Sunday, May 25, 2008

Big Changes On the Horizon

GeauxTuscaloosa is moving on to bigger and better things. Thanks to what I think has been our true commitment to bringing interesting and informative content, I have been invited to take over as site administrator over at And the Valley Shook, which had been perhaps the premier LSU sports blog on the internet until it went dormant recently.

As a result, this will be the last blog post on GeauxTuscaloosa. Some time very soon, I will begin blogging over at And The Valley Shook, which is a part of SBNation, a network of blogs of all sorts of sports fans, with blogs dedicated to each of the Major League Baseball teams, each of the NBA teams, each of the NFL teams, many of the BCS-conference college teams, a few NHL teams, and some for sports such as cycling and auto racing. It's a big network, and it's well-connected.

The new And The Valley Shook will essentially be a continuation of this blog, but we will be sure to take advantage of the extra bells and whistles that comes with being affiliated with SportsBlog Nation. We will also be officially a part of a larger community of college sports writers, fans, etc.

This is a big step up for us, and we (Poseur and I) are very excited about it. Having looked around the network a little, we hope we can live up to the high standards for blogging that are currently in place. The first task we have is to learn how to use all the extras that come with it. It makes no sense to move over to a more advanced platform and continue to settle for text and pictures. But we promise also to not let the better technology overwhelm the content. We take pride in being insightful and informative, and that will not change.

We hope to see you when we get started.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The LSU Baseball Team is No Longer Jailbait

They've reached 18! The pitching was good. The hitting was timely. The fielding was reportedly outstanding.

I say "reportedly" because, once again, I had no way of keeping up with the game by any traditional means. My cable system does not get CSS, and I do not believe it was broadcast on local radio (I tried to find it). I wanted to listen to it on internet radio, but the only sites I was able to find either required registration (I avoid registering for things) or strictly used Windows Media Player.

I have a Mac. It doesn't have Windows Media Player. Usually something also uses RealPlayer or QuickTime. This didn't.

Instead, I followed the game using the "Live" function at It was sort of like following a football game using ESPN's graphical interface. Nice, but no substitute for television or radio coverage. I blame the SEC. It appears they licensed their radio rights to XM Satellite Radio, which the vast majority of people do not get. Because they also licensed the television rights of the early games to a station that many people also do not get, a lot of people have been shut out of following the games in the most useful formats. Unless you're willing to take off work and go, you can't take part.

Starting today, Fox Sports starts carrying the games. This will be nice because at least I'll be able to see the Kentucky-Bama game, which will decide our opponent at 1:30pm on Saturday. The Tigers get the day off today by virtue of staying in the Winner's Bracket. If we win that game, we advance to the championship game. If we lose against Bama/Kentucky, we play again later that night, and for some reason, the "if necessary" game will be broadcast on CSS instead of FSN, which means I'd be right back to not getting television access.

At least, if it's Bama we play, it will be on radio and perhaps local TV. Yay channel 23!

But back to last night's game. On the written play-by-play provided by, the game came down to two things: a) we got the big hit when we needed it, and b) we got the big out when we needed that. After doing next to nothing for 4 innings, getting only one runner in scoring position during that time, and not getting a run, we broke through for two big innings in the 5th and 6th by getting big hits with runners on, including a 3-run home run in the 6th. We were also aided by poor defense on Vandy's part, using two throwing errors and a hit-by-pitch in the 5th inning to score 4 runs.

After that, we were on cruise control. Vandy's big threat came in the 7th when they used a walk, a hit, and an error to load the bases with only one out, but couldn't make a big inning out of it. A big inning would have made it a whole new game, but they settled for one run on a sacrifice fly and the rally quietly petered out. They didn't get a runner past 2nd base again for the rest of the night.

We got the big hit when we had the chance. They didn't. We made good defensive plays. They committed 3 errors (to our 1). We won. Bring on the next opponent. I'm into this now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Who's the MVP?

Another ho-hum win for the Tigers. Down 4-0 in the 9th inning, the Tigers drew two walks to lead off the inning (a difficult task since you could have driven a Buick through the umpire’s strike zone), setting up Matt Clark’s three-run bomb. Not to be outdone, Ryan Schimpf doubled home the tying run with two outs and two strikes. No pressure or anything. By the time Blake Dean hit a solo shot to win it in the 10th, the whole thing seemed pre-ordained. Here’s the highlights:

Win #17. No biggee. So, let’s answer the unanswered question from yesterday: who is the Tigers MVP? Well, let’s look at the contenders:

It could be this guy. Blake Dean leads the team with a 339 batting average, though I’m not really a batting average kind of guy. Let’s get used to the trilogy stats right now: AVG/OBP/SLG. It gives an idea of how a guy hits, how often he gets on, and with how much power. Dean hit 339/421/610. He had 14 HR and 49 RBI. He even steals the occasional base (4 of 6). He plays decent defense, and his been a rock in the middle of the order all season, batting third in 45 games and never batting lower than 5th. He’s the guy the team relies on, he’s the star player, he’s the obvious choice.

But it could be this guy. On a team that relies so heavily on freshmen and sophomores, Michael Hollander is the senior leader that holds the team together. As the times got harder, Hollander played better. He hit 296/380/466 overall, but 308/379/519 in SEC play. He stole 4 of his 6 bases in SEC play, and only made 4 of his 15 errors in conference play. He’s been a stellar defensive third baseman, and he’s added the sock.

It could be this guy. Jared Bradford was a preseason All-American, but he was moved to the pen not because of poor pitching, but because Mainieri could use him in more games. He pitched in almost half of LSU’s games, and was a valuable swingman to get from the starters to the pen. But come on, he wasn’t as valuable of a pitcher as…

… this guy. Ryan Verdugo’s gonna make a lot of money next year. Mainly because lefties who throw a biting curveball are in high demand. Especially ones who go 8-2 with a 3.61 ERA, averaging almost a strikeout per inning. He’s given LSU the ace they have lacked for so long, and the team is no longer just giving away the Friday game.

It could be this guy. Ryan Schimpf has helped anchor the infield along with freshman DJ LeMahieu. I’m a firm believer that teams are built from the middle of the defensive spectrum out, so middle infielders are dear to my heart. Schimpf is probably the most well-rounded player on the team. He hits 301/407/550. He hit 10 homers, but also stole 13 bases. He also only made 2 errors all season, at one of the most demanding defensive positions. I hate to say he is without flaw, but he is pretty good at everything.

Or it could be this guy. Matt Clark is a force of nature at the plate. He’s actually a pretty good defensive 1st baseman, but he’s not here for his glove. He’s here because he hit 332/428/717. That’s right, he slugged 717. He hit 20 home runs in 52 games, an absurd total which harkens back to Gorilla Ball and aluminum bats. He hit slightly better in SEC play: 344/439/760. They say he can’t lefties, but that just means he doesn’t absolutely humiliate them the way he does righties.

Heck, you decide.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Letter To the Bandwagon

Dear Richard,

First off, welcome to the bandwagon. You’re not REALLY a bandwagon fan since you are, first and foremost, an LSU fan. It’s not like you’ve spent the last few years rooting for Rice’s baseball team and are suddenly switching loyalties. You’re not switching teams, you’re just reacquainting yourself with a team you are already inclined to root for.

That said, I’m here to help you get up to speed with the team. I’m always willing to help. Who’s the star? A good question, actually. According to the SEC, no one. Not a single LSU player was named either first or second team All-SEC. Not one. And only Micah Gibbs was named to the All-Freshman team. I’m not asking for the world here. But you would think at least one player from the West Division champions, owners of the 2nd best record, and possible national seed would at least made 2nd team. And you’d think a successful, freshman dominated team like LSU would have someone other than Gibbs make the All-Freshman team.

OK, we’ll get into that. Let’s start with the basics: why is LSU winning? Well, a cynic would point out the winning streak has not exactly come against the powers of the SEC. South Carolina and Kentucky were both ranked when they played LSU, but they finished the season a combined two games above .500 in conference play. USC will be the seventh seed in the SEC tournament. Auburn and Mississippi State battled for the cellar, a combined 20 games below .500 in conference play. But 16 wins in a row is 16 wins in a row (and Tulane and UNO are both hovering around the rankings, so its not all chumps). Winning 12 straight games in a conference schedule that is only 30 games goes beyond a mere streak. That’s almost half a season without a loss.

LSU has the best offense in the SEC. Remember last year when I called the offense historically pitiful? Well, things have turned around. LSU has scored 220 runs, tops in the SEC. And scoring runs is what offenses should be judged on. LSU gets a lot of hits (tied for 1st with Alabama) and hits for a lot of power (tied for 1st in total bases, 2nd in slugging). Bama’s component stats are a little better, but LSU wins the bottom line: they score runs.

LSU’s got good pitching, too. They rank third overall in conference ERA. So they prevent runs. Pittman, you were right. Like any good team, they score runs and don’t let up very many. It’s more the offense than the defense, but the defense is pretty darn good. Relief pitching? How did you know? Bradford’s become sort of a swingman uber-reliever, pitching in relief so he can get in more games. Mainieri’s been comfortable getting saves from Coleman, Bertuccini, Ross, or the nominal closer Bradshaw. Why not? All of them have ERA’s 3.50 or lower.

This is running a bit long, so I’ll try to help you identify the best player tomorrow, which is a tougher task than you might think. Besides, it’ll give you a chance to meet most of the team. Right now, just enjoy the bandwagon.


In Defense of the Bandwagon

A lot of people speak or write derisively of the bandwagon. If you pick up a team just as they are starting to have success, you are considered not just less of a fan, but you are considered to be not a fan at all.

There's some truth to this, but I believe the attitude should not be taken too far. I think Poseur has it right in the comments to the last post that the bandwagon jumpers just have to "know their place at the back of the line".

You see, the simple fact is most fans are "bandwagon" fans at least in the mildest sense of the word. Most of us, even if we have affection and admiration for the baseball or basketball teams, will not actually pay much attention if the team is not doing well. Heck, if we were a losing football team like we were back in the '90s, I would still be paying attention, but I doubt I'd be blogging. If the basketball team is losing, I am still rooting for them, but I'm probably not watching the games on television, because I will have more enjoyable things to do. The baseball team is the same way, except that when they aren't doing well, they never appear on television.

So yes, when the baseball team started winning some games, I started paying more attention. Am I claiming expertise on the topic of LSU baseball? Absolutely not. I have nothing intelligent to say in answer to the question, "Why is LSU baseball suddenly so successful?" Knowing what I know about baseball, my guess is that the answer is at least partly "pitching", and knowing what I know about college baseball, I further guess that it could be "relief pitching". However, those are just guesses.

Honestly, I can't name the team's best players, in part because living here in Tuscaloosa, I don't ever actually see them play. Unlike Poseur, I choose not to listen to the games on internet radio. Does that make me less of a fan than Poseur?

Yes, I suppose it does.

Now don't get me wrongly here. Bandwagon fans can be thoroughly obnoxious and irritating. If you were wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey in Baton Rouge in the late 1990s and early 2000s, you were probably insufferable. The same can be said if you were one of the many people wearing Miami Hurricanes material 10-20 years ago.

I can't think of any big bandwagons today, at least in that sense. Maybe USC, though I don't really think their bandwagon extends beyond the West Coast, and from what I understand their fan base is really not that passionate, although I did get into an argument a couple years ago with a USC fan who made me want to tear my hair out because of his ignorance. But I digress.

Yes, if you jump on the bandwagon and then act obnoxious, or act like you know more than you do, or act like you have been there all along, you deserve the enmity of others. If you simply decide that you are not going to pay all that much attention unless the team starts going somewhere, you are not a bad person. You are, like most people, making choices about how you spend your valuable time. Some people choose one thing. Some choose another. I simply do not love baseball or basketball enough to spend my time following a losing team. It does not mean I do not care how they are doing, or that it does not pain me to see the teams struggling these last few years.

All that said, the team will be playing less than an hour from where I live this week. On Thursday, they start in the morning, and I will be working. After that, we will see. If they're still playing on Saturday, I will definitely be going to that. I may even get to see games I do not attend on television.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Handling the Ignorant Naysayers

Lately, we seem to have been bombarded with bloggers and minor journalists saying inane and critical things about the state of the LSU football program. "Critical" probably isn't the right word, because some may take it to to be used pursuant to its 3rd definition at, "involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc."

I won't link to them, because the purpose of this entry is to encourage LSU fans to ignore those guys, but I am sure you can easily find multiple examples of some minor commentator saying terrible things about the state of the football program. Just go on the message boards and look for the LSU fans calling it to your attention. I think 3 were brought up this weekend alone.

If it's a blogger making bizarre statements like LSU's recruiting is sub-par, or that LSU's program is currently on a steady decline, you know they're just trying to generate traffic. Look, I'm a blogger. I know how this works. The easiest way to generate traffic and interest is to find something a lot of people love and then stridently, viciously insult it. I know it gives a blog a big shot in the arm as far as readership goes.

If you write that entry, the fans will link to it at message boards, your traffic will increase 50-fold or more, comments will go through the roof, and you will make a name for yourself. It's the simplest, most direct, most reliable way to generate readership for a blog. Recognize that that is its purpose. So when you go to his blog and try to tell the guy what a fool he is, you're giving him exactly what he wants.

Don't do it. Don't play into his hands. Ignore it. Treat him like you would treat any obnoxious fan at the stadium by obscenities about how much his team is going to beat you. That's exactly what he is. He's one of those obnoxious and difficult fans who has discovered that the internet gives him another outlet AND that his obnoxiousness is actually rewarded here.

I am here to encourage all LSU fans, and fans of other teams for that matter, to just ignore trolls like that. By linking and by commenting, you are just encouraging them to do it more. If they get a lot of comments, then they become known for being able to bother the fans of other teams. Don't let the attention whores win.

Now if it's not a blogger, I think you need to do something a little different. If it's a "respected" journalist, like for example, Gregg Doyel of, who said before the BCSNCG a few months ago:
LSU coach Les Miles is lucky the BCS national championship game isn't a board game between the coaches. If they were playing checkers, Ohio State's Jim Tressel would quadruple-jump Miles into submission. If they were playing chess, Miles would ask to play checkers.

I don't think Les Miles is very smart. Sorry, I don't. He doesn't look smart, for one thing. He could have been the lead character in Sling Blade. His eyes are too close together. I bet I could jam a thumb over the bridge of his nose and poke both pupils.

Looks can be deceiving, of course. Despite looking dumb, Les Miles could actually be smart. Except he doesn't act smart. And this is why he cannot beat Jim Tressel on Monday night in the BCS title game.
We all remember how that turned out. I think, the way to treat these guys is to just take their number. Remember them, and when they say something else, use it against them. "Say, aren't you the guy who said that Les Miles could not possibly beat Jim Tressel? Why should we listen to you?" The last thing in the world these guys want is for you to remember their predictions that went horribly wrong.

Edit: I realized I let Monday pass without one word about our baseball team getting their 14th, 15th, and 16th wins in a row this weekend and winning the SEC West. I will have more on this tomorrow, but don't let it be said that I am ignoring this today. Congratulations on an incredible streak that no one could have seen coming.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Medical Scholarships

Jordon Corbin, the tight end and defensive end from Lakeland, Florida, profiled here by me a little less than a year ago, has given up football due to a lingering knee injury. He was the most heralded of the 3 tight end recruits from last year. He had moved from tight end to defensive end during the Spring, but decided that his knee, which he injured in high school, just wouldn't let him go at full speed and he would have to give up his dream of playing football.

It's very sad, and you hate to see a kid have to leave a football team before he ever really became a part of it. He got injured in high school, but LSU honored his commitment and gave him a chance to come in and heal. He never played for us despite being a 4-star recruit. He becomes the second player to leave the team from the Class of 2007 after Delvin Breaux decided his neck injury would not let him play either.

Mark Snyder from the Class of 2006 is also on medical scholarship due to multiple knee injuries, and there was some talk in the past that Kirston Pittman would be placed on a medical scholarship, but thankfully that did not happen. Cousin Kirston is awesome.

The good news for Mr. Corbin is that he still gets a free education. He remains on what is called a "medical scholarship." With a medical scholarship, a player is removed from the roster and no longer counts against the 85 player maximum, but retains his scholarship.

I once read the details of how it works, but I cannot find any of the specific information any longer. I know certain safeguards are in place to make sure that the medical scholarship system isn't abused. Otherwise, a coach can simply place any player who isn't cutting it on the field onto the medical scholarship list and get the person off the 85-man list without actually kicking him out of school.

I know that the medical scholarship is reversible, but the process of reversing it is arduous. I believe the player, in order to return from a medical scholarship list to the team proper has to go before a committee of medical experts, and the committee must vote as to whether it is a good idea. As I recall, the vote must be 2/3 in favor of the player returning, or the player does not return. I believe the player may also need clearance to by the committee in order to go ON a medical scholarship, but I'm not sure and I can't find the information.

The upshot is that the medical scholarship program is very good for the athlete and the team. Players who are too injured to play can stay in school and finish their education on scholarship, and the teams are free to seek out a player to replace him on the roster. It also removes one of the incentives a coach has to cut an injured recruit loose, and that's a good thing.

I do think that the system is potentially subject to abuse, in that a creative coach can probably get roster numbers down by making questionable moves to put players into the medical scholarship program who may not really be seriously injured, but haven't developed enough to be contributing players. I hope it's an issue the NCAA is at least looking out for, but so far no one has ever been accused of abusing this particular system. But any system that allows a coach to jimmy up his roster numbers has to be monitored closely for abuse.

Good luck to Jordon. I was looking forward to seeing him play, but now I hope he gets a good education and gets on with his life.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Don't Fret About the Schedule

There's been consternation lately about LSU's out of conference schedule for the 2008 football season. The fans have been on us. The media has been on us. Case in point:

In case you missed it, one of those guys called us "cowardly" and told us to "grow a spine" in our non-conference scheduling. He specifically compared us to USC, pointing out their "aggressive" non-conference scheduling. We play Appalachian State, Troy University, North Texas, and Tulane out of conference next year, all at home. USC plays Virginia, Ohio State, and Notre Dame, with Virginia on the road.

Granted, I like when we play at least one quality out-of-conference opponent. It makes for a more exciting home slate of games, and it puts us on television one additional time. We also, like last year, get some serious bragging rights if we win. I commend teams who play tougher OOC games, and we aren't this year, but why are we the bad guys here?

But let's look a little closer. The world is not all about out-of-conference scheduling. There is also an in-conference slate. If you look at ESPN's own Revised Top 25 for 2008, you see that LSU plays 3 of the top 10 teams, two of them on the road. USC only plays one of the top 10, and two more in the top 25. It is actually a little easier to schedule tough games out of conference when your conference slate isn't a killer.

And why are we suddenly "cowardly" when we have scheduled a non-conference game against a BCS opponent each of the last 6 years. In 2002, we played Virginia Tech. In 2003, we got Arizona in Arizona. In 2004, it was Oregon State. In 2005, Arizona State allowed us to play on their field at the last minute. In 2006, Arizona came to Baton Rouge. In 2007, we lit up Virginia Tech, one of the best teams in the country. In those years, we sprinkled in games against a Ben Roethlisberger-led Miami of Ohio team and perennial mid-major power Fresno State (who happened to be having a bad year). After 6 consecutive years of scheduling at least one quality OOC game, we take a little break this year. Cut us some slack.

And by the way, we were 5-1 in those out of conference BCS-quality games, with one lucky win (Arizona State 2005) and a few blowouts. Only the 2002 Virginia Tech team, when we were breaking in a new quarterback, was able to beat us.

Thirdly, while our OOC schedule is certainly not as strong as USC's, a couple of those teams are not bad opponents at all. Troy beat Oklahoma State last year, gave Georgia all it could handle, scored 31 points on Florida, and went 6-1 in its conference. Appalachian State famously took Michigan down, and won the FCS championship. OK, North Texas and Tulane were terrible.

Yes, those are guys we would never do a home-and-home with, but Troy and Appy State are teams that have shown they can hang with and even beat quality opponents. They aren't Ohio State, but they might be as good as Notre Dame. They're probably better than Stanford. Would the media be pleased if we took mid-major Troy off and added BCS-level Duke? Or perhaps Northwestern? Would you prefer Baylor? How about Temple? Troy is stronger than all of those teams.

So, to recap, if you're going to criticize our schedule, give us credit for the difficult conference schedule, acknowledge that we have been playing quality OOC games every year for more than half-a-decade, and don't overlook the medium-quality opponents we actually have.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Max Holmes Leaves the Football Team

Good luck to this fella. This is Max Holmes, and he has decided to leave the LSU football team to transfer to Stephen F. Austin to play out his final year of eligibility.

Max was part of Nick Saban's last recruiting class in 2004, and was one of only 10 players still remaining on the team from that class. Holmes is not leaving out of discontent or anything of the sort. By all accounts he loved his time at LSU and gave his all in his role as a backup offensive lineman.

Max Holmes is leaving LSU because he has graduated, and has decided to enroll in a graduate program at Stephen F. Austin this year rather than next. His future is not in football, and he has decided to move forward with his future now rather than play out another year as a backup lineman. He has one year of eligibility remaining, which he will be able to use at SFA. After that, he'll be just another really big dude with a good education and some nice stories to tell about his time on a championship-calibre college football team.

Because Holmes is a senior, it was expected that he would be leaving his scholarship open for a 2009 recruit anyway, so this defection does not help for the 2009 class. It does, however, open up a scholarship spot for a walk-on who has been with the team for a little while. We have no idea who that is yet, but any time you fall under the 85 scholarship limit, which it appears we will for this year, a walk-on gets a little help.

Good luck, Max. Represent us well in whatever you do.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ranking the Positions: Defense

Yesterday, we decided that on offense, the most important positions are quarterback and interior offensive line, while the least important are tight end and fullback. Today, we look at the defense. What are the keys to having a successful defense? While it certainly helps to have good players everywhere, there are certain positions where it is extra-important to have talent and skill. Let's take a look:

1. Defensive Tackle: There is no equivalent to a quarterback on the defensive side of the ball. I know, a lot of people say that the middle linebacker is the "quarterback of the defense", and that may be true in the sense that one particular linebacker may make the calls, but there is no position that is as essential to every play or as specialized as the quarterback. Given that, it is no surprise that I am picking the defensive tackle as the most important position on the defense. After all, I picked "interior offensive line" as the second most important on the offense, saying, "I think the key position-to-position matchup on any football field is the battle between the center/guard combination and the defensive tackles on the other side of the ball. Whoever can win the battle on the interior of the line goes a long way towards having success, both in running the ball and in throwing." These guys don't have to pile up a lot of statistics to be effective, and usually do not. If your tackles are effective, you will see the linebackers and the ends getting a lot of tackles at or near the line of scrimmage, because the tackles are moving the line of scrimmage back into the backfield and keeping the blockers off of the linebackers.

2. Cornerback: From the biggest guys on the defense to the smallest. Great cornerbacks free up your defense to do all sorts of things to wreak havoc on an offense. If your corners can consistently and reliably handle the opponent's wide receivers one-on-one, your linebackers and safeties are free to blitz the quarterback or jam the box for the run. Superior cornerbacks allow the defense to play aggressively and take the initiative away from the offense. Average cornerbacks change the character of the defense dramatically from that scenario. Average corners mean zone defense, which means there is little blitzing and the offense has the initiative on the defense. While this may seem strange considering I ranked the wide receivers as the #5 priority on offense, consider that the matchup here is not just the corners against the receivers. It's also the corners against the quarterback. One-on-one, a cornerback has to refuse to give the quarterback enough room to get the ball to the receiver.

3. Defensive End: No real surprise here if you read yesterday's column. The key battles are in the trenches, and this is where the trenches are. The defensive ends are especially important in the passing game, as they are your key every-down pass rushers, and they also are important against the run.

4. Backup Defensive Tackle: If I have any complaint about how Miles or Pelini or whoever responsible has run the defense these last few years, it is in how they have managed the defensive tackle position. College football games are long. The clock rules call for a lot more stoppages of time than in the NFL, meaning there are more plays per game in college than in the pros. In that environment, I think it is very important to keep your players fresh, and nowhere is that more important than at defensive tackle. These guys run at over 300 pounds, and they play probably the most physically demanding position on the field, often being leaned on and pushed around by two 300-pounders. Unlike a wide receiver, who can come out for a breather and be OK in a play or two, when these guys run out of gas on a Saturday night, they don't come back until Monday or Tuesday. They're just too big . Not only do they get worn out during games, they can wear down over the course of a season. Not to mention there is a particularly heightened risk of injury at this position. For these reasons, I think you absolutely need a rotation of 4 defensive tackle, and you need to carefully regulate how many plays your best tackles play in a game, and get them out in games that have already been decided. The result is, backup defensive tackles should play quite a bit. I think Miles/Pelini haven't played backup defensive tackles enough, and it has worn down our starters, limiting their effectiveness.

4. Outside Linebackers: These guys are absolutely essential to containing outside running, especially if (like LSU) you have defensive ends who are a little big and consequently don't necessarily have the 4.6 speed necessary to get outside. Outside linebackers are also important for providing pass coverage on inside receivers (tight ends or slot receivers) and/or running backs. Also, the occasional blitzing, particularly if your corners are good. Speed and quickness are particularly important here. In LSU's scheme, one of the outside linebackers comes off the field in passing situations, so you can imagine the one that leaves is not as important as the one that stays.

5. Middle Linebacker: Cleans up the garbage left by the defensive line in the inside running game and is also important in covering the tight end or running back coming out of the backfield. Speed is not as important for an inside linebacker, but they need to be quick with the first steps and have enough strength to shed blocks from the fullback or interior linemen.

6. Safeties: In LSU's scheme, the safeties are more-or-less interchangeable with one another, but in many schemes the safeties are split into two different roles, the "strong safety" whose primary job is run support, and the "free safety" whose primary job is to cover receivers and provide double teams in the passing game. In all schemes, both safeties do a little of both, but in LSU's scheme, there seems to be no distinction. Some are saying that with the advent of the "spread" offenses in major college football, safeties may become more important in the future, as safeties provide the "sideline to sideline" run support, but I still think this job will remain with the linebackers, who may become smaller and faster to compensate for the horizontally stretched field.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ranking the Positions: Offense

First, congratulations to the LSU baseball team for getting another series sweep this weekend. This time, we beat Mississippi State, and suddenly the LSU baseball team is #1 in the SEC West and leading by 1.5 games with one SEC series left. We get Auburn starting on Thursday. We have clinched a spot in the SEC Tournament, and the NCAA selection committee has to see that this is one of the hottest teams in the country.

I want to give my thoughts on a topic that often seems to come up. What are the most important positions on the football field? My thoughts on this differ from many other people's, so let me share them. On offense, I rank the positions this way:

1. Quarterback: Clearly the most important position on the field, and I don't think many people would argue otherwise. The quarterback handles the ball on every play. A good quarterback can make up for innumerable deficiencies elsewhere in the roster. If you get an outstanding one (like a Vince Young), your offense can be darn near unstoppable no matter what else you have going on. If you have one who doesn't have the arm strength, you cannot pass down the field at all. I'm looking in your direction, Brandon Cox. Even in the running game, the quarterback can be important, particularly if you run any option. No one else on either side of the ball is as important to his team's success as the quarterback.

2. Interior Offensive Line: This is where I part ways with a lot of other commentators. I think the key position-to-position matchup on any football field is the battle between the center/guard combination and the defensive tackles on the other side of the ball. Whoever can win the battle on the interior of the line goes a long way towards having success, both in running the ball and in throwing. If your interior offensive linemen can handle the defensive tackles 1-on-1, you will almost certainly have a lot of success on your offense. If you interior offensive line needs double-teams to keep the tackles out of the backfield, that frees up the rest of the defense to maneuver with several unblocked players. It's also great to have guards who can get to the second or third level and block linebackers or safeties, but I'll settle for linemen who can handle the tackles. I think interior offensive line is often overlooked, or it is believed you can just plug players into the position interchangeably. They certainly aren't paid nearly as well in the NFL at these positions as are the tackles, but I think you absolutely need these guys to have success in order for your offense to have success.

3. Offensive Tackles: Next up is a position a lot of people would have at #2 instead of #3. The tackles often go up against the best pass rushers for the other team. While tackles are important both in the running game and the passing game, they separate themselves with their pass blocking, at least on the left side, where defenses like to put their best pass rusher so he can go after the quarterback's blind side. A tackle who doesn't do his job in the passing game will really hurt his team, but one who can handle the good pass rushers will free up his quarterback to do a lot of things. The whole offensive line vs. defensive line matchup is crucial to the outcome of the game, and the tackles are a big part of that.

4. Running Back: We all know what a great running back can give you, but it is my considered opinion that the skill positions in general are a a highly dependent lot. You need good running backs, but there are a LOT of good running backs out there. Almost every team has good running backs. Few have great ones, but good, quality running backs are fairly easy to find. What separates the better running backs from the dime-a-dozen running back is versatility, in my opinion. A good running back needs to block. A good running back needs to catch passes. A good running back needs to hold on to the football. A good running back needs to be able to run inside or outside. If I'm the coach, and I have a running back who can't run inside, I have no room for him except as a specialty back, and he better be lightning fast. If I have a running back who cannot pass block, I'm not sure I have any role for him to play, unless he's Knowshon Moreno or Darren McFadden.

5. Wide Receiver: None of the headline grabbers on a football field are more dependent on others than the Wide Receiver, and even the really good wide receivers only get the ball in their hands 6-8 times per game. With rare exceptions for certain trick plays, wide receiver is absolutely dependent upon the quarterback to get him the ball. Because the quarterback is dependent on the offensive line, the wide receiver therefore has two different levels of dependence upon other players in order to have success. A great wide receiver with a bad quarterback is just as unproductive as a bad wide receiver with a great quarterback. A great QB or a great running back can elevate a team with otherwise deficient personnel, but a great wide receiver without good personnel around him is wasted. Like with the running backs, I love it when a wide receiver can block. This is how wide receivers really show their toughness, if you ask me. Please watch and admire as Brandon Lafell gets a devastating block on a Mississippi State safety:

6. Tight End: They're not blockers. They're not receivers. They're both. I admire the versatility, and I love Richard Dickson as a player, but I think good tight ends are a luxury. You can have a very good offense without one. A good tight end certainly helps a lot, but I think pre-Dickson we proved for years you can have an explosive offense while getting very little production from this position.

7. Fullback: Someone has to come in last.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Cheese Around the SEC, Part 4

We have come to the end of our miniseries on Cheese Around the SEC, and we end with a doozy.

You are the cheesiest man currently associated with the SEC. You have a radio show here in Alabama, and one of your favorite topics to talk about is how awesome you are. I have it on good authority that when you start talking about your "glory days", it's not the Tide that rolls. The only rolling that goes on are the eyes of people who were there at the time of your glory.

It's also clear you take a lot of credit for a lot of wins that had a lot more to do with David Palmer and stellar defensive play than anything you did at quarterback. As a quarterback, you were certainly pretty good, but I don't think you were any better, really, than Matt Mauck or Matt Flynn. Like those two guys, however, you had a really good team around you that allowed you to have success. Unlike those guys (so far), you have traded on that success and that image to an extent that is kind of embarrassing.

You parlayed your successful college career and your brief professional career as a backup (I couldn't find any statistics from your days with the Patriots) into a career of doing car dealership commercials, talking about how Godly you are, dating celebrities, and discussing how different today's generation of kids is from when you were a kid with their refusal to say "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" and not bowing their heads or genuflecting at you or their coaches. I am part of your generation, and I can tell you that kids today are no different than we were when we were kids. You just use this as a way of bragging about how humble you are.

Jay Barker, you are a man carved from a block of cheese.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Poseur: End of the Omaha Era

Alex Box Stadium will host its last weekend series this weekend. LSU’s doing everything right, throwing a big party, naming the All-Alex Box team (broken up into eras like the Omaha Era… nice touch). The baseball team has even gotten into the act by winning some games and making this final series somewhat meaningful.

There’s been some idle speculation that LSU could host a regional. I like that such talk even exists, and that its not wholly delusional, but it’s still not likely. Sure, LSU has won 9 games in a row and now sits #29 in the RPI, but unless the regionals are handed out based on sentiment, it’s at best a longshot. So let’s consider this the last games in the Box.

Alex Box doesn’t pack in the crowds like she used to. Fan support has been good these last three years, but not great. Some blame it on the losing, but except for last year, the team was never that bad. I know it seems like an eternity, but LSU has only been absent from the postseason for two seasons. And we were last in Omaha back in 2004. Not that long ago, really. So it’s not Smoke that drove off the crowds. It’s not the drudgery of losing.

It’s football.

Nothing has hurt LSU baseball more than the rise of LSU football. Let’s step into the Wayback Machine a mere 13 years ago to the springof 1993. LSU football was mired in the depths of the Curly Hallman era. Four losing seasons were behind us, two more lay ahead. The team was coming off of a 2-9 year highlighted by a loss to Colorado St. The basketball team had been to its 15th straight tourney, but little did we know, it was the last one for almost a decade. In 1993, baseball was the only game in town. And they were awesome.

In 1993, the baseball team was in the midst its fifth straight 50 win season. The team would win its second national title, a convincing 8-0 annihilation of Wichita State. Three more were to come. And going to games was a blast. Not just because the team was a true dynasty. Not just because Alex Box was a pretty intimate setting and a fun place to watch a team.

It was because for about five or ten years, baseball was the only winning game in town. While football will always come first in the hearts and minds of the LSU faithful, baseball holds a special place in my heart. During the time I was in school, baseball was about my only taste of winning. And win they did. Now, winning is de rigeur for almost every program. It wasn’t always that way.

The baseball team got us through the darkest days of the LSU athletics program. If nothing else, that’s worth a fireworks show. Thanks, Skip.

Cheese Around the SEC, Part 3

After discussing the SEC's versions of tiramisu* and cheesy grits, it's time we move on... to this guy:

We've finally gotten to someone whose cheese-factor has clearly hurt him. You may have 4.3 speed, and you may be one of the best athletes in the SEC in my lifetime, but your two paternity suits and your strange family have already cost you millions of dollars by moving you down a couple of spots in the NFL draft. Many people think you are well on your way to an ignominious career as a "troubled but talented" athlete. Think Travis Henry, Natrone Means, or Pac-Man Jones.

OK, the Fred Flintstone Halloween costume was cool. If you made it yourself, we can just add that to your list of many talents. And honestly, I've always liked you. In fact, I wanted my favorite team to trade one of its marquee players so that they could draft you to replace him. That's partly because I don't care how much child support my team's best players have to pay, as long as they pay it, and you will be able to afford it. Unless, of course, your bizarre family gets a hold of your money, in which case it will be gone immediately.

You are a man of many talents, Darren McFadden. I think you're the best running back to come through the SEC since Bo Jackson, plus you can actually throw the ball. You've got your problems, but I think some people give you a bad rap. You are mac & cheese.

Now, go and help Jamarcus Russell make the Raiders good again.

Tomorrow: Velveeta.

*It recently came out that Tim Tebow spent his Spring Break circumcising poor Filipino children. I am not kidding.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cheese Around the SEC, Part 2

Part 2 of Cheese Around the SEC is here. I think you had to know this guy would be a part of it.

OK, we all know there's a lot of cheese there, but you've made it work for you and we love you for it. Whether you're wearing a hideous orange suit or painting your chest for women's basketball games, your enthusiasm and complete lack of shame amuses us endlessly, and has drawn fans and good players to a program that had been struggling.

Five years ago, it would have been unthinkable to consider the Tennessee basketball program a power house. The program hadn't had any sustained success... well, not in my lifetime at least.

You came in and everyone thought you were a buffoon. Then you started winning. A lot. No one thought that anymore.

One brief warning, however. Keep winning. As Crash Davis said,"If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob." If you stop winning, they'll think you're a slob again.

The cheese is obvious, but it's still good for you. You are cheesy grits.

Tomorrow: mac & cheese.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cheese Around the SEC, Part 1

This is a new series on this site, to be completed by the end of the week if no big news erupts in that time.  It may be periodically updated as more cheese becomes evident.  

This feature will profile cheesy people around the SEC, and try to categorize their cheese.

OK, it's really not your fault. It's my fault, because my cynicism can't quite accept your All-American Boy image. I expect my great athletes to have a dark side. If you have one, you have hid it well so far.

Yes, there are the numerous pictures on the internet of you hanging out with curvaceous women. Sure, you are a fantastic college football player that I would love to have on my team. But come on. You have to admit that the pictures of you in Superman costumes are a little cheesy.

I think a lot of people would liken you to Captain America, but I think you're more like Bucky. Where Captain America was idealistic, Bucky was blindly idealistic. Where Captain America generally believed in the goodness of man, it was tinged with a knowledge that evil was a powerful temptation. Bucky was blindly optimistic, just learning that evil existed.

Yes, there is cheese there, but the product is undeniably high quality. You also have to look pretty hard to find the cheese in there, but it's there. You are tiramisu.

Tomorrow: Cheesy Grits

Monday, May 5, 2008

Another Defection From the Team, but This Time It's OK

Redshirt sophomore guard Matt Allen has decided to transfer to another school. It is not known where he is going, but say it may be Texas A&M.

Matt Allen was the last remaining offensive lineman from the disappointing 2006 offensive line class, no member of which remains on the team. Zhamal Thomas was dismissed for off-field issues. Steven Singleton left the team for reasons unknown. Injuries forced the end of Mark Snyder's career, and now Matt Allen has decided to go in another direction.

As I wrote back in March of 2007, not all attrition is bad. Because of the dreaded 85/25 rule, attrition is a necessary part of big-time college football. As a reminder, the 85/25 rule says that a college football program can add as many as 25 new scholarship players per year, but can only have 85 scholarship players at a time. It means that you can bring in 25 scholarship players per year, but after 3 years you're going to have to worry about that 85-number.

When a player does not develop as hoped and appears to not be able to be a solid contributor, the best thing for the team and that player is that he move on to another program where he will play more. This frees up a scholarship for that year and allows a team to add a new young player who may develop better.

Such is the case with Matt Allen. He has been in the system for two years, redshirting his first year and then not playing a down in his second year. In the Spring, he was passed by players who have not been in the system as long as he has, and apparently has been passed by Will Blackwell, who is coming over from the defensive line. With another big class of offensive linemen reporting in June, Matt saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to move on to another school and another team.

I recall that in the 2007 offseason, a lot of people thought highly of Matt Allen. They saw a mean-streak in him that you appreciate in an offensive lineman. Many compared him to Eric Andolsek, but he apparently simply did not develop the skills necessary to play at this level. He was 3rd string behind Herman Johnson and Will Arnold/Arnold Miller last year. He would likely have been 3rd string again this year, behind Herman Johnson and Will Blackwell. There is nothing left to do but wish him luck.

With the LSU football program currently butting up against the 85-number, the net effect is that LSU can sign one more recruit for the 2009 class, though I am fairly certain that we need still more attrition to be able to reach the consensus target number of 20 recruits.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Day 2 of the Post-Perrilloux Era

I thank Poseur for covering for me on the Perrilloux situation. I was in court all morning and into the afternoon so I couldn't post the breaking news.

If you click the "Perrilloux" label attached to this post, you will see that I have been a big defender of Ryan Perrilloux in the past. I have defended him on the same basis that Poseur semi-defended him below, which is that while he hasn't followed the rules, he's never done anything so harmful as to merit outright dismissal.

But with news of a positive drug test, allegedly from cocaine, and whispers that this was his problem all along, I am in agreement that the time has come for Ryan Perrilloux to leave the program.

The question is out there of what this will mean on the field. Some are already saying that Ryan leaving is a positive, due to his lack of leadership skills and lack of respect in the locker room. All of that may be true, but he was a studly talent. Losing his production cannot help, unless one of the other quarterbacks is better than expected.

So who is out there? Well, the headliner is Jarrett Lee, a redshirt freshman out of Texas. Here is what I said about Jarrett Lee a year ago when he was just joining the team:
You can tell from his stats that he is tall, slightly built, and not particularly fast. His videos show a solid arm, but he won't be confused with Jamarcus Russell's cannon. He's got good touch, and looks like he's a QB in the Danny Wuerffel mode, which is not a bad thing. He throws with good touch and finds the open man. If you want a more recent comparison, I think he looks a lot like a young Drew Tate. In his last two years of high school, he threw for 71 touchdowns and over 6000 yards, but I doubt you're going to see any of JR's patented 50 yard heaves while leaning on his back foot. Lee is more of a touch passer, but his videos suggest he does that well.
Lee is a solid talent. I don't think he has all-world potential or that he is a "can't miss" prospect, but he's solid. He has a good arm, but he's no Jamarcus Russell. He has nice mobility, probably in the Matt Flynn mold in that respect, but he's not Russell Shepard.

Obviously, because Lee is a redshirt freshman, he has not played a down at the college level. If you believe practice reports, Lee throws a really nice ball, but is not necessarily developing as a quarterback as quickly as one would hope. If he's going to take the reins of the team, he will have to work on reading defenses and making decisions as the offseason progresses. Ideally, he is a guy we would have liked to allow to develop in a backup role for another year or two before giving him a chance to win the job.

The other prime candidate for the starting job is transfer QB Andrew Hatch. His story is pretty well-known by now, but I'll recount it anyway. Hatch is from Nevada and was recruited by Gary Crowton to go to BYU. When Crowton was fired from BYU, Hatch switched his commitment to Harvard. Then, after a year, Hatch went on a Mormon mission, and when he returned he transferred to LSU. He is a junior.

Hatch played a bit last year, in the Middle Tennessee State game last year. He was 1 for 2 passing with 9 yards. He has also rushed 4 times for 27 yards. He is known primarily as a runner. He does not have the arm that Jarrett Lee has, but he is somewhat bigger than Lee. With Hatch, we would not be able to have much of a downfield passing game, which would negate some of the strengths of our receivers. Demetrius Byrd, in particular, would be hurt by Hatch being the regular QB. He would give us the running dimension that Lee doesn't give us, however. He could step right into Perrilloux's role of running the option and not miss a beat.

Don't count out Jordan Jefferson though. He is an incoming freshman out of Destrahan. Watching his videos, it is my opinion that Jefferson has better tools than Jarrett Lee. He has a strong arm and good legs. If you watch his videos, be sure to watch his senior videos. They are light years better than his junior videos. He is not a Jamarcus Russell or a Ryan Perrilloux in terms of talent (few are), nor is he as dynamic as Russell Shepard (though he is a much better passer right now), but he has the tools to be a very successful college QB.

This is a talented kid. He may well be the QB of the future, but it is awfully hard to come in and be the man as a true freshman. Lee has one year of development, maturation, and education on Jefferson. That makes a huge difference at this stage of their careers. You would really like to see Jefferson redshirt rather than play immediately.

Ideally, you would like to give both Lee and Jefferson a chance to understudy for a little while and then compete with each other for the starting job. That would mean that ideally you would want a veteran like Hatch to take the reins for a little while while Lee and Jefferson learn. But Hatch may not have the arm strength to be the man, and we may have to go with Jarrett Lee, and if he fails turn it over to Jefferson.

I suspect we'll see a situational rotation of Hatch and Lee next season, unless and until one or the other of them really emerges, which is likely to be Lee.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Poseur: The Jarrett Lee Era Starts Now

Ryan Perrilloux’s decent is nearly complete in becoming the biggest waste of talent to go through the LSU program since Cecil Collins. Make no mistake, Perrilloux is a phenomenal player and LSU will be a worse team without him. But there comes a time when you finally have to cut bait. Miles gave Perrilloux chance after second chance, all of which Perrilloux has blown. After a failed drug test, Perrilloux had run out of chances. Miles hand was forced, and he showed his star quarterback the door.

An ESPN poll, while admittedly a non-scientific study, showed that almost 94% of 21,000 voters believe Miles did the right thing. You can’t get 94% of any group of people to agree on anything.

I don’t think Miles was wrong to give Perrilloux so many chances. His sins, though multitude, have always been more in the classification of general stupidity than truly harmful. But there were just so many slip ups that eventually, he had no good grace to fall back on when he tested positive, allegedly, for cocaine.

Perrilloux is looking to transfer to Southern, where he can play right away. And I really do wish him nothing but the best. I genuinely hope he can turn his life around because he is going full-throttle down a pretty awful self-destructive course. I’m not talking about not getting into the NFL, I’m worried he’s not going to stay out of jail. Hopefully, this is the thing he needs to finally straighten out and take control of his life. Because the road he is on right now does not end in a happy place.

Just ask Cecil Collins.

Playoff In the News

There's been a good bit of chatter lately about the long-range possibility of college football getting a more traditional playoff system in place. It won't happen any time soon, but it could happen eventually.

It has finally occurred to me. Even though I am only a small blogger with a few dozen readers, I am probably the most prominent college football commentator who does not support going to a playoff format. I think going to a playoff format might be good for college football, but it would be a disaster for the individual conferences, especially the SEC. And honestly, I care more about the SEC than about the sport as a whole. Mike Slive should be leading the charge against a playoff system, not advocating for it.

I don't want to see the quest for the national championship beat the conference races into submission. If there had been a 4-team playoff last year, Georgia would have been in it under most scenarios, relegating the conference championship Georgia failed to win to a simple consolation prize for the winner, just like it is in basketball.

Quick, who won the Big East Conference in basketball in 2008? See, you don't know, and it just happened two months ago. In football, it was West Virginia.* Oklahoma won the Big 12; USC won the Pac-10; Ohio State won the Big 10, LSU won the SEC; and Virginia Tech won the ACC. That's right off the top of my head.** Why don't you know who won the Big East in basketball? Because it isn't important. No one cares who wins the conferences in basketball. All that matters is the tournament. I don't want to see college football become like that.

With a playoff, the SEC becomes about as important as the NFC South, the winner of which is important only in that it gets an automatic bid to the playoffs. Do we want our conferences to become just geographically convenient divisions of a much more important whole? Do we want the conferences to be mainly about ease of scheduling? Or do we want our conference to continue to maintain a strong identity? Do we want the SEC to continue to mean something.

I like the bowl system, by which I mean I like all the different bowls that criss-cross the country in a two-or-so week time-period. I like that some teams go to a bowl and are very disappointed about which one, but have to face a team that is excited to be going to any bowl at all.

I like that there is a one game winner-take-all for the national championship, with endless debate about who should be in it. I like that it is flawed as all get-out, and only marginally authoritative.

I think the reason for me liking things more or less the way they are is because, for me, the national championship is secondary to the conference championship. In the conference, you're going against your biggest rivals, and you know exactly what you have to do to win. Beat the other teams in your conference. It's precise. It's mathematical. It's satisfying.

Why does college football need to be just like every other sport? Every sport has a tournament at the end to declare a champion. College football is unique in having a post-season that is entirely unlike a tournament, and darn-it, I like it that way. Making college football like every other sport would, well, make it just like every other sport. It would take away the specialness of college football. Do we want college football to become just another tournament-based sport?

This is not to say everything is perfect in the bowl system. Clearly, the bowls are struggling. The non-BCS bowls are too weak, and "January 1" is losing its luster thanks to a ton of games starting before noon when people aren't yet in the mood for football. Recently adding two new bowls to the mix does not really help, unless the other bowls are strengthened.

The birth of the BCS has relegated the other bowls to side shows, but I think that's simply a matter of how the NCAA has chosen to market its bowls. Change that, and I think the current system is fine. Go to a playoff system, and college football as we know it has ended, and it won't just affect December and January.

* Actually, UConn tied for the conference title, but it was awarded to WVU based on tie-breakers.

** I admit, I confirmed my recollections by looking up the conference champions I wasn't lock-sure about, but my recollections were right every time. I can even remember most of the conference champions from 2006. Ohio State, Florida, USC, Oklahoma, Wake Forest, and I think Louisville. Those I did not look up. The point is, going to a playoff format devalues the conference championships, making them less meaningful. If being able to remember them equates to them being meaningful, I think I've made my point.