had one game where he failed to score. Leak also had one. Wilson had three.
OK, he's not Jamarcus Russell, but no one is. Mitchell is not quite in that league, but neither was Leak or Wilson. No one is, except maybe Woodson, who doesn't have the supporting cast around him. Mitchell's consistency compares favorably to that of a guy who won the national championship and a guy who many people believe is on his way to an All-SEC season.

The response is, "But he had Sidney Rice." Rice was a good receiver, picked in the 2nd round of the NFL draft. Russell had two 1st round receivers and another who likely will be. Leak had Dallas Baker, Caldwell, and Harvin. Wilson had DJ Hall. Ainge had Robert Meachum. Woodson had Keenan Burton. Chris Nickson had Earl Bennett. It's an argument that can be made of ANY half-way decent QB in the SEC last year, and therefore it really can't be used to single out Mitchell.

But why was he benched? Well, according to Spurrier, he was benched because his offensive line wasn't very good and he wanted a more effective running quarterback in there. When his offensive line solidified, Mitchell returned to the starter spot and completed almost 70% of his passes the rest of the season. He's going to be a senior and he's got the best team around him that he's ever had. He's set up for a potential run at the SEC East, which I'm hoping will happen. It's time someone other than the big three won the East.

I hope I'm done having this argument. There is really no basis in fact for the argument that Mitchell isn't any good. He's not great, but he's not bad either. And he's more than capable of leading his team to success, unless you just don't believe facts are facts.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Early Practice Observations

If I had made a post about What to Watch For in Fall Practice, I would have undoubtedly said:
  • Watch the wide receivers to see who emerges behind Early Doucet;
  • Watch the offensive line to see how Will Arnold is doing and whether anyone is pushing the starters;
  • Watch the running back rotation to see who's getting the reps;
  • Watch to see how the true freshmen integrate onto the team; and
  • Watch the special teams.
Now that there has been about 1 1/2 weeks of practice and a scrimmage, there is perhaps enough information (known to the media) to make a few observations on these and other topics.

Les Miles commented yesterday that newcomers Terrance Toliver and Demetrius Byrd were in the lead for the 3rd wide receiver spot behind Doucet and, presumably, Lafell. If those two have passed Chris Mitchell, Jared Mitchell, and Ricky Dixon already, that spells bad news for those three guys getting real playing time in the foreseeable future.

Will Arnold briefly played at Right Guard, a position he has never played, but moved back to Left Guard after a couple practices. He's also already missed quite a bit of practice time in the training room. Will Arnold at Left Guard troubles me. That's the spot where Herman Johnson really emerged as a player. Herman is a versatile guy, and has played Left Guard, Right Guard, and Right Tackle in his career. He showed out when he was moved to Left Guard following Arnold's injury, and now I guess he's either going to hold Arnold out of the lineup there or he will have to be moved to make room for a guy who probably is only going to play a part-time schedule. I don't like it.

As near as we can tell, Ciron Black and Brett Helms written in ink as starters at Left Tackle and Center respectively, but every other position is open to competition and/or uncertainty. Herman Johnson will certainly be playing somewhere on that line, but it remains to be seen where. Miles has praised the play of true freshmen Jarvis Jones, Josh Dworaczyk, Ernest McCoy, and Joseph Barksdale. Jones, Dworaczyk, and Barksdale are Tackles and McCoy is a Guard. It is also possible that one of those guys or a redshirt freshman like Matt Allen will push Lyle Hitt or Carnell Stewart for the starting jobs.

At running back, Richard Murphy is expected to be a star, but he's been limited by nagging injuries so far. His absence has given Charles Scott an opportunity to get more reps, and it will be interesting to see if Scott, who started 2006 so strongly, can earn playing time in this rotation.

Three true freshmen have dominated the headlines from practice. Stevan Ridley has surprised everyone with his skill and athleticism at practice. He did very well in the first scrimmage, albeit he was playing against the 3rd string defense. It appears that Ridley has earned an extended look at tailback and may not be moved to linebacker or fullback as was expected during his recruitment. I sincerely doubt Ridley moves up the depth charts at tailback this year, but perhaps he will redshirt and become a part of the NEXT generation of tailbacks.

The second true freshman getting headlines is Chad Jones. Either Miles is very impressed or is blowing smoke you-know-where to keep him from signing with the Astros. Jones is reported to be a shoe-in to get a lot of playing time at special teams and may even return kicks, which I find amazing for a guy who weighs 220 pounds. He is a great athlete, and it's just inevitable that he's going to get on the field one way or another.

The third true freshman is Terrance Toliver, who has already been mentioned. It really is impressive that in this talented wide receiver corps, Toliver is getting so much attention. Michael Clayton was the last true freshman wide receiver to earn a lot of playing time, but the talent level at the position was not nearly as good then as it is now. Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis didn't play all that much as true freshmen, and Early Doucet (though he played) was pretty far down the charts. What does this say about Toliver's ability?

Special teams are still something of a mystery. It looks like Patrick Fisher will be the punter, but we don't really know how good he will be. The kickoff kicker has not been decided yet, and the return-men are still up in the air, except that we know Trindon will be one of the kickoff return men. Early Doucet was the other kickoff returner last year, but they may want to take him out to protect him. Plus, he just wasn't all that big of a threat returning the ball. I think we can probably do better there AND protect one of our best players. Our punt returner from last season graduated. Personally, I hope Trindon earns that spot too.

That's all for now. We're only 18 days away from kickoff, and I've been excited about it for a long time already. Anticipation is killing me.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Let's Hear it For the Schedule-Makers

It wasn't long ago that there was always a big build-up of football excitement over the summer, waiting for the turn of the calendar to September, signaling the start of the football season, only to have our excitement fail to pay off by being presented with an opening weekend full of second-rate matchups and rent-a-wins. It was a very disappointing situation, and excitement about football seemed to fizzle just a little bit because all the anticipation led to weak games no ones wanted to see.

The last couple of years has seen that trend reverse, and I am glad of it. This year, the opening weekend of the football season features LSU in an intra-division conference game with Mississippi State. Tennessee is playing a game of national importance on the road against Cal. Auburn is playing a quality out-of-conference opponent in Kansas State. Georgia plays Oklahoma State, a game it should win but should still be fun and interesting.

Nationally, Wake Forest plays Boston College in a game that went a long way to determining the ACC championship last year. Georgia Tech plays Notre Dame. The following Monday, Clemson plays Florida State.

While a lot of teams still choose to schedule tune-up games in the first week or two, the television pickings will be better this year than at any time in my memory. There are enough interesting games that people want to see that no one will experience the profound disappointment of previous years, unless they really want to see SEC teams play each other more, which isn't going to happen.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Barker Steps In It

Today I made the mistake of listening to sports talk radio while in my car (yes, I know I said I wouldn't do this anymore) and I heard former Alabama very-good Jay Barker ask the following questions:
If Tyrone Prothro hadn't gotten hurt, would Mike Shula still be the coach? And if so, was it a good thing for Alabama football that he get hurt?
Sometimes people intend to be "provocative" and just end up being obscene. This is one of those times. In my opinion, Tyrone Prothro is now entitled to kick Jay Barker in the groin one time.

I considered posting a picture of Prothro getting injured, but decided that too would be obscene given the terribly graphic nature of the injury. It might upset people. If you want to see it, here's a link to a picture. My suggestion is that you not click that link. He snapped his leg in two, and he will probably be limited for the rest of his life as a result of that injury, which is what makes Jay Barker's comments so appalling.

Saban steps in it

Nick Saban inadvertently stepped on a land mine this week by advocating a statewide education lottery. In doing so, he provided everyone with a cautionary tale illustrating why public figures who are new to an area should avoid getting involved in local political issues. Local sports talk radio has been littered all week with discussions of whether the lottery is a good idea or not.

In Alabama, the lottery is a lot more controversial than it is in many other states. The politics of lotteries are strange, with the very conservative and the very liberal aligned with one another opposing it, and the middle usually in favor. The conservatives, particularly the religious conservative, don't like the lottery because it is a form of legalized gambling. The liberals don't like the lottery because of its negative impact on the poor and working class.

The problem is that Alabama has a lot more poor people and a lot more religious conservatives than many other states. Alabama has never been able to get a lottery passed, despite a couple of proposals making their way to voters. The last time this came to a vote, it was narrowly rejected.

Saban's comments that a lottery could help college athletics, in addition to showing his own single-mindedness, shows a certain clumsy side to him. The smart action would have been to not say anything at all on this subject. He just doesn't know enough about the political landscape in Alabama to start getting involved in local politics without making missteps like this one. Instead, he perhaps gave up a little of his prestige by coming out publicly in favor of a proposal that many of his constituents (for lack of a better word) oppose.

Personally, I'm against a lottery. I agree with the liberals that they damage the poor and working class, and I have as evidence my own observations from living in two states that have used lotteries. I saw who lined up at the convenience stores and the supermarkets to buy lottery tickets when the jackpots got big. But there's more to it.

I simply think it's bad economics for a state to use a lottery as a revenue generator. States that have lotteries hire outside companies to run them, meaning that a big part of the money spent on a lottery by the people of the state actually leaves the state. Some of the rest returns to the people in the form of winnings, but and the remainder goes to the state. I don't have any statistics, but if I remember correctly it is something like $0.40 of every dollar goes to the state. The rest goes to out-of-state corporations running the lottery.

It's like if the state decided to raise revenue with a sales tax, and then paid an out of state accounting firm most of the money spent on it to monitor it. It just doesn't make any sense from a revenue standpoint. It makes a lot more economic sense just to tax people. Then, for every dollar spent on the tax, the state raises one dollar in revenue. Using my estimate of lotteries making the state $0.40 on the dollar, a tax (whatever the form) is a 150% more economically more efficient method of generating revenue.

My other philosophical problem with lotteries is the fact that they are state-granted monopolies on a form of entertainment. I have no idea why the libertarians aren't out in force against lotteries on this ground, but they aren't, and they should be. Lotteries put the state in the entertainment business, and they grant one company a monopoly on that business in partnership with themselves. This is the sort of thing they normally rail against.

If we're going to have lotteries, we should just legalize lotteries and open up the state to competition. Tax and regulate it heavily, but treat it just like you'd treat movie theaters. Let anyone who wants to do so start up their own lottery and simply tax the proceeds. Let the best-run lottery, with the highest payouts and best marketing win. It's the capitalistic way of legalizing lotteries.

That won't happen, not because we're not capitalists, but because people seem to instinctively know lotteries can't survive competition. Lotteries exist in an economic feedback loop. They are viable because people buy a lot of tickets. When people buy a lot of tickets, the jackpots go up. When the jackpots go up, people buy more tickets, raising the jackpot even higher, leading to even more tickets being bought.

If there was more than one lottery in an area, neither can get all the business and the jackpots go down. With lower jackpots, fewer overall people will buy tickets, lowering the jackpots further. Eventually, people pretty much stop buying all-together. This is why, I believe, competition destroys lotteries. Two lotteries can't co-exist in one market. Both will die. I think people instinctively understand this and this is why no one even suggests this model of running a lottery, even though no one would even dream of running, say, a movie theater the way they run a lottery.

Plus, I get the impression, perhaps a naive one, that people aren't really interested in lotteries so much anymore. You rarely hear about lottery jackpots getting enormous anymore, and everyone seems to have finally gotten their heads around the fact that it is extremely unlikely you'll strike it rich. So no one really seems to care. Except the naive poor and the mentally deficient of course. But maybe I'm wrong.

Sorry this one is only tangentially about sports. I promise more light-heartedness in the future.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

No Worries Mate, Part II

Part II of an as-yet indeterminately-lengthed series on things I think can derail this very good team we have.

All football teams are vulnerable to injuries. It's just a fact of life. Everyone from USC down to Southern Miss can have their hopes dashed by key injuries to the wrong players.

The player pictured at the top of this blog is definitely one of the "big uglies". He is Mark Snyder, an offensive tackle who was running with the second team. He's also the first victim of a serious injury for the LSU football team this season. In his second practice of the season, he injured his knee, apparently rather seriously. He will likely be out for quite some time, if not the entire season.

It's a position where LSU is vulnerable. We have a very talented offensive line, and lots of depth in the middle of the line, but very little at the edges. It now appears that the #3 offensive tackle on the team may be a true freshman. If there is any injury to the starters Ciron Black and Carnell Stewart, we will either have to shuffle the line to play players out of position, or stick a true freshman in the game against SEC-calibre defensive linemen.

Where else are we vulnerable? Actually, with our depth of talent, we'll be more able to sustain injuries than most teams, but that's not to say we're invulnerable. Here are players or positions where we are most vulnerable:

1. Early Doucet, WR. He's our best and most experienced wide receiver. He's an All-American candidate wide receiver on a team where no other returning wideout had more than 6 catches last year. Talent and athleticism are available behind him, but Doucet is clearly the go-to guy and there will be a big drop-off is he goes down.

2. Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon, CB. Both of our starting corners are pre-season All-SEC players. No one behind them has ever played a down of college football. Once again, there is a lot of talent, and a lot of players who are expected to have very good careers, but we want to ease them into the lineup, not throw them to the wolves.

3. Tyson Jackson, DE. With the apparent loss of Ricky Jean-Francois to academic problems, the defensive end spot becomes a lot more vulnerable. Tyson Jackson is possibly an All-America calibre player. Behind him ar a number of very solid players like Tremaine Johnson, Rahim Alem, and Kirston Pittman, one of whom will be lining up opposite him. But Tyson Jackson is the man. If he is lost, there will be a big drop-off.

4. Matt Flynn, QB. Obviously, any team that loses its starting QB will have some problems. We have a backup QB with a lot of promise, and it makes us somewhat less vulnerable to injury here than a lot of teams, but Perrilloux has clearly lost the competition for the starting job, and appears that he may not quite be ready to be a team leader. You'd like to see him keep his opportunity to understudy and mature before he becomes the starter. If he is forced into starting action now, the team will suffer for it.

Other positions do not have me so worried. This is better than a lot of teams, most of whom can't sustain ANY significant injuries to players in the two-deep without suffering serious consequences. However, if we lose a tight end or an offensive tackle to injury, even a guy like Glenn Dorsey, the team will probably be OK. It'll be a setback, and definitely will hurt, but not as much as it will hurt other teams.

Monday, August 6, 2007

O-Line Stats Part Two

This is part two of Poseur's two part series on o-line stats

Now that we have developed a formula for rating offensive lines, let’s apply it to the 2006 season and see if we can draw any sort of conclusions. First, the numbers for the pass blockers.

Team Sks Mod Att Sks/Att PSCORE
ARKANSAS 9 311 2.980 1.467
TENNESSEE 19 434 4.578 0.843
GEORGIA 17 359 4.971 0.690
LSU 19 387 5.163 0.615
VANDY 19 356 5.638 0.430
FLORIDA 23 422 5.764 0.380
SOUTH CAROLINA 24 413 6.170 0.222
ALABAMA 28 421 7.125 -0.151
MISS ST 29 389 8.056 -0.514
KENTUCKY 39 475 8.945 -0.861
OLE MISS 29 309 10.357 -1.412
AUBURN 35 317 12.411 -2.214
Average 24.167 382.75 6.739

Two things stick out: Arkansas was much better than everyone else and Auburn was much worse. Let’s take on Auburn first because it’s become sort of an accepted belief Auburn will have a bad line this year in their quest to replace two All-SEC linemen.

Well, their offensive line could not be worse, and those awards were a mistake (okay, maybe not for Grubbs). Allowing over 12 sacks per 100 pass attempts is Oakland Raiders level of bad. It is so bad you don’t even immediately notice how bad Ole Miss’ pass protection was. And it comes without a built-in excuse. Teams with running quarterbacks tend to allow more sacks because the running quarterback occasionally gets caught for a loss and that counts as a sack.

Which makes Arkansas even more impressive. 2.98 sacks per 100 attempts? Arkansas’ line was absolutely dominant in pass protection. The only other surprise is that Tennessee’s maligned offensive line ranked second best in the conference.

Team Mod Rush Mod Yds Yds/Att RSCORE
ARKANSAS 530 3129 5.904 2.080
LSU 431 2009 4.661 0.713
VANDY 366 1683 4.598 0.644
FLORIDA 453 2074 4.578 0.622
SOUTH CAROLINA 390 1727 4.428 0.457
AUBURN 435 1722 3.959 -0.060
GEORGIA 409 1535 3.753 -0.286
TENNESSEE 363 1270 3.499 -0.566
OLE MISS 393 1312 3.338 -0.742
ALABAMA 427 1396 3.269 -0.818
KENTUCKY 372 1008 2.710 -1.434
MISS ST 365 935 2.562 -1.597
Average 411.167 1650 4.013

And… there’s Arkansas again. They had three 1st team All-SEC lineman, and it seems the SEC got that one right. They were the best run block and best pass block unit, and they did both by fairly wide margins. In fact, their gap in run blocking makes their advantage in pass blocking almost seem slight. LSU had the second best run blocking line, and they were closer to 10th place than they were to SEC-leading Arkansas.

No real surprises at the bottom, with Mississippi State bringing up the rear. But Kentucky and Alabama probably didn’t expect to have such poor running games. Kentucky had one of their best seasons in a decade, and it came with a line that couldn’t open up a hole for anybody. Alabama’s expected improvement needs to come from some serious improvement in the run blocking. Because last year’s effort won’t get in done.

ARKANSAS 1.47 2.08 354.72
LSU 0.62 0.71 132.83
VANDY 0.43 0.64 107.37
FLORIDA 0.38 0.62 100.24
SOUTH CAROLINA 0.22 0.46 67.90
GEORGIA 0.69 -0.29 40.42
TENNESSEE 0.84 -0.57 27.75
ALABAMA -0.15 -0.82 -96.87
MISS ST -0.51 -1.60 -211.05
OLE MISS -1.41 -0.74 -215.43
AUBURN -2.21 -0.06 -227.39
KENTUCKY -0.86 -1.43 -229.48

Not surprisingly, Arkansas is #1. But what is interesting is that the teams neatly organized themselves into three tiers:

Arkansas, LSU, Vanderbilt, Florida

Three of those teams make sense, but Vandy? Now, some of that could be a factor of who on earth would bother to blitz Vandy, but the running game speaks for itself. Vanderbilt’s line performed well all season long. I’d also like to point out that LSU’s line ranked second without having a single player ranked 1st or 2nd team All-SEC. Florida is widely considered the second best line, with three All-SEC linemen (one 1st teamer), but they really weren’t that far off from second place.

South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama

Actually, Bama is much worse than the other three teams listed but they are much better than the bottom four so they hang out on an island. I just lump them in with the others to be nice. And for symmetry.

Strangely enough, SC ranks as the toughest line but they are the only one of the four without an All-SEC lineman,

Miss State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Kentucky

These teams were flat out lousy.

Actually, Auburn’s run blocking was decent, but their pass blocking was so terrible it almost ranked them as the worst line in the league. Kentucky gets that dubious honor despite having one of their best overall seasons. They did it the old-fashioned way, by stinking in all phases of the game.

And what are we going to do with the state of Mississippi?

But let us all bow before Arkansas. And be thankful most of their line graduated and they will hopefully return to mediocrity.

No Worries, Mate, Part I

Actually, there are worries. This is the first of a multi-part series on the things I worry about when I think of the 2007 LSU football team.

We have a very good team, a team that looks like it has a genuine shot at running the table all the way to the National Championship Game. That's not to say it will happen, but we have a real shot at it. But what could go wrong? Several things can go wrong. This team, despite all its strengths, has some serious weaknesses that have not been corrected despite years of effort.

One of the big rule changes this year is the new rule moving kickoffs back to the 30 yard line from the 35, meaning there will be fewer touchbacks and more runbacks on kickoffs. This has LSU fans salivating waiting for another electrifying return from Trindon Holliday.

Don't forget, however, that the opponent has a kickoff returner too. There are several really good return men in the SEC. Felix Jones at Arkansas almost burned us with a kickoff return last year. Javier Arenas at Bama was dangerous. Raphael Little at Kentucky was dangerous. And those are just some of the ones on our schedule. Mikey Henderson at Georgia is as dangerous as anyone, and everyone in the SEC has someone capable of returning the ball a long way.

This means that the team should be spending a lot of time focusing on covering kickoffs. It may also be a good idea to put more of the best players on kickoff coverage as well. Les Miles, like a lot of coaches, uses a lot of young players on special teams, which helps get these players experience. Some coaches, like Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, actually put their best players on special teams and rotate the young players into regular plays to give his best players a rest. Miles should consider doing the same thing, at least on kickoffs.

Any time you get a special teams touchdown, it dramatically increases your chances of winning, but any time you give up a special teams touchdown, it dramatically decreases your chances of winning. Because LSU has not recently been particularly good at kickoff coverage, and because the rules have changed to benefit returners, this is a spot to worry about in the upcoming year.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

O-Line Stats Part One

This is part one of Poseur’s two-part series for offensive line statistics.

One of the hardest things to evaluate in football is line play, just because there is a complete dearth of analytical tools at our disposal. We are pretty much at the mercy of common wisdom, which becomes a sort of group think. Team X has a good line because one expert said so, who is usually parroting another expert who is parroting another. And our statistical toolbox is virtually empty for evaluating lines.

I’m trying to rectify that. Now, I’m not claiming my o-line states are flawless. No statistic is, but it at least gives us something to start a debate with. It gives us a context to objectively evaluate the lines. Before I unveil the system, let’s admit the difficulties and flaws of creating an objective statistic for offensive line play.

First, an offensive line works as a unit, not as a bunch of individuals. At no position is the cliché “only as good as the weakest link” as true as it is with the offensive line play. So I don’t even attempt to evaluate individual linemen. If you want to know how good Ben Grubbs is, I really can’t help you. The system here is to evaluate each unit as a group.

Secondly, everything an offensive line is dependent on someone else. The line has essentially two jobs: prevent sacks and open up holes for the running game. So by counting the sacks or the average yards per carry is not just the responsibility of the line, it is determined by the mobility of the quarterback or the skill of a running back. This is an unavoidable fact of ANY football stat. Every statistic is influenced by more than just the player being evaluated. Receptions are a function not of a receiver’s skill but of the quarterback’s skill and the coach’s decision to throw the ball. Hell, every running stat has been dependent on the offensive line and we don’t throw those numbers out, so turnabout seems like fair play. Isolation of a skill in football statistics is frankly an impossible task.

Finally, opportunity matters. The number of sacks allowed for a pass-happy team like Kentucky is not the same as the run-oriented offense of Arkansas. This is actually a fairly easy problem to rectify, as we will look solely at rate stats. It’s not raw sack totals or raw rushing yards, but sacks per attempts and yards per attempt. This puts teams on an equal footing regardless of their offensive philosophy.

So, onto the system itself.

Like I mentioned, the offensive line has essentially two jobs: preventing sacks and opening up holes for the running game. Which means we can evaluate the line in two separate facets of the game: the running game and the passing game.

It’s actually pretty easy. Take the total number of allowed sacks compared to the total number of pass attempts. OK, not exactly because there is some slight modifications needed. In college, sacks count as rushing attempts, not pass attempts, so the sacks have to be added to the total number of pass attempts. Also, to put the number on a more readable scale, we multiply the result by 100. It leaves us with this formula:

100*Sacks/(Pass Attempts + Sacks)

Taking the average SEC team, we plug in these numbers: 24 sacks and 359 attempts (actually, 24.167 and 358.583). The average team allows 6.739 sacks per 100 pass attempts.

Well, we can’t use simple yards per attempt because of the problem with sacks. Sacks count as rushes, not as pass attempts and we need to avoid penalizing a team twice for allowing a sack. The modified yards per rush formula we’ll evaluate offensive lines purely on rushing with is this:

(Rush Yards – Sack Yards)/(Rush Attempts – Sacks)

Once again, taking the average SEC team, let’s plug in some numbers. The average team attempts 435 rushes on the season, gains 1815 yards, and allows 24 sacks for 165 yards (actual figures: 435.333 rushes, 1815.083 yard, 24.167 sacks, and 165.083 yards). The average team averages 3.938 yards per attempt.

We’ve now encountered another problem. The numbers are on completely different scales. Take a look at the average team: 6.739 sacks and 3.938 yards/rush. If we work on the assumption that pass blocking is equally important as rush blocking, it’s impossible to simply add those numbers together. The ratio is too bizarre.

What we need to do is get these two variables on the same scale. And here we turn to one of our friends from your college statistics course: standard deviation.

We can take figure out how many standard deviations a team’s performance has been from the mean in both run blocking and pass blocking. This puts both variables on the same scale and also makes the numbers completely dependant on how the rest of the league has performed. We’ll call each computation of the number of standard deviations the PSCORE and the RSCORE.

Then, it’s a simple matter of adding the two numbers together to get an OLINE score. To keep the total number from being a long decimal, I multiply the result by 100 just to make it more readable.

This also means that 0 is a perfectly average offensive line. Any number in the negative is a below average team, and any number in the positive range is above average. Since this is running a bit long, we’ll put this into practice and apply these formulas to last year’s SEC teams in the next installment. There are some surprises on who ranks as a quality and poor offensive line. But without spoiling the suspense, Arkansas’ line was not just awesome, it was fucking awesome. It was every bit as good as we thought it was.

So at least the numbers passed the early smell test.