Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
20 Nov 2009
by Bill Connelly
I'll try not to occupy too much of your time as the ever more entertaining Mark Mangino saga unfolds in Lawrence. OK, that's a lie. This column isn't any shorter than normal, and it should occupy plenty of your time.
It's time to talk a little about one of the most disappointing but successful teams in the country, the Bayou Bengals from Baton Rouge.
Anytime you win a game without your starting quarterback, it has to be considered a relatively successful Saturday, but LSU tested the bounds of that theory last week in getting outgained by 76 yards in a ho-hum eight-point win over the visitors from (somewhat) nearby Ruston (really, it's not really near at all, but it's still closer than most schools).
|Field Position %||44.6%||50.0%|
|Close Success Rate||38.6%||36.5%|
|Close Success Rate||45.7%||48.3%|
|Close Success Rate||29.7%||21.7%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate
||16.7% / 10.5%||7.7% / 0.0%|
|Turnover Pts Margin
|1st Down S&P||0.643||0.503|
|2nd Down S&P||0.557||1.202|
|3rd Down S&P||0.415||0.330|
|Projected Pt. Margin
|Actual Pt. Margin
So why did we choose this game to review, other than the fact that it was significantly closer than its final eight-point margin? It's time to look a bit into LSU's overall offensive performance and judge whether some of its critics (even the more measured, rational ones) are right in calling for some change in personnel. We knew that LSU would struggle at least a bit without Jefferson, but has the offense really been in a season-long funk?
Here are LSU's major offensive S&P+ rankings for the season, with some comparison data from 2007 (the national title season) and 2008:
Rushing Offense: 34th
Passing Offense: 43rd
Standard Downs: 19th
Passing Downs: 64th
Adjusted Line Yards: 34th
2008 Overall: 23rd
2008 Rushing: 14th
2008 Passing: 28th
2007 Overall: 6th
2007 Rushing: 6th
2007 Passing: 15th
Here's the deal: LSU has finished seventh, fourth, 11th, and second in the last four years according to Rivals' recruiting rankings.
The Tigers have undergone some serious turnover in personnel during the last year or two, as evidenced by the fact that 15 of 22 current slots on the depth chart are manned by freshmen or sophomores. Plus, two of the last three recruiting classes have ranked in Rivals' top five. They have deserved some time to grow into their potential, but expectations are quite high in Baton Rouge, and they should probably start improving next year. Still, though, taking rate of play (they're averaging under 60 plays per game) and strength of schedule (clearly, LSU has encountered some salty defenses, including the nation's top two units, Florida and Alabama), things aren't as dire as they seem. Whereas LSU ranks 75th in the country in total rushing yardage and 103rd in passing, their per-play rates rank them 34th and 43rd in rushing and passing, not nearly as frightening. They may not produce a ton against a stout Ole Miss defense this weekend, but nobody really does.
LSU will lose Keiland Williams and Brandon LaFell to exhausted eligibility after this season, along with two strong offensive linemen and a nice tight end in Richard Dickson. But if LSU's coaching staff is worth its salt, their replacements, most of whom were highly touted recruits, should be able to not only pick up the slack, but get the offense ranked back among the country's elite. If they're ranked 41st in Offensive S&P+ this time next year, we'll talk about some changes in the coaching staff.
Moving to the Midwest, where ... well, things are exactly as they should be, really. For a while there, it seemed like a changing of the guard was imminent. Ohio State's offense looked uncertain and predictable against USC, and then they had the audacity to lose to Purdue. The conference's best program of the decade was shaky and ready to give way to Penn State or Iowa, not to mention a charging Wisconsin team. And then they won the Big Ten. Ho hum.
Michigan showed not only some offensive prowess, but some clutch play-making in moving to 4-0 and, later, 5-2. Were they ready to move back to the conference's upper echelon? Not so much. They have seemingly fallen apart at the seams in losing four in a row (and six of seven) to fall to 5-6, and they need a huge upset over the Buckeyes to find bowl eligibility.
But here's the deal: looking back at "+" scores, Ohio State really never was that vulnerable, and Michigan was never that hot.
While VN readers have probably gotten used to the concept of "+" ratings to judge teams for their full-season efforts, they can also be observed on a game-by-game basis to spot trends. Let's look at how Michigan's and Ohio State's seasons have fared now that we have enough data to judge. Below are the single-game "+" scores each team managed. This is a combination of overall Offensive S&P+ and Defensive S&P+, so if you remember nothing else, just remember that 200.0 is dead average. It means their output was exactly what an average team would produce against a given opponent.
(Full-season "+" ratings also take into account an "opponents' opponents" adjustment to further adjust for strength of schedule, and these numbers do not. Therefore, you will see some pretty high scores against lesser opponents. In the full-season ratings, Michigan does not get quite as much credit for destroying Western Michigan, nor Ohio State for whipping Toledo. Michigan's win over FCS Delaware State is not included below either, though it is taken into account for full-season ratings.)
September 5: Western Michigan (W, 31-7) - 357.9
September 12: Notre Dame (W, 38-34) - 190.0
September 19: Eastern Michigan (W, 45-17) - 197.3
September 26: Indiana (W, 36-33) - 176.8
October 3: Michigan State (L, 20-26) - 178.9
October 10: Iowa (L, 28-30) - 216.5
October 24: Penn State (L, 10-35) - 194.4
October 31: Illinois (L, 13-38) - 157.0
November 7: Purdue (L, 36-38) - 197.8
November 14: Wisconsin (L, 24-45) - 175.3
Hindsight is 20/20, and it shows here. When Michigan defeated Notre Dame, we thought we were watching two potentially elite teams doing battle. Now? Not so much. Michigan's performance was actually slightly below average against Notre Dame; for that matter, Michigan has performed like an above-average or better team only twice this season, against Western Michigan and Iowa. Other than that, it has been a healthy dose of mediocrity, thanks mostly to a defense that has produced a game score of above 85.0 (average is 100.0 for each unit) only once since the opening weekend, a 103.6 against Michigan State.
September 5: Navy (W, 31-27) - 191.7
September 12: USC (L, 15-18) - 197.3
September 19: Toledo (W, 38-0) - 343.0
September 26: Illinois (W, 30-0) - 286.7
October 3: Indiana (W, 33-14) - 227.6
October 10: Wisconsin (W, 31-13) - 215.4
October 17: Purdue (L, 18-26) - 190.5
October 24: Minnesota (W, 38-7) - 244.3
October 31: New Mexico State (W, 45-0) - 340.8
November 7: Penn State (W, 24-7) - 324.9
November 14: Iowa (W, 27-24) - 210.4
Ohio State caught justifiable flack for struggling on offense against USC, and the Trojans' subsequent defensive meltdown has not helped their numbers any. But since two average performances to start the season, Ohio State has been rock solid, slipping back below the 200.0 marker once (against Purdue). Their 324.9 score against Penn State was one of the better performances of the last half of the season, and even though they struggled to put away an Iowa team playing with its backup quarterback (has this season seen a higher number of killer injuries, or is it just me?), they have still played like one of the best teams in the country over the last month, to the disappointment of any fan looking forward to new blood in the BCS bowls. You've still got hope for both TCU and Boise State, Mr. Disgruntled Football Fan. Just remember that.
S&P+ rankings are now being updated weekly on FO.
Would you like to see a different layout or format for these rankings? Different rankings altogether? Give us some feedback.
Rutgers (20 spots, from 102nd to 80th). Rutgers has been dinged significantly by a strength-of-schedule adjustment that may be tweaked when the season ends. By not only playing two FCS teams, but two bad FCS teams, their schedule strength has dragged them down considerably, allowing their ranking to rise a good amount with their dominating 31-0 win over South Florida last week. For the second straight season, they have embarked on a respectable surge over the second half of the season, but thanks to the early schedule strength, you are not seeing it in their S&P+ rankings.
Mississippi (15 spots, from 39th to 24th). Ole Miss found a spark last weekend against S&P+ favorite Tennessee, and it resulted in a pretty respectable ratings jump.
Texas A&M (12 spots, from 47th to 35th). And the schedule adjustment bites again. Simply by playing another S&P+ favorite, Oklahoma, last week, A&M saw their ratings rise ... even though they got destroyed. Again, at the end of the season the rankings make some good sense, but there have been some strange goings-on from week to week.
Pittsburgh (11 spots, from 42nd to 31st). Potentially the most under-the-radar good team in the country, the Panthers looked good enough in beating Notre Dame at home last weekend, and whether they beat West Virginia in Morgantown or not this weekend, they will win the Big East title if they knock off Cincinnati at home in two weeks. Not sure how the schedule makers did it, but they managed to put a "Winner wins the conference title game" on the same Saturday that the conferences with title games are deciding their own titles. Well done, schedule makers.
Other notable rises: Central Florida (81st to 69th), Louisiana Tech (83rd to 71st), Toledo (99th to 88th), Idaho (87th to 77th), Marshall (97th to 87th), Missouri (46th to 37th).
Minnesota (16 spots, from 45th to 61st). Needless to say, their ranking was probably going to drop a bit just for playing South Dakota State in mid-November. But playing them and almost losing? That's going to result in a pretty hefty dip.
Arizona State (12 spots, from 74th to 86th). Despite an offense that was iffy at best, ASU still had decent defensive numbers to fall back on ... and then they met Oregon's LaMichael James, and their defensive numbers aren't so hot anymore.
Wake Forest (11 spots, from 40th to 51st). It wasn't necessarily the fact that they gave up 41 points to Florida State that hurt them. It was the fact that they only managed to score 28 against the sieve that the Seminoles call their defense. Despite posting more than 450 yards of offense, their Offensive S&P+ fell from 46th to 60th.
USC (11 spots, from 23rd to 34th). This one is probably self-explanatory.
Other notable falls: San Jose State (77th to 100th), Utah State (85th to 96th), UCLA (49th to 60th), Michigan State (28th to 39th), Oregon State (27th to 36th), Notre Dame (33rd to 42nd).
To Jim Harbaugh, for having Stanford go for two up 48-21 with under seven minutes remaining against USC last Saturday. Few would have the guts to do that, but it sent a crystal clear message that Stanford wasn't afraid of the repercussions of such an action and wanted USC to know it.
To Jim Harbaugh, for having Stanford go for two up 48-21 with under seven minutes remaining against USC last Saturday. Seriously? You get a seat at the big kids' table and you do that? You love it when your team is doing it, but when it is being done to you, you have a slightly different reaction. And make no mistake, karma will make sure (for lesser programs, anyway) that what goes around, comes around. As the legendary Bud Kilmer would say, "Hope it was fun, hope it was funnnn ..." Payback is already on the way.
Highlights of nine of 10 battles in Woody Hayes' and Bo Schembechler's "Ten-Year War" are on YouTube. The Internet truly is the greatest invention ever.
1969: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12 in Ann Arbor
1970: Ohio State 20, Michigan 9 in Columbus
1972: Ohio State 14, Michigan 11 in Columbus
1973 (The M Club Banner Incident): Michigan 10, Ohio State 10 in Ann Arbor
1974: Ohio State 12, Michigan 10 in Columbus
1975: Ohio State 21, Michigan 14 in Ann Arbor
1976: Michigan 22, Ohio State 0 in Columbus
1977: Michigan 14, Ohio State 6 in Ann Arbor
1978: Michigan 14, Ohio State 3 in Columbus
In honor of angry Coach Mangino...
"99 Problems" by Jay-Z
"Angry Chair" by Alice in Chains
"Angry People" by Barenaked Ladies
"Broken Face" by Pixies
"Fistful of Steel" by Rage Against the Machine
"Goin' Mad" by Wiley
"Screams in the House of the Deranged" by Doleful Lions
"Tears of Rage" by The Band
"Yelling Away" by Talib Kweli
"Oompa Loompa" by Various Artists (sorry, couldn't help it, it's what my wife calls him)
Well, it finally happened. Three close calls went the wrong way, and Upset Watch went 0-4. Purdue almost knocked off Michigan State, Auburn almost took out Georgia, and Virginia stayed tight with Boston College. Upset Watch is now 11-17 in picking upsets straight-up. Sounds like we need a rally.
Syracuse over Rutgers. Spread: Syracuse +9.5 | S&P+ Projection: Syracuse by 14.5.
Explained by Rutgers' schedule-adjusted horrible ratings. I can't say I agree with this one at all, but the numbers have made me look stupid before.
LSU over Ole Miss. Spread: LSU +4.5 | S&P+ Projection: LSU by 5.0.
With Jordan Jefferson coming back, the LSU offense should do a relatively respectable job against the rock solid Rebels defense, but the main story will be the Ole Miss offense. If they show up like they did against Tennessee, they could win out and still finish 10-3 in what seemed to be a rather disappointing season. If they don't, and if LSU corrals Dexter McCluster, then LSU is more than talented enough to pull the upset.
Michigan State over Penn State. Spread: Penn State -3.5 | S&P+ Projection: Penn State by 2.8.
Texas Tech over Oklahoma. Spread: Oklahoma -6.5 | S&P+ Projection: Oklahoma by 2.8.
There were only two really interesting overall upset picks this week, so these two are the next-closest things. With home underdogs and relatively tight point spreads, neither of these potential picks should be too daring, but hey, you work with what you've got, and the numbers aren't spitting out many upsets this week.
Seriously, has there ever been a season where more star (or at least starting) quarterbacks have gotten hurt and either missed games or had to play at 75 percent effectiveness or less? Has it just seemed that way, or has this really been a special (not in a good way) season? Somebody give me an example of more stars getting hurt in the same season. Anyone? Bueller?
(Not to give away which sections of 7th Day Adventure I wrote yesterday, but I've really been stuck on outdated pop culture references this week, haven't I?)
13 comments, Last at 22 Nov 2009, 1:53am by CuseFanInSoCal