Saturday: When Ohio State Has the Ball vs. LSU Defense
Sunday: Special Teams, Intangibles and Eccentri
Monday: Pickin’ Time
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Today: When LSU Has the Ball vs. Ohio State Defense
First of all, re: the schedule thing, LSU played a clearly tougher schedule for four reasons:
b) Both teams played a series of mid-major creampuffs (Middle Tennessee State, Tulane and Louisiana Tech for LSU vs. Youngstown, Akron, Kent State for OSU) but LSU’s major out-of-conference game was against Virginia Tech, a team that lost one other game the rest of the regular season and made the BCS as a major conference champion, and Ohio State’s major out-of-conference test was at Washington, a team that finished last in the Pac Ten.
c) Ohio State played six winning/bowl teams in its last seven games, but LSU played eight winning teams over the season and a ninth bowl-eligible team (South Carolina) that did not make the postseason despite being ranked in the top ten in October.
d) LSU played in an extra conference championship game, the emphasis added to distinguish it from the de facto regular season "championship game" Ohio State won at Michigan.
Watching LSU extensively throughout the season – I saw the Tigers blow out Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and South Carolina in September, on their epic four-game run of thrillers against Florida, Kentucky, Auburn and Alabama, and in the finale over Tennessee; I listened to the end of the loss to Arkansas on the radio but did not watch any of it – I never lost the sense that Gary Crowton’s offense was occasionally too fancy for its own good, given the team’s ability to pound the ball in a variety of ways with its absurdity of wealth in the backfield. Clearly, Jacob Hester scares no one the way Keiland Williams or especially little Trindon Holliday does, but as emphatically, literally pounded home against Florida, the Tigers were at root a power running offense and regularly established that philosophy even without a marquee back:
|Avg./Game||vs. LSU||+/-||Avg./Carry||vs. LSU||+/-|
|Miss. State||156.9||198||+ 41.1||4.3||3.96||- .07|
|VA Tech||86.0||297||+ 211.0||2.8||7.24||+ 4.4|
|Mid. TN St.||199.8||198||-1.8||4.9||4.95||+ .05|
|S. Carolina||209.3||290||+ 80.7||4.9||5.8||+ .90|
|Tulane||132.6||134||+ 1.4||3.9||3.5||- .37|
|Florida||99.3||247||+ 147.7||3.0||4.8||+ 1.7|
|Kentucky||190.0||261||+ 71.0||4.5||5.2||+ .72|
|Auburn||119.3||169||+ 49.7||3.5||5.1||+ 1.6|
|Alabama||128.3||87||- 41.3||3.5||2.6||- .94|
|La. Tech||137.1||321||+ 184.9||3.9||8.0||+ 4.1|
|Ole Miss||199.1||228||+ 28.9||4.7||5.7||+ 1.0|
|Arkansas||146.7||204||+ 57.3||3.9||4.3||+ .35|
|Tennessee||162.5||212||+ 59.5||4.2||4.5||+ .31|
|Avg./Game||vs. OSU||+/-||Avg./Carry||vs. OSU||+/-|
|Akron||127.8||3||- 124.8||3.5||0.2||- 3.3|
|Washington||203.1||142||- 61.1||4.9||4.2||- .70|
|N'western||119.8||0||- 119.8||3.6||0.0||- 3.6|
|Minnesota||161.8||45||- 116.8||4.5||1.6||- 2.9|
|Purdue||128.8||4||- 124.8||4.2||0.3||- 4.0|
|Kent State||200.3||161||- 39.3||4.4||3.4||- 1.1|
|Mich. State||198.2||59||- 139.2||4.4||2.1||- 2.3|
|Penn State||193.8||139||- 54.8||4.6||6.0||+ 1.4|
|Wisconsin||201.5||12||- 189.5||4.4||0.3||- 4.1|
|Illinois||266.2||260||- 6.2||5.7||5.1||- .61|
|Michigan||166.1||15||- 151.1||4.04||0.6||- 3.4|
Shaded games vs. teams ranked entering game; Youngstown State not included in OSU schedule because its averages were compiled vs. I-AA teams and are therefore N/A.
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LSU ruthlessly manhandled Virginia Tech, which might have finished with the best statistical defense in the country if it hadn’t been ripped for 598 yards in Baton Rouge; the Tigers also pounded pretty heavily on Florida, especially down the stretch, when it ran on 13 of 15 plays on the winning touchdown drive and converted two fourth-and-short spots and one third-and-short goalline situation by plowing Hester straight ahead.
That dominance against good teams waned, though, as the Tigers lost players to injury (notably all-everything guard Will
Allen Arnold, out since the win over Va Tech) and seemed battle-weary. Kentucky infamously stuffed the Tigers on yet another do-or-die fourth down in overtime a week after the Florida game, and though LSU ran effectively on Auburn, it found itself in too large a hole after early turnovers to get back into the game on the ground; the same scenario played out in another near-miss at Alabama two weeks later, when the Tigers never established anything on the ground. Ryan Perrilloux’s presence insured more mobility from the quarterback against Tennessee, but Hester was stopped again on a fourth-and-short that set up a Tennessee score in the first half and there was never enough consistency to build sustained drives – without Jonathan Zenon’s interception return of Erik Ainge in the fourth quarter, with the Tigers trailing by one, it’s arguable LSU did not have enough offense to win the game.
Vernon Gholston has 13 sacks. His arm veins have 4.5.
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The only team with true success running against OSU was Illinois, as the Illini were the only team with the requisite talent (and, crucially, speed at quarterback) that spread the field and forced the Buckeyes to run and make tackles in space rather than try to match up between the tackles, which was doom over and over again. Even Illinois finished slightly below its season averages despite breaking an 80-yard touchdown run – Rashard Mendenhall’s 25-yard gain in the same game was the second-longest OSU gave up all season, one of only about a half dozen runs it allowed at all over 20 yards – but it seems clear that despite LSU’s size up front, it will have to do something other than attempt to bull its way to first downs. Michigan and Wisconsin came at OSU with similarly massive offensive lines that easily outweighed the Buckeyes’ front and were just as easily overrun and thoroughly defeated. Vernon Gholston is possibly the most disruptive, underrated presence on any defensive line in the country (check out his performance against Michigan, often matched against likely top five draft pick Jake Long) and all three linebackers, not just headline-grabber James Laurinitis, are sure-tackling ballhawks. The OSU front seven can control almost any offensive front in the front without requiring much safety help, and if it can do that for two, two-and-a-half quarters, it doesn’t have to worry about the run anymore. Then things get really ugly.
This is where Ryan Perrilloux and Trindon Holliday are crucial weapons in LSU’s arsenal, as each has been at crucial times throughout the season. Perrilloux was not great in an every-down role against Tennessee, but he had success running from the shotgun read-option sets against Florida, especially, and can put the same kind of pressure on the perimeters of the Buckeyes’ defense that Juice Williams did in Illinois’ upset in Columbus – think back also to Vince Young and Michael Robinson, the only quarterbacks who got the better of A.J. Hawk and Co. in 2005, the first of a three-year, 40-game streak of nearly unbroken success by the Buckeye D otherwise. Real athletes at quarterback always pose problems, and this group is not immune.
Because of his speed, Holliday is an almost unrivaled x-factor, a screaming red siren to the defense anytime he’s on the field, and besides his pure, angle-slaying speed, the attention he commands when he goes in motion or on a reverse action forces ends and outside linebackers out of their normal lane responsibilities, brings safeties into the mix against the run and keeps corners at home to contain on the outside. The games Holliday has touched the ball least on offense (once against Auburn, once against Alabama, didn’t play against Arkansas) represented three of the Tigers’ four worst rushing games against SEC defenses. How Crowton uses both of them (and how often) in his gameplan to disrupt Ohio State’s responsbilities and try to catch defenders out of position or in mismatches for a big play – or just to move the chains, as Florida did when the Gators had the Buckeyes’ heads spinning on its misdirection attack in last year’s title game – might be the decisive strategic element.
Holliday: Automatic mismatch.
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Summary and Predicition: LSU is used to trying to maul defenses with its big offensive line and power-based running game while taking frequent shots downfield to its touted receivers, but Ohio State has thoroughly dominated the line of scrimmage in virtually every game it’s played for the last three years, and to a near-historic extent this season. When the Buckeyes have struggled, it’s typically been when faced with athletic quarterbacks allowed to create out of the shotgun (Vince Young, Michael Robinson, Juice Williams) and been forced to chase and make tackles in space. LSU has the personnel to occasionally exploit this in Ryan Perrilloux and readymade mismatch Trindon Holliday, though its most reliable bet will be to work the cornerback spot
vacated by suspended Donald Washington opposite Jenkins, whoever it is. Matt Flynn will have to be sharp in his reads and accurate to keep the chains moving with the passing game, because any sustained success with LSU’s standby, conventional running game will be a major upset and failure to make yards on first and second down will lead to significant pain inflicted on Flynn on third downs, mostly via Vernon Gholston. I don’t see the Tigers putting together than more than two-three significant drives and think they will struggle to score more than 17-20 points without significant aid from field-changing turnovers or big plays on special teams. Overall Advantage: Ohio State.
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Prognosticative hat tip to Pelican Sports: you know SMQ too well, sir.