The 2007 season was a wild roller coaster ride for Tiger fans, and its lore will live on for years to come.
With that said, Les Miles isn’t buying into the “defending” part of his team’s title-defending champions.
Les has stated that this year’s team is starting with a clean slate. The record is back to 0-0. That’s a pretty good outlook for a team that will have a tough time trying to repeat its success from a season ago.
Most college football fans will mention that LSU’s quarterback situation will be the main reason it would be hard to repeat the win total from a year ago.
Most LSU fans will mention that the rest of the team is reloading and that all they need is a quarterback who can manage the offense efficiently and not make mistakes.
However, I think it’s much more difficult than that.
Here are six reasons LSU’s hopes for a two-peat might not come to fruition:
1) QB Experience
Nothing is a more glaring obstacle than two green QB’s competing for the starting role on a potent offense. Everything on offense flows through the quarterback.
With the offseason dismissal of Ryan Perrilloux, LSU is left without any notable experience in either Junior Andrew Hatch or Redshirt Freshman Jarrett Lee.
This is the one factor I just can’t get past right now. Either kid is more than welcome to prove me wrong and I’ll be happy to admit it when the time comes, but so much rides on a quarterback’s effectiveness.
Football in the SEC is brutal and I think it takes more than a good running game and offensive line to get the job done week in and week out. You have to be able to make the other team pay when they load the box if the offense wants to keep drives going.
That leads to…
2) Third downs
LSU has been remarkable on third downs since Les Miles has taken over. But having JaMarcus Russell and fifth year senior Matt Flynn taking snaps had much to do with that.
It didn’t hurt to have guys like Dwayne Bowe, Buster Davis, and Early Doucet catching the ball either.
With guys like Demetrius Byrd, Brandon Lafell, and Terrance Tolliver, the talent at WR doesn’t take much of a hit. Also, the Tigers have an effective pass catching tight end in Richard Dickson but refer back to No. 1. Someone still needs to get these guys the ball.
Being spectacular on third downs has led to great success but expect a bit of a drop off in ’08.
In ’07, LSU was 104 for 223 on third downs. That’s 47 percent, so the Tigers were close to converting half their third down attempts compared to 35 percent for their opponents.
You could also throw in LSU’s insane fourth down conversion percentage. The Tigers were 13/16 on fourth downs in ‘07. That’s 81 percent compared to opponents 6-21 or 29 percent.
This leads to a bit of a side note on people that call Les Miles a gambler on the field and that some even call careless. If you are converting fourth downs at an 81 percent clip, is it still a gamble?
I’ll take 81 percent odds into any casino thank you very much.
Maybe Miles knew when you have a smart quarterback like Flynn and a battering ram named Jacob Hester, it’s wasn’t much of a gamble.
Miles won’t have either in ’08 so expect the fourth down conversions to come back down to earth a bit.
One more thing about third downs, when you keep drives going, you increase your chances of red zone appearances and being able to turn those opportunities into points.
The Tigers had 75 opportunities to score in the red zone last year. They failed just five times. 49 of those 70 were touchdowns.
If the Tigers can’t find themselves in striking distance they’ll have trouble pulling off…
3) Late game heroics
It’s been an LSU specialty over the last few years. The Tigers dropped close ones to Kentuckyand Arkansas in six total overtimes and won in heart stopping fashion against Florida, Auburn, and Alabama.
LSU made many mistakes during the season and penalties were public enemy number one. LSU showed resolve by looking terrific in the second half in ’07.
LSU scored 291 second half points to opponents’ 119. That’s a pretty wide gap.
In fact, LSU outscored SEC opponents 162-88 in the second half.
Referring back to No. 1, if the Tigers have rely on late game heroics again, the quarterback is usually the guy leading the charge. That might not be a good thing this year.
4) Inexperience at CB and OLB
When Nick Saban was here he suffered through some bad play at corner before he finally got the type of guys he needed in this defense in order to blitz effectively. LSU has been pulling in quality cornerbacks ever since.
LSU is not low on talented corners this year, just experienced ones. LSU may not be able to leave these guys on their island as much as before. Having strong corner play really does affect what your entire defense can do.
The future looks bright at corner for the Tigers but ’08 will showcase two newbie starters.
Also with only one returning starter at LB in Darry Beckwith, LSU may lose a small step at backer.
A little known bright spot is LSU’s depth on the defensive line where even though there’s no more All World tackle Glenn Dorsey, the Bayou Bengals are still stocked with talent and won’t miss a beat in ’08.
But injuries were a factor last year especially on the defense, and refer back to No. 2 when you talk about the offense converting third downs to keep the defense off the field.
5) Even year schedule
It’s not a cop out to say LSU has a hard time in even years. Just look at the records.
In fact, let me show you.
Look at the bowls listed in the two columns below:
Column A Column B
Cotton BCS National Championship
Capital One Peach
Sugar BCS National Championship
While both columns aren’t bad, which bowls would you like your team to play in during a four year span?
Column A is LSU’s even year bowl results and Column B is the odd year’s bowls.
Road trips to Auburnand Florida along with Bama’s success in Tiger Stadium are three big reasons even years are rough.
In 2008, add a home date with Georgia and an away game with improving South Carolina and just about any of the above mentioned becomes a possible loss.
6) Night Games?
The other thing that I attribute as a factor that more level-headed Tiger fans dismiss is the lack of home night games this year.
Baton Rouge was electric against Virginia Tech, AU, and Florida last year. It’s widely considered a “myth” that LSU plays better at night but check this out:
LSU’s losses in ’07 were a 2:30 and 1:30 kickoff. In ’06, they dropped two 2:30 games.
LSU’s only regular season loss in ’05 was a night game on a Monday and it was the first game post Katrina.
LSU’s two losses in ’04 were 2:30 games, and the bowl game was a day game. The Tigers’ lone loss in ’03 was a 2:30 game.
In fact, you have to go back to 2002 to find LSU’s last night game loss when the country’s biggest natural disaster in history isn’t in play.
Still don’t believe me?
Go back to those two columns above with the bowl games. LSU lost the day bowls and won the night ones. The Peach in ’00 was late afternoon and a win. I guess I’ll concede that one.
You want to beat LSU? Pray for a daytime kickoff.
I see many more day games this year for LSU than last year. UGA and Alabama, the two biggest home games this year, will probably be CBS 2:30 kickoffs.
It’s just another cloud lining up to rain on the Tigers this year.
But let’s not count the Tigers out either. Legend says that it never rains in Tiger Stadium. LSU is extremely dangerous to anyone that takes them lightly. While cornerback and the outside linebackers are a little wet behind the ears, the Tiger defense will be extremely strong up the middle.
On the other side of the ball, the Tiger offensive line may quietly be one of the best in the conference, if not the country.
One thing’s for certain, Les Miles is fiery coach whose teams don’t quit in the face of adversity. LSU will attempt to be in the thick of things when the SEC West race winds down.
The hope for LSU fans would be that the experience the quarterback (whoever that may be) gains during the season will pay off by season’s end.
While the Tigers might not be playing in Miami at season’s end, LSU has a great chance for another special season.