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January 3, 2011

The Cotton Bowl - LSU vs. Texas A&M (Part 3)

Both the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate are reporting that Stevan Ridley has been declared eligible for the Cotton Bowl.  Ridley not only leads an extremely talented group of LSU running backs but, is also the leading rusher among SEC running backs.  While he rarely had a breakaway run this year, Ridley could almost always be counted on for 4-6 yards and proved nearly unstoppable on the goal line.   Ridley is a real leader for the Tigers and he has become a fan favorite among Tiger fans.  Ridley will probably get the most carries in the game for the Tigers but Mike Ford, Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware, and Russell Shepard could have highlight film runs.  With the return of offensive linemen Alex Hurst and Will Blackwell to full form, I would not be at all surprised to see Russell Shepard repeat a long run like he opened with against North Carolina.  Each LSU running back is talented and no two backs have the same running style.

By contrast Texas A&M has one running back - Cyrus Gray.  Cyrus Gray took over as the sole rushing hope after Christine Michael broke his leg about midway in the season.  When Gray was handed the job as a solo effort, he really took the ball and ran with it. Gray finished his last 6 games with 100 yard or more and 223 yards rushing against a talented Texas defense that was fighting to become bowl eligible.  Gray also catches the ball well out of the backfield.  A&M's late season success can be attributed to a young, inexperienced offensive line maturing under the able leadership of their one senior Aggie center and former LSU o-lineman Matt Allen.

Both LSU and A&M have a much improved offense due to solid offensive line play and spectacular running backs.

It is notable that in the three games that Texas A&M lost, Cyrus Gray was almost not present with a total of 11 touches combined in those three losses.  Gray has shined against very talented defenses.  Aside from the 223 yards against Texas, Gray gained 122 yards against Oklahoma and 137 yards against Nebraska.  In both games Gray averaged more than 5 yards per carry.

As I am writing this I am watching the Orange Bowl between Stanford and Virginia Tech.  I just watch Jeremy Stewart who played Catholic High in Baton Rouge score a long touchdown for Stanford and even though I was happy that a former Louisiana ball player scored on a long run, I would not trade a single LSU back for Stewart.  I also wouldn't trade an LSU running back for a very talented Cyrus Gray.  This Cotton Bowl is an opportunity for Stevan Ridley to show the pro scouts his talent.  This is a game for Michael Ford to prove that his coaches made the right decision when they offered him a scholarship before Christine Michael.  This is a game for Russell Shepard to show the nation and his fellow Texans that he is developing into the same talented player that dominated Texas 5A high school football.  LSU WR Terrence Toliver may have a similar need.

For both teams it is largely up to the offensive line to provide the opportunity for all of this first rate running backs to realize their dreams.  I can feel the temperature beginning to rise for this stellar Cotton Bowl match up.  Friday cannot come soon enough.

When he fumbled twice in the opening game, I was certain that Stevan Ridley was not "the man" for the Tigers.  At the end of the season, Mr. Ridley has convinced me that his is the man to lead the Tigers.  I feel sure that Ridley realizes the opportunity that he and his Tiger family have with this opportunity to play one of the hottest rising teams in the country.     

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