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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A poll LSU fans will love

While there has been some angst among LSU fandom that, gasp, Alabama jumped over the Tigers in the AP poll, there is at least one poll that should cheer LSU fans.

Richard Billinglsy -- whose computer rankings were part of the mix in 2003 and is a current part of the BCS -- has the Tigers in a lofty position in this week's poll.

The reality is the only significance the polls have right now is jockeying for position in late November. The higher you are now, the more wiggle room you have later.

Still, it's food for thought -- and even dreams.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Poll position

LSU is up to No. 2 in the coaches' poll and No. 3 in the AP poll.

There is sure to be some whining about the AP poll as Alabama jumped ahead of LSU to No. 2 and behind Oklahoma.

Look, I've got no problem at this point in the season with that ranking. Alabama has been impressive in wins over Clemson and Georgia. (I'm not really counting Arkansas, Tulane and Western Kentucky). LSU's most impressive win is at Alabama.

That being said, I still have my doubts about Alabama. I understand the Tide's strength is along both the offensive and defensive lines. But quarterback John Parker Wilson is probably playing over his head -- or at least his previous career performance. And in the course of a season, depth could be an issue.

The good thing for LSU is of the two teams in front of the Tigers, they'll get to play one during the regular season.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday musings

After watching Florida and Georgia go down in flames, LSU's 34-24 win over Miss. State doesn't look so bad.

Some thoughts:

1) State probably played its best game -- at least offensively -- of the season.

2) LSU looked like it had the game under control, but never in rout mode.

3) Jarrett Lee looked solid at quarterback.

4) Good to see Terrance Toliver catch a ball.

5) Brandon LaFell is having a breakout year. Hard to believe he had trouble catching the ball a year ago.

6) The off week comes at a pretty good time with some nagging injuries hitting the team.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jarrett Lee will start

BATON ROUGE - Les Miles is coming off perhaps his greatest victory as LSU's coach - considering the degree of difficulty - so let him have his fun. Auburn was a top 10 team when it lost to LSU, is still a top 10 team in my AP poll because it lost to a team ranked higher than it and could end up as a top 10 team in all polls when this season is over. Auburn is better than Ohio State was in the national championship game last season and it is better than Tennessee was in the SEC championship game last season. It should also be better than the 2007 Florida team, which was ripped by Michigan 41-35. Those were Miles' three previous huge victories. Of those, Auburn was the only road win.

So, let him have his fun. Miles loves to play games with his opponent and the media, which is why he will not name a starting quarterback going into Saturday's game against Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium. At some point today, he will tell Jarett Lee that he is starting if he hasn't already. Andrew Hatch could still play if he is recovered from the mild concussion and strained neck he suffered at Auburn. Look for true freshman Jordan Jefferson to also see significant playing time.

Miles has to start Lee because Lee deserves it after the game he played at Auburn. Miles also has to start Lee because he would look like a fool if he doesn't. It's not like Lee and Hatch had similar games. Lee was 11 of 22 for 182 yards with a 39-yard touchdown pass and the 18-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with 1:03 to play. He also helped lead LSU to another touchdown and a field goal. Hatch rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries and led LSU to a field goal, but he was just 2 of 6 passing for 16 yards. Hatch also obviously cannot throw the ball downfield as well as Lee can. Lee has a much stronger arm. Sometimes that helps, even if you're not completely sure of what else you're doing, which was the case at times with Lee at Auburn. He looked very unsure of himself just before he let go of the 39-yard touchdown pass, but it found Chris Mitchell to get LSU within 14-10 in the third quarter. And the game was on again.

Miles has been dropping hints that he will start Lee since Saturday night.

"Obviously, football is merit based, and he had a helluva game," Miles said of Lee after the game.

Miles made a similar statement on the Jim Rome national radio show on Tueslday.

"Football is merit based, an I think Jarrett Lee warrants an opportunity to play a lot of football Saturday," Miles said.

When asked last week if Charles Alexander would start at defensive tackle, Miles would not answer directly. But he did say Alexander would "play a lot of football Saturday." Alexander started.

Miles also dismissed the philosophy held by some coaches that a starter automatically gets his job back once he's healthy. Former LSU coach Gerry DiNardo believed in this silly, Boy Scout theory.

"I think the responsibility is to pick the best player," Miles said. He should have said, "Duh" to the idiotic question.

"The best player who gives you the best opportunity for victory will play," Miles said. "That's how I expect we'll go irrespective of injury."

Well said, Les, who I'm sure does not do other high schoolish things like play guys because they're seniors when a freshman is better.

Now about those numbers on the punters. Well, wait, you are 37-6 at LSU. Go ahead and have your fun.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Box farewell better than Yankee Stadium's

BATON ROUGE - I am not a Yankees fan. At times, I hate the Yankees. I respected what they did in the 1990s, but I laughed at how they choked in the 2004 playoffs to the Boston Red Sox, who now laugh at the Yankees regularly.

I appreciate the history of the Yankees and of old ballparks like Yankee Stadium. So I tuned in for the last game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. It was average. It under-achieved like its major tenant has most of this decade. Basically, they just played Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" song over and over and Derek Jeter walked around like he owned the place. They could have played Sinatra's "There Used to be a Ballpark."

That was the song they played at the Alex Box goodbye ceremony back on May 11. The Alex Box ceremony actually blew away the Yankee Stadium goodbye. And why not? LSU did win more titles in the 1990s than than the Yankees did and it made more World Series this decade than the Yankees did.

The Yankees did a lap of Yankee Stadium, sort of. They didn't touch any hands as the Tigers did on their lap. LSU's goodbye showed a lot more class. The highlight film on the scoreboard at the Box included the estranged Joey Belle, whom LSU coach Skip Bertman kicked off the team in 1987. It also included estranged former coach Smoke Laval, whom Bertman fired after the 2005 season. The Yankees deleted Roger "Steroids" Clemens and estranged former manager Joe Torre.

LSU's goodbye was well planned, though the public address system didn't work. The Yankees goodbye did not look well prepared, much like the 2008 Yankees. LSU's was more fun. It featured Bertman jumping up and down and leading the crowd in cheers so those cheers could be placed in a large baseball and brought to the new Alex Box. All the Yankees did was walk around and tip their caps. It was just pointless.

LSU's last game in the Box was not on May 11. It hosted postseason games there and reached the World Series. The Yankees are done despite their huge payroll. And that, to me, is beautiful.

And fitting. Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built, loses to Alex Box Stadium, the house that Bertman built.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday with Les

Les Miles danced around the quarterback question in his meeting with the media today.

Asked if Andrew Hatch is the starting quarterback, Miles said:

"We haven't made any of those decisions at this point. We certainly like how Hatch and (Jarrett) Lee played at times. Lee certainly had a great second half and showed leadership and did some good things,'' Miles said.

Miles also said Hatch should be able to play this week.

The emotional decision would be to start Lee. But I could see Miles resisting that urge and sticking with Hatch -- at least until Lee shows some consistency.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday musings

Well that was interesting.

So what did we learn from the Auburn game.

1) Jarrett Lee looked like two different quarterbacks -- bad in the first half and good in the second half. If LSU can get some consistency at quarterback, there are plenty of playmakers.

2) You're not going to run on LSU's defense very well this year it appears.

3) LSU's punting was much better than it had been in the first two games.

4) Auburn still has some work to do in its new-look offense. (Part of the problem may be breaking in a new quarterback).

5) Those games always seem to come down to the end, don't they.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Another view

A lot has been made of LSU's close call last year with Auburn.

One of the participants, Auburn cornerback Jerrod Powers talked about the play earlier this week.

The funny thing about that final play is that it shows how close college football games can be and how they can often be decided by someone making a play. Often, it's easier to point a finger of blame than it is to credit the opposition.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Back to normalcy

BATON ROUGE - It has been a crazy few weeks as the past two hurricanes touched or pounded every Gannett town in Louisiana. Hopefully hurricane season has been replaced by real football season as LSU prepares to play at Auburn Saturday night in a splendid SEC showdown in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

LSU fans are loyal and rabid, but they also know what the real thing is. That's why they have never flocked to spring football games, as the do in another SEC town west of here, and why they didn't fill up Tiger Stadium for Appalachian State and North Texas. Louisianians know how to entertain and know how to be entertained. We have too much going on outside of football to get overly excited about LSU playing LSU or LSU playing rent-a-win schools.

But when it's real football, Louisianians and LSU zone in. That will be the case Saturday night whether you're at the game or watching on television after probably another afternoon of clean-up. The temperatures are dropping, though, as the stakes are rising for LSU and other SEC teams.

One can't ask for a better football weekend than this Saturday. No, there will be few sets on The Weather Channel, though I think Jim Cantore of TWC would appreciate this Auburn-LSU clash. If it was a hurricane, he'd be at the 50 as the two surges collide.

You can get your morning started Saturday at 11:30 a.m. with No. 9 Alabama (3-0) playing Arkansas (2-0) in the SEC Game of the Week on the Raycom syndicated network. The game matches NFL escapee coaches Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino. Winner gets to leave for a new job. At 2:30, it's No. 4 Florida (2-0) against Tennessee (1-1) on CBS, a classic matchup still even though it has lost some luster because the Vols have been basically average lately.

Then at 6:45 p.m. it is the main event of the day on ESPN as No. 6 LSU and No. 10 Auburn go at it for West supremacy. Only 14 points have separated these two teams in the last four meetings with each team winning twice. It will likely be that type of game again. At halftime, you will be able to catch some of No. 3 Georgia (3-0) at Arizona State (2-1), which kicks off at 7:15 p.m. on ABC.

I'll have a couple more blogs this week to keep you occupied until Saturday's America dawns and will be turning these in more regularly from now on.

And don't forget to join me each Monday night at 6 for live chats, which are accessible through the website of the Gannett paper in your town.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Beckwith out

The biggest news out of Les Miles' Sunday press briefing concerns middle linebacker Darry Beckwith.

“There is an injury of significance to Darry Beckwith, and it’s safe to say he won’t be available this week,'' Miles said. "I think he’ll be back pretty soon, but I don’t know when.”

Beckwith missed time late last season and his absence did have an effect on the LSU defense.

It will be interesting to see how LSU fares on Saturday without him.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saturday musings

That LSU dispatched North Texas doesn't exactly come as news.

This is what LSU is supposed to do.

Now the greater question is this: Did games against Appalachian State and North Texas, along with a bye week, prepare LSU for Auburn?

We'll find out on Saturday.

Actually, we'll never know because the plan was to play three games, build up some confidence and momentum and have a set No. 1 quarterback.

Instead, it's been a disjointed start to the season.

It looks like LSU should be able to run the ball effectively, particularly with Charles Scott. But it will be interesting to see how the offense fares when Auburn sells out to stop the run. Can LSU have enough of a passing game to loosen things up?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The right call

LSU's decision to play in Tiger Stadium is the right call.

If you can play a game on campus without causing disruption to clean up and recovery in Baton Rouge, then that's the decision that has to be made.

Sure, there's always the possibility of a change in direction of a storm. But by Wednesday of game week, you've got to decide on something.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

It's looking like Tiger Stadium

As Hurricane Ike's projected path drifts toward south Texas, it's looking more and more like the game Saturday night will be played in Tiger Stadium.

LSU has plenty of reasons - $3 million to start with - for wanting to play the game in Baton Rouge.

Another reason is just trying to put some normalcy into a season that hasn't had any since the first week of the season.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Lunch with Les

Les Miles had his weekly press luncheon and in between talk of hurricanes and game sites, he actually talked some about his football team.

One point of emphasis for the offense will be going more vertical in the passing game. Here's Miles' take:

“We want to throw the ball down the field more than we did. I think it’s something that was not specific to our quarterbacks trying to force the balls. I think it was more specific to the calls, and now I think we’re ready to take the next step and throw the ball down the field.”

Miles said his team used a scrimmage on Thursday to try to replace the game work that was needed.

“Our young linebackers needed to make the checks. Our special teams' guys needed to be put in situations and make plays. Our offense needed to be managed. The clock needed to be managed by our quarterbacks. We did all that Thursday, just so you know. Everything that we could have gotten accomplished in a game, we weren’t able to get as accomplished certainly as a game situation, but we got it accomplished on Thursday. The position that we’re in right now is, in my opinion, a pretty good one. We’re healthy. We’re coming off a week where we’ve taken a weekend off, and our guys have gone home to be with their families and help get their families squared away along with their personal lives. Whatever things they could do to address personal issues, they’ve done.''

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Still No. 7

LSU didn't move up or down this week in the AP poll.

Of course, that's what happens when you don't play a game.

Not that LSU would have moved up with a win over Troy. But at least there would be some momentum to this season.

As it is, now the question is where the North Texas game will be played.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Saturday musings

Without LSU playing this week, it's a chance to look at some SEC teams.

1) Ole Miss looks vastly improved with a real coach on the sidelines. Quarterback Jevan Snead looks better than anything the Rebels ran out there last year. They still haven't learned how to finish off a game, but this is a much more dangerous team than a year ago.

2) Alabama can hold off clearing out that space in the trophy case. As good as the Tide looked against Clemson, they didn't look good on Saturday against Tulane. This is a team that is still probably a year or two away.

3) Auburn's defense looks like the real deal -- nothing new there. But Auburn's quarterback play hasn't exactly set the world on fire.

4) Arkansas is terrible. The Razorbacks may be 2-0 but they have had to rally to defeat Western Illinois and ULM. And now they get Texas this week. This is a team destined for the cellar.

5) Mississippi State wasn't great going 8-4 last year. Apparently the Bulldogs aren't as good as this year. Games with Auburn this week and at Georgia Tech next week are critical if the Bulldogs are to turn their season around.