Sunday, January 6

BCS Championship Game v.2

The BCS National Championship Game, or the Sugar Bowl Part II, is the second installation of the week-later BCS Championship game. Last year, Florida won the first version in dominant fashion over Ohio State, reversing 0-7 into 21-7 just a few plays into the second quarter and never looking back. In one of the most bizarre statistics I can think of, each of the last six BCS championship games has featured a team getting out to a 7-0 first quarter lead... only LSU and Miami (2001 not 2002) went on to win.

Without going too much into the 74 game history of the Sugar Bowl, some of its BCS highlights include:
* 1998 (I'm going by season; the game was played on Jan 1, 1999): Ohio State tops Texas A&M 24-14 in first BCS Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes had lost the last non-BCS Sugar Bowl the previous year to Florida State.
* 1999: Florida State tops Virginia Tech 46-29 to win first BCS Championship crowned at the Sugar Bowl.
* 2001: LSU becomes first SEC team to win a BCS Sugar Bowl, 47-34 over Illinois.
* 2003: LSU wins BCS Championship over Oklahoma, 21-14, becomes first team to win two BCS Sugar Bowls.
* 2006: LSU wins third BCS Sugar Bowl, 41-14 over Notre Dame.

This game also features two of the most dominant BCS teams, along with USC who stands at 5-1 including a 3-1 Rose Bowl record and 1-1 BCS championship record. In fact, I think it will be fair to say that the winner of this game had the best overall BCS Bowl resume in the series' first ten years.

In the BCS era, LSU stands a perfect 3-0 in this bowl including a victory for the national championship. They have not played in any other BCS games. Ohio State is 1-0 in the BCS Sugar Bowl and 4-1 in all BCS games it has played in. Despite being from the Big Ten, all of Ohio State's BCS games have come in the Sugar or Fiesta Bowl.

The SEC is 3-0 in BCS championship games, despite their four title contenders (counting this LSU team) having an average of one loss per regular season, all suffered in conference play. Teams appearing in their third BCS Championship game (FSU, Oklahoma) are 0-2 in that game; if you count USC's Rose Bowl appearance against Texas as their third national championship game in the BCS era (Rose Bowl over Michigan for the split being their first), then that number's 0-3. Nobody has won two BCS championships, a statistic which is guaranteed to change after this game.

The Sugar Bowl is essentially a home game for LSU, and their 3-0 record in it shows what an advantage that can be. Surprisingly, "home teams" are just 1-2 in the BCS Championship (FSU lost to Oklahoma, LSU beat Oklahoma, USC lost to Texas). Speaking of "home teams" in BCS Bowls:

* The Fiesta Bowl hasn't hosted a team from Arizona in the last 10 years. The Pac 10 is 2-0 in the bowl with the Oregon teams each scoring a win.
* Florida teams are 3-3 in the Orange Bowl, including a Miami win over Florida. As three BCS conferences have teams in this state, a combined ACC/Big East/SEC record is probably meaningless.
* Louisiana teams (LSU) are 3-0 in the Sugar Bowl. The SEC is 6-2 in the bowl, although one loss came when the bowl was moved to Atlanta as New Orleans was flooded. Incidently, that made Georgia the "home team" that year in their loss to West Virginia.
* California teams are 3-3 in the Rose Bowl (USC 3-1, UCLA and Stanford each 0-1). The Pac 10 is 4-4 overall in this bowl.

Ohio State (by Coach Pendley)

Ohio State has been either the other team or the chosen one in their BCS Championship game berths. Back in 2002, they were the team in the way of Miami’s coronation as one of the best dynasties of the modern era. However, thanks to a pass interference call (justified or not, we’ll let other people fight over that) they walked away with that title. Of course, in 2006 they were supposed to be the best team in the country and it wasn’t even close. Maybe it was a six-week layoff (possible), maybe it was everyone underestimating Florida (likely), maybe it was everyone overrating the UM/OSU tilt of the ages (debatable, but remember that UM didn’t win the Rose Bowl), or maybe it was a series of improbable bad breaks caused by an offense that OSU hadn’t really prepared for adequately, but they lost to UF 41-14. Still, don’t hold Ohio State’s 1-1 BCS Championship record against them; if it’s not all on the line they’re 3-0 in BCS games, but since one of those wins was against Notre Dame, we can’t count it.

This year, they were the “oh yeah, those guys” team. They opened up the season at #11 in the AP poll (since they were going to field a good D no matter what), and by Week 6 they were in the Top 5. That was coming off a 23-7 win over Purdue (who we all thought could be good; shame on us) and it didn’t hurt that all hell was breaking loose around them. Still, like a train they kept on chugging up to the #1 overall spot by Week 8. They held that up until Week 11 when Illinois came in and barely won; OSU slid to #7. After a win against Michigan, they closed their season at #5 in the BCS, with only an outside shot at the championship game.

Then all hell broke loose. LSU lost to Arkansas, Kansas lost to Missouri – who turned around and lost to Oklahoma – and West Virginia couldn’t beat the 7th-place team in the Big East, and not only did Ohio State make back-to-back championship games, they’re the #1 BCS team. Again. Funny how that works.

This team would make Woody Hayes proud. They stop the run (3rd best rushing D in the nation) and can pound the ball – one of only 24 teams in the country averaging over 200 yards a game, and their run differential is the best in the nation, if not the best. Of course, they can’t pass the ball worth shit at just over 195 yards/game, but their pass D is superb with only 148 yards/game allowed. Not surprisingly, that also means that OSU has a ridiculous points allowed slate, allowing less than 11 ppg. Oddly enough, they’ve thrown no shutouts, but three teams got a FG or less and only one team scored over 20 against the Buckeyes. Of course, that one team was Illinois.

On offense, it begins with Chris Wells (and ends with Todd Boeckman). Wells has carried the running game with 1,463 yards and14 TDs. That includes a 5.76 ypc average. And yes, he does get better as the game goes on with a 7.06 ypc in the 3rd quarter and 6.46 ypc in the 4th. He averages over 6 yards a carry on both 1st and 2nd down and a full 16.5% of his carries go for over 10 yards. So not only is Wells the offense, he’s a legimate presence on the field that’ll demand his own coverage schemes in any offense. Maurice Wells (367 yards, 3.56 ypc) and frosh Brandon Saine (267 yards, 4.45 ypc).

Todd Boeckman isn’t much more than a caretaker QB, but he does have a couple of solid weapons in Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Combined they caught over 1,500 yards and 15 TDs. Aside from them, there’s not a ton in the passing game, but both Boeckman and Hartline are excellent. There’s not a lot else there. With one power back and a couple of good receivers, OSU doesn’t have the fliexibility to run out a ton of multi-formation sets to really get the defense to bite. They may be able to pull some zones, but TE Jake Ballard isn’t a gamebreaker and 3rd receiver Jay Small doesn’t get more than a couple of catches a game.

Still, you don’t watch Ohio State this year for the offense (unless, of course, you enjoy torture – in which case, we don’t judge here). Their defense is – again – outstanding, and it’s led by the LB corps. Everyone knew all about James Laurinaitis (103 tackles, 39 solo), but Marcus Freeman (95 tackles, 60 (!) solo) is at least as good as Laurinaitis. Larry Grant has a good ability to get behind the line with 9.5 TFL, but only 43 tackles on the year. The line is mostly tasked with keeping holes open for the LB to make plays, but Vernon Gholston has nearly as many tackles behind the line (14.5 TFL, 13 sacks) as he does on his side (19.5) and Cameron Heyward has also registered 9 TFL.

On defense, the team didn’t register a lot of INT as a whole (10 on the season), opting to go for pass breakups instead (38 on the year). The general rule on that is when a linebacker is 2nd in picks on the team, that’s not a good sign. Of course, they have returned two for TDs; leading INT man Michael Jenkins took one back for 24 yards and Donald Washington returned his only INT for a TD. So how are they successful? They’re great against the pass on 3rd down; their rather pedestrian 59% opponent completion rate on 2nd down, but that drops to 41% on 3rd down in virtually the same number of attempts.

A.J. Trapasso averages about 41 yards a punt, and while Ryan Pretorius isn’t quite his 2004 precessor, he still racked up 17/21 FGs.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are going up against a team that was completely dominating – when healthy. How the hell are they going to pull this miracle off.

First things first. OSU shouldn’t be thinking they’re the favorite, and there’s no way they’ll go into the Sugar Bowl not being aware of LSU’s homefiled advantage. So they’ll need to control the clock and win the line of scrimmage. And they’ll have to gameplan for two different QBs. Good times.

On offense, I want to test Dorsey’s health early. Yes, I know Glenn Dorsey is a beast when he’s healthy, but he spent most of the second half of the season at best banged up, if not outright injured. It’s likely he’s fully recovered now (and if he is, you’ll know almost immediately), but if he’s not LSU is in an interesting position. An injured Dorsey is still more effective than most DLs out there anyway, but it also means that the run-happy OSU offense can take the attack right to him. I highly doubt Miles will pull Dorsey unless it’s obvious he’s unable to play, but Ohio State is going to want to find out if he can go early. Attack his side of the line, but run like hell the other direction – literally – if he’s on his game.

For all the rushing attacks in the SEC, there’s nobody that LSU faced that runs quite like Wells does in this offense; Georgia comes closest, but …well, they never faced Georgia. They’ll need to exploit this, either running at Dorsey if he’s hurt or bringing an extra blocker across to help handle LSU’s D. It’ll be kind of tough to account for the Tigers’ speed, but it’ll have to be done, and that’ll happen with solid formations and playcalling.

I don’t think that OSU is going to be able to pull out some formations that LSU hasn’t seen, so here’s how it goes. Stick fo the fundamentals again; Boeckman will need to be accurate and make sure he doesn’t throw something that the Brians can’t catch – because if they can’t, someone from the LSU secondary probably will.

On defense, I want to watch Jacob Hester in formation. With as many backs as LSU has, it seems odd that you can kind of key on the actions of one specific back, but LSU uses Hester as their generic back. He’s a bruising runner, but there’s an interesting trend to when they use Hester. Against Arkansas, most of Hester’s snaps were on pass plays, but against Tennessee, Hester was used in a lot of run formations. It’s likely LSU will have realized this weakness, but someone in Ohio State’s coaching booth needs to be monitoring Hester’s use early in the game. It’ll likely be a halftime adjustment, but if Hester isn’t getting used in both run and pass plays, Ohio State should be able to key on that to get a few big plays and/or defensive stops. In a game where OSU will likely need whatever advantage they can afford, there’s no way they can turn down this opportunity of free scouting if it comes up.

Of course, that’s only one of LSU’s many backs. Given six weeks, you might be able to figure out a plan to stop each one of them individually, but I’ll sum it up: do NOT let them get the corner. I’m not too concerned about OSU stopping the power running game; they’ve done that all year. Get lateral and hold the line of scrimmage.

But what about Flynn and Perriloiux? Perriloux is going to mostly run option, so the same things that applied to the running game apply here. Flynn is a lot like Boeckman in that he’s a caretaker-type QB, but he’s a bit more talented. Get pressure on Flynn, but Doucet, Byrd, and LaFell are all great receivers, so guard against the deep threat. (I might even peg Doucet a couple of times, but you never read that.) Blitz Flynn to the outside and Perriloux to the inside.

LSU Tigers (by Coach Lawrence)

I don't know that any team in the country embodies their mascot as well as the LSU Tigers. In a word, their season has been ferocious. On opening night, LSU won a road game at Mississippi State 45-0, allowing just 146 yards and forcing six (!) interceptions. The game didn't look impressive at the time, but with MSU finishing 8-5 with a bowl win suddenly that blowout becomes at least mildly impressive. Not as impressive as what occurred the following week, a 48-7 annihilation of eventual ACC champion Virginia Tech. VT eventually finished with the #2 scoring defense in the country, which is literally their average for the last four seasons. The Hokies hadn't allowed that many points since . The next victim was Middle Tennessee, 44-0. Then #12 (overrated) South Carolina provided some resistance in a 28-16 victory for the Tigers, highlighted by a trick play over the head toss to the kicker on a field goal for a touchdown. A blowout of Tulane concluded a 5-0 September in which the LSU Tigers outscored opponents 199-32.

The first game of October brought Tim Tebow to Baton Rouge, who played an outstanding first half to give the Gators a 17-7 lead. The Tigers responded on the opening drive of the third quarter, attempting a fake field goal from 42 yards to gain a first down and eventually put the ball in the end zone. LSU again narrowed the lead to 3 in the 4th quarter, opting to throw a pass on 4th down at the Gator 4 rather than settling for a FG and a 7 point deficit. Getting the ball back with 9:20 to play, LSU drove 60 yards in 8:06 to score the decisive TD, including a pair of 4th down conversions. Both 4th down plays and the game winning TD on third down came with the same call - Hester up the gut. But the following week the Tigers would be the ones squandering the lead, up 27-14 at Kentucky when it all fell apart. Great QB play from Andre Woodson, baffling play from Matt Flynn, and, yes, a few key injuries and questionable calls. Not in the clear yet, LSU found themselves trailing Auburn by 10 at halftime the following week. A pair of field goals made it a 4-point game going into the final period, when the teams traded scores leaving Auburn with a 1 point lead. With seven seconds remaining, Miles dailed a 22-yard fade to the end zone rather than kicking a 39 yard FG with Colt David who was already 3/3 for the day. It worked. Of course, if LSU was the "cardiac Tigers" in October, then the month lasted a few days extra this year because LSU found themselves in a dogfight on the road with coaching legend Nick "the sAviOr" Saban's Alabama Dolphi... er, Crimson Tide. A Tide PR TD with less than 8 minutes remaining gave them a 7 point lead, which still stood with 3 minutes to play. On 4th and 4, LSU threw a 32 yard TD pass to tie the game. Three plays later, LSU sacked John Parker Wilson and recovered a fumble to set up a short TD drive, 41-34 Tigers.

LSU appeared to be out of the woods following that, destroying Louisiana Tech and winning comfortably against Mississippi. In the final week of the regular season, Darren McFadden appeared to silence the Tigers' title hopes, racking up 206 yards and 3 TDs on the ground while passing for another in a triple overtime game that came down to a failed 2-point conversion. Then Kansas and Oregon lost later that day, Missouri and West Virginia were upset in the final week, and LSU won with a defensive touchdown in the SEC Championship against Tennessee.

LSU's choice over Georgia, Oklahoma, USC, and Virginia Tech was controversial. I won't rehash it in detail except to say that LSU beating Virginia Tech probably had a lot to do with it. USC's loss to Stanford and Oregon's late season dive killed their computer rankings even if the Trojans had been the voters' choice, and Oklahoma... well, let's just say that their loss in the Fiesta Bowl has become Bob Stoops' BCS norm. With Kansas and Hawaii both unproven (indeed, Hawaii was a fraud, and while the Jayhawks proved themselves legit they did nothing in the Orange Bowl to make me think they are the best team in the country), that really left only LSU and Georgia... and if LSU is champion of Georgia's conference and both have the same record, then that's a tiebreaker at worst.

So now we've got our matchup. How does LSU do what they do?

When LSU is in top form, things begin with their defense. (this hasn't always been the case, but their slew of defensive injuries are supposedly healed during the break) LSU allows 103.1 rushing yards per game (14th) on 3.1 yards per carry (18th). This number was significantly better (68 ypg, 2.1 ypc) prior to Dorsey's injury in the Auburn game. This is noteable because, according to him, Glen Dorsey is back up to 100% going into the BCS Championship game. LSU's pass defense has remained excellent even without Dorsey to drive the pressure game. LSU's 96.1 opposing QB rating is 3rd in the nation, total ypg of 180.8 ranks 9th, and they have a 17/21 ratio. The secondary is solid all-around, with Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon both providing excellent corner skills and safety Craig Steltz leading the team in interceptions with 6. Steltz and linebacker Ali Highsmith are the top two on the team in tackles.

So why isn't the defense ranked in the top 10 scoring? Overtime games. I'm not buying into the "best regulation team" pitch, but when you're playing six periods where the opponent gets to start with the ball on your own 25 and the defense is already worn out from playing a full game, that's going to artificially inflate your scoring average. LSU allowed 38 points in those six overtimes leading to their losses. Without that (ie, in the same circumstances Ohio State's defense has been measured by), LSU gave up 217 points in 13 games - a 16.38 ppg average that would have finished 6th nationally. Looking at the teams allowing between 16 and 18 ppg (Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia, Penn State) that sounds about right.

Offensively, LSU is a very well-rounded team. Their most consistent area has been the power running game, where Jacob Hester averages 78.3 ypg on a shade under 5 ypc. Keiland Williams and Charles Scott provide a small change of pace, but it's Trindan Holliday who has game-breaking speed and gets the ball on plays designed to get him to the outside. Overall, seven players, including both quarterbacks, have played in ten or more games and contribute 15 or more yards per game for a rushing attack that averages 218.9 ypg total (#12) and 5.06 ypc (#11). The passing game, on the other hand, has been very on-off in its performance. It is noteworthy that in both of their losses, LSU completed less than 50% of their passes and averaged less than 5 yards per attampt. The only other game this happened in - against South Carolina - was a mere 28 point outing in which the special teams provided a touchdown and the ground game was overpowering. Overall, LSU's passing game is a mere 43rd nationally in rating at 131.53 and 53rd in yards per game at 229.2. Both of their quarterbacks are very mobile, though, particularly Ryan Perrilloux. Early Doucet is the team's leading receiver in averages and he is definitely the go-to guy. Brandon LaFell is the speedster and deep threat, but he's had his share of drops in big games. In the end, LSU scores 38.7 points per game to come in 12th nationally.

Of course, if we do the same overtime adjustment that we did to their defense, that drops LSU to 473 points scored in 13 games - a 36.38 ppg average that would have been ranked #17. Got to be consistent, eh Les?


When Ohio State has struggled defensively, it has been against teams with speed, the abolity to spread the field, and a dual-threat QB. Because of this, I would use Ryan Perrilloux more often than LSU typically has this season. The sophomore had a pretty good outing against Tennessee and has actually compiled a better QB rating and yards per attempt than Matt Flynn. Perrilloux and Holliday would make a very fast backfield, the kind which could give OSU trouble for big plays, although Hester, Williams, and Scott all compliment a running QB nicely by providing a more powerful ball carrier. Perrilloux plus one of the three main backs, Doucet, LaFell, and Byrd/Dickson (the latter for the option to block), and Holliday as the speed option would be a really versatile and difficult group for this defense to defend.

While OSU is among both the best run and pass defense teams statistically, I believe that their schedule has tested their (standard) run defense more than their pass defense. Therefore, when Flynn is in the game (and for about half of Perrilloux's snaps unless the option game is going really well), the emphasis should be on airing the ball out and spreading the secondary thin. If the pass defense holds, the power game with Hester is always there, but I question how successful this can be if the OSU linebackers aren't a little preoccupied with coverage. The OSU run defense, particularly against power backs, does appear to be legitimately tops in the nation.

Defensively, stopping Chris Wells is of course top priority. The all-purpose back gains 122 ypg on 5.76 ypc, an impressive feat. Fortunately he does not have the hands to be much of a receiving threat. This is again a gameplan that will call for heavy pressure on the line of scrimmage. Until Boeckman proves he can beat LSU's corners, the safeties should be a few yards up and the linebackers ready to plug running lanes, if not blitzing from the get-go.

Ohio State has only two players with 20 or more receptions on the season - Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. Neither one is anywhere near the caliber of Ohio State's #1 and #2 receivers from a year ago... indeed, this pair would make a great #2 and #3 receiver, but there just isn't that dominant guy who makes defenses adapt their coverage schemes to him. Jackson and Zenon are probably fine on their own. At the start of the game, LSU might put 8 or 9 guys in the box, but if Dorsey's having a big impact on the line or if the LSU offense is putting points on the board, I'd start playing tampa 2 coverage with lots of linebacker blitzing thrown in there. This coverage scheme without dedicated underneath help from the LBs is possible because OSU doesn't have great receiving backs or tight ends. When OSU goes 3 WR, a 6-man zone or safety coverage on Ray Small (averages 1.9 catch & 25.3 yargs per game) is a good adjustment to the base defense without giving up that run-stopping power of their front seven. The bottom line is that Steltz, Jackson, and Zenon are a trio who have the potential to create a lot of interceptions on poorly thrown passes... if the defense tempts Boeckman to air it out a little bit, that's probably a good thing.