Tag:Les Miles
Posted on: November 3, 2011 4:15 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2011 4:50 pm
 

Man vs. Woman vs. Machine: Week 10



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Man vs. Woman vs. Machine is a feature that runs every Thursday afternoon. It is here that Tom Fornelli fights against the rising tide of female empowerment and technology to ensure that men everywhere can at least claim that college football is still theirs. He does this by picking a set of games against the spread against his girlfriend, Lynn, and his Playstation 3.

As defined by Webster's, hubris means "exaggerated pride or self-confidence." Unfortunately, I didn't need to look that up because I'm already quite familiar with hubris, as is Woman. For you see, as human beings, we are prone to suffering from feelings and getting a bit too full of ourselves. Because of this hubris that both Woman and I experienced, we seem to have forgotten there was a third member of this competition.

The thoughtless, emotionless machine. Now, after a mediocre week from both Man and Woman, the Machine has made its move. The two-horse race now has a third member, and things should get interesting down the home stretch.

Colorado vs. USC (-22 1/2) - Friday, 9pm (All times Eastern)

Man - It's been hard to watch USC the last two weeks and not be very impressed with what the Trojans have been doing. Compare that to how Colorado has played all season, and I don't really care if it's at home and is getting over 3 touchdowns, I'm not relying on it. Pick: USC

Woman - "Hey, Tom, have you noticed while we're fighting each other, the zombie Machine is catching up fast? All I can say is, I'm Shane, you're Otis. As for the Pac-12 Loser Bowl, let's review the numbers. Colorado lost to Stanford 48-7.  Stanford needed triple OT to best USC. And the line starts to look smaller..." Pick: USC 

Machine - Does not really appreciate being called a zombie, but it agrees with Woman anyway. USC wins 42-13. Pick: USC

West Virginia (-14 1/2) vs. Louisville - Saturday, 12pm

Man - When it comes to the Big East your first option should always be to lean toward chaos, but from what I've seen from Louisville this season, I just don't see the Cardinals being able to hang with the Mountaineers. Which means Louisville will probably win 9-7, but I'm picking West Virginia anyway. Pick: West Virginia

Woman - "West Virginia should have this won but Louisville is coming off a two-week high, beating both Rutgers and Syracuse. With both teams tied at 2-1 in the Big East standings, I'm guessing the game will be closer than the spread. (And by the way, kind of sad that Cardinals cheerleaders don't feel safe enough to cheer at Mountaineer Field.)" Pick: Louisville

Machine - Geno Smith is going to have a day to remember, as he throws for over 400 yards and 5 touchdowns as West Virginia rolls 49-21. Pick: West Virginia

Iowa vs. Michigan (-4 1/2) - Saturday, 12pm

Man - Normally in a Big Ten game played in Kinnick Stadium if I saw Iowa was getting points I wouldn't have to think that much before going with the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately this year's Iowa team is not something I want to depend on for anything, and Michigan has a lot left to play for, so I'm rolling with the Wolverines. Pick: Michigan

Woman - "Big Blue's one slip this season was on the road.  But with a stout defense, Denard Robinson at the helm, and an opponent that's underperformed all season, I'm thinking Kinnick Stadium won't pose much of a threat to the Wolverines." Pick: Michigan

Machine - The Machine must not have seen Iowa play against Minnesota last week, because it doesn't see the Hawkeyes having a whole lot of trouble with the Wolverines. Iowa wins 28-17. Pick: Iowa

Nebraska (-17 1/2) vs. Northwestern - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Nebraska is a team that worries me every week, but after seeing what it was able to do with Michigan State in Lincoln last week, I'm going to put that fear aside and trust that Rex Burkhead will run all over the Northwestern defense. Pick: Nebraska

Woman - "It's a shame Northwestern QB Dan Persa can't play defense.  And it's really a shame the Northwestern defense can't play defense. Not gonna be pretty (especially at crazed Memorial Stadium)." Pick: Nebraska

Machine - The Machine sees the Nebraska offense taking full advantage of the Northwestern defense, but it also sees Dan Persa and company having some success as well. Nebraska wins 38-30. Pick: Northwestern

Oklahoma (-13 1/2) vs. Texas A&M - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - When it comes to picking games against the spread I try to subscribe to the idea of never picking the underdog unless you think the underdog has a legit chance of winning the game. I don't think Texas A&M is going to go into Norman and hand the Sooners a second straight home loss, but I also think that the Aggies will cover what's nearly a 2 touchdown spread. So screw my rules. Pick: Texas A&M

Woman - "The Aggies have been my Kryptonite, letting me down every time I've picked them. That said, they haven't lost a game this season by more than seven points and have won all their away games. So, once more into the breach. Sooners win but Aggies cover." Pick: Texas A&M

Machine - Our worst fears are being realized. The Machine is adapting to reality, as it sees Texas A&M carry a 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter only to lose 31-24. Pick: Texas A&M

Pitt vs. Cincinnati (-2 1/2) - Saturday, 7pm

Man - I feel like I'm punishing myself for even including this game in the picks. I mean, seriously, it's the Big East. I have no idea what's going to happen, so let's let this nickel decide. Pick: Pitt

Woman - "Some of the most excruciating college ball I've watched this season has been at the butterfingery hands of Pitt. Losing leading rusher Ray Graham for the season with a torn ACL does nothing to make the Panthers more appealing against the Big East leader." Pick: Cincinnati

Machine - The loss of Ray Graham will not be a huge blow to the Panthers this week, as they squeeze out a win against the Bearcats, throwing the Big East into total disarray. Pitt wins 28-27. Pick: Pitt

Arkansas (-4 1/2) vs. South Carolina - Saturday, 7:15pm

Man - A South Carolina offense that was already struggling before losing Marcus Lattimore for the season and has seemingly forgotten it has Alshon Jeffery on the road against an Arkansas offense averaging 37 points a game but also has a defense that's struggled to stop Ole Miss and Vanderbilt the last few weeks. So I'm just going to go with the home team. Pick: Arkansas

Woman - "The Gamecocks 7-1 record is pretty misleading. They've scored a total of no more than 16 points three out of the last four games and, after dumping QB Stephen Garcia, now must deal with star RB Marcus Lattimore out for the season with a knee injury.  Meanwhile, Arkansas has averaged 37 points a game. Let's see, 37 minus 16 = " Pick: Arkansas

Machine - We got ourselves a clean sweep here, as Arkansas wins 31-14. Pick: Arkansas

Alabama (-4 1/2) vs. LSU - Saturday, 8pm

Man - Ah yes, the Game of The Century For This Year. Much like most of you, I've been looking forward to this one for weeks. A part of me didn't even want to pick this one just so I'd have no reason to care what the final score was and I could just enjoy it, but I also don't want to give a game away to the Woman or the Machine. I don't know who is going to win this game, but I do know that there are two incredibly good defenses facing each other. So points will be at a premium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night, and since that's the case, I'm going to take the free points and LSU. Pick: LSU

Woman - "I made the horrible mistake of picking against the Tigers once this season.  That's once too many.  Calling Baton Rouge [Les Miles]." Pick: LSU

Machine - Shocking, I know, but The Machine has always been more of a Nick Saban fan than a Les Miles one. Alabama wins 28-20. Pick: Alabama

Oklahoma State (-21 1/2) vs. Kansas State - Saturday, 8pm

Man - Remember what we saw the Oklahoma offense do to Kansas State last week? I don't think that was a mirage, and now the Wildcats are facing an even more explosive offense and on the road. I let my heart pick the Wildcats last week, but this week I'm listening to my head. Let's hope I'm not as stupid as I think I am. Pick: Oklahoma State

Woman - "The Wildcats have the unenviable task of coming off an embarrassing loss only to face the number three-ranked team in the country. The bad news for KSU: they're going to lose two games in a row. The good news: it won't be by more than three touchdowns." Pick: Kansas State

Machine - Well, Kansas State, you'll always have September and the first three weeks of October. The Machine sees Brandon Weeden picking up where Landry Jones left off, and the Cowboys win 51-20. Pick: Oklahoma State

Washington vs. Oregon (-15 1/2) - Saturday, 10:30pm

Man - Washington is averaging 39 points a game at home this season while Oregon is giving up over 25 points per game to Pac-12 opponents not named Colorado on the year. So if they want to give me more than 2 touchdowns with Washington at home, I'm going to take Washington. Pick: Washington

Woman - "It's the very last game ever at storied Husky Stadium and this is an intense rivalry folks east of the Rockies don't appreciate. The Huskies might lose but will not go gentle into that good night." Pick: Washington

Machine - The Machine thinks you should stay up late to watch this one, because it's going to be a shootout. Oregon wins 48-42. Pick: Washington

Standings

Season Record (Last Week)

1. Man 55-40 (4-6)
1. Woman 55-40 (5-5)
3. Machine 52-43 (8-2)

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Posted on: November 2, 2011 5:22 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 1:58 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Nov. 2: Unsung impact players

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 3, or .6 yards less than Alabama outgains their opponents on an average play; the difference between their 6.8 yards gained per-play and 3.2 allowed is the widest in the nation. LSU's per-play margin checks in at an impressive +1.6 (5.6 offensive, 4.0 defensive), and it's worth noting that that number has come against a tougher schedule than Alabama's ... though that 2.0-yard gap between the teams is still, statistically speaking, an enormous one (and explains why the Tide have been established as the Vegas favorite). 3 is also the number worn by Tide freshman DB/LB Vinnie Sunseri, and that Richardson kid everyone's always going on about.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know about the stars on both teams. But of course not every player who'll make an impact on the game will be a star. Who are some of the under-the-radar players that could/should shine Saturday?

Before we answer that, let's note that when we say there are stars on both teams, we mean it. Take a look over this excellent breakdown of the two teams' NFL draft prospects by CBSSports.com draft analyst Rob Rang, and it's obvious that -- despite a light crop of NFL prospects in the Tigers' senior class -- what's "crystal clear as the BCS trophy is that Alabama and LSU are loaded," as Rang writes.

(Maybe the most interesting nugget from Rang's piece? That LSU's Morris Claiborne is "arguably the elite cover corner in the SEC." Wonder what Dre Kirkpatrick, Casey Hayward and even LSU teammate Tyrann Mathieu would say about that.)

But as much fun as it is to discuss the Trent Richardsons and Rueben Randles of the world, we know there's always 22 players on the field and better than 80 on each roster. Saturday's game won't be decided by the draftable athletes alone. So here's three players from each team whose impact could outshine their press clippings:

Alabama

Anthony Steen, RG.
Steen took some heat from Tide fans after struggling mightily with Nick Fairley during his team's collapse from 24-0 ahead in the 2010 Iron Bowl, but the sophomore has rebounded nicely to help the Alabama running game reestablish itself as one of the best in the nation. If Steen can show exactly how much he's improved by handling LSU's powerful tackle tandem of Michael Brockers and Anthony Johnson, the Tide will have taken a big step towards keeping that run game going.

Jesse Williams, DT. The Australian native and former JUCO standout (pictured at left) took a bit to find his feet in Tuscaloosa, but has come on in recent weeks and played a major part in stuffing Arkansas with five tackles overall and two for loss. If he shows similar big-game flair Saturday, LSU will have a tough time moving the ball on the ground.

DeQuan Menzie, CB. The de facto fifth Beatle of the Tide secondary, Menzie will no doubt have just as much to do as his more celebrated teammates, whether it's helping on Randle, gang-tackling Spencer Ware or Michael Ford, or tracking the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. The way Jarrett Lee has been playing, if Menzie plays like a weak link in the Tide defensive backfield, the Tigers will take advantage.

LSU

Odell Beckham Jr., WR. Speaking of the true freshman Beckham, Randle can't be the only legitimate threat in the Tiger receiving corps or Barron and Co. will squeeze him out of the game. Beckham (right) and tight end DeAngelo Peterson must make their presence felt.

Will Blackwell, RG. Moving the Tide's front seven out of the holes needed for the LSU running game won't be easy, but if any of the LSU linemen are up to it, it's got to be the agile 6'4", 303-pound senior. It's going to take both power and guile to maintain any running consistency vs. the Tide front, and we like Blackwell's combination of those qualities as much as anyone's on the LSU front.

Kevin Minter, LB. We mentioned two days ago that the LSU linebacking corps hasn't been quite as special as most of the other units on the team, but that doesn't mean this fast-rising sophomore and fellow 'backer Ryan Baker don't have the potential to rise up and play over their heads. They may have to to keep Richardson in check.

THE LATEST HERE AT CBSSPORTS.COM: In addition to Rang's draft breakdown, there's a metric ton of cool LSU-Alabama content here at CBSSports.com. Dennis Dodd has taken a look at the LSU defense under John Chavis and Bruce Feldman the Tide's linebacker-driven D. Bryan Fischer has profiled LSU's budding 2012 recruiting class with Alabama due the get the same treatment at Eye on Recruiting later Wednesday. The Free Bruce Podcast Wednesday with Feldman previewed the game with special guest Paul Finebaum. And here's CBS Sports Network's Jason Horowitz and Spencer Tillman offering their takes on the game:



Tide fans, though, will want to make sure they read Tony Barnhart's Q&A with Nick Saban, as well as watching the video of the interview below:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: We've got some bad news for LSU: Dont'a Hightower says that the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd has already shown itself capable of hampering opposing offenses ... and maybe even the Tide's own?

"They did an excellent job at Tennessee," Hightower said. "Even when our offense was on the field, they were so loud I couldn’t really hear or know what Coach (Kirby) Smart was saying." That's quite the accomplishment, and considering that the crowd should be much livelier for a game it knows could propel their Tide into the BCS national championship ... well, let's just say we're hoping LSU has practiced their silent counts.

Is Richardson not the only Heisman candidate on the Tide roster? Center William Vlachos revealed Tuesday that he, too, has received a Heisman vote ... from Heisman winner and former Tide star Mark Ingram. "Seriously," Vlachos said. "Seriously." We believe you, William.

Also: Saban compares telling his players to ignore the hype to setting down ground rules for a son or daughter's date ... Williams talks about his tradition of painting his face for games ... Duron Carter is playing the part of Jordan Jefferson in practice ... Richardson says Mathieu is a "tremendous player."

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Apparently it's not just the Tigers' Australian punter Brad Wing who could use a crash course in the history of their opponent this week; end Sam Montgomery admitted Tuesday he thought of Bear Bryant as a Tide player and said "I don't know anything" about the Alabama legend. We might chalk this up as some kind of odd smack talk if Montgomery didn't also admit to not recognizing Steve Spurrier when the Ol' Ball Coach paid Montgomery's high school a recruiting visit.

We already gave you Saban, so here's Les Miles talking to Tim Brando about the game:



Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Alabama governor Robert Bentley have made the politicians' traditional food-based bet on the game, with Bentley offering a Tuscaloosa sandwich shop's "13 National Championships BLT" (with 13 strips of bacon) vs. Jindal's Louisiana seafood dinner. Frankly, as much as we like bacon, we think Bentley's coming out a bit ahead here. But Jindal sonds by far the more confident of the two.

“He (Bentley) is a nice man and a good friend,“ Jindal said. “But we expect to beat them and treat them badly. We will not be gracious guests.“ Oh snap!

Also: Miles suggests his team ignore their social media for a week, saying "we needed no Twitter personalities in this game" ... Mathieu, speaking publicly for the first time since his suspension for the Auburn game, says he "let a lot of people down ... Miles said that Jefferson will "play a key role" and be "oiled up and ready."


Posted on: October 31, 2011 6:17 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 31: Better front seven?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.




DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 5, or years in a row (counting 2011) in which both the Tigers and Tide have entered this matchup ranked. The average AP ranking for the two teams in that span? Alabama 5.6, LSU 8. But the Tide were the last of the pair to come into the game outside the polls; they weren't ranked for the Nov. 11, 2006 matchup.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: These are two of the best run defenses in college football. But is one front seven better than the other?

When we say "of the best," let's stipulate that we're maybe selling Alabama short here. Among the many statistics in which the Tide defense leads the nation are rush defense, yards per-carry allowed, and rushing touchdowns allowed ... but particularly interesting is that the Tide is well ahead of the pack in each category, ranking 28 yards per-game, .48 yards per-rush, and 2 touchdowns ahead of the No. 2 team in all three.

Which is why it's something of a surprise to say that LSU appears to have a clear head-to-head edge on the defensive line. It's true that 1. the Tide run a 3-4 instead of the Tigers' 4-3 and 2. thus don't ask their linemen to make plays as much as occupy blockers and let the linebackers behind them make plays, so the comparison's not entirely valid. Nose tackle Josh Chapman's value to the Tide is never going to be measured in tackles and sacks.

Still, it's surprising to see just how little statistical production the Tide is getting from their defensive line in the wake of Marcel Dareus's departure. Only one Tide lineman, backup DT Nick Gentry, has more than a single sack and the line as a whole is averaging less than one per-game. Though Jesse Williams, Ed Stinson and Gentry all have 3.5 tackles-for-loss or more, only 19.5 of the Tide's 61 TFLs (32 percent) come from linemen.

Contrast that with LSU, where four different linemen -- ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery and tackles Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan -- have as many or more TFLs as Stinsons' line-leading 5 at Alabama. Mingo, Montgomery and Logan have already combined for more than half of the Tigers' 19 sacks on the season, with Mingo in particular coming on a true terror in recent weeks. If the game comes down to one line or the other making a game-changing play, you'd be forced to bet on LSU.

But when weighing up the front sevens as a whole, we're still forced to give the edge to the Tide, because their advantage at linebacker is outright lopsided. Again, it's not an apples-to-apples comparison since LSU only uses 3 LBs in their base set and the Tide 4, but it's still bizarre to look at the Tigers' list of top tacklers and see just two linebackers in the top 11. Senior Ryan Baker and sophomore Kevin Minter have been productive, and you can't knock the linebacking unit of the nation's No. 3 rush defense too hard. But it seems that gaudy ranking has more to do the hyper-aggressive LSU secondary, and forget about LSU's LBs making a play in the backfield; Baker's two TFLs lead the unit.

Meanwhile, the Tide have a pair of legitimate All-Americans in Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, plus Nico Johnson, Jerrell Harris (pictured above) and several other veterans and blue-chips even if C.J. Mosley can't go. Add that bunch to a line that -- while not as spectacular as the Tigers' -- is expertly coached and does its job to perfection, and you get the best front seven in college football. LSU's is awful, awful good, maybe the second-best, but we still think Alabama's causes more problems for LSU's offense than vice versa.

THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: If you're a Tide fan looking for an encouraging trend before Saturday, you could do much, much worse than this tidbit from the Birmingham News's Jon Solomon:
Ten years have passed since Saban lost in consecutive years to the same coach in college. Ever since Steve Spurrier pounded Saban's LSU teams 41-9 in 2000 and 44-15 in 2001, Saban has won 12 straight rematch games ... Saban has a 13-1 record as an SEC coach in rematch games against opponents he lost to the previous season. In those 14 initial defeats, Saban lost by an average of 14.4 points; in those 14 rematches the next year, he won by an average of 14.7 points.
Solomon points out that good records in these kinds of games aren't unusual; Spurrier went 13-5-1 in "rematch" opportunities at Florida, and Bob Stoops is currently 11-3 at Oklahoma. But neither of those records are quite what Saban's is, and the swing in points -- from two TDs down to two TDs up -- suggests that these are games Saban does take a little seriously than most.

Not that he'd ever admit such a thing, of course; at his Monday press conference Saban said he "loses sleep over every game, even the ones we win ... I don't know that there's any motivation from last year. There's lessons to be learned when you play year in and year out."

And he may be right on the motivation part in this particular case--once you've reached the kind of stakes that accompany Saturday's game, revenge is pretty far down the list of potential rewards. But we're betting all the same Saban studied the film of last year's loss a little bit harder than he would have if the Tide have won.

The other highlight of Saban's presser, which fell on his 60th birthday: his reveal that the players had given him a signed jersey with the number 60 on it. "I can't wear this, I'm a skill position guy," he said, proving that Les Miles won't have all the good one-liners this week.



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Most coaches would treat a question about a potential rematch between the Tide and Tigers for the national championship with a curt "I'm just focused on the game this week." Miles is of course not most coaches, and told reporters Monday he would be A-OK the opportunity to play the Tide again.

"If in some way the guy that finishes left of the championship in the SEC can demonstrate statistically what kind of team he has, I'm for the SEC," Miles said. "I look forward to playing any and all."

Could he get his hypothetical post-loss wish? We'll stand by our earlier evaluation that it's highly unlikely (even after Clemson's loss), but that hasn't kept down the chatter; almost five years after CBS Sports' Gary Danielson and Lloyd Carr disagreed over whether Michigan should get a second shot at Ohio State, their comments to the Times-Picayune show they're still disagreeing over the issue of a rematch.

But back to Miles, who dropped a number of gems in today's comments. A sampling:
"The contact that takes place when our defense is on the field is very sincere and requires a ball carrier to hold onto the ball. That piece is the characteristic of a great defense."

"I saw the move [Trent Richardson] did against Ole Miss. That would have thrown my hip out its joint."

On whether he and Saban have friendly "correspondence":  "Correspondence would imply letters. I don't know that we send a lot of letters back and forth."

"How wonderful it is in college football that you have two quality teams that represent two great institutions that will take their best effort to the field to decide something that is difficult, clean and pure as a contest. How wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values. The school wins, the team wins and the state wins. It is a beautiful time. I am very fortunate to have such a great institution to represent and I look forward to a great afternoon and great evening in college football."
Miles also said that his roster was entirely suspension-free, a rare (and news-worthy) occasion for the Tigers this year. But who wants to bother with nuts-and-bolts reporting when we discuss "how wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values." We've said it before, we'll say it again: never change, Les.

Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:19 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2011 1:01 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 9



Posted by Bryan Fischer


As much as Saturday's classic battle between Stanford and USC was about Andrew Luck's Heisman hopes and the Cardinal's national title dreams, it was hugely important for the man pacing the home sideline with a laminated playcard.

Yes, USC lost, there's no denying what really matters and what the game will represent in the media guide years for now. But, when combined with the way the Trojans beat Notre Dame last week and their inspired-but-not-quite-good-enough play against Stanford, I think we can finally come to one conclusion about Lane Kiffin that we couldn't beforehand: he can coach. We're still not sure if he can win quite yet, but the question marks about his coaching abilities have been answered.

Given his record, 12-21 with the Oakland Raiders and at Tennessee, it was easy to be skeptical about Kiffin. His resume had an impressive collection of jobs before he turned 34 but he still couldn't shake the label that he was riding on the coattails of his father Monte and Pete Carroll. The NCAA violations and brash nature while with the Vols only enhanced negativity. Last season's 8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-10, record didn't answer any questions. He was blown out by Oregon at home and lost to a lowly Oregon State team in Corvallis on top of three losses by seven points. His offensive unit was good but struggled at times. Jokes about him firing his father for the Trojans' defensive woes had some truth behind them.

2011 wasn't a make or break year but it was important to Kiffin and the USC program as a whole to take another step back to where they were under Carroll despite being under the cloud of NCAA sanctions. The disrespect was evident when the Trojans were a nine point underdog in South Bend despite the Irish's penchant for turning the ball over in big games.

As celebrated as Brian Kelly was in his first season, he came into the game with a 12-7 record while Kiffin was one game better at 13-6 at USC. The tone was set early last week with an impressive opening drive to quiet the Notre Dame crowd and the Irish were never really back in the game after that.

Afterward, Kiffin was elated in the locker room and was extra happy to ruin a game Kelly had built up to be the Super Bowl for his team. He acknowledged it was the biggest win since he arrived in Los Angeles and he was right, in his second season he finally had a marquee victory.

Coaches and players vehemently dislike the term 'moral victory' because they understand the bottom line: you still lost. Still, there are plenty of positives in defeat and we learned a few about USC this week after the three overtime loss to Luck and the Cardinal.

The defense is not terrible like we thought it was. It's not great by any stretch but the defensive line can put pressure on the quarterback, the linebackers are quick enough to make plays in space and the secondary is young but rounding into form. On offense, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods have something special going on, the offensive line has exceeded expectations and the running game has come into its own the past few weeks.

USC didn't win on Saturday but they came close and that counts for something against a team that had reeled off 10 straight wins by 25 or more points. Luck, the best quarterback in the country by far, looked human at times and the USC offense looked like it was on the cusp of being great.

Lane Kiffin will still be thought of negatively, especially in the South, but he's answered a few of his critics' questions this season. He can coach and he can coach offenses that put up points. Now is the time to win the big, big game that his predecessor was known for. Kiffin's insistence after the game about calling out the referees for the final play of regulation - "They lied to me," he said Sunday - knowing that a reprimand from the Pac-12 was coming was taken by some to be whiny but I saw what some of his players did - that he'd fight for them until the battle could no longer be won, and even a little more. Even in retrospect, his play call of a tunnel screen to Woods doesn't look as terrible as it was when you consider he had two timeouts and the play was designed to go up field.

The last time USC lost a triple overtime game to a Bay area team they went on a historic run. No one is saying the same will happen under Kiffin, especially as the program begins scholarship reductions this season, but it's a good omen.

Last Saturday the Coliseum was rocking, the team was playing well and the coach wasn't a question mark. Kiffin can coach, now it's time to see if he can win big games.

Stat of the week

Via the Associated Press, Texas Tech is second team since 1989 (when the AP Poll expanded to 25), to go from no votes to ranked to no votes in three weeks. The other was Washington after they beat USC in 2009.

Stats of the week

- Five Big 12 teams are ranked 90th or worse in total defense, complete with Kansas being the worst in the country giving up 555 yards and 49.5 points per game. That might explain why three of the top five passers in the country are from the conference. The Jayhawks also only had 46 yards of total offense this week.

- Two candidates for most disappointing team of they year, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, are 110th and 118th respectively in turnover margin.

- Despite running so much, Georgia Tech is a third-down machine. They have the fifth-most third down attempts in the country yet are converting on 57.6% of them, best mark in the country by nearly 2%.

- The much maligned Michigan defense has taken a leap in several categories under Greg Matison but perhaps the most important: they lead the country in red zone defense. The Wolverines have only allowed 13 scores all year from inside the 20.

- If you had to guess who leads the country in time of possession, you'd probably start with a Georgia Tech or an Army. It's actually Texas, who holds onto the ball for over 35 minutes per game.

- After facing Oklahoma State, Baylor's defense dropped from 97th in total defense and 101st in scoring defense to 108th and 115th. Missouri went from 29th and 25th in the two categories to 51st and 46th. Texas went from 24th and 47th to 30th and 56th. Bottom line, your defense won't look too good in the stats after facing the Cowboys.

- Auburn is 289-4 all time when scoring 30-plus points. One reason why Gus Malzahn is being paid $1.3 million a year.

- This is the first time Georgia has beaten Florida and Tennessee in the same year since 1988. There are only three players on the Bulldogs' roster that were born before then. The Gators' four game skid is the first of any kind at the school since 1988 and first in the SEC since 1979, when head coach Will Muschamp was eight.

Yard-by-yard

- It was only a matter of time before the Manhattan Miracle came to an end. Oklahoma had been shocked the week before by Texas Tech and Kansas State was the unwitting opponent they took it out on. Landry Jones threw for a school-record 505 yards and five touchdowns, impressive considering the quarterbacks that have been churned out under Bob Stoops recently. His favorite target, Ryan Broyles, also moved into first place on the Big 12 career receiving list. Not all was crimson Saturday however, as running back Dominique Whaley fractured his ankle on the very first play of the game. Though overwhelmingly a passing team, the balance that the running game had with Whaley will be missed unless the Sooners find someone to step up. Kansas State will have to regroup after the Big 12's previously top-ranked defense was shredded by Jones. They rallied in the second quarter but that was about the only time the Wildcats could get something going.

- Say what you want about Oklahoma State's 111th ranked defense but they bottled up Robert Griffin III, shutting Baylor out in the first half and allowing just one score in the red zone all game. The 622 yards allowed is concerning but they allowed a good chuck of the yards when the game was well out of hand. It seemed like the Cowboys were going to be locked in a tough one once the Bears drove down to the one-yard line on their first drive but the defense held and the offense drove 99-yards for a touchdown to set the tone early. After that, it was like Mike Gundy's squad was shot out of a cannon. Particularly impressive was running back Joseph Randle, who had 152 yards and four touchdowns to lead a rushing attack that rolled up over 300 yards for the first time in over two years. It's hard to look at the Cowboys and see anybody but Oklahoma stopping them from booking a trip to New Orleans.

- It seems to happen every game but it does seem concerning that Oregon led Washington State by only five points before taking care of business in the second half in a 43-28 win. The big news was the return of LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, who both started. James ran for 53 yards and wore a brace after dislocating his elbow a few weeks ago. Thomas was a little shakier, tossing two interceptions before being pulled for backup Bryan Bennett. Was it rust? Hard to say but you can't say it wasn't a factor after being limited in practices the week before. There's likely not much of a quarterback controversy but there's no question the Ducks need Thomas at 100% if they want to beat Washington, Stanford or USC. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas was a bright spot, perhaps extra bright in Oregon's yellow "bumblebee" uniforms, taking a kickoff 93-yards for a touchdown and scoring on a 45-yard pass.

- People joke about Case Keenum putting up video game numbers in Houston's offense but that's exactly what he did Thursday, throwing NINE touchdown passes as the Cougars routed Rice 73-34 despite the rainy conditions. It wasn't the start Keenum and the offense wanted, with an interception and having a fumble returned for a touchdown to put themselves in an early hole. But then the rain seemed to lighten up and the record-setting quarterback took over from there. His fifth touchdown toss moved him past former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell to set the FBS-record for career TD passes and he proceeded to throw four more just for good measure. "Those are video game numbers, something we couldn't get stopped," Rice linebacker Justin Allen said. "The rain slowed down a little bit ... I wished it would have rained all game. It stopped, and they got things cranked up. There was no looking back for them." Keenum should set another record next week with 267 yards to become the FBS leader in career passing yards. Undefeated and somewhat untested, it looks like Houston is on their way to a special season. They have serious issues on defense but the offense will continue to put up eye-popping numbers.

- Tom O'Brien's hot seat status is fiery hot right now after losing to Florida State 34-0. The Wolfpack managed only 166 yards on offense and were shutout for the first time in three years. They weren't just beat by FSU, they were pushed around like they were Duke. T.J. Graham, one of the few bright spots for N.C. State this year, was bottled up and held to just 116 all-purpose yards. Given the way he handled the Russell Wilson situation and the way the season has gone, don't be surprised when there's a second coaching search going on in the triangle during the offseason (UNC being the other).

- It's time to give JoePa props for coaching Penn State to an 8-1 record. The defense, of course, is the story and the backbone of the team, shutting out Illinois for three quarters but the Nittany Lions had just enough on offense to get by with a 10-7 win. It was a sloppy affair for both teams but Joe Paterno picked up win No. 409 to move become the winningest coach in Division I. They are the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield "No respect" team right now.

- Is there a team more bipolar than Syracuse? A week after throttling West Virginia at home, the Orangemen looked terrible against Louisville, losing 27-10. They beat Toledo thanks to an officiating error, barely lost to Rutgers and barely beat Tulane, then have alternated between great and horrible the last two weeks. They certainly look like they're going to another bowl game this year but if you're Doug Marrone, you have to be concerned with the lack of consistency. On the other side, Louisville posted back-to-back Big East wins for the first time since 2006 and are still in the thick of things in the muddled conference race. Teddy Bridgewater continues to progress and this young team is making steady progress.

- As a few people joked on Twitter, Missouri proved that an SEC East team can beat an SEC West team with the Tigers 38-31 overtime win against Texas A&M. Any joy Aggie fans have over the move to a new conference is being ruined by their team's play on the field, blowing a 14 point lead at home this time around after doing the same against Arkansas and Oklahoma State. Missouri is better than their .500 record suggests and Henry Josey has been a revelation at the running back spot - so much so that he looks like the all-Big 12 pick at his position. James Franklin still makes a bone-headed play from time to time but the offense is still better than expected with the first-time starter running the show. Still, what once was a season of promise for Texas A&M has been anything but and doesn't get better with a trip to Norman.

- Impressive game by the Blackshirts as Nebraska muzzled Michigan State's offense in a 24-3 win in Lincoln. NU defensive backs turned in their best game of the season, being physical off of the line and forcing Kirk Cousins into missing all but four of his first 16 passes. He finished the day with just 86 yards a week after a 290 yard, three TD performance. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead paced the Cornhuskers' offense and looked like they are finally earning their ranking with a dominating win.

- Iowa, really? Minnesota is one of the worst teams in the country and you lose 22-21? There's not much to explain really. The same goes for Texas Tech, getting trounced at home by Iowa State. CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman was in a state of disbelief everytime he checked the score of either game and that pretty much sums up what everybody else was thinking.

- Late in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (which the politically correct will know is Georgia-Florida), SI.com's Andy Staples and I both turned to each other and said that the Bulldog's four point lead would be insurmountable for the Gators offense to overcome. Special teams was another story but the offense? It just couldn't move the ball for their life. The personnel just isn't there to give them any schematic advantage. Hats off to Mark Richt though, who has won six straight and certainly helped his cause.

- Was shocked to see that Texas ended a FIVE game losing streak at home against Kansas this week. It's not saying much against that Jayhawks defense but the Longhorns still rushed for an impressive 441 yards in a game that few people saw on the Longhorn Network.

- Welcome to the Pac-12 win column Utah, who beat Oregon State at home 27-8.

- Clemson finally pulled a Clemson against Georgia Tech. Tevin Washington, after a string of bad games, rushed for 176 yards and was the triggerman for the option offense that jumped out to a 24-3 lead thanks to several Tigers turnovers. It was an impressive showing by Georgia Tech's defense against the explosive Clemson offense, which had come into the game scoring points at will. Considering how shaky the Yellow Jackets had looked on that side of the ball coming in, only a few believed they could pull off the upset which ended any hope of the ACC putting a team in the BCS championship game.

- Go ahead Braxton Miller, take a bow. The true freshman sparked a last-second win that gives Ohio State some life after upsetting Wisconsin. According to reporters after the game, Miller apparently winked at head coach Luke Fickell before the final drive and said "We're all right." That's special. Coming out of high school, Miller showed he had enough talent and moxie that many people compared him to former Heisman winner Troy Smith. The 40 yard pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left had to be the play of the year for a Buckeyes team that had been through so much. One has to wonder if they had held on against Nebraska what our view of this team would be.

Tweet of the week

"How impressive was Texas vs. KU? UT had more total yards (590) than current subscribers to Longhorn Network."

- CBSSports.com Senior Writer Brett McMurphy.

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Dennis Dodd Dennis Dodd
Sooners kick it into high gear a week too late.
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Brett McMurphy Brett McMurphy
Awaiting the LSU-Alabama showdown, Clemson and Kansas State drop out of the top 10. Read >
Bruce Feldman Bruce Feldman
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Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. Boise State

6. Oklahoma

7. Oregon

8. Clemson

9. Arkansas

10. Nebraska

Where we'll be this week

Brett McMurphy will be in Stillwater to see BCS contender Oklahoma State host previously undefeated Kansas State. Dennis Dodd and Bruce Feldman will both be in Tuscaloosa for the game of the season, LSU-Alabama.

Leaning this way

Kansas State at Oklahoma State

It's almost unfair for one of the great stories in the first half of the season, Bill Snyder's Wildcats, to face the Big 12's two best teams on back-to-back weeks so all we'll say is good luck trying to stop the Cowboys offense. We have a feeling that Kansas State, which dropped 31 spots in total defense after facing Oklahoma, will struggle unless the offense plays keep away and doesn't turn the ball over.

South Carolina at Arkansas

On paper this is a top 10 match up but in reality both teams a bit overrated. Arkansas' defensive issues, especially in the first half, have contributed to closer than expected wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. South Carolina has a good defense but the offense has struggled to score for six week outside of the Kentucky game. It's at home so the edge goes to the Hogs unless Alshon Jeffrey (finally) has a breakout game.

LSU at Alabama (CBS, 8 PM ET)

The showdown of the season is what everybody will have their eyes on Saturday night. The strength of both teams is clearly their defenses so this will come down to who can break open a big play on offense or special teams. There are more home run threats on the Tide and it's in Tuscaloosa but anybody picking against LSU has to know that doing so means going against Les Miles. Should be a great one.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 5:55 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 30: Expecting unexpected

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 6
or the number of red zone scores allowed by Alabama this season, one of the many, many statistics in which the Tide defense leads the nation ... and in which LSU trails just a bit behind, tied for 12th with 15. The bad news for Alabama, such as it is? Five of those six scores -- out of nine opponents' red zone attempts total, also the lowest total in the nation -- have been touchdowns. Meaning Alabama's rate of allowing red zone touchdowns (55.6 percent) is essentially identical to the Tigers' (56.3, 9 of 16).

Does any of that matter? Not necessarily--it's a tiny sample size and red zone percentage is notoriously fluky stat anyway. But it also could be an indication that if LSU can break through to the Tide red zone, they're not doomed to settle for field goals no matter how strong the Tide D might be.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: We know we're going to see plenty of smashmouth running, aggressive calls from Les Miles, and huge hits from the nation's two best defenses. But what might we see that we wouldn't think we'd see?

In other words: if we're going to "expect the unexpected," what would we expect? And while that's a tough question to answer (it wouldn't be completely "unexpected" if we saw it coming, right?), here's a few guesses at potential events during Saturday's showdown that might defy conventional wisdom:

AJ McCarron airing it out. For a given definition of "air it out," of course; this is still Trent Richardson's offense first, second, and probably third. But Jim McElwain and Nick Saban have never been averse to letting their quarterbacks put the ball in the air when the situation calls for it. McCarron's already thrown 30 or more times twice this season, vs. Penn State and Vanderbilt. Likewise, though the common memory of Greg McElroy's role in the Tide's 2009 national title is as a low-use "game manager," he, too, surpassed the 30-pass mark four times, including against -- you guessed it -- LSU. With the Tigers ever-so-slightly softer against the pass than the run (10th nationally vs. 3rd), it won't be a huge surprise if McElwain turns to McCarron to handle a sizable chunk of the offense.

LSU connecting on the deep ball. We know the Tigers are going to try and go deep; when you have Rueben Randle and a quarterback in Jarrett Lee whose deep touch is his greatest strength, it's a no-brainer. The question is whether they'll have any success, and given that only Texas has allowed fewer than the Tide's 13 passes given up longer than 20 yards, it won't come easy. But the Tigers themselves lead the SEC in passes of 40 yards or more and rank second in those of 30 or more. There's some history of success for LSU vs. the Tide, too--just last year Randle caught balls of 76 yards (for a TD) and 47 yards, and the Tigers finished averaging 10.4 yards an attempt. Strong as the Tide secondary is, don't be shocked if the Tigers get over the top once or twice.

An Alabama trick play. It's Miles, of course, who's famous for diving into the bag of tricks. But over the past few seasons Saban has proven he's not afraid to call for some trickeration, either, especially in big games. Remember the fake punt that opened up the 2009 BCS national championship against the Longhorns? Then there was the Arkansas game earlier this season, in which the Tide took the lead by motioning out of a field goal formation into an offensive set that scored a touchdown. Given that Saban knows exactly what's at stake Saturday, we could see something similar.

VIDEO BREAK: Gary Danielson will, of course, be calling the game for CBS this Saturday (8 p.m. ET, don't forget). Here he previews the game with Tim Brando:



THE LATEST: With both teams taking Saturday off, the biggest news on the game didn't come out of either Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa--it arrived from Vegas, where the Tide opened as a consensus 4.5-point favorite and were shortly bet down to a current consensus of 4 points.

If you buy the conventional wisdom that home-field advantage is automatically worth a field goal, this could be seen as Vegas stating their belief that the Tide is the better team ... though by all of a single point. Even the Vegas experts, it seems, have to split hairs when choosing between the two sides.
Posted on: October 28, 2011 4:05 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 2:51 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 28: Secondary breakdown

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.

DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 8, or the number of wins for LSU in the series in the past 11 meetings. Before that uptick the Bayou Bengals trailed the Tide 42-16-5 in the all-time series and had never defeated Alabama three consecutive times. The man most responsible for the change in fortunes? Nick Saban, who went 4-1 against the Tide in his five-year stint at the LSU helm between 2000 and 2004, ending a run of 9 Alabama victories in 11 years. Saban hasn't had quite as much success turning the tables -- yet -- in Tuscaloosa, going 2-2 against LSU in his four years at Alabama.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who has the better secondary? Or maybe more importantly: which team matches up better against the opponents' receivers?

Amongst the many superlatives that will be thrown around regarding this game, here's one that's entirely deserved: these are the best two secondaries in college football. 

And with all due respect to, say, Michigan State or Virginia Tech, we're not sure it's close. Between Alabama's fivesome of safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester and corners Dre Kirkpatrick, Demarcus Milliner and Dequan Menzie, and LSU's of safeties Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor (or Craig Loston) and corners Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Tharold Simon, it's possible the teams will combine for 8 or 9 future NFL defensive backs. (Hell: maybe 10)

So who's better? The stats give Alabama a slight edge, with the Tide having allowed an opposing QB rating of 83.68 to LSU's 96.49, just 4.5 yards per-pass attempt to LSU's 5.4, and a completion percentage of 48.1 to LSU's 53.1. (All of these numbers for both teams rank among the best in the nation, of course.) Alabama has also reached "total shutdown" phase more often, holding five of their opponents to a QB rating of 90 or worse while LSU has unlocked that achievement just three times.

In LSU's favor, though, is that 1. they've played the tougher schedule, thanks to facing teams like Oregon and West Virginia 2. they're more likely to come up with the big play, with 11 interceptions to Alabama's 9 and Mathieu among the national leaders in forced fumbles 3. as could be particularly important in a matchup of such fierce ground games, they're more involved in stuffing the run, with Taylor, Reid, Mathieu and Claiborne all among the Tigers' top five tacklers. 

So call all of that a draw. What about matchups? The Tide will be facing the toughest cover in the head-to-head in the form of Rueben Randle, now leading the SEC in average yards per-completion by a substanial margin, and they can't forget about true freshman Odell Beckham Jr. (27 receptions, 334 yards). Those are two of only three LSU targets in double-digit receptions for the year, though, while the Tide boast seven. Marquis Maze (pictured at the top of this post, opposite Mathieu in the 2010 meeting) leads the way, of course, with 39  catches and 482 yards.

So as with so many other aspects of LSU-Alabama, who wins the head-to-head between the secondaries will likely come down to whether the Tide can stop the big play. They couldn't last year, when the Tigers averaged 15 yards a completion. And on the other side of the ball, as relatively mistake-free as AJ McCarron has been, he hasn't faced the ball-hawking likes of Mathieu and Claiborne yet.

But if Barron and Lester can provide the necessary help against Randle over the top and McCarron stays in control, the matchup should swing in the Tide's favor--between their wider array of targets on offense and the LSU secondary's occasional pliability (see the 463 passing yards yielded to West Virginia), they should be more able to consistently disrupt the LSU passing game more often than LSU disrputs theirs. Especially with the Tide defenders having the advantage of homefield, we'll give the thinnest of  edges to Alabama here.

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: That this LSU-Alabama game has already reached such colossal importance means it's a good time to remind fans of both sides that there's things that are actually more important than football (it's true!), and the continuing efforts to provide relief in the wake of the tragic April 27 tornadoes that ripped through the Tuscaloosa area are one of those things.

That's why Louisana chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto have paired up with Tide football legend Bob Baumhower to hold the first-ever "Lousi-Bama Gumbo Bowl," a charity fund-raising event for tornado relief to be held outside Bryan-Denny Stadium ... and produce the new Guinness World Record holder for the Largest Pot of Gumbo. If you weren't interested before ... 

The team will create a monster pot of gumbo, using a 300-year-old cast iron pot from the sugar cane fields of South Louisiana. The World's Largest Gumbo recipe calls for 750 pounds shrimp, 450 pounds catfish fillets, 100 pounds claw crabmeat, 50 pounds white crabmeat, 200 pounds alligator meat, and 25 pounds Louisiana crawfish tail meat.

The recipe will include 200 pounds of diced onions, 75 pounds of diced celery, 100 pounds of diced green bell pepper, 150 pounds of sliced okra, 50 pounds of dehydrated garlic, and 20 pounds of butter. After simmering for three hours, the pot will be weighed via a forklift. Then, the delicious, steaming contents will be doled out to hungry football fans during the pre-game tailgate.

Pardon us while we wipe up our drool. Tickets to the event can be purchased here. For more information (including the charities to benefit, click here

LSU's coaches have been committed to showing their defense a running back with something like Trent Richardson's power in practice. How committed? Richardson's role on the scout team has been played by a linebacker, freshman Trevon Randle. Not that Claiborne is planning on going strength-on-strength with Richardson no matter how much practice he gets on Randle. 

"Any way you can get him on the ground, you just get him on the ground,” Claiborne said of the Tide star. “I know where I’m going. I’m going for the legs.” (Not a bad plan, Morris, though we doubt Randle's going to help get you ready for feet like these, either.)

Via And the Valley Shookthe LSU film department has put together a trailer for the game. And it's one we find hard to imagine won't get the blood pumping for both Tiger fan and neutrals alike:

THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Hey speaking of Richardson, we've got some good news for LSU fans. Here's what he said Thursday about the bye week:

“My body is probably in the best condition it's been in since I've been in college, and now I get a break, and my body will feel even better when I come back.” 

Oh, wait, sorry; that's terrible news.

Overall, the Tide's attitude towards LSU has been what you'd expect: respect, but clearly not too much respect. See, for instance, this al.com video of Maze discussing Mathieu. Or this quote from senior center William Vlachos on the LSU defense:

“They're dominant,” Vlachos said. “They're solid all the way around. Their coordinator does a really good job with their defense. That's something everybody's been talking about, and we're looking forward to the challenge of playing against a great defense.”

That's nice and all, but where's the bulletin board material, guys? (Our best guess: somewhere on the LSU side. Both teams are very much reflections of their head coaches, and who do you think might slip up and say something overconfident and/or "smack"-like: Saban or Les Miles?)

The honors have continued to roll in for the Tide defense. Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and offensive lineman Barrett Jones three of the 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award,  and Hightower and Barron have been named quarterfinalists for the Lott IMPACT Award.


Posted on: October 27, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 5:34 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 27: Special teams edge?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 9, or the number worn by Jordan Jefferson. Jarrett Lee obviously isn't going anywhere as the Tiger starter, but could Jefferson see even more time than usual as the designated change-of-pace? The senior has ranged from effective-to-excellent in his two meetings with the Tide, going 10-of-17 for 6.7 yards-an-attempt (above-average numbers by the Tide's defensive standards) and a touchdown in 2009 and a sterling 10-of-13 for 10.8 an attempt with another TD last season. Lee isn't the same quarterback he was when squaring off with the Tide in 2008 and 2009, but still, the difference in the two signal-callers is staggering; in three career meetings vs. Alabama Lee has completed just 41 percent of his passes for 5.7 yards an attempt with a hideous 1-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Something for Les Miles to think about?

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who has the advantage on special teams? And how much of an impact will special teams play have?

To answer the second question first: a tremendous impact, most likely, particularly where LSU's offense is concerned. As we've mentioned multiple times before, what's special about the Bayou Bengal attack -- ranked 78th in the FBS in total offense -- isn't its explosiveness (though with Rueben Randle, it can be explosive) or its ability to grind out long drives (though with Spencer Ware, it can grind out long drives). What is special is its ruthless efficiency in converting its scoring opportunities into maximum points, as the Tigers' 97 percent scoring rate (second-best in the FBS) and 79 percent touchdown rate (third-best) on their red zone possessions illustrates.

But to get those opportunities, LSU sometimes needs the help of its special teams. And as they always have under Miles, those special teams have offered their help in a big way, to the tune of the 15th-best unit in the country per Phil Steele's rankings. Even casual fans can likely pinpoint a handful of Tiger special teams plays that have had game-turning consequences: Tyrann Mathieu's forced fumble and TD return in punt coverage vs. Oregon, Morris Claiborne's 99-yard return for touchdown against West Virginia, punter Brad Wing's infamous shoulda-been touchdown on a fake vs. Florida.

But to anyone who remembers only those plays and decides that special teams is a guaranteed win for the Tigers, Marquis Maze would like to have a word with you:



In many areas, the two special teams units' are in a statistical dead heat. In kickoff returns, Alabama ranks 34th in the FBS, LSU (despite Claiborne's return) 37th. Kickoff return yardage allowed, LSU ranks 32nd, Alabama 34th. Neither team has hit a field goal longer than 50 yards yet this season (in three total tries), but both teams are money inside of 50: LSU's Drew Alleman is 10-of-11, Alabama's Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster 12-of-14.

All of which is to say it's the punting game where the special teams battle is likely to be decided. Thanks to a huge year from Wing and a punt coverage team allowing less than a yard in returns per game, the Tigers rank sixth in the nation at just over 41 net yards per punt--a huge leg up on the Tide's 36-yard average and 71st ranking. But the Tigers may not have the return unit to take advantage of that generosity -- their 8-yard average ranks 63rd -- while Maze and the 18th-ranked Tide punt return could put a big dent in that glittering LSU net punting average.

The bottom line? Special teams are going to play a massive role in swinging the outcome--but despite giving the Tigers the slightest of edges based on Wing's ability to neutralize Maze and Miles's propensity for the successful fake, it's too close to call which team gets that swing.

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: If you're surprised to hear that tickets for what's arguably be the biggest regular season game in SEC history have become extraordinarily expensive, you are surprised very easily. But that they're going for more three times the highest recorded value for an SEC championship game -- $5,000 to $1,500 on Stubhub, according to CBSSports.com RapidReporter Glenn Guilbeau -- is a pretty effective testimonial to demand all the same.

Despite Alabama's reputation as being every bit LSU's equals when it comes to grinding opponents to dust in the rushing game, the Birmingham News found that the Tigers have been substantially more committed to the run this season, throwing on first down half as often as the Tide and running on a full two-thirds of all downs as oppose to the Tide's 58 percent.

To hear Miles tell it, though, those statistics may not mean as much as they'd seem to mean come game time:
“With an extra week to prepare, we go through a self [evaluation], and whatever statistics or tendencies that we have, we try very significantly to break them,” Miles said. “It becomes an open week issue for me and those coordinators to make sure that there’s some change that reflects our standard play but also reflects what would allow us to change up what would be a very strong tendency ... we’ll play more against LSU in this open week more than we’ll play against Alabama.”
More good injury news for LSU: center P.J. Lonergan is officially a go, and the renewed health of veteran backup T-Bob Hebert means the Tiger line is the healthiest it's been since the start of the season.

VIDEO BREAK: Didn't get enough discussion of the possibility of an LSU-Alabama title game rematch in yesterday's Daily? Then check out CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd answering that looming question on the CBS Sports Network's Tony Barnhart Show:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: If you ever doubt that the Crimson Tide have taken on the personaliy of their coach, try hearing a Tide player talk about an upcoming game sometime. A player like, say, linebacker Nico Johnson, when asked about the building hype on campus:
“I got asked about it by a teacher, but I try to avoid the question,” Johnson said. “If you get overwhelmed, get too emotional, or think about it all the time, bad things happen.”
We don't think Nick Saban could have said it any better himself. And speaking of Saban, both he and his Nov. 5 coaching counterpart have been named to the 20-member Bryant Award watch list, given annually to the nation's college football Coach of the Year.

Again from the Birmingham News, one paragraph to sum up the obscene dominance of the Alabama defense at this point in the season:
Alabama has given up six TDs, 55 points, 6.9 points per game, 359 rushing yards, 1.67 yards per carry, two rushing TDs, 44.88 rushing yards per game, 48.1 percent completion rate, 4.5 yards per passing attempt, four passing TDs, 83.68 passing efficiency rating, 1,444 total yards, 3.2 yards per play, 180.5 yards per game (42.4 yards per game better than second-place Michigan State), 21 rushing first downs, 79 first downs and 9.9 first downs per game -- all national lows. Alabama's 47 passes broken up and 56 passes defended are national highs.
If you're counting, that's an FBS-best mark in 19 different statistical categories.

Posted on: October 27, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 5:34 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 27: Special teams edge?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Counting down to LSU-Alabama with a daily dose of analysis and news.



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 9, or the number worn by Jordan Jefferson. Jarrett Lee obviously isn't going anywhere as the Tiger starter, but could Jefferson see even more time than usual as the designated change-of-pace? The senior has ranged from effective-to-excellent in his two meetings with the Tide, going 10-of-17 for 6.7 yards-an-attempt (above-average numbers by the Tide's defensive standards) and a touchdown in 2009 and a sterling 10-of-13 for 10.8 an attempt with another TD last season. Lee isn't the same quarterback he was when squaring off with the Tide in 2008 and 2009, but still, the difference in the two signal-callers is staggering; in three career meetings vs. Alabama Lee has completed just 41 percent of his passes for 5.7 yards an attempt with a hideous 1-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Something for Les Miles to think about?

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who has the advantage on special teams? And how much of an impact will special teams play have?

To answer the second question first: a tremendous impact, most likely, particularly where LSU's offense is concerned. As we've mentioned multiple times before, what's special about the Bayou Bengal attack -- ranked 78th in the FBS in total offense -- isn't its explosiveness (though with Rueben Randle, it can be explosive) or its ability to grind out long drives (though with Spencer Ware, it can grind out long drives). What is special is its ruthless efficiency in converting its scoring opportunities into maximum points, as the Tigers' 97 percent scoring rate (second-best in the FBS) and 79 percent touchdown rate (third-best) on their red zone possessions illustrates.

But to get those opportunities, LSU sometimes needs the help of its special teams. And as they always have under Miles, those special teams have offered their help in a big way, to the tune of the 15th-best unit in the country per Phil Steele's rankings. Even casual fans can likely pinpoint a handful of Tiger special teams plays that have had game-turning consequences: Tyrann Mathieu's forced fumble and TD return in punt coverage vs. Oregon, Morris Claiborne's 99-yard return for touchdown against West Virginia, punter Brad Wing's infamous shoulda-been touchdown on a fake vs. Florida.

But to anyone who remembers only those plays and decides that special teams is a guaranteed win for the Tigers, Marquis Maze would like to have a word with you:



In many areas, the two special teams units' are in a statistical dead heat. In kickoff returns, Alabama ranks 34th in the FBS, LSU (despite Claiborne's return) 37th. Kickoff return yardage allowed, LSU ranks 32nd, Alabama 34th. Neither team has hit a field goal longer than 50 yards yet this season (in three total tries), but both teams are money inside of 50: LSU's Drew Alleman is 10-of-11, Alabama's Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster 12-of-14.

All of which is to say it's the punting game where the special teams battle is likely to be decided. Thanks to a huge year from Wing and a punt coverage team allowing less than a yard in returns per game, the Tigers rank sixth in the nation at just over 41 net yards per punt--a huge leg up on the Tide's 36-yard average and 71st ranking. But the Tigers may not have the return unit to take advantage of that generosity -- their 8-yard average ranks 63rd -- while Maze and the 18th-ranked Tide punt return could put a big dent in that glittering LSU net punting average.

The bottom line? Special teams are going to play a massive role in swinging the outcome--but despite giving the Tigers the slightest of edges based on Wing's ability to neutralize Maze and Miles's propensity for the successful fake, it's too close to call which team gets that swing.

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: If you're surprised to hear that tickets for what's arguably be the biggest regular season game in SEC history have become extraordinarily expensive, you are surprised very easily. But that they're going for more three times the highest recorded value for an SEC championship game -- $5,000 to $1,500 on Stubhub, according to CBSSports.com RapidReporter Glenn Guilbeau -- is a pretty effective testimonial to demand all the same.

Despite Alabama's reputation as being every bit LSU's equals when it comes to grinding opponents to dust in the rushing game, the Birmingham News found that the Tigers have been substantially more committed to the run this season, throwing on first down half as often as the Tide and running on a full two-thirds of all downs as oppose to the Tide's 58 percent.

To hear Miles tell it, though, those statistics may not mean as much as they'd seem to mean come game time:
“With an extra week to prepare, we go through a self [evaluation], and whatever statistics or tendencies that we have, we try very significantly to break them,” Miles said. “It becomes an open week issue for me and those coordinators to make sure that there’s some change that reflects our standard play but also reflects what would allow us to change up what would be a very strong tendency ... we’ll play more against LSU in this open week more than we’ll play against Alabama.”
More good injury news for LSU: center P.J. Lonergan is officially a go, and the renewed health of veteran backup T-Bob Hebert means the Tiger line is the healthiest it's been since the start of the season.

VIDEO BREAK: Didn't get enough discussion of the possibility of an LSU-Alabama title game rematch in yesterday's Daily? Then check out CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd answering that looming question on the CBS Sports Network's Tony Barnhart Show:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: If you ever doubt that the Crimson Tide have taken on the personaliy of their coach, try hearing a Tide player talk about an upcoming game sometime. A player like, say, linebacker Nico Johnson, when asked about the building hype on campus:
“I got asked about it by a teacher, but I try to avoid the question,” Johnson said. “If you get overwhelmed, get too emotional, or think about it all the time, bad things happen.”
We don't think Nick Saban could have said it any better himself. And speaking of Saban, both he and his Nov. 5 coaching counterpart have been named to the 20-member Bryant Award watch list, given annually to the nation's college football Coach of the Year.

Again from the Birmingham News, one paragraph to sum up the obscene dominance of the Alabama defense at this point in the season:
Alabama has given up six TDs, 55 points, 6.9 points per game, 359 rushing yards, 1.67 yards per carry, two rushing TDs, 44.88 rushing yards per game, 48.1 percent completion rate, 4.5 yards per passing attempt, four passing TDs, 83.68 passing efficiency rating, 1,444 total yards, 3.2 yards per play, 180.5 yards per game (42.4 yards per game better than second-place Michigan State), 21 rushing first downs, 79 first downs and 9.9 first downs per game -- all national lows. Alabama's 47 passes broken up and 56 passes defended are national highs.
If you're counting, that's an FBS-best mark in 19 different statistical categories.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com