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Sunday, October 07, 2007

10/6/2007 - LSU 28, Florida 24 - LSU all #1 and stuff.

Five times, LSU found itself facing fourth and short against the Gators. Five times, they went for it. Five times, they got it, and that's the primary reason LSU is #1 today. What does it take to sell real estate?

It takes brass balls.

Brass balls alone lead into the land of Weis E. Coyote and leads to things like running a Brady Quinn option on second and short against USC. This was more than that. David Romer, the patron saint of coach-strategery-questioning, would have approved of each call. A listing:

  • With fourth and goal from the one, Ryan Perriloux cuts an option up for a touchdown, bringing LSU to within 3.
  • On fourth and five from the twenty five, Matt Flynn scrambles for a first down. LSU goes on to score a touchdown. (At this point LSU K Colt David has already missed a 43-yarder; Miles is passing up on a 42 yard attempt.)
  • On fourth and three from the Florida four, Matt Flynn rolls out, fakes a run, then pulls up to hit Demetrius Byrd in the endzone for a touchdown.
  • LSU converts twice on the final, game-winning drive, once on fourth and one from their own 49, again on fourth and inches from the Florida five. Both times Jacob Hester bulls his way to first down yardage.
Three decisions to go were on fourth and short deep in Florida territory, and each turned a field goal attempt with a shaky kicker (David isn't very good and would finish the night 0-2, with one of the misses from 36) into a vital touchdown. One kept David from attempting a 42-yarder and eventually turned into another LSU touchdown; the last was the fourth and short on LSU's side of the field. Taken together they are a breathtaking tribute to offensive efficiency: four of LSU's nine drives against the Gators ended in the endzone. A further two ended in makable field goal attempts. There is a difference between this and mindless aggression.

The final call is the least debatable. Kicking a field goal is not automatic (LSU's kicker had already missed a 36-yarder) and gives Florida the ball back with about 2:30 on the clock to drive for the win. Going, on the other hand, either leads to Florida with the ball on their own six, needing a first down to kill the game, or what actually happened: first and goal, eventual touchdown, harried Florida drive that needs to go the length of the field to win the game. Anyone with a passing familiarity of the probabilities involved here should understand that going for it is the far superior choice, but how many coaches would pass up the temptation of a chip-shot field goal there? Certainly not our current set, and probably very few across the country.

Anyone protesting that had one of these attempts failed the consensus here would be "Les Miles is an idiot" has not lingered long over these passages or has forgotten certain things if they have. If ever I was going to turn my back on the Gospel of Expectation, it would have been after the Wisconsin game during the Year of Infinite Pain, when Carr decided to go for it on fourth and goal from the one. Matt Lentz tripped, Kevin Grady got stoned, and Michigan would go on to lose by a field goal. That game's UFR (a truly embryonic edition... the feature has come a long way in two years) makes one brief mention of it:
Still the right call.
So there you go. Miles made the right call five times and turned a loss into a victory.

Meanwhile, even the best coaches occasionally succumb to brainlock in the heat of the moment. Everyone's -- and this blog includes itself in this everyone -- prodigal coaching genius Urban Meyer blew 20 seconds after Hester's conversion before calling timeout, then failed to call another timeout after Florida's opening play on their final drive ended up in-bounds short of the sticks. When the Gators managed to cross midfield they had twelve seconds and had to settle for one harried play and a Hail Mary. If Meyer had used his timeouts appropriately by immediately calling timeout after every LSU or Florida play that ran the clock after Hester's conversion, Florida would have had a minute and a half to play with and an excellent shot at a game-winning touchdown of its own. That was coaching malpractice on a staggering scale.

There's a post about this on the Fanhouse, but I will repeat myself here: that game should forever dispel the notion that Les Miles is just an empty hat along for the ride with an epic amount of talent. Said talent bumper-crop doesn't appear to be materializing, at least not on offense. Matt Flynn threw horribly behind his receivers several times, finished with 144 yards passing, and threw an ugly interception. Primary Flynn target Early Doucet missed the game. Jacob Hester, who is From Nebraska even if he's actually from Louisiana, was admirably effective at battering his way forward and is now a local hero for all time but will make the NFL at the same time I do. The LSU offense replaces three first-round picks, returns (I believe) only five starters, and is breaking in a quarterback with only moderate talent and one career start. This is not a team that should put up 28 points (with two missed field goals) against the #9 team in the country on just nine drives.

The reason they reached that number is that Les Miles took stock of the options he had and let 'er rip. Average coaching loses that game. Good coaching loses that game. Miles and his staff were brilliant in one of the marquee games of the season, and LSU is #1.

I am sold. I will sign on the line that is dotted. Get some coffee, Les.

  • Harbaugh? No. A group of friends and I watched the afternoon and late games together and everyone watching the USC-Stanford game started out conflicted save our resident Auburn guy, but when an impossible fourth and twenty turned into a first and goal, everyone whooped, and when that kid with a 1570 SAT stabbed his foot down for the winning points, everyone whooped again, and for a moment all that crap over the summer was forgiven. But it's just one game. The parallels between grabbing Harbaugh after that and Notre Dame dumping a ten-year extension on Weis are too eerie. He hasn't proven anything yet, and while I think there's plenty of evidence he'll be very good he's too much of a risk when Miles is out there, even leaving aside the garbage over the summer.
  • Did we play a game? I guess we did. And of course this is the game that DeBord decides to open with something other than zone left and balance his run-pass ratio against a weaker opponent. He even threw the ball with Savoy in the game. Does he just do these things to spite me? Hey, Debord, I really hate it when we put up 50 points. Loathe it.
  • An unwelcome addition to the playbook: an unbalanced line with two wide receivers in a twins look with a tight end to their side. The tight end is covered up in this look and is an ineligible man if he goes downfield. Michigan was 100% run out of this, IIRC. It worked well, albeit against Eastern Michigan, and clearly seems like a Debord Trickery special.
  • Final special teams tally: one KO return inside our twenty, another instance of our punt gunners failing to down a Zoltan hanger before it rolled into the endzone, two onside kicks recovered (to be fair, the second was about as perfect as onside kicks get), one instance of a punt returner failing to pick up a bouncing ball at the nine and getting Michigan pinned at the one, and one blocked extra point run back for a conversion. Michigan puts the 'special' in special teams.
  • Blaming our special teams failings on our lack of a special teams coach is a shallow reading of things. I don't think many teams have a dedicated special teams coach, but they manage to do without. I do think it's indicative of a larger pattern: this team is not well coached. From the blocked field goals to the extra-point where Mike Hart ran on the field to be an eleventh guy, special teams has been a clusterf*** all year... just like our defense against even the wussiest spread option teams. Also, there were an epic number of off-field incidents in the offseason; this has lasted into the year. Manningham, Minor, and Babb all missed this game. Warren was also held out of the first series for a disciplinary matter. The overall picture painted is of a team rapidly spiraling into disarray.
  • Michigan's learned nothing from redshirts blown in the past. It's mind-bogglingly frustrating to see Martell Webb, James Rogers, Troy Woolfolk, and Zion Babb on the field. Not one of these players is going to do anything this year to help the team, and whatever tiny experience they pick up this year is absolutely not worth blowing a potential starter's fifth year. Two words: Prescott Burgess.
  • The mind boggles even further when Michigan's refusal to run their actual offense in garbage time is considered. If they think that getting Ryan Mallett reps in garbage time is not a useful way to increase his readiness, why the hell are so many scrubs not redshirting this year?
  • Carlos Brown showed nothing in extensive time, and Brandon Minor hasn't been very impressive this year either. Both seem like very fast guys who can run straight ahead into a major hole but provide no YAC and can't make anyone miss. McGuffie has a wide open shot at the job. (Also, he's healthy again: 272 yards on 18 carries, 6 TDs. Schwing!)
  • No Graham or Thompson this week, and no Mouton until very late. After the first play he was in on, Mouton started limping around, so maybe his ankle injury was pretty severe and is still lingering? I certainly hope so; if that's not the case he's really unlikely to be a contributor down the road.
  • One bright spot: the corner play, IMO, has been pretty good for a few weeks now.
  • Slocum finally played. Woo.