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Sunday, November 28, 2010

So what to make of this season?

So LSU ends up 10-2 in the regular season and, for all intents and purposes, in third place in the SEC West behind Auburn and tied with Arkansas but losing in the tiebreaker.

On one hand, a 10-2 record is nothing to sneeze at. (They'd gladly take on in Austin or Gainesville right now.)

But a third-place finish in the West isn't quite what many fans had in mind. Granted the West was exceedingly tough this year.

So LSU fans, what do you make of the season. Does the record make it a success? Do wins over Florida and Alabama make it a success? Or does that third-place finish take some shine off the season? What say you?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Arkansas' Petrino braces to face Wild Hog of a coach in Miracle Miles

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – There is an often used baseball term that may best describe LSU football coach Les Miles. It is “effectively wild” with Miles being the pitcher and the opposing coach the hitter.

Imagine yourself coaching against the Mad Hatter. You have studied film. You have prepared your team in the conventional way with practice and repetition. You've gone against the best. You've been an NFL coach for crying out loud. But today you’re going against a coach who makes the unconventional conventional in more ways than head-hat placement. You're going against Les Miles - college football's Don Quixote with a flip card.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino steps into the box today at 2:30 p.m. in War Memorial Stadium for a CBS game with a BCS bowl on the line and possibly – if you believe in the Miracle Miles – a continuation of a windmill-like quest for an unlikely BCS title game by LSU. But then, these things have happened before.

Petrino has been the hot offensive coordinator at Auburn and the hot head coach at Louisville with NFL ties. He was a head coach briefly at Atlanta before escaping to Arkansas, leaving little but a note. He is considered an offensive genius. But none of that matters today. Because when he looks across the field, he will see Les Miles, who is not a genius and often out of control.

Miles eats grass before huge plays. That’s what Alabama’s Nick Saban – the defensive version of Petrino with more skins on the wall - saw if he glanced across the field before that fourth-and-one play in Tiger Stadium on Nov. 6. Then he saw a double-pitch reverse to the tight end probably for the first time in his life, and it beat him.

“Gotcha,” Miles may have said as he may have said after beating Steve Spurrier, another genius who revolutionized the SEC with passing in the 1990s before failing in the NFL, with a holder-to-kicker flip fake field goal in 2007. Three years later, Miles called the same play against spread mastermind Urban Meyer, in The Swamp. Only this time he mixed it up a bit with a confused timeout and a bounce pass, and Meyer is still shaking his brainiac head.

Miles also is known to take a big chug of water before big plays. If Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, a disciple of Saban and son of Vince, looked straight ahead before the last play of his game (or the first of two "last" plays) with LSU last month, this is what he saw - Miles kicking his head back and squirting a big swallow into his pie hole. It was only fourth-and-goal from the 1 with no time left after one of the worst conceived last-second plays in LSU history. And LSU scored for the win. Your dad told you there’d be days like that, Derek, but not coaches like that.

Needless to say, Petrino has been holding his own Miles Marathon this week. Call it the Field Whisperer Film Festival.

“Yeah, we always have to spend time with their trick plays and special teams, the fakes and everything they do,” Petrino said. “We keep a file on it, and we have to bring it out.”

The temptation is for opposing coaches to try this stuff at home. This is a dangerous game. That’s the thing about Miles. What fits the Mad Hatter does not necessarily fit anyone else. It’s an acquired taste – like grass. Brainiacs need not apply.

“We used one (the fake field goal), and it didn’t work at all against Texas A&M,” Petrino said. “Maybe we should have kept that file in the closet.”

Careful in that batter’s box today, Bobby. Miles outs himself just about every Saturday. You never know what’s coming.

Here are five things to look for in today’s LSU-Arkansas game.

1.BLITZING – LSU’s defense loves to play a pocket quarterback like Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett. LSU got three sacks against Alabama’s traditional Greg McElroy. Look for that many or more today.

2.SCORING – Arkansas is No. 2 in the SEC in points scored with 37.9 a game and No. 7 in points allowed with 22.7. LSU has scored 84 in its last two games. Sure, one of those opponents was Louisiana-Monroe, but still LSU has not put up that many in back-to-back games since 2007 with 89 in a 41-24 win at Ole Miss and a 50-48 loss in triple overtime to Arkansas.

3.FIRST DOWN PASSES – Since the second half against Alabama, LSU has thrown on first down more than at any point under quarterback Jordan Jefferson. Look for the aggression to continue today as the Tigers continue to climb the offensive charts - 11th in the SEC and 108th in the nation in passing.

4.RUNNING HOGS – Mallett is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, but tailback Knile Davis is third in the SEC with 1,031 yards on 148 carries.

5.JOSH JASPER – This one could come down to a field goal like it did last year with the LSU kicker making a 41-yarder with four seconds to play to send it to overtime and a 36-yarder to win it. No one in the country has more field goals than Jasper, who is 23 of 27 on the season. He is also one of the best pooch punters in the game and runs like a tailback. After a ridiculous snub by the Groza Award people, Jasper may be ready to kick some Hog.

PREDICTION: Jasper kicks LSU into the Sugar Bowl with a 50-yard field goal with :02 remaining for a 31-28 win. Miles goes Hog wild.

Friday, November 19, 2010

One more Nutt to crack

BATON ROUGE - LSU coach Les Miles is already nearly finished his get-even shopping.

Florida coach Urban Meyer ... faked and beaten.

Alabama coach Nick Saban ... reversed and beaten.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt ... clocked and beaten?

Miles can enjoy victories over those three coaches in the same season for the first time in his career if his No. 5 Tigers (9-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) can crack Nutt's cracking Rebels (4-6, 1-5 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. today in Tiger Stadium.

Miles was 0-4 against Meyer-Saban over the previous two seasons as Flora-Bama appeared to call closing time on the rest of the SEC for years to come. Didn't happen. Miles is ahead of both in the SEC and BCS standings at the moment, and he is dead even with both over his career - 3-3 versus Meyer and 2-2 versus Saban.

Miles has usually been ahead of Nutt in the standings, but he is just 2-3 against him straight up. And Nutt has beaten Miles with teams that had no business beating LSU.

In 2007, Nutt's last Arkansas team was 7-4 and unranked when it entered Tiger Stadium to play No. 1 and 10-1 LSU on Senior Day. The Hogs apparently busted LSU's BCS hopes with a 50-48 victory in triple overtime. Arkansas put up 513 yards against an LSU defense that has been incorrectly referred to over the years as great. Then-defensive coordinator and now-Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini must have successfully whited-out that game on his resume.

In 2008, Nutt's first Ole Miss team was 6-4 and unranked when it came to Baton Rouge to play No. 18 and 7-3 LSU on Senior Day. The Rebels were up 21-10 at the half, and it got ugly. Ole Miss outgained LSU 409 to 215 and won going away, 31-13, for one of its most dominating win over the Tigers in history.

In 2009, Nutt's 7-3 unranked Ole Miss team outgained No. 10 and 7-2 LSU 426 yards to 290 in a 25-23 win. People mainly remember Miles' malfunctions on the sideline, but Ole Miss dominated the game.

News flash: It's Senior Day again today, and Ole Miss is unranked while LSU is rolling.

"We can't let it happen again," LSU tailback and Natchez, Miss., native Stevan Ridley said. "We've got to make sure we get this one."

A loss today to the worst team Nutt has had anywhere in years would largely erase what Miles did against Meyer and Saban. But it won't happen.

Here are five things to look for:
1. ZACH METTENBERGER - The Butler Community College quarterback star will be on the sidelines on his official visit to LSU. The former Georgia quarterback kicked off after a "Boys Gone Wild" arrest last spring break will be LSU's starter at some point next season.

2. BETTER PASSING GAME - Ole Miss is ninth in the SEC against the pass with 241 yards allowed a game. Look for LSU quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee to return to their form shown in the Alabama and Florida games.

3. RUN RIDLEY RUN - LSU tailback Stevan Ridley is from Natchez, Miss., and has had to live with two straight losses to Ole Miss. He will go over 100 yards on the day.

4. INTERCEPTIONS - Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has thrown for 1,601 yards this season, but lately he has been interception prone. He tossed two pick sixes in a 52-14 loss at Tennessee last week. Look for junior cornerback Patrick Peterson to get one in his last LSU home game.

5. KILLING THE CLOCK - Miles struggled to get a timeout called at crunch time in LSU's loss at Ole Miss last season. He'll be running out the clock this time with a comfortable lead.

PREDICTION: LSU 34, Ole Miss 10

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Les and the BCS

I know what Les Miles was trying to do by planting the seed for a one-loss (read LSU) SEC team in the national championship game -- provided the Tigers win their last two games.

But there is a risk involved. It's called backlash and if you don't believe me, check out the L.A. Times where college football writer Chris Dufresne has his national rankings.

Dufresne ranks LSU sixth and says: "Only Nebraska (2001) gets a title-game shot without winning its division.''

And then he ranks Arkansas No. 12 with this comment: "Please beat Louisiana State so it quits yapping about deserving a BCS title bid.''

The point is there is backlash out there. What may seem like a good idea -- lobbying for his team -- may not be the best path for Miles to take right now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hard times in Hoopsville

OK, it ain't exactly like we're talking Chapel Hill and Lexington when it comes to basketball. But losing to Nicholls State? At home?

That's not a good sign.

I think most LSU fans expected this men's basketball season to: a)be better than last season and b) include some transitional moments with so many new faces being worked into the rotation.

I don't think LSU fans were counting on a home-court loss to a Southland team.

If this team has any postseason aspirations -- and who among the 300-plus Division I teams don't -- then this is a bad loss. LSU will need to win a game it's not supposed to win to just offset the loss of a game wasn't supposed to lose.

There is no reason for LSU's basketball program to be as down as it has been for much of the last 15 years. You can live off that one Final Four trip only so long.

Apparently, it's going to take longer to get to the point where the program is strong on a yearly basis.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's all about the green

You had to know this was coming. LSU staring at a double-digit win season in football. A national top-five ranking -- and budget cuts.

So along comes Scrooge -- this time it's parking.

You'll have to pay to park for football games on campus starting in 2011?

Here's the link.

As an LSU fan, do you mind paying the parking or does this hack you off the way it did when they raised ticket prices after the 2007 national championship?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Down the stretch

So the SEC Championship Game is out.

The national championship game is a looooooooooooonggggg shot for LSU.

What to make of the rest of the season?

Well, there is some serious motivation against Ole Miss after having lost two in a row to the Rebels.

And Arkansas the following week would carry the motivation of possibly earning a spot in a BCS bowl.

So there is plenty to play for in the final two weeks. Besides, it's hard to complain about a double-digit win season (although this year may have been the exception).

Friday, November 12, 2010

Consider Miles off the Coker trail

BATON ROUGE – I came up with it first. I will abort it first.

LSU coach Les Miles is no longer taking the road traveled by former Miami coach Larry Coker. After the landmark victory over Alabama and Coach Nick Saban last week, he is back on the Saban-Meyer Super Highway for now.

After five seasons at LSU, Miles and Coker’s career path was hauntingly similar.
Coker in 2001 inherited an elite, national championship-type program loaded with talent from NFL-bound Butch Davis and went 35-3 in his first three seasons with a 20-1 Big East record, a national championship and a national championship runner-up finish. Then he slipped to 18-6 overall and 11-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004 and 2005 despite continuing to recruit nearly as well as his predecessor. He fell to 6-6 in 2006 and was fired. He’s now coaching at Texas-San Antonio.

Miles in 2005 inherited an elite, national championship program loaded with talent from NFL-bound Nick Saban and went 34-6 in his first three seasons with a 19-5 Southeastern Conference record, a national championship and a SEC championship runner-up finish. Then he slipped to 17-9 overall and 8-8 in the SEC in 2008 and 2009 despite continuing to recruit nearly as well as his predecessor.

Miles has not fallen to 6-6 in 2010 and will not be fired – maybe ever from LSU.

Reset your clocks. Miles will not coach at Texas El Paso. He could have been 4-4 with some very scary wins over North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, but that is moot now, unless you work for ESPN.

Miles is 9-1 and 5-1 in the SEC going into tonight’s six o’clock homecoming game against Louisiana-Monroe (4-5, 3-3 Sun Belt). Tonight’s game matches two of the four teams that have regular season victories over Saban and Alabama since Nov. 17, 2007, when Saban did something Miles will never do – lose to ULM. Auburn and South Carolina are the other two.

Miles is 2-2 against Saban. He is also 3-3 against Florida coach Urban Meyer. Saban and Meyer are the best two college football coaches in the country, and they are better than quite a few of those in the NFL as well. They’ve both slipped a bit this year, but they’ll come back. Just like Miles came back.

Now do not get all carried away as many of you did in 2007. Miles is neither a genius nor a moron. His failure to put one hand on top of the other and call a timeout at Ole Miss in 2009 did not erase his brilliant 5-for-5 fourth down run against Florida in 2007, just as his brilliant tight end reverse call against Alabama Saturday did not erase what he let happen at the end of the Tennessee game this season. Miles quite simply is up and down. He’s inconsistent. He’s still just 13-9 in the SEC since 2008. Saban is 20-2 over that span. Meyer is 19-4. And all three have equal talent. Don’t get carried away. I would not roll over that contract either. No one should have a buyout of double-figure millions. His should be no more than $4 or $5 million like so many others, period.

But do enjoy the ride. After all the negativity from media and fans as well as LSU athletic department and Board of Supervisors personnel - most of it very deserved - we have all almost missed a great season. We all realize now that this is a great team, and only three regular season games remain.

Miles is 60-16 overall at LSU and 32-14 in the SEC, and it looks like he has turned the corner well off the Coker path. And do not yet count him out of the BCS national championship race. He is one of the only coaches to win a national championship with two losses. Could he be one of the only coaches to get to a national championship game because a player was ruled ineligible?

The way this season is going, my money, my clock and my laptop are all on Miles – not Cam Newton.

After all the emotion and drama from last week, I am actually looking forward to tonight’s LSU-ULM game that will be refreshingly uneventful. Here are five things to look for:

1. A REPLAY OF THE LSU-BAMA GAME ON THE BIG SCREEN – That will keep everyone interested, including LSU’s players and coaches.

2. A REPLAY OF GEORGIA’S UPSET OF AUBURN ON THE OTHER BIG SCREEN – That will keep everyone interested, too, including LSU’s players and coaches.

3. A REPLAY OF ULM’S UPSET OF ALABAMA IN 2007 ON A SPLIT SCREEN – That will keep everyone from ULM interested.

4. MORE PASS PLAYS – The last thing LSU needs to do is to put its pass game away for a week so as to hide things from future opponents. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson played his best game of the season last week. He needs to stay hot. Come out firing. Run the ball in the second half.

5.LIVE COVERAGE OF MISSISSIPPI STATE AT ALABAMA ON THE OTHER SPLIT SCREEN – Kickoff is at 6:15 p.m. Saban has been so down since the LSU loss, he may lose again. But more importantly, LSU owes both schools. They turned in Newton.

Friday, November 05, 2010

LSU has the exact record that Alabama has, so why doesn’t it feel like it?

BATON ROUGE – It’s right there in black and white, but most see only crimson and white. LSU is 7-1 on the season and 4-1 in the SEC. Alabama is 7-1 on the season and 4-1 in the SEC.

Yet few, including those most rabid and self-absorbed LSU fans, are talking about the Tigers running the table and getting into the BCS national championship game, while many are saying that the Crimson Tide can do that as if it is a foregone conclusion.

“Of course, that sounds about right,” Georgia-born LSU middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said with the sarcasm of a veteran LSU fan who saw the Tigers go 8-27-1 against Bama from 1964-99 while the Tide won half a dozen national championships over that span.

“That’s how it always is,” Sheppard said. “We’re used to that by now. I enjoy it. I just laugh at it, because we’re in the same position as Alabama as I see it. We’re both equal going into this game.”

On paper, LSU is equal to Alabama. In the human polls, though, Alabama is No. 5 to LSU’s No. 11 or 12. Even in BCS standings, which use cold hard computer facts, Alabama is No. 6 to LSU’s No. 10. Yet, LSU’s lone loss this season – to an undefeated, now-No. 2-ranked Auburn and the best player in the country by a touchdown on the road – is better than Alabama’s loss, which was to a now-No. 19 ranked, 6-2 South Carolina team by two touchdowns. South Carolina also lost to 1-5 Kentucky.

Alabama has so much more reputation and credibility than LSU at the moment, it’s not even funny. LSU, which in the past tended to be the highest ranked one- or two-loss team in the nation and often overrated, is No. 6 in the nation among 7-1 teams at the moment in both the Associated Press and Harris polls. This is a program that somehow got into the BCS national title game just three seasons ago with two losses.

It has one loss this season and can’t even get in the conversation.

This is because many across the nation realize that LSU could easily be 5-3 or even 4-4 right now, and its best win is over a Florida team now just holding on at 5-3 and 3-3.

But what if LSU wins today? Has anyone considered that? LSU would still need Georgia and Alabama to beat Auburn to get to the SEC title game, but it would be within range of a BCS bowl without a trip to Atlanta.

Yet many LSU fans do not seem to really believe a win over Bama today may actually happen. Many LSU fans do not even seem to hate Alabama coach Nick Saban as much anymore either. This has been the deadest Bama week since Dubose was its coach. Has LSU fans’ hatred of their former coach been trumped by their aggravation, apathy and lack of confidence in their present coach? It seems like it.

The fantasy is gone. Surely even the most delusional LSU fan does not still believe that Les Miles is as good or better than Saban as so many so fervently did back in 2007, or convinced themselves to feel that way out of revenge.

The funny thing is LSU has a better chance of beating Alabama today than it did in either 2008 or 2009 when more of its fan base believed it had a real chance, and it nearly did each time. Ah, ’08 and ’09 -the hallucinatory drugs of ’07’s national title that cast Miles as a genius had not yet worn off. Everyone is seeing clearly now, and Miles has transformed from daring gambler to degenerate clocker.

But he could win today. LSU is better this season than it was in either 2008 or 2009 and nearly beat Alabama in those seasons. And Alabama is not as good on defense now as it was a season ago.

Yes, LSU has a terrible pass offense, but at least it knows it. Miles and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton refused to see it in ’08. The ’07 drugs were still working, and quarterback Jarrett Lee was allowed to throw 34 times (with only 13 completions) even though he entered the game with nine interceptions and five pick sixes. He threw four interceptions and one pick six in a 27-21 overtime loss that LSU could have won with its defense and its running game. LSU can beat Alabama today with its defense and its running game and just 15 or so passes. But I do not have the confidence to make that pick either.

PREDICTION: Alabama 23, LSU 10.

1.A START FOR JARRETT LEE – If I keep saying it, maybe it will happen. If Miles and Crowton did decide to start Lee, they would not announce it publicly anyway. So, today is as good as any, considering the extra week to prepare Lee. He deserves it, and everyone deserves to see if Lee can improve and gain rhythm by staying in possession after possession. No one will know until they try it.

2.NEW PASS PLAYS – Crowton said he used the extra week to put in some new things.

3.CRAMPS – A heat cramp suffered by LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson basically cost the Tigers the game last season as Bama wide receiver Julio Jones beat Peterson’s last second replacement – Brandon Taylor – for a 73-yard touchdown on a short pass. It’s supposed to be in the 60s and 50s today. Forget the Wheaties, Patrick, drink your water. There’s an Evian endorsement deal just waiting.

4.D.J. FLUKER – The 6-foot-6, 303-pound Alabama right tackle can dominate a game. LSU has to get some Marcus Spears-like defensive end play from Lavar Edwards or Kendrick Adams or Barkevious Mingo to take some of the pressure off defensive tackle Drake Nevis.

5.NICK SABAN – He is 2-1 against LSU as Bama’s coach, but the Tide has yet to play a complete game against LSU, which has handed him the last two. Alabama may need a complete game today to win. Or has it already won?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

On to Alabama

This should be an interesting week for LSU.

If you judge off of the past -- and really that's all we can do -- then Alabama has looked vulnerable on the road in the SEC this year at times. The Crimson Tide trailed Arkansas in the fourth quarter before eventually winning. And the Tide lost by two touchdowns at South Carolina. (I don't really count Tennessee because the Vols' M.O. at home is to play tough then fold.)

So for argument's sake, let's say Alabama is vulnerable.

Then this becomes the question: Does LSU have enough offense to win the game?

Once again, judging by the past the answer is No. This is a team that struggles to get to 28 points. They won't have to get to 28 to win on Saturday, but they'll certainly need to get to 21 and I just don't see that happening without a defensive or special teams score.

What say you?