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August 12, 2010

LSU vs. North Carolina: The Kickoff Classic

Many LSU fans are pinging right now over the fact that LSU's football team is largely an unknown entity.  Fans are all over the place about what LSU's win-loss record will be this year.  Some are saying that getting tickets to the LSU - Tennessee game (Oct 2 LSU's 5th game) will be an easy task because the Tigers will have lost 3 or 4 games by that point in the season.  Others are saying that when LSU meets Florida, October 9th in LSU's sixth game of the season, the Tigers will be 5-0, exactly as they were after five games last year.  And some really optimistic LSU fans have circled the LSU - Alabama game (Nov. 6) expecting to see a clash of two undefeated teams, if Alabama can also remain unbeaten.  With speculation and emotions already at a fevered pitch among the LSU faithful, one thing is almost universally agreed upon:  LSU's first opponent, North Carolina, will be a serious challenge.  Sports fans, there is still a whole lot of thinking to be done about LSU vs. North Carolina. Let me share some of my thoughts.

Serious college football fans everywhere can  probably tell you two things about this year's North Carolina team:  first, North Carolina has several early round NFL draft picks playing defense and second, a couple of those players had so much talent that they are currently being investigated by the NCAA for inappropriate interaction with a sports agent.  

So how do these two items impact the LSU - North Carolina game?  With or without the players in question, North Carolina has enough quality players on defense to give LSU's offense real obstacles to overcome.  North Carolina may decide not to play the defenders in question in the LSU game because North Carolina could be forced to forfeit all games that the players in question play in if the NCAA rules against them.  And it is looking like the NCAA will not have made a decision by September 4th when North Carolina and LSU square off.  LSU would prefer that North Carolina had never faced this dilemma.  LSU does not want others to have the opportunity to claim that they won because North Carolina withheld key players from action and LSU certainly does not want to be awarded a win because of a forfeit.  West Virginia, LSU's opponent September 25th, is also under investigation by the NCAA.  

Popular media reports aside, let's take a closer look at the LSU vs. North Carolina game.

Some fans are upset about the quarterback's performance last year.  The quarterback was solid but became known for throwing a number of interceptions at critical points in the game.  Even the head coach has commented that he could play a talented freshman backup, if necessary.  LSU fans are thinking: "Jarret Lee, LSU's solid but interception prone quarterback, has not been named as LSU's starter and Coach Miles has not commented that Zach Lee, LSU's all star freshman QB, might play early this year.  LSU fans, you're absolutely right. The quarterback situation that I described is the one North Carolina is facing.   North Carolina's QB, T.J. Yates performed very well last year except for double digit interceptions that happened at crucial moments late in the game. Bryn Renner is North Carolina's hot shot freshman that was ranked in the top five of several high school quarterback ranking systems. North Carolina head coach, Butch Davis, has said that Renner may have an opportunity to play as early as the LSU game.

One issue that LSU and North Carolina fans will not be confused about is how the fans feel about the progress of their football programs.  

North Carolina fans are extremely happy with head coach Butch Davis. Under Davis the Tar Heels went to a bowl game last year, only lost to Pittsburgh by only 2 points (19-17) in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and finished the year with an 8-5 win-loss record.  North Carolina fans are so pumped about this year that some 29,000 fans showed up for the spring game that was televised on ESPN this year. Of course, North Carolina is a basketball school so having a good football program is exciting.  And no doubt North Carolina is solid. After all they did go 4-4 in ACC play last year by beating Duke (19-6), Virginia Tech (20-17), Miami (33-24), and Boston College (31-13).  North Carolina also beat the Citadel (40-6), Connecticut (12-10), East Carolina (31-17) and Georgia Southern (42-12). In addition to the Pitt (19-17) loss, North Carolina lost to N.C. State (28-27), Florida State (30-27), Virginia (16-3), and Georgia Tech (24-7).

On the other hand, LSU is perceived by many to be on a two year slide that has head coach Les Miles on the hot seat.  

LSU finished its worst season under Miles, the 2008-09 season, with a dismal 8-5 record capped  by a 38-3 thumping of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The same Georgia Tech, minus a few experienced all stars, that beat North Carolina (24-7) less than a year after the LSU thumping. LSU's domination of Georgia Tech gave some LSU fans hope for the future in part because in only his second start ever, true freshman quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, looked very solid.  In fact, one of Jefferson's passes late in the game would have been a touchdown pass for well over 50 yards had it not been called back because of either an offsides or a holding penalty by one of LSU's linemen.  After the 2008-09 season LSU had the #1 recruiting class in the nation, according to ESPN (#2 according to Rivals) and LSU had high hopes at this time last year.  Many fans started to lose faith in the Tigers after they clearly struggled to beat Washington in Seattle 31-23.  Washington was by all measures a mediocre team that happens to have a quarterback, Heisman candidate Jake Locker, and managed a lucky win over Pete Carrol's USC Trojans a few games after their loss to LSU.  In their loss to LSU, Washington challenged LSU early and after falling irrecoverably behind in the third quarter, managed a score against LSU well into the fourth quarter that made the final score pretty close.  To finish out the year LSU had another disappointing 9-4 win-loss record. You had to have watched the games to realize how bad of a slide LSU was on.  In addition to beating Washington, LSU beat Vanderbilt (23-9) giving up two points when the long snapper hiked the ball over the punters' head and out of the end zone, ULL (31-3), Mississippi State (30-26), Georgia (20-13), Auburn (31-10), Tulane (42-0), Louisiana Tech (24-16), and Arkansas (33-30).  LSU lost to Florida (13-3) at home at night, national champion Alabama (24-15) at Alabama, Ole Miss. (25-23) at Ole Miss., and Penn. State (19-17) in the Capital One Bowl.  There's a sort of an interesting similarity:  Both North Carolina and LSU ended their seasons last year by losing to teams from Pennsylvania by the exact same score: 19-17.  

LSU is a football school and some LSU fans and donors are unwilling to sit in the stands and keep contributing to the Tiger Athletic Fund if this sort of mediocrity is allowed to settle in Death Valley (Tiger Stadium).

Clearly, expectations at North Carolina and LSU are very different.  

Expectations aside, LSU has a number of new players in key positions whereas North Carolina returns nearly the entire defense from a very solid defense last year.  North Carolina's quarterback, T.J. Yates, is a veteran whose Achilles heel last year was that he would throw interceptions late in close games. LSU's defense was not known for turnovers last year and tended to let up in the fourth quarter.  LSU lead in the fourth quarter in 3 of the 4 games they lost.  On the other hand, LSU's defensive weaknesses last year came to mind recently after watching LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis point them out at LSU's media days this week. Chavis pointed out those two factors - turnovers and playing hard for four quarters - because those are the two things that Chavis is focusing on for correction.  North Carolina may give LSU's defense a chance to show improvement in those two areas.  That would be exciting for LSU fans and  it would be a real boost to Tiger Nation to see LSU's offense also hit on all cylinders against a highly touted North Carolina defense.  I hope the NCAA investigation does not put a damper on what is shaping up to be an exciting kickoff to the 2010 season.


Anonymous said...

Interesting Article.

Anonymous said...

Bob, if LSU has a bad season, don't lose heart. There are so called LSU fans hoping to tell you how wrong you have been. Win or Lose - you are a great writer and those doom and gloom fans are full of it. I read somewhere that this is the time for fans to hope and dream. That is one of the great things about this time of year. As a long time Saints fan I can tell you to never give up.

Anonymous said...

North Carolina's defense is no better than most SEC defenses.

Super Dave said...

Hi Bob, great article, keep up the good work.

The way I see it, the Tigers are in great position to pull off an unbelievable championship season, or we could be very disappointed. There will be a fine line we walk between success and failure.

If coach Miles allows the best talent to play regardless of class and allows his coaches to call the plays,we will be ok. I know thats a big if. Even though our defense is young I believe this is going to be the quickist and most effective D we have seen in a while. If the defense can carry us for a while and the offense can grow and gain in confidence ,look out, this season will be special.

I know I sound like a homer, thats because I am.

Good luck and Go Tigers!!!!!

Bob Wynn said...

Thanks Super Dave! I think that your thoughts are dead on. I only disagree with you on one point - you are not a homer.

Anonymous said...

What indication is there that Miles will play anyone new? He never has before, why would he now? If he couldnt get Shepard on the field last year, well, theres just not much more to say.

He'll hitch his (our) wagon to Jordan Jefferson, and when he runs into 9 man fronts, and the safetys cheat up because we have no developed passing game in the middle distance range (over 15 yds) we'll hear all about how the O-line cant get it done.

Its a tired recipe. But according to Miles, its going to be the same one this year as well. Develop the run, no matter what, throw when we want to (translation, we'd rather just run it)... and rely on the players that have already been here.

New faces? Who, who has he played early when he wasnt life and death forced to...

But its all gonna change this year. Game management, play calling, all the rest. You've already seen what he wants to do. What, now that he's got better players, he's gonna ditch what he wants in favor of some form of offense that if he didnt do with Russell, Bowe, Davis and Doucett, he sure isnt gonna do this year.

Nope, he's gonna think that finally he has the players to make what he likes to do succeed, and it wont. if Tubberville couldnt run at will at Auburn with Caddilac and Ronny Brown, cant see how we'll be able to either.

But, we'll try, we always try.

Anonymous said...

Miles's LSU teams try and achieve a win most of the time. Go Tigers!

Anonymous said...

Miles Tigers try and achieve wins most of the time?... Do they...

When you break down a college season you get ULM and McNeese. Is it really a win if you play these guys? Why not play Tara High School and the school for the deaf while your at it. Miles would win those most of the time too.

Add in perrenial under class like Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Tennessee and you've got three more specious games of limited competition too. Miles wins those most of the time too.

Then you get to Bama, UF, Ark, Auburn, and OM. These are the teams of the day that have talent and organization to fairly match LSU's resources (Miles' resources).

Hows he do against those... Against teams that actually can compete?

A 12 game college season has about 5 games that matter. Miles was 2-3 last year against teams that matter. Losing to Bama, UF, and OM.

Looks a lot more like that when Miles teams 'try' they achieve wins about 2 times in 5...

Unless you're paying your money to see the big guy kick sand in the face of the likes of Vandy, MSU, ULM, McNeese, and Tennessee...

Usually win... LMAO...

College schedules are designed so coaches only have to win about half of the games against the half the schedule that had any chance of competing with them...

Usually?... What a load of pooh...

Anonymous said...

I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Crowton is going to be on the field this year, that's a plus for offense. Also, if Billy Gonzales can bring some of his Florida offense experience to the table and get the Russel Shepard type guys on the field more often we will be fine. And you can bet your ass our defense will be ready even without Ryan Baker who will hopefully be back for Mississippi State. GEAUX TIGERS

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