Monday, January 28, 2008

Lavar Edwards Commits

The commitment of Lavar Edwards, a 3-star defensive lineman from Desire Street Academy in Baton Rouge actually happened on Saturday, but given the rest of the action on Saturday, I chose to save it until today.

Edwards has all the tools. He's big at 6'4" and 300 pounds. He's quick and athletic, and with his 27 inch vertical jump, I'm sure he can easily dunk a basketball, which is an impressive feat for so large a man. He played many positions for his small high school team, including defensive end, defensive tackle, offensive line, tight end, and running back. Yes, running back.

What he is not is accomplished. No one who has watched Desire Street games has returned singing Edwards' praises. People say he takes plays off a lot and leaves observers unimpressed.

So, he's really really athletic, but has some bad habits. That makes him a project. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If he gets to LSU and gets motivated, he could end up an All-SEC calibre player. Remember, Tyson Jackson was a 3-star too.

His high school coach was recently quoted as saying he'll make a better college player than high school player. The explanation was that in high school, he had to learn to play many different positions as disparate as defensive tackle and running back. In college, he'll get to focus on one position and excel at it.

But what position is that? Well, we can be sure he isn't a running back. However, his size at 6'4" and 300 pounds would suggest to me that he's an offensive guard. He's a little taller than you usually see at defensive tackle, and a little heavier than you usually see at defensive end. The Rivals database lists him as a defensive end. We shall see, but if he's a defensive end, I feel he'll have to drop 10-15 pounds while still getting stronger.

If I was laying money, I would say that Edwards, if he makes it into a starting lineup, will make it as a an offensive guard, but we shall see.

Recruiting is winding down. We have 25 commitments if you count DeAngelo Benton. Every year at this time, things start really coming into focus. Players who have been flirting with us for months end up either coming here or telling us they won't come here. We know we will sign a couple more players, perhaps as many as 4 more. It looks like Terrelle Pryor is a longshot, but if he wants to come, we will certainly make room.

Other players still on the radar include DeAndre Brown (5-star wide receiver, and the highest player left on the board, Mississippi), Corey Liuget (4-star defensive end, Florida), Jermaine Thomas (3-star running back, Florida), Antoine McClain (4-star offensive lineman, Alabama), Greg Shaw (star offensive lineman, Florida), TJ Bryant (4-star cornerback, Florida). Of all of those, I believe Brown, Liuget, Thomas, McClain, and Bryant are definite takes if they want to come. We'd find room for all of them, but it's unlikely they'll all want to commit to us. Shaw is a take if McClain tells us he's going elsewhere.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lots of Interesting Stuff Happened on a Saturday

Senior Bowl

Yesterday's post was about my indecision about watching the Senior Bowl. I'm glad I watched it, because it was a whale of a game. Erik Ainge led the South squad to a last minute game-winning touchdown drive. LSU and the SEC showed well for the most part, especially Ainge at quarterback and Ali Highsmith and Wesley Woodyard at linebacker. Hester acquitted himself nicely as well. Chevis got burned for a sick touchdown pass from Chad Henne to former Tiger Lavell Hawkins, but otherwise played quite well. Doucet apparently left camp with an injury earlier in the week.

In addition to being an obsessive LSU football fan, I am also a casual New Orleans Saints fan, and I was watching this game not only out of LSU- and SEC-pride, but also to look at potential future Saints. It's no secret that the Saints have an explosive offense but a weak defense that lacks playmakers. If I was King of the Saints, I would be looking for the best defensive players available at either defensive tackle, linebacker, or corner. I'm reasonably satisfied with the defensive ends and safeties on the roster, but that's about it.

So, I was looking for defensive playmakers. The one I saw that I liked the most wasUSC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who may or may not be available when the Saints make their first selection at #10. This guy looked like the real deal to me, a rare playmaker at defensive tackle. The only concern I have about him is that the announcers, who know a lot more than me about these things, said he was a "zero-technique" tackle, meaning he is at his best playing directly opposite the center, which may not be exactly what the Saints need.

Other than Ellis, I really liked Trevor Laws, the defensive tackle from Notre Dame, but I think he is more of a mid-round pick. He looked like he could be a quality mid-round pick though if we haven't picked up a DT before then.

I loved Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, the cornerback from Tennessee State University. He made play after play not only in the passing game, but also in the running game. He's a tall corner, which is always a good thing as well. This is a guy who could be the sort of workout warrior who moves himself into the first round, which would probably put him out of reach of the Saints who would have better corners available at pick #10, but they Saints could seriously use a playmaking corner. If they take a corner in the first round, it would probably be Michael Jenkins from South Florida, or possibly Aqib Talib from Kansas. Either would be good picks, as both are ball hawks and playmakers.

I didn't see a linebacker who I thought would be a worthwhile pick at #10, and the best linebackers will be long gone by the time we pick in the second round, but Wesley Woodyard of Kentucky looks like he can play and could be available in the middle rounds.

LSU Basketball

That was pretty awful last night. I haven't had a lot of opportunities to see this team play, especially since the injury to Chris Johnson, which apparently has made this team completely unviable against SEC competition. The problems I see with this team mainly center around a complete inability to get the ball into a good scoring position. Sometimes, they throw up a bad shot by choice, such as taking a quick 3-pointer with a hand in their faces. Sometimes, they spend 15 seconds passing the ball around 25 feet from the basket and realize the shot clock is down to 10 so they're forced to try to work too quickly from that point and end up taking a wild shot to beat the buzzer.

The result? Really poor field goal shooting. The cause(s)?

Well, earlier in the day, I watched Kentucky beat South Carolina. Despite the loss, the thing that struck me the most about South Carolina is that they have the kind of offensive playmakers that we desperately lack. We don't have a player like Devan Downey, who can can slash to the basket or pull up and hit a 3-pointer and can create turnovers leading to transition points. Heck, right now we don't even have a player like Zam Fredrick, who is a pure shooter. Chris Johnson was a similar sort of player, but now he's hurt and we haven't figured out how to play offense without him.

I see no end to this skid until Johnson comes back from injury, and even then we are an average team at best.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

To Watch or Not to Watch

Every year at this time, I am faced with a dilemma. Senior Bowl? Should I watch it?

On the one hand, it's a meaningless game. Everything important that will happen at the Senior Bowl has already happened, and the game itself counts for basically nothing. This is one of those games where the practice sessions are a lot more important than the game itself.

On the other hand, it's the only college football to watch until the Fall, and it's the last chance to see certain favorites play college football.

There are 4 LSU players on the South roster: Chevis Jackson, Ali Highsmith, Jacob Hester, and Early Doucet. There have been reports that Chevis has really helped his stock with good performances in Mobile.

We aren't going to see a repeat of last year's 4-first-rounders performance, but I think this year's LSU draft will be deeper and better overall. Last year, after the first round, we didn't have a player drafted until the 7th round.

A lot of people criticized that LSU team for having the four 1st rounders without winning a championship, but if you look at it closely, other teams had more players drafted than we did. Florida had 9 players drafted overall, compared to our 5. Plus, they had very good college players who went undrafted, such as Chris Leak. We had great top-end talent, but the rest of the talent in the draft, but that was about it.

Anyway, I don't know if I'm going to watch it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm still here

There just isn't anything inspiring me to write at this moment. Bear with me. There will be more content soon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Meat Market

I'm finally doing my review of Meat Market: Inside the Smash Mouth World of College Football Recruiting by ESPN columnist Bruce Feldman.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, it follows one season in the Ole Miss Football program from the summer of 2006 until National Signing Day of 2007, focusing mostly on recruiting. It is also a profile of former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron. It chronicles the problems in his personal life, without apparently sugar-coating anything about his drinking and domestic violence issues. While it certainly does not paint Ed O as a saint, it is a generally affectionate portrayal of a man who struggled to get past his demons, and is struggling to build a program at Ole Miss.

First and foremost, the book is indispensable for anyone seeking to understand the shadowy world of college football recruiting. If that is something you are interested in, there has never been another book that would help you more, and I doubt there will be another one in the future. You find out from this book what the coaches look for in a football player, what the pitfalls are, and how the process works.

The narrative of the story is mostly a repeating cycle of struggle, hope, and finally disappointment. Over and over again. Ole Miss struggles. Something happens to increase the optimism. Then, the optimism is shattered by some profound disappointment. A typical subplot will have Orgeron spotting a talent somewhere (he fancies himself to have a true eye for talent), getting in contact with that person and getting some interest, only to find disappointment because of one of several possibilities:
  • The kid's academics turn out to be a shambles;
  • Closer inspection reveals the kid to not be as athletic as originally believed;
  • They find out that the kid was calling them from jail (true story); or
  • After they develop a close relationship with the kid, a bigger program finally notices him and the kid ends up forgetting about Ole Miss in order to go to Florida State, LSU, USC, Miami, or some other more prestigious program.
In this respect, only the ending rings hollow. Feldman closes the book not on the down notes that dominated the bulk of the narrative, but rather with hope that the 2007 season would produce good results, and that Orgeron would ultimately succeed. Unfortunately for the book's longevity, by the time I read the book just before Christmas, Ole Miss had finished a winless SEC season and Orgeron had already been fired. In that respect, it's a lot like a book that might have been written in the second or third year of Gerry Dinardo's tenure at LSU (may God rest his soul).

Despite this flaw, the book remains a fascinating read, both for its insight into recruiting and its insight into a man who will certainly remain a character in the college football world for some time.

If your interest lies strictly in LSU football, this book is still an important read. Eventual LSU commits T-Bob Hebert, Drake Nevis, Demetrius Byrd, and Steven Ridley make appearances in the story. Former LSU recruiting target Joe McKnight plays a very large role, and yes, Orgeron hedged his bets on McKnight by trying to push USC to recruit him harder to keep him away from LSU. He did this despite being rather confident that Ole Miss would get his signature (and it may very well be true that he would have gone to Ole Miss if USC hadn't turned up the heat).

Other characters from the 2007 recruiting class who make appearances include Louisiana kid Rishaw Johnson, Rolando Melancon, Florida kid Robert Marve (who went to Miami), and many other kids. Interestingly, though Rishaw Johnson wasn't discussed all that much in LSU circles, Orgeron apparently thought the kid was one of the best offensive line recruits in the country, and worthy of 5-star status. The services had him as a 3-star. History will tell us who was right on that one.

I guarantee you that if you are a regular reader of this blog, you would find Meat Market to be a worthwhile read. And even though it's about the 2007 season, I can foresee this book still being essential reading to would-be recruiting buffs in ten years time.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Recruitment of Terrelle Pryor

I feel a little more comfortable discussing the Pryor situation right now, mainly because I don't think we'll find out anything new in the next several days.

To recap for those of you not paying close attention to recruiting, Terrelle Pryor is the consensus #1 quarterback and #1 overall recruit in the country, according to Rivals. He is out of Pennsylvania and reminds everyone of Vince Young at the same age, though he may be a) smarter and b) less strong-armed, by a little bit. He was looking heavily at West Virginia, Ohio State, and Penn State, among others earlier this season.

Two important things happened that have dramatically changed the recruiting landscape for Terrelle Pryor. First, Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia for Michigan. This eliminated West Virginia from consideration and opened up Michigan. It also, according to at least one poster at TigerDroppings, opened up other schools because Pryor feels a lot of loyalty towards both Rodriguez and Jim Tressel and may not be willing to be an intense rival of either, preferring instead to leave the Big 10.

The second thing that happened to change the recruiting landscape was that Pryor attended the Under Armour All-America Game and met Patrick Johnson. I had always heard this Johnson kid was a natural leader to whom other athletes gravitate. Apparently, Mr. Pryor has gravitated to Mr. Johnson so much that he regretted LSU's alleged failure to recruit him.* He made his thoughts public, and before you could say "Gary Crowton", the LSU coaches were on him.

He is not considering us. No one really knows how seriously he is considering us, but he's mentioning us in interviews. He's taking visits from our coaches. He's talking to us.

Obviously, we're getting in very very late. Possibly too late, and objectively we have to think it's unlikely that we get him. That's alright, because we have to try anyway.

This is a kid who, if we get him, could end up being the most important football recruit at LSU since Kevin Faulk (without whom LSU may still be an SEC also-ran on a level with Ole Miss). He's a guy who, if he's as good as advertised (which is considerably good), could be a guy who keeps us at the top not for the next 4 years, but for the next 10 years. He could solidify LSU as a permanent member of college football's elite until long after he's moved on to other things.

Or, you know, he could end up being a major disappointment who never really emerges as a good player and accelerates our descent into mediocrity. (See Lee, Xavier and Weatherford, Drew at FSU). But that's terribly unlikely.

Some say this whole thing is a bad idea because simply recruiting him could impact our current QB commitment, Jordan Jefferson. I would point at that when Jefferson originally committed to us he was the third quarterback on the commitment list. If Pryor was to sign with us, Jefferson would be one of only two. Even with Pryor, the situation is better for Jefferson than when he originally decided to come to LSU. It sounds like Mr. Jefferson is not scared of competition.

Others say that the star-gazers worried about Pryor are losing sight of LSU's other young QB, Jarrett Lee, who is allegedly developing well. I wouldn't know if he's developing well or not, but I know one thing. I know that we owe Jarrett Lee nothing other than a fair shot to compete for playing time. The addition of one highly heralded young quarterback does not and would not change Jarrett Lee's development, and would not change any discussion of whether Jarrett Lee was a starting calibre quarterback. All it would do is give LSU options. It's always better to have two good players rather than one.**

I'm not going to say we're getting this kid. I think it's still far more likely that we don't get him, but it's always fun to imagine and speculate.

*According to several posters, we didn't "fail" to recruit him. We made contact this past spring/summer and sent assistant coaches to Pennsylvania to look at him, which is a considerable expense of time and money for just one recruit. He just didn't show us the love in return. As I recall, when he narrowed his list down to ELEVEN this past summer, we weren't on the list. The LSU coaches decided that continuing to recruit him was a waste of time and money, which is a perfectly wise decision. They just didn't count on Patrick Johnson.

**Alright, it's not always good to have two good quarterbacks. But there's no guarantee about Lee at this point, and while it isn't ALWAYS good to have two good quarterbacks, it is NEVER good not to have any.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I Give You the Information A Week After You No Longer Need It

The two hot topics in LSU sports right now are a) the disaster of the basketball season, and b) the surprise interest that #1 national recruit Terelle Pryor is giving us. I will discuss neither of these today because (a) just annoys me and (b) isn't really ripe yet to discuss.

Instead, I'll discuss something I meant to discuss when I would have found out that one or more of our juniors had declared for the NFL Draft. The problem was that none of them ended up declaring.

A lot of people complain when a guy declares early. "We made a commitment to him for 4 years, etc. etc." There is no question that a surprise declaration for which a team is unprepared really screws up the preparation for the following season, but often that's a coach's fault for not recruiting quality depth at that position.

I don't really care about a guy's projected draft status. I don't have the opinion that many have of, "if he's a 1st round pick he should go." I go by the Two Year Rule. My opinion about guys declaring early is this: I cannot be upset about a guy leaving early for the NFL if he has given us two years of high level production. I don't mean a year of being great proceeded by two years of backing up the starters and covering punts. I mean two years of high level production.

Under this model, a player who was an understudy for a year and then took over as a starter and played well the following two years can go to the NFL with my blessing. A guy who putters around for a couple of years and then has an inconsistent 1st half of his 3rd year before blowing up in the 2nd half of his 3rd year cannot go pro without drawing my ire. I think that guy pretty much wasted our time and left us as soon as he was really useful.

Using the Two Year Rule, Darry Beckwith, Herman Johnson, Tyson Jackson, and even Ciron Black (who was eligible to turn pro) could have declared for the Draft with my blessing. Brandon Lafell could not have, because he has only given us one year of production at a high level. Of course, there was little if any public discussion of the possibility he would declare, but if he had, I would have been kind of upset.

As for next year, we'll face the same questions with Ciron Black (a redshirt junior and expected 3-year starter after next season), Brandon Lafell, Ricky Jean-Francois, and possibly others if certain players blow up next season (like Harry Coleman or Jai Eugene, for example). I think we need to anticipate that Black and Lafell will turn pro next year, even though they may not. Our coaches just need to be prepared and have a plan in place in case they do, especially for Black.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

It Was Supposed to Snow Last Night...

...but instead, it's snowing this morning! SNOW! Last night, it sleeted, but this morning, it's snowing. I doubt it sticks to the ground, but it's coming down pretty hard now. I just don't think it's cold enough to last.

This is the first time it's snowed here since I moved to Tuscaloosa in 2002. I got to take the baby outside for it. Her first snowfall of her life. I don't think she fully understood.

Today, we have the LSU-Vandy basketball game. I will watch it until I'm too disgusted to watch more.

There is much happening on the recruiting front, but right now there's nothing really ripe for me to write about. So, short update today.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Busiest Position Coach

It occurs to me that our busiest position coach this offseason will probably be wide receivers coach DJ McCarthy. A lot of coaches have veteran units with a lot of returning producers. DJ McCarthy needs to develop some players in order for LSU to do what it needs to do on offense.

OK, it's not like we don't return any productive receivers. We return our two most productive receivers from last season, in fact. Demetrius Byrd caught 35 passes for 621 yards and 7 touchdowns, good for 3rd, 2nd, and 1st on the team among wide receivers last year in those respective categories. Brandon Lafell caught 50 passes for 656 yards and 4 touchdowns, good for 2nd, 1st, and 3rd on the team among wide receivers in those respective categories.

We also return Terrance Tolliver (10 catches, 249 yards, 3 touchdowns), Jared Mitchell (13 catches, 143 yards), Chris Mitchell (5 catches, 56 yards), and Ricky Dixon (1 catch, 9 yards).

However, LSU is a team that wants to occasionally put 5 wide receivers on the field. It seems to me, if you want to do that, it helps to have five wide receivers who are a threat to make a play. We only have two returning who were reliable producers last year.

DJ McCarthy needs to get to coaching up Toliver, J. Mitchell, C. Mitchell, and Dixon to be more productive. We need at least two of those four guys to step up their production and be a threat to get open and get the ball to make our offense even more dangerous.

In 2006, Jared Mitchell looked like a receiver who was poised to make a little noise. He wasn't terribly productive, but he got into some games and got involved. I recall he made a monster block in garbage time at one game, putting his man on the ground. In 2007, however, he didn't do much to build on that. He got on the field more often, and made 13 catches, but almost half of those came in the game against Middle Tennessee State. It's certainly not too late for him, but it's now or never. He has to increase his production, particularly in the key games, in order to be useful on the field. I'm not asking for much. If he can double his overall production and make 10-12 catches in SEC play, he will be a very useful player.

This year, true freshman Terrance Toliver showed flashes of brilliance, but struggled down the stretch of the season. He caught the longest touchdown pass for LSU on the season, at 71 yards versus Louisiana Tech, which was also the 2nd longest play from scrimmage for us. He made a huge play against MSU in the season opener that set up a touchdown late in the first half, when the game was still in doubt. But he also didn't make a catch in the last 4 games, picked up some costly penalties in the loss to Kentucky, and the last two passes thrown his way this season resulted in interceptions because he did not go where the quarterback expected him to go. The kid looks poised to be a star, but he still has a lot of work to do to get there. If he develops as he could, I don't think it's expecting too much to ask him to make 40 catches for 500 yards next year.

Chris Mitchell is entering his junior season having made only 6 catches on his career, half of which came against Tulane this year. He just has not emerged yet as a dangerous player, and there has been some chatter that he may be moved to cornerback, which may be a good move for him. I sure don't know. I know that before the season, there was 'inside' talk that he would start the season as our #3 receiver behind Doucet and Lafell. That never really occurred, however, or if it did it did not show in the stat sheet.

Ricky Dixon (not to be confused with Richard Dickson) will be a redshirt sophomore last year. He did not get much of a chance to play last year, but if he develops in this offseason, he could rise up the depth chart quickly, because there really aren't very many receivers who have proven they need to be on the field. Word is, he's a little slow for an SEC wide receiver, but he also supposedly has really good hands, and he's a wide body for a receiver. He's sort of like a Wes Welker or Dallas Clark type then, in that he's sort of a hybrid between tight end and receiver. Being slow is a handicap, but I don't think it's such a big problem if your #4 or #5 receiver is not a burner.

In addition to DJ McCarthy's work in trying to coach up these 4 players to get two or 3 of them to be real threats, we are also recruiting a HUGE class of wide receivers who will come in as true freshmen next year. Counting expected commitments, we have DeAngelo Benton, DeAndre Brown, DeAngelo Peterson, Jhyryn Taylor, Tim Molton, and Chris Tolliver joining the squad as receivers next year. We're doubling the size of the receiver corps in a very short time, and we will probably put at least two of those guys on the field immediately. McCarthy will have to quickly teach this group how to play college football when they arrive in the summer.

He'll be a busy, busy man.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bama is looking for a new co-OC

If you follow Bama football at all, you know that they now need a new offensive coordinator after their QB coach and co-offensive coordinator, Major Applewhite, has decided to leave the program to take the running backs coach position at the University of Texas.

Honestly, I thought his hiring was questionable from the beginning, and I don't think he did anything to help his wunderkind reputation while in Tuscaloosa.

I think the hiring of Major Applewhite to be an OC was a close cousin of the hiring of Mike Shula to be head coach. I thought Shula was hired for 3 reasons: (1) his name was Shula, (2) he was a former successful quarterback at the school, and (3) he had great hair. Other than that, I didn't see any real qualifications he may have had for the job, having never coached in college nor ever being a head coach at any level.

Applewhite at least had been a college coach, and was even successful as an offensive coordinator, at Rice University. But mainly, I thought he was hired because (1) he was named for Bama hero Major Ogilvie, (2) he had been a really good quarterback, though at Texas rather than Bama, and (3) he has boyish good looks. I thought these three qualities simply meant he had risen too far too fast, and well beyond his abilities.

In a profession where most 28 year olds are still grad assistants somewhere, Major Applewhite had quickly risen to coordinator level, which is usually reserved for 40-somethings who have been around for a while. What's more, Applewhite was a coordinator at the highest level of college football at a traditional SEC power. This, in only his 3rd year as an assistant coach, and he was already getting talked up for open head coaching positions at smaller schools.

I thought it was a stunt-hire then and I still think it was a stunt hire. What's more, I don't think his playcalling was particularly good. I can't and won't go into an exhaustive study, but I will go into the one play I think ultimately defined the season: the interception returned for a touchdown at the end of the first half of the Mississippi State game. Here's the play:

Allow me to recap the scene. It is 3rd and goal from the 1 yard line. Bama has no timeouts. There are less than 20 seconds to play in the half. As a result, everyone in the stadium knows that Bama needs to pass, to avoid risking the clock running out without them being able to get a field goal try. This play was poorly called, and its poorness directly led to its failure.

If you watch the play, it calls for John Parker Wilson to fake a handoff to the running back, then bootleg to the right side, looking for a tight end. It calls for him to turn his back to the defensive end on that side of the center before running in that direction.

MSU defensive end Titus Brown didn't respect the run and instead went right to where the QB would be bootlegging. It was exactly the right move for Brown, who had no reason to respedt the run. By the time Wilson completed the fake and turned his body back towards the line of scrimmage, Brown was already on him. He had no chance to get anything on a pass, and he couldn't take a sack or the clock would expire. So, he just threw it. It was intercepted by the cornerback. Bama had 4 tight ends and 1 running back on the field, which means there was only one player wearing crimson who had any chance of catching a speedy corner, and he was hung up on the line of scrimmage.

It was simply an unnecessarily risky play, and it was poorly chosen. There was no reason to fake a run, because there was no reason to respect it. There was no reason to have 4 tight ends on the field because no one thought Bama was running the ball. Those play action rollout passes to the tight end are often very successful plays, but only when the other team has to respect the run. Due to the circumstances with the timeouts and the game clock, there was no reason MSU had to do that.

The proper play call here would have been to have 4 or 5 wideouts in the game, with maybe a running back kept in to help with protection. Start the play in the shotgun and let your receivers run routes. If no one breaks open or if the pass rush breaks free, the QB should then throw the ball through the uprights and the team should bring out the field goal unit. If the worst happens, and the ball is intercepted, at least you have a bunch of receivers on the field who have a chance of catching the defensive player who has the ball.

Instead, they ran a play that did not have any receivers on the field, and that called for the quarterback to turn his back on the most dangerous rusher while wasting time faking a handoff to the running back.

And this play call came out of a timeout where they had plenty of time to think about it.

I think this was emblematic of the problems having a playcaller who was too inexperienced to really be doing this at the level he was at. Bama will ultimately be better off with him moving on. But on the other hand, what's he doing coaching out of position? His background is with quarterbacks, not with running backs.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

LSU Gets Huge News

Tyson Jackson, Kirston Pittman, Herman Johnson, and Darry Beckwith are all likely to return for their senior seasons. In Pittman's case, he is applying for a 6th year of eligibility due to missing 2 years with injuries. He will definitely qualify for it, giving him a chance to be the only player in college football history to be a player on 3 BCS National Championships. Only other Tigers have 2, and only Pittman and Keith Zinger actually played during the games on both teams that won it.

But I digress. This is the biggest and best news of the offseason, and it means that LSU will not have to completely overhaul its defense. While we certainly lose a significant number of starters on defense, including 3 All-Americans, we will return enough experience and skill to make the transition a little less painful. We return 3 starting defensive linemen (and two others who have started at times), and plenty of depth as well. If Ricky Jean-Francois is prepared to take over the superstar role vacated by Glenn Dorsey, this unit will be just as good if not better than last year. Plus, with the addition of all those redshirt freshmen into the equation, this unit will be deeper than it was this year. Jackson and Pittman will both be looking to have big seasons to improve their stock in the NFL draft.

I am a little surprised about Pittman. I would have thought he would have decided 5 years was enough, and that he had accomplished what he needed to accomplish in college. I'm glad to have him back, though.

We will return the anchor of the linebacker corps. Despite all the hype Ali Highsmith got, I always thought Beckwith was the better and more important player. He will have new starters on either side of him, but he will be making the defensive calls and helping them along. By the way, Perry Riley looks like an absolute stud to me. He'll probably take over the strong side spot for Luke Sanders. When he got a chance to play this year, he was always very good. The weak side linebacker will face some serious competition.

Personally, if I was the defensive coordinator, I'd move Harry Coleman to that position as soon as possible. He looked like a guy who needed to be on the field, but so does Chad Jones, who needs to take over a safety position. Harry Coleman, as a safety, would probably struggle in coverage and might be a little slower than you want. Harry Coleman, as a linebacker, wouldn't have to worry about it so much, and his coverage skills would probably be a strength. But mostly, he'd just be able to run and hit people, which he seems to do very well. If Coleman doesn't make the move, I suppose it will probably be Kelvin Sheppard at weak side linebacker. I have no impression of him yet.

Herman Johnson's return to the offensive line will make this group the strength of the offense next season. We return 4 starters and all of our key reserves. The left side of our offensive line, including the center, will be together for its 3rd straight year. Rising sophomore Joseph Barksdale will take over for Carnell Stewart, and I expect him to be an upgrade. The right guard position returns its starter, but honestly I don't think Lyle Hitt performed well enough to be secure in his job position. He should be in pretty stiff competition with other returning players.

I remain convinced we're going to be a VERY good team next year. I think we have to be on the short list of potential conference championship contenders and national championship contenders again.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I watched some NFL action

I watched a little NFL football this week, which I do only infrequently unless the Saints are having success.

I'm a guy who naturally gravitates towards underdogs. If I have no emotional attachment to an organization one way or the other, I will usually find myself rooting for the underdog in any particular game.

That means, despite the abundance of former LSU players on the New England Patriots (Kevin Faulk, Jarvis Green, Eric Alexander, Randal Gay, the late Marquis Hill), I would have a natural affinity for the San Diego Chargers who will be prohibitive underdogs against them next week. The Patriots, as anyone who even vaguely follows the NFL knows, are really really good.

But recently, I've gotten to know Chargers QB Philip Rivers just a little bit, and he is very very hard to root for. A couple weeks ago, I saw him trash-talking after a game to a team that was very overmatched. Yesterday, I saw him taunting Indianapolis Colts fans after his injury and after his team had won the game.

It was very punkish, and made Philip Rivers, of whom I know almost nothing other than what I've written here, frankly detestable.

I hope New England kicks his ass next week. I also hope Jarvis Green and Eric Alexander get to take shots at him. Taunt him while you're at it.

More college stuff tomorrow.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Plea For Maturity

One word that really needs to leave the sports message board/blog vocabulary: retarded. Just.. find a new word, people. And no, just because you're a jerk, it doesn't mean I'm overly sensitive.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Basketball in the New Year

First, allow me to apologize for not being more interactive with my commenters. Lately, I have been exercising an unintentional and certainly unplanned "post 'em and leave 'em" strategy. I endeavour to do better. It is also clear that I like the English spellings of many words, like 'endeavour' and 'calibre', neither of which my spell-check likes.

Anyway, on to basketball.

Something stinks in here, and I believe it is the rotting corpse of John Brady's good will and reputation. I am far from a reactionary or a pessimistic, but I do believe the handwriting is on the wall about what kind of a coach John Brady is and what kind of a program we have with him leading it. That is to say, John Brady is an average coach and he builds an average program.

It's a program that will, forever, be occasionally good, usually not, and sometimes painful to watch. It will be a team that brings in some questionable talent, and that loses good players who grow unhappy with him and the system. He will lose out on good in-state talent, get to the tourney 2 of every 5 years, and occasionally tantalize you with the prospect of greater success.

I don't like running coaches off but it's not like we haven't given John Brady a chance. The dude has been our basketball coach longer than Houston Nutt coached Arkansas. He's not among the deans of SEC basketball coaches. Only Billy Donovan has been at his team longer than Brady has. The guy has gotten the opportunity, and has shown that he will never make LSU basketball anything other than average, with occasional success and more frequent failure.

Heck, if we can find someone who could just lock up the top in state talent, we'll be a consistent tournament team, which is all I really expect out of this program. I don't expect us to be like Duke or UCLA or North Carolina. I don't expect us to be consistently in the top 10, or even the top 25. I just want to be occasionally there, and always within sight of it.

I think we need another coach to get there.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Very Very Early 2008 Rankings

Alright, we all know how much I distrust the rankings, especially the preseason rankings, and even more especially the rankings that come out before we know who is entering early for the NFL and which new freshmen are coming in. Despite that, I still have to wonder why the talking heads who are doing their absurdly premature 2008 rankings aren't giving LSU more love.

Here is Mark Schlabach's early preseason ranking. It has LSU at #8, behind other SEC powers Florida and Georgia, and behind Oklahoma, Missouri, USC, Ohio State, and Texas.

First, let's go into (again) why I don't like preseason rankings in general. I've discussed it before, and the criticisms are mostly obvious, but I want to go into one that isn't obvious.

Late-season polls and rankings are (or should be at least) measurements of how good your season is, compared to other teams. Late season polls are based on performance, then. All the talent in the world won't get you in the top 10 if you finish the season 5-8.

On the contrary, preseason and early-season polls and rankings cannot be based on performance, because there is no performance to gauge. They have to be based on something else. But what exactly?

In my opinion, preseason polls and rankings, if you're going to have them at all, should be based on perceived ability. This means that you look at the talent on the team and the coaching and try to decide who is better than whom. Frankly, I think it's an impossible task to get right, and it's plainly laughable to make a serious effort at it when you don't know which key players on the teams will be leaving early for the NFL.

The problem is that I don't think many polls or rankings in preseason or early in the season are based on perceived ability. I think they're based more on expected performance. These are two different things, and I'll illustrate to you what makes them different. If you are evaluating perceived ability, I think the easiest way to visualize this is to imagine two teams playing on a neutral site, and imagining who would likely win. If you are evaluating expected performance, you look at the team's schedule and decide how they will perform against that schedule, compared to other teams will perform against their own schedule.

If you're using expected performance, you aren't ranking ability before the season. You're predicting the end result after the season. I believe it is illegitimate to do so, since the biggest and most commonly referenced rankings are actually used as a starting point for future rankings. In other words, they predict performance and then the predictions actually have an impact on how performance is gauged. Schlabach is doing exactly this kind of prediction, as are most people. How do I know? Every one of his brief team profiles contains at least one sentence evaluating the difficulty of the team's schedule. If you were simply using perceived ability to evaluate the team, there would be no reason to even consider the team's schedule.

But that's not really the point of this post. I want to know why LSU is consistently outside of the top 5's given by all the talking heads. Granted, I think they're entitled to their opinions, and I certainly can't complain too vehemently against Florida and Georgia being highly ranked. Those teams clearly have a lot of young talent that will be returning as seasoned veterans next year.

Let's look at LSU, though. Our offense was awesome this year, averaging almost 39 points per game, and really doesn't lose that much. We lose Early Doucet, who we played without for half the year anyway. We lose Matt Flynn, but Ryan Perrilloux is considered to have Heisman-calibre potential and has starting experience. We lose Jacob Hester, but we have plenty of depth at that position, and it has been a common refrain that certain others of those running backs were better anyway. We lose Carnell Stewart, but he was our weak link on the offensive line, and his true freshman backup this year looks like he'll be a stud when he's ready.

An offense that was among the best in the country, while playing against SEC defenses, looks like it might be even better next year.

The defense? OK, we lose some players on defense, but I think the national championship game proved that we have young studs behind our veteran studs, and that those young studs are more than ready for increased roles. Just look at what Harry Coleman was able to do coming off the bench to replace an injured All-American. Coleman had hardly played all season, and he didn't just hold his own. He excelled. We lose 7 starting seniors on defense, but we have recruited lights out for the past few seasons, and we have the young talent to replace the veterans, at every position. Sure, we don't know exactly who are going to be our starting cornerbacks, but I have little doubt that between Jai Eugene, Chris Hawkins, John Williams, Phelon Jones, Ron Brooks, certain players who may change position, and incoming freshmen Derrick Bryant and Patrick Johnson, we're going to find two good corners. The same is true of our linebackers (Perry Riley has looked great when he's gotten a chance). And we can all see what this team missed not having Ricky Jean-Francois this year on the defensive line. He'll be back next year.

I'm not saying we're the preseason #1. I just don't understand why the talking heads are predicting there will be such a drop off.

Anyway, now thtat

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Second Thoughts on the Game

I watched the first half of the game for the second time last night. Surprisingly, I decided that, at least for the first half, the media analysis pretty much got it right. The key sequence of the game probably really was when Brian Robiskie dropped the ball in the end zone and then Ricky Jean-Francois blocked the resulting field goal.

OSU had a great play called to get the ball to Robiskie in the end zone. Craig Steltz had been injured on the previous play, and was clearly disabled. He should have come off the field, but didn't, and I'd like to know what the coaches were thinking by not getting him out immediately, even at the cost of a timeout if necessary. OSU exploited it by throwing to their best receiver in Steltz's zone where he should have been helping on coverage.

But Chevis Jackson, despite not having the safety help he expected, had really good coverage on the play. He forced Boeckman to make a perfect throw to get it to Robiskie, and the throw really was perfect. But with Chevis's coverage being as good as it was, he was able to interfere with it just enough to keep Robiskie from holding onto it. Robiskie should have gotten it, but Chevis did everything possible to make it hard on him.

On the next play, Jean-Francois bulled over the man blocking him like it was me instead of a Division I offensive lineman, and was lucky enough to put his hand in the right spot. We then took control of the game.

I want to give a shout-out to a couple players. Harry Coleman had hardly played the whole season except in garbage time or on special teams. He was virtually a forgotten man in the safety depth chart among fans like me, who think a lot more about guys like Chad Jones and Stefoin Francois. He announced his bid for more playing time next year though, as he had to enter the game because of an injury to one of our best players, and he didn't just hold his own. He played very very well. I don't know if his future on the team is at safety or if it's at linebacker (he's a little big and perhaps not athletic enough to be a safety against all those spread offenses), but this is a kid who we probably need to find a place for.

The second player I want to give a shout out to is Carnell Stewart, the right tackle. Before the game, it was discussed on the message boards that OSU had probably two areas where they had a mismatch against us: (1) Tressel against Miles, and (2) Vernon Gholston against Carnell Stewart. I hardly heard Gholston's name as the game was going on. One way or another, Carnell Stewart and whoever may have been helping him managed to neutralize one of the Buckeyes' best players and their biggest hope for really harassing our offense.

The third player I want to give a shout out to is Ryan Perrilloux, who didn't play much, despite perhaps expecting to have a handful of snaps in key situations. Unlike during the 2006 season, every time Ryan Perrilloux was shown on the sidelines, his body language showed him to be engaged in the game and supportive of his teammates. I think this man has grown up a lot since last year, his night club incident not withstanding (and really, does anyone know what he was actually accused of doing?). I think he will be ready to take over next year, not just physically (which he was ready to do this year), but mentally as well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

First Thoughts On the Game

This was no fluke. LSU is better. LSU is a lot better. There was some ability to explain away last year's OSU collapse, like the standard line about them taking their press clippings too seriously. No such excuse exists this year. They got beat by a better team. Simply put, in the first half, Ohio State played about as well as they could possibly expect and they were down 24-10.

When LSU added a TD on the opening drive of the game, it was over. I started sampling the cheese dip and actually talking to people. Everything that happened from that point on was just LSU protecting a lead by running out the clock.

And for all of the talk of Les Miles being too emotional and not being nearly the game day coach Tressel is, it was Miles who exuded calm in the early going when the team fell down 10-0. It would be hard to imagine a worse start for the tigers: a long TD run allowed by a pretty egregious bad line taken by Steltz, a fumbled snap setting up a short field, and a botched coverage allowing a huge gain. All in the first six minutes of play.

And LSU didn't blink. They responded with a 14-play drive which resulted in 3 points. Then the defense got a stop. Then there was another long drive, this one resulting in a touchdown. Tie game. Coaching isn't all about X's and O's. It's about falling behind big early and showing confidence in the team to slowly rally back. Miles is never going to be a top tier tactician, but he was clearly the better coach yesterday. Because his team, even down 10, was cocky and confident. It was great game day management, and I hope this is when Miles' detractors will shut up. In fact, the most common theme of the pregame coverage was Ohio State's huge edge in coaching. Tressel is a great coach, but Miles is now deservedly on that level.

As far as talent, two things struck me: Our secondary absolutely dominated their receivers and we have tons and tons more depth. The secondary's performance speaks for itself, as they blanketed the Buckeyes' receivers all night, forcing Boeckman to make pretty bad decisions, as he is wont to do. His line gave him time, but there was no one open.

But the depth was the key. OSU's starters are just as good as LSU's at most positions. But our depth at almost every position was staggering. Their offense was Beanie Wells and not much else. Only 6 players showed up on their rushing/passing/receiving scoresheet. LSU had 8 different players rush the ball and 8 players catch a pass (only 2 of them also rushed the ball). That's 14 players who got a touch. And though it doesn't show on the boxscore, our defense also showed a similar kind of depth. Steltz went down with injury and the defense didn't miss a beat. LSU just kept coming in waves.

To say some nice things about Ohio State, Beanie Wells is the real deal and their offensive line is awesome. Their line won most of the battles during the game, but it didn't matter because no one was open. You're not going to stop Dorsey from making plays, but they did a pretty good job. Ohio State is a good team. LSU is just better.

Then again, LSU is the best team in the nation. #1 in the AP. #1 in the BCS. #1. Feels nice to say. We're #1.

Monday, January 7, 2008


LSU wins a fairly boring game. Strangely, it really was our ability to strike from all positions, and Ohio State's inability to do so, that won this game for us.
They don't have a particularly versatile offense, which I think bodes poorly for them.
Right here. In a year where I was wrong on things as often as I was right, I'm proud to have hit the nail on the head with this one.

I'm glad for Les Miles, who had to put up with everyone in the world saying Ohio State had the advantage in coaching. Whose team didn't panic when it fell behind? Whose team lost its composure when things went wrong? Whose team avoided penalties? I'd say the answer to those questions may put the lie to the Miles hate.

I'm also happy for Carnell Stewart, whose name was not called once on the telecast. He's endured a lot of criticism, much of it well-earned though also a bit exaggerated, and played his best game on the biggest stage.

This is a big win for the program, which will benefit from the exposure and the love from the media. I bet the town of Gonzales, hometown of me and Glenn Dorsey, and the home of the annual Jambalaya Festival and Confidence Man Convention, will regret no longer getting mentioned on national television every week.

We really are living in the golden age of LSU football. Success will continue to breed success for the foreseeable future. It looks like we'll be a favorite to win the West again next year, and probably the year after that.

And now, I'm off to bed. It's been a great season for LSU and for GeauxTuscaloosa. See you when preparation for 2008 begins, which should be in the next day or two.

The Matchup

How good is Ohio State?

It’s an honest question. The Big Ten was anywhere from mediocre to outright terrible this season, so it’s a little difficult to gauge the quality of the buckeyes. Yes, they are a good team and it’s stupid to hold their conference against them. After all, conferences don’t play, teams do. Just ask Florida. The question is: HOW good are they?

The infuriating answer is this: no one has any idea. Anyone who says they do is either deluded or lying. They are certainly the #1 team in the country, more by default than anything, but no LSU fan can really get on anyone for accomplishing something by default. The thing is, they did win a BCS conference, and they did it with apparent ease. The problem is trying to determine what it all meant.

For example, Ohio State has the #1 scoring defense in the country. It’s a unit that can play. The linebacking corps especially is topnotch. I don’t think anyone has gotten up and said, “Ohio state does not have a good defense.” Because they most certainly do. But here’s the rub, how good is that #1 ranking? Ohio state has only faced ONE scoring offense ranked in the top 25, and that was #24 Purdue. They’ve only face five teams ranked in the top 50, which makes it hard to get a feel for their real quality. It’s not OSU’s fault the bottom fell out of the Big Ten this season, but it does make the evaluation of their team difficult.

Also, cracks have shown in their defense. In four of their last five games, OSU has allowed at least 17 points. This was from a defense which had not allowed double digit points up until that point. Now, is that because the team got tired or other teams figured them out? Who knows?

Now, there’s been some talk that LSU’s defense isn’t playing that great. Which is true. Our defense has not lived up to the preseason hype for a variety of reasons. But that ignores the fact that LSU’s offense has been downright awesome. You don’t score 503 points with a mediocre offense. And LSU has put points up on top ten defenses like Auburn and Florida. But the contrast is that LSU’s offense has pretty consistently put up 30 points in every game. OK, LSU laid an egg against Tennessee, but that was LSU’s worst offensive output of the season: 21 points. LSU scores and they score a lot in almost every game.

Irresistible force meet the immovable object. But how immovable is it? Well, we find out tonight. Honestly, I have no idea. Sorry. I wish I could give you the answer, but the entire point here is this: no one has any idea. And that’s what makes tonight’s game so intriguing. There really is no way to break down this matchup because of the weakness of Ohio St's conference this year. we know the Buckeyes are really good. How good is really good?


Game Day: Ohio State

Alright, this one will be a pretty simple game day post.

Now - 7:30am: Get ready to go to work, and help get the baby ready for day care.

7:30am - 5:30pm: Work.

5:30pm - indeterminate: Watch pre-game, game, and post-game festivities.

I don't see any reason to think any team should be a prohibitive favorite in this one. Despite what you may have heard, Ohio State is a pretty solid team. So are we. Neither of us are pretenders, and neither of us are unstoppable. Of course, one of us may prove to be unstoppable, but it can't be reliably predicted ahead of time.

Win or lose, this has been a very successful season for LSU because we won our conference. Should we lose tonight, don't lose sight of the most important goal for any season: win the conference.

Anyway, keep reading the blog. There have been some really substantive posts lately, including an appearance by Poseur.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Gene Wojciechowski wrote a column for ESPN which, well, let's just quote him:
I hate to break this to the Buckeyes, and the Tigers, and that drunk dude with horse dung on his hands, but I'm not sure Monday night's matchup is really THE national title game. Just because it says so on the TV promos and the BCS crystal trophy doesn't necessarily make it true.

To begin with, are Ohio State and LSU even the two best teams in the country? I'm just asking.

Well, I'm pretty damn sure it's THE National title Game. In fact, I'm 100% positive. Look, I hate the BCS. It's a stupid system. There's a reason the formula gets tweaked every year, and that's because the powers-that-be have no faith in the system itself. That said, the BCS is designed to pick two teams. That's the crappy system we have in place, and it picked two teams. LSU was the team selected among a whole bunch of flawed candidates. Had the BCS spit out another team, I wouldn't have been outraged, but LSU doesn't need to apologize for being the team selected. Is LSU perfect? Of course not. But all of the other contenders were flawed.

Wojo then claims Georgia and USC have a better claim because they are hotter right now. Well, LSU was the hottest team last year and know what that meant? Absolutely nothing. Also, his list is intellectually dishonest, as he leaves off Virginia Tech, who WAS the hottest team in the country until the Orange Bowl. Whoops.

As for USC, they have not lost since losing to Oregon. And that win over Oregon St was pretty darn impressive. Then they beat a Cal team in total collapse, an Arizona State team that was busy performing an epic choke not completed until getting waxed by Texas in the Holiday Bowl, and then a pretty average UCLA team. Sure, they won those games, but that's a pretty weak "hottest team in the country". Oh, and they pasted an overmatched Illinois team.

Georgia hasn't lost since October 6th, when they got absolutely crushed by Tennessee. And they even scored some big scalps: Florida, Auburn, and Kentucky (depending on who you ask if that's a big scalp). Hell, the only game they played decided by less than 10 points was against Vandy. And we saw what they did against Hawaii. So I think it is fair to call them "the hottest team in the country." Too bad they didn't win their conference. The same conference LSU plays in. It's not who had the best second half of the season, but who had the best total season. And that is LSU.

Hell, all of a sudden, Kansas has a better claim than either Georgia or USC. Or West Virginia, who did choke away the title in the Backyard Brawl. The thing is, every team in flawed. Someone had to get picked in our given system. That team was LSU. We don't have to apologize for that.

Two Huge Commitments for the Tigers

Yesterday was the most newsworthy day of the year for LSU football recruiting. We picked up two very big commitments from two players who are very important to this program.
This is tight end Tyler Edwards, who I previously listed as the #1 player still on our board. He's the younger brother of former LSU tight end Eric Edwards. He is currently just a little small for a tight end at 220#, but a summer in the weight room may change that.

He is, by most accounts, a very good pass catcher, and that is the skill that most likely translate quickly to the college game. He probably needs to work a bit on his blocking, but he'll have time to do that.

Edwards is the second person listed as a tight end to commit to LSU this year, but the other, Matt Branch, may be destined for the offensive line proper. Edwards will join a slew of tight end recruits who redshirted last year, and compete for playing time.

Edwards was the #1 recruit left on the board for the simple reason that he was a Louisiana kid that LSU wanted, really the last Louisiana kid left on the board who was a definite take. Getting Edwards means that Les Miles and the rest of the coaches cleaned up Louisiana this year, not losing a single kid they wanted. That's the most important thing that can happen in any recruiting class.

A couple of other Louisiana kids have committed to play for other big schools, particularly cornerback Robby Green and linebacker Michael Mauti, who are going to Bama and to Penn State respectively. Neither was heavily recruited by LSU (though I have suspicions that we will regret not paying more attention to Mauti) because, allegedly, Bo Pelini decided they didn't really fit his system, and weren't great enough athletes to try to wedge in.

Does this mean they're bums? No. I like to retell the story of DeMeco Ryans, who really wanted to play for Auburn after high school. Auburn decided he wasn't big enough or fast enough to be a linebacker for them and politely told him to take a hike. He wasn't getting a scholarship from them. He turned to Bama who, facing probation, decided to take a chance on him. Ryans got on the field quickly and eventually became the best player on the team. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 NFL Draft and won defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Before Ryans' last Iron Bowl, Tommy Tuberville (who I think is a great coach and who I think has a tremendous eye for talent) acknowledged his mistake in not plucking Ryans. It's one of those stories that you hear about and you ask, "How could someone pass up a guy like Demeco Ryans?" It's sort of (but admittedly not exactly) like Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team.

But, Tuberville had his reasons. Ryans was a little small for linebacker, and probably was not a particularly great athlete coming out of high school. In an environment where you have to make choices because of limited scholarships, you have to find your reasons for thinking a guy isn't a good enough risk. Sometimes, your decision, inevitably, backfire. But that doesn't mean you didn't have good reasons to make the decisions you made. The same may end up being true of LSU's decision not to heavily recruit Robby Green or Michael Mauti. Mauti would have been a tough get no matter what because of his family ties to Joe Paterno and Penn State, but Green was ours for the taking if we wanted him. We've made our decisions, and we will have to live with them.

Which brings us to commitment #2 of the day yesterday. This is 5-star cornerback Patrick Johnson out of Pompano Beach, Florida. Patrick Johnson has everything you want in a football player. He's a tremendous athlete (a close blood relative of Santana and Sinorice Moss), a very good student (he's graduating a semester early), and is football smart (a coach's son). Some of this information I learned after I ranked him #5 on my list at Christmas. If I was doing it over again, I would rank him #3, behind only Edwards and EJ Manuel.

This is a kid of whom it is being said that he can come into school in the Spring (and get a valuable Spring Practice session) and compete immediately for one of the two open cornerback starting positions or the nickel/dime back position. He could be like Eric Berry of Tennessee, an immediate impact player on a unit lacking in returning experience.

I'm always a little skeptical of claims that a true freshman can come in and make an immediate impact, especially at cornerback, which has one of the longest learning curves of any position on the field, arguably longer than any except quarterback (and roughly even with offensive line). Cornerback is not, as it may sometimes appear, just a position where your job is to run really fast. There is a lot of technique and a lot of recognition involved. Those things take time, but Johnson has the benefit of a) a Spring Practice, b) supposedly high level of intelligence, and c) being the son of a coach. If anyone is set up to transcend the inherent limitations of being a young cornerback, it is Patrick Johnson.

Of course, he'll also have to compete with a bunch of other young cornerbacks who've been in the system longer than he has. Guys like Phelon Jones (also a coach's son and a very intelligent young man), Jai Eugene, Chris Hawkins, John Williams, Ron Brooks, and possibly even Jared and/or Chris Mitchell, who are rumored to possibly be switching over to defensive back.

LSU has a wealth of talent among its young defensive backs. I venture to guess possibly the best young defensive back talent in the country with this incoming class being added to it. Add Patrick Johnson, Derrick Bryant, Karnell Hatcher and our other highly regarded 2008 recruits to a list of young defensive backs that includes Chad Jones, Stefoin Francois, Shomari Clemons, and the above-mentioned players, and you have a scary-good group of defensive backs for the next few years, all coming of age right at the time we need them.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

OK So I Lied

I promised you more on Ohio State and I didn't deliver. The simple fact is, I don't have more on Ohio State. I know pretty much only what I told you on Thursday. They're a physical, talented team with a good running back, a good but not particularly variegated passing attack, a tremendous front 7 on the defensive side, but perhaps a vulnerable secondary.

That's about all I have. I will say this, though. I don't know why we're favored in this game. Well, I take that back. I know why we're favored, I just don't agree with it. We're favored because Florida waxed them last year, and made them look pretty bad in the process.

The thing is, the more I look at this, the more I think that was not representative of how good Ohio State was or is. I think they just had a bad game, for whatever reason. I don't think they genuinely are unable to stay on the field with the best of the SEC. I think they played their worst, and people are mistakenly believing that their worst was their average.

If you want evidence, just look at what Michigan did to Florida this year, and Michigan was not even a particularly good Big 10 team, while we've all said Florida is maybe the best team we've played this year.

I think, healthy, and with a lot of time to prepare, we are an excellent team. This may be LSU vs. Virginia Tech all over again. But it probably won't be. I'm not looking for a blowout. I'm just hoping we pull out a win.

Other News: It could be a big day in recruiting, as it looks like we will get two verbal commitments from the players listed in my Christmas Recruiting Update. Check out the US Army All America Game starting at noon on NBC.

In personal news, I am currently in Louisiana for my brother's wedding. We had the rehearsal dinner last night and had a lot of fun. Then we had to try to get the baby to sleep. That wasn't so much fun.

Now, I'm off to Cal's Bakery to get some donuts. It's a ritual.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

My First Real Post on the Buckeyes

Or at least, it's my first post on the Buckeyes in a while. I've spent some time studying the Ohio State vs. Illinois game, and I watched parts of the Ohio State vs. Michigan matchup as well. Plus, I've seen more of how the Big 10 plays here in bowl season.

Here are my quick thoughts on Ohio State:
  • Beanie Wells may be the 2nd best running back we've faced this year. He's not as good as Darren McFadden, but he is a big, strong guy with underrated speed. He's not a slow bruiser. He's got some wheels. He's not as fast or as versatile as McFadden, and he's certainly not as fast as Keiland Williams, but he's not a sloth like you may have heard. I bet he's probably got somewhere between 4.5 and 4.6 speed, which is pretty good considering he's not really a speed back.
  • They don't have a particularly versatile offense, which I think bodes poorly for them. They occasionally run a 5 wide receiver set, but they pretty much just throw to 2 guys: Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, who have collectively caught almost half of their completed passes on the season. They also throw to the tight end a little, but their 3rd, 4th, and 5th wideouts and their running backs aren't a big part of their passing game.
  • On the same topic, they pretty much stick with two running backs, and their quarterback is not that big of a running threat. He's an opportunistic runner, and I saw him get a very nice running gain against Illinois (which accounted for half of his rushing total on the season), but this is not a wrinkle they throw into their offense often.
  • The offensive line is big and physical. I think it's one of the best I've seen this season, if not the best. With our defensive line finally being healthy with the exception of Charles Alexander, this should be a great matchup, and it may be where the game is decided.
  • Their defense is big, quick, and physical. I think, like a lot of defenses, they can be beaten by a creative offense with good execution, but they are legitimately very very good.
  • I think their secondary can be beaten. I know statistically they are very good, but honestly how many really good passing teams have they faced this year? I saw them get beat by Illinois quite a few times, and Illinois is NOT a good passing team.
I wish I could have seen more OSU games, but neither ESPN Classic nor the Big Ten Network are cooperating. Neither will show any more OSU games between now and the National Championship Game.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


My question is, how embarrassed was the announcer to have to announce Bonerama performing the national anthem?

OK, it wasn't that great of a day for the SEC. Arkansas thoroughly failed to show up to play against Missouri. Where was that cruddy team when we played them in November?

Even worse, the Fox broadcast team and the Fox picture and sound were not good at all. I hope this isn't a portent of things to come in next week's game. Granted, I think they pulled Pat Summerall out of retirement for this game, but that doesn't explain the poor picture and sound quality. As much as I complain about ESPN, they have a crisp picture and good sound.

Michigan controlled both lines of scrimmage in their win against Florida. It would have been a blowout if not for Michigan's uncharacteristic turnovers. It's not the Curse of the Heisman, because Tebow actually played decently. The Florida defense looked like they were still eating Christmas ham, and the Florida offensive line didn't give Tebow any time to maneuver.

The good news for SEC fans is that Tennessee was impressive against Wisconsin, and Georgia made Hawaii look like it didn't belong in the BCS, which it doesn't. I went to bed at halftime of the Sugar Bowl because I knew there was no chance Hawaii was coming back.

I agree with those who say that Georgia finished the season as one of the best teams in the country. But if you think that means Georgia should have gone to the National Championship Game, I have three words for you: "Win your conference." If you don't win your conference, you have no claim to the national championship. None.

Not that I have anything against Georgia. I don't. Among SEC teams, I actually find them to probably the most enjoyable and the most respectable outside of LSU, and I really don't blame them for trying to state their case. Of course they want to convince people they deserved a shot at the championship. I just find their case wholly unconvincing.

I hope LSU players pay attention to that Cap One Bowl. Florida was supposed to maul Michigan. Heck, even I said it. Nothing in the way this season played out indicated that Michigan was as good of a team as Florida. I think Florida's young players just didn't realize they were going to be in a fight. They thought the Big 10 team would roll over for them like OSU did last year.

Florida may have the speed advantage in the skill positions, but if you get dominated in the trenches, it won't do you any good. And Florida got thoroughly dominated in the trenches. The Michigan front seven looked a LOT more athletic than the Florida line.

Thank you, also, Michigan, for giving everyone the blueprint on how to beat Florida.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Bittersweet Football Tuesday

Today is New Year's, historically the best college football day of the year. It's the day when all the biggest bowls were played.

Can you believe that in 1970, there were 11 bowl games? A few years earlier, there were only 9. No 6-6 teams made it those years. Now, there are 32 post season bowl games.

I'm not complaining about that. While I don't watch all the games, I appreciate that they're there, and I don't mind that mediocre teams get a bowl game.

What I definitely do not like, however, is the devaluation of the "minor" New Year's Day bowl games. There are 6 games today, and 4 of them start at noon or earlier, to make room for the supposedly sexier matchup of USC vs. Illinois at 3:30pm, without competition from other games. Fans of the SEC will have their day start with Tennessee vs. Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl at 10:00am, a start time that is sure to please those who resent Lincoln-Financial.

Worse though, Arkansas vs. Missouri in the Cotton Bowl will start a mere half-hour later at 10:30am. And then, in a final insult, Michigan vs. Florida in the Cap One Bowl will start at noon, while those other two games are near halftime. SEC fans will have to choose between watching the end of the Cotton Bowl, the end of the Outback Bowl, or the first half of the Cap One Bowl.

Let's hope neither the Cotton nor the Outback go to overtime.

The SEC is having a good bowl season, at 4-0. None of the games were blowouts, and none of the games were pretty, but we ended up winning all of them.

Yesterday, Kentucky beat FSU in 35-28 shootout. I have to tip my hat to Florida State. They could have given up on this game when they traveled without 36 of their players due to suspensions and injuries, but they didn't give up. They could have given up when they fell behind by 14 on two different occasions, but they didn't. Ultimately, they didn't have the personnel to win the game, but it may have been one of their best-played games of the season.

In the evening, Auburn took down Clemson in overtime, 23-20, showcasing their new spread offense. This Auburn team, spread or not, looks like they have the personnel to be a good team for the next couple years. They have an heir apparent sophomore quarterback who looks dangerous, 3 good running backs all returning next year, and an offensive line filled with freshmen. This offense will be formidable next year and beyond, especially if they can find a few wide receivers.

It was an ugly game, with neither team playing particularly well early, but it ended up being an exciting game. And yes, I always root for SEC against non-SEC.

As for today's games, I think Florida is significantly better than Michigan, and I would be shocked if Michigan can stay with them. I don't know what to think about Tennessee vs. Wisconsin, because Wisconsin is something of a mystery to me, and Tennessee has a history of underachieving in bowl games. The one I'm looking forward to seeing is Missouri vs. Arkansas in the Cotton. I think that this is a good matchup, and if Arkansas plays up to their ability and beats Missouri, it will be a huge boost to the SEC, because Arkansas is a big underdog to a team that arguably should have made a BCS bowl.

I fully expect Georgia to handle Hawaii tonight, but you never know. I've been surprised before. If the SEC can somehow end the night 8-0, that would be.. wait for it.. legendary!

After today, we really focus on the Ohio State vs. LSU game coming up. No more recruiting stuff unless I change my mind.