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Tag:LSU-Alabama Daily
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 26, 2011 5:19 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 5:29 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 26: Rematch possible?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 10, or the number of first downs the Crimson Tide defense is allowing per-game, rounded very slightly up. The actual number: 9.9, best in the nation by nearly four first downs a game. LSU ranks fourth, at 14.5 per game. 10 is also the number worn by AJ McCarron, the SEC's No. 2 most efficient passer behind ... Jarrett Lee.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Could the Tide and Tigers stage a winner-take-all rematch in the BCS national championship game?


Lots of other people are asking this question, so we will too. And the best answer we can offer is: Probably not. But it's too soon to rule it out entirely.

As pointed out this week by resident CBSSports.com BCS expert Jerry Palm, it's safe to assume poll voters don't want a rematch after they vaulted No. 4 Florida over No. 3 Michigan in the wake of the Gators' SEC championship victory (and No. 2 USC's upset loss) in 2006. "I think there is a sense that it isn't fair to make the winner beat the loser again," Palm writes, and that's even before discussing the logical allure of taking the team that has a BCS conference championship over the one that doesn't (assuming their records are equal). As long as voters have a viable option other than the rematch, they'll take it.

So how would we come by a situation in which there is no viable option? Here's how:

1. A tight, competitive game Nov. 5. If one team blows out the other, the push for a rematch is going to immediately be reduced to just-barely-more than nothing. It would help if LSU was the team absorbing the narrow defeat, too, since the Crimson Tide get to play host.

2. Losses by Oklahoma State, Stanford and Clemson. (Oh, and Kansas State.) By season's end, the schedule conquered by any candidate from that pool would make them a no-brainer for the BCS title game. But will any of them cross the finish line unblemished? Football Outsiders numbers guru Bill Connelly pegs the Cardinal with the best chance of the foursome ... but at just 22 percent. The collective odds of one of them running the table is much better, but as Oklahoma and Wisconsin showed last weekend, avoiding the upset bug for a whole season is always easier said than done.

3. Continued dominant play from the LSU-Alabama loser paired with extra defeats or lackluster play from teams like the Sooners and Badgers. Down-and-out as they appeared to be Saturday, an Oklahoma Big 12 conference championship on the heels of a win over previously undefeated Oklahoma State or a Big Ten title for the Badgers won with a dominant revenge victory over an 11-1 Michigan State would thrust either directly back into the BCS championship game spotlight (assuming the game was reduced to taking a one-loss team). If the LSU-Alabama loser continues to destroy all comers, though, and the Sooners, Badgers, or any other one-loss team doesn't look the part, the voters could opt for the rematch.

That's already a lot of hoops to jump through before we even start asking whether the voters would take an undefeated Boise State over the LSU-Alabama loser, a debate potentially so headache-inducing we're cringing at the thought of it. So for now, the safest assumption is that it's win-in-Tuscaloosa-or-else for LSU and Alabama's national title chances. But we can't call that assumption a certainty just yet.

Want a second opinion? Here's CBSSports.com's Tony Barnhart:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Tyrann Mathieu's Twitter smack talk might have rubbed some opponents the wrong way, but the Tide's Courtney Upshaw doesn't seem likely to be all that bothered. In fact, when asked about the Bayou Bengals, he seems like something of a fan (emphasis added):
"I watch LSU, honestly ... Whenever we have a chance in the hotel, we're watching games, me and my roommate. There are a bunch of guys when I'm watching I'm like, 'Wow, those guys are real good.' And Tyrann Mathieu, I like that guy to death."
Right up until kickoff, we imagine.

The Tide returned to practice Tuesday after taking Monday off, but per Nick Saban haven't started LSU-specific game prep just yet. “[Wednesday] we'll work hard on fundamentals, and start later in the week with our preparation for the game we have next week," he said.

On the Tide injury front, starting right guard Anthony Steen has recovered from the concussion that kept him out of the Tide's win over Tennessee and is expected to return to the starting lineup vs. LSU. (His replacement vs. the Vols, Alfred McCullough, will now serve as the backup left tackle after the loss of Cyrus Kouandjio.) But there was some minor bad news as the Tide will miss reserve linebacker Jonathan Atchison, due to undergo bicep surgery this week. Atchison had appeared in two games this season without a tackle.

VIDEO BREAK: So, yes, this little promotional video was made by an (ahem) rival network. But it's too good not to share:



THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE:
If you read yesterday's Daily this didn't come as a surprise, but the "Synthetic Three" were officially reinstated to the Tiger roster yesterday and practiced with the team. "We're preparing them to play," Les Miles said. "We plan on using them."

It goes without saying that having players like Mathieu, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon around for the biggest game of their careers might be a little helpful. But Miles has to be particularly happy the issue has been resolved as quickly as it has been; brilliant as they are, all three players are only sophomores and will no doubt need an ample amount of practice time to be fully ready for an opponent like Alabama. If the decision (reportedly made by athletic director Joe Alleva) had dragged out much further, the results could have been seen on the field.

On the topic of suspensions, Miles dropped this typically wonderful Milesism:
"It's a real lifetime lesson. Just put yourself in the wrong spot and have proximity to real issues, and suddenly you're out of control. When you don't have control of the decisions that need to be made for your happiness, that's misery."
Like the Tide, the Tigers also got some good injury news on the offensive line. Miles said starting center P.J. Lonergan is practicing again after an ankle injury sidelined him the past two weeks, setting him up for a return vs. the Tide.  "He could really have played Saturday," Mile said. "It just worked out that we didn't need him."

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Posted on: October 25, 2011 4:40 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2011 4:41 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 25: They're that good

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 11, or the number of points (or fewer) to which LSU and Alabama have held 13 of their combined 16 opponents in 2011. (The exceptions: Oregon and West Virginia scored 27 and 21, respectively, against LSU, and Arkansas netted 14 against the Tide.) It's also the number worn this year by LSU starting tailback Spencer Ware, who we can now safely say will be playing against the Tide. (See below).

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Everyone thought Ohio State and Michigan were the nation's clearcut two best teams when they went 1-vs.-2 in 2006, and both of them crashed and burned in their bowl games. What are the odds LSU and Alabama aren't as good as the hype and rankings suggests they are, either?

The truth is that there's no way to guarantee the winner of LSU-Alabama will finish the national championship job the way the 2009 1-vs-2 SEC championship game winners did and the Buckeyes didn't, or that they'll even make the BCS title game. (Facing Georgia in the Georgia Dome might be tricky, for instance.) But there's two things we can say with certainty: 1. after the past five years, the SEC champion deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to playing for national titles 2. LSU and Alabama are both SEC championship-caliber teams.

In fact, both might be a good bit better than your typical SEC champion--or (with one exception) even any of the league's national titlists in its current streak. How can we say that? Here's how those five teams stacked up in terms of average margin-of-victory across their nine games vs. SEC opposition:
2010 Auburn: 13.4 points
2009 Alabama: 15.8 points
2008 Florida: 30.0 points
2007 LSU: 10.0 points
2006 Florida: 6.9 points
And with five SEC games already behind both the 2011 Tide and Tigers, here's where they stand in the same statistic:
2011 Alabama: 32.4 points
2011 LSU: 27.4 points
Now, a few caveats: this year's injury- and inexperience-ravaged SEC is in many ways not as tough top-to-bottom as the SEC of several of these previous five seasons; obviously, neither LSU nor Alabama has played the most difficult game on their SEC schedule yet (meaning each other), so those numbers will no doubt drop; and even the mighty '08 Gators slipped up against Ole Miss but still made the national title game, a luxury the winner on Nov. 5 (probably) won't have.

But caveats or not, those margins aren't just impressive; they're nearly twice what any team besides those 2008 Gators managed. Offering any "yeah, but" ojections is to ignore the obvious conclusion from everything we know about these two teams to date: whoever wins this is game is deserving of being the league's heavy favorite, they are the likeliest candidate to win the 2011 national title, and yes, whatever happened in 2006, this game deserves the hype.

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: We'll let Tyrann Mathieu break the biggest news of the past 24 hours himself:



That's no doubt Mathieu celebrating the fact that he and two other members of the "Synthetic Three" were reinstated as expected Tuesday. It was just yesterday LSU's chancellor was saying Mathieu, Ware, and Tharold Simon would have to "get their act together" for A.D. Joe Alleva to give them the OK to play against the Tide; apparently Alleva didn't need that much convincing said acts have come together.

Speaking of Alleva, an open letter from the LSU A.D. to LSU fans announced the news that as part of moving this year's LSU-Alabama game to a prime-time kickoff, CBS has already agreed to air next year's Tide and Tigers showdown in Death Valley as a prime-time game. In this video, CBS Sports executive vice president Mike Aresco talks on the Tim Brando Show about the process of moving both this year's kickoff to 8 p.m. ET:



THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: Nick Saban's parking ticket might have gotten the most attention out of his public appearance in Birmingham yesterday, but it was also Saban's first opportunity to say more about his Nov. 5 opponent than saying he wasn't going to say anything about them yet. His assessment:
"I think they've got great team speed, (they're) very athletic ... They've got good depth. They play a lot of players. Their ability to execute on a consistent basis has been good. The one thing they've been able to do offensively, they've run the ball effectively on everybody that they've played, and they've played very well on defense, pretty consistently against everybody that they've played. Because of the team speed that they have they're always a little bit of a matchup issue when it comes to special teams."
Parsing exactly what a master of press-conference speak like Saban really means is always tricky, but we think two things here are telling: 1. he doesn't bother praising the rejuvenated LSU passing game, saying the "one thing" LSU's done is run the ball well 2. while the other areas of the team are praised as "effective" or "consistent," the Tiger special teams is a "matchup issue." Despite Saban's protestations to the contrary, we'd wager a large sum of money some of his staff's man-hours the past coupel of weeks have been spent breaking down LSU film, and a substantially lesser amount of money that those special teams areas are where Saban's concerned.

It's been a busy week of award-collecting for Dont'a Hightower. The junior linebacker was named this week's SEC Defensive player of the week, the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, and Tuesday one of 12 Butkus Award finalists, along with teammate Courtney Upshaw. A big game against LSU could make Hightower -- already arguably the most visible member of the Tide defense, along with safety Mark Barron -- a Butkus favorite.

Posted on: October 24, 2011 2:38 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 2:39 pm
 

LSU-Alabama Daily, Oct. 24: How rare is 1-vs-2?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

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



DAYS REMAINING TO KICKOFF: 12, or the jersey number worn by Greg McElroy when he threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 24-15 victory over LSU Nov. 7, 2009. (12 was also the jersey number worn by Bear Bryant and other Tide legends like Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler.) Also the number worn by Jarrett Lee (above), who'll have to do something similar to pull out a victory in Tuscaloosa in 12 days.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama is obviously an epic, historic matchup. But how epic? How historic? How often does No. 1 play No. 2, particularly in the regular season?

The ascension of the BCS national championship game has meant that 1-vs.-2 events are much more common than they used to be, since by BCS mandate the nation's top two teams have to finish the season by playing each other. (There used to be rare exceptions in which the BCS formula would override the polls -- as in 2003, when consensus polling No. 1 USC played No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl -- but the updated polls-make-up-two-thirds formula makes this highly unlikely.) But that doesn't mean they're frequent by any stretch of the imagination, with The Tide and Tigers' showdown only the 46th such meeting in 75 years of the AP poll.

But even that roughly three-every-five-years ratio doesn't do anything like justice to the rarity of LSU-Alabama 2011. For one thing, regular season 1-vs-2 matchups only account for 22 of those 45 occurences, with bowls and conference championship games representing the other 23.

LSU-Alabama will be the first such game in five years, with No. 1 Ohio State's defeat of No. 2 Michigan in 2006 the most recent example. It's also the earliest in the season Nos. 1 and 2 have met since the top-ranked Buckeyes took on No. 2, defending national champion Texas on Sept. 9 that same 2006 season.

But here's the kicker: LSU-Alabama is the first ever 1-vs-2 regular season matchup between SEC teams. It's never happened. Both the 2008 and 2009 SEC championship games were 1-vs-2 meetings involving Alabama and Florida, but that's as close as the SEC has come to what we'll see Nov. 5.

So yes, we'd say the answer to "how epic/historic?" is "very." (For an updated list of every 1-vs-2 matchup in Division I history, check out page 87 of this NCAA PDF.)

THE LATEST FROM TUSCALOOSA: With All-American Barrett Jones having taken over (and thrived at) the Tide's left tackle spot, five-star freshman lineman Cyrus Kouandjio wasn't likely to see major time against the Tigers unless Jones left the game with an injury.

But the news that Kouandjio has had knee surgery and is expected to miss the remainder of the season is a blow to the Tide all the same; not only would he have been Jones' immediate replacement at tackle should one be needed, but Jones's versatility also meant that Kouandjio might have gotten the nod if Jones was needed as an emergency replacement as one of the guard spots. Kouandjio's absence substantially limits the Tide's options should the worst-case scenario occur.

But if Nick Saban sounds angry and curt at his next press conference (well, moreso than usual), that might not be the issue. Via Birmingham News reporter Izzy Gould, here's a photo of Saban's car being ticketed in Birmingham Monday (and yes, the ticketer was made aware of the identity of her ticketee):



Saban was in Birmingham to speak to the city's Monday Morning Quarterback Club, who he told he wasn't worried about his team's slow start against Tennessee. Why? Because "Ali didn't knock out everyone in the first round."

THE LATEST FROM BATON ROUGE: Should we hold off on presuming the "Synthetic Three" of Tyrann Mathieu, Spencer Ware and Tharold Simon will be back from suspension to face the Tide? It seems LSU chancellor Michael Martin would like us to, telling USA Today that their status for the game has not yet been decided. Martin said their availability was out of Les Miles's hands and would be determined by athletic director Joe Alleva.

"The athletic director will ultimately make the decision, (and) he'll consult with me," said Martin. "Fortunately for them and the team, they have two weeks to get their act together because we have a bye week. They have been directed to some counseling, and they will now be subject to greater scrutiny for the remainder of their time at LSU."

Obviously, losing three players of Mathieu's, Ware's and Simon's abilities would be a monumental blow. But given what's at stake and that this appears to be a first offense, it will be a major shock if all three aren't in uniform to face the Tide.

One player who doesn't want to wait these 12 long days ahead before the game: LSU senior lineman T-Bob Hebert. "I get goose bumps talking about it," he said. "I can't wait. A game like this doesn't come along very often - or ever." (As pointed out above: it doesn't.)

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