Ohio State Football, Sports

How about those Tigers?

12.22.07 | 4 Comments

Sears BCS Trophy
Photo Credit: Playboy Blog

As you may know (and care about or not,) the Ohio State Buckeyes will meet the Louisiana State Tigers in New Orleans January 7th, 2008 to decide the national championship for the 2007 season of Division I college football. DI (now called Bowl Championship Division) is the only division in college football that does not decide the winner of the championship through a playoff system, it’s rather, a playoff game where the participants are selected on the basis of the college coaches poll, a private poll (Harris Interactive), and the average of 6 computer ranking systems with each component accounting for 1/3 of the overall rating.

That’s how the teams got here. Now when you hear gripes and groans from outside Baton Rouge and Columbus, you’ll know why. With the preamble out of the way, this entry looks at the LSU team and the season they’ve had building up to their appearance in the championship game. I’ll do a similar entry for the Buckeyes at a later date and ultimately a game preview.

By any measure the Tigers have had a successful season, amassing over 500 points in 13 games for nearly 39 points per game average. Late in the season the offense execution was off a bit as there were some key injuries to quarterback Matt Flynn and tailback Keiland Williams taking away some of the dynamic performance witnessed earlier in the season. On the defensive side of the ball LSU has had some impressive performances holding teams under 20 points per game and shutting out Mississippi State and Middle Tennessee State. The defensive performance later in the year was adversely affected by a key injury to defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

The Tiger’s schedule was comprised of 9 conference and 4 out-of-conference games against Louisiana Tech, Tulane, Middle Tennessee State, and Virginia Tech. The most impressive victory of the season for the Tigers was a 48-7 demolition of eventual ACC Champion and BCS participant Viriginia Tech. I watched that game, and I was impressed. I certainly believed that LSU was playing the best football of the season watching their performance in that game. Their OOC opponent’s collective win/loss total was 25-24.

In conference, LSU played 8 regular conference games and plus the SEC Championship game against Tennessee. As impressive as LSU was early in the season, conference play made me wonder if perhaps as a team they had peaked too early in the season. Depending on your perspective, you could judge the season this way: Optimistic view point – LSU was two plays away from an undefeated season and undisputed #1 ranking. Or, the pessimistic view point – LSU was three plays away from being 7-5 playing in a thisbowlsucks.com venue in late December. There is a kernel of truth to be found in each perspective I think.

LSU’s conference foes posted a 63-46 win/loss record which tells you that the SEC had a stellar out-of-conference win rate (they did, over winning over 80% of their games.) Thus, the combined conference and OOC record of opponents was 88-70. A summary of LSU’s schedule is posted below:

LSU's 2007 Football Schedule
Data Source: Massey Ratings

I watched several LSU games throughout the season, but the two that stick with me are the Virginia Tech blowout and the win over Tennessee in the SEC championship. The former shows what this team is capable of when healthy and motivated and the latter shows that this team is able to gut out wins under duress. My personal perspective about LSU is that their most important attributes are heart and athletic capability. Heart can be summarized as, the will to win, the will to persevere and believe that they will win no matter what, the will not to give up. LSU has this attribute in spades (and a good thing too or it would be a different team I’m writing about.) The other attribute is spectacular athletic capability. It doesn’t matter where you look on the field, there are outstanding athletes manning each of the positions.

While injuries have played a role in the team’s performance in the second half of the year, I think that perhaps some other attributes may have contributed as well to the drop-off. In the second half of the season, the offensive production held steady at 39 points per game, but the defense regressed allowing 26 points per game. Yes, this includes overtime games which skew the statistics somewhat, but does so for both offense and defense. One of the things that struck me while watching the game against Tennessee was the sloppiness of play, penalties, and mental errors.

Make no mistake about it, LSU is a very good football team and is favored to win the national championship by bettors for several tangible reasons. But, the LSU that played later in the season is not the same steamroller witnessed earlier games like the Mississippi State shutout and Hokie blowout. The added distraction of having their defensive coordinator also serve as head coach for Nebraska, playing a virtual home game in New Orleans, and already having been declared champions if they just show up present a dangerous situation for the Tigers.

The key questions I ask about the Tigers are:

  • Will the long layoff allow for injuries to heal sufficiently to make a difference?
  • Will the distractions of playing a home game offset the usual benefits afforded by such activity and fan support?
  • How much of the press has the team read, digested, and believed? If they think they can just show up and take home the crystal we’ll see a repeat of last year’s game, only with Ohio State on the winning side.
  • How hungry is this team? Will they put in the extra conditioning and film work to take home the hardware?
  • Does the will to win still burn in their collective bellies?
  • How much will the defense be distracted by Pellini’s situation? This is no reflection on him personally, it’s simply very difficult to serve two demanding masters and has to be a distraction.

I’m not ready to make a call on the game yet, I’ll do that in a future entry. But I think the matchup is a good one and I can easily see LSU winning. But I’m not convinced that the mismatch many predict will come to pass based on the makeup of the teams and coaches involved in the game. I will say, whomever wins more battles on the line of scrimmage will win a very physical game.