Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Aug 2011

ESPN: LSU Def/ST Units Can Beat Oregon

Last season, LSU defensive and special-teams units created more short-field opportunities than any other units in college football. The Tigers started 24 percent of their drives in opponent territory in 2010, and only 11 percent of their drives from inside their own 20-yard line. Those were the best marks in the country and the main reason why LSU was able to win 11 games last season with a less-than-stellar offense. No team leaned as heavily last year on its defense and special teams to win, and that will be the key again this Saturday if LSU is to knock off Oregon.

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 29 Aug 2011

11 comments, Last at 31 Aug 2011, 10:13am by jon no h


by sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 1:17am

The headline on the article is crazy. How is losing your most experienced QB going into a season opener ever a non-factor? Especially in college, where quality experience QB is what seperates so many good teams from all the rest, especially at the beginning of a season?

That aside, the analysis is fine with one quibble: This is all based on LAST years LSU team. No mention is made of who makes up THIS year's LSU team. How did graduation and other attrition affect their roster? How much of these vaunted Special Teams remain intact?

by sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 1:19am

As an addendum: not that Lee is totally inexperienced. But he's also clearly the backup to Jefferson. How is putting in your second best guy ever a non factor?

by trill :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:06am

Jefferson's main advantage over Lee is his ability to contribute on the ground (567yds). Neither one has been very good at reading defenses or making sound decisions about where to throw the ball. Jefferson looked good in the bowl game and supposedly had made strides in spring practices, but between Lee and Mettenberger I think they'll be at least average at QB.

I can't really see LSU's special teams being as good as they were last year either. Not only are they missing punter/kicker Josh Jasper, but KR/PR duties are being handed over to someone other than Patrick Peterson - starting CB's Tyran Mathieu and Morris Claiborne will take over. LSU's recruiting is strong enough to ensure that the new guys won't bring much of a drop in athleticism, but the experience is just not there yet.

That said, the defense is likely to be very, very good, and if the offense can manage even an average performance they can compete. I am sure Oregon has a few tricks up their sleeve after getting manhandled by a very similar defense in the BCS championship.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 1:22pm

Manhandling wasn't Oregon's problem in the title game last year. They oddly got out of game-plan and keopt trying for big plays early, which just isn't their style. They seemed to catch a bad case of nerves.

by trill :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 1:48pm

Maybe "manhandled" wasn't descriptive enough. Darren Thomas definitely played nervous, but often an Auburn DL would get to the mesh point before Thomas was able to make his read. Also, Chip Kelly thought that the championship game was a good time to unveil next year's offense, with Thomas and the backs running some triple-option concepts early in the game. Regardless, Oregon definitely seemed caught off guard by the quickness and power of Auburn's DL.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 4:18pm

That's true, but they got away from what was working in the 1st quarter on their one sustained drive -- they were killing Auburn's DL by throwing west-coast passes and running a hurry-up, and just wearing them down. After that 1st quarter INT, they started running this triple-option crap and throwing incomplete hero passes, and basically playing a dream strategy for Auburn's D.

I couldn't figure out at what point Chip Kelly had hired Bryan Stinespring to run the O.

by jon no h (not verified) :: Wed, 08/31/2011 - 10:13am

Yes LSU is losing their most experienced QB but what you may not realize is that Jefferson was responsible for the 110th worst passing offense in the country! The fact that LSU still went 11-2 shows how much talent is there. While some "starters" may not be returning, everyone but true freshman DT Anthony Johnson(who's been a freak at camp) has plenty of playing experience. All Lee needs to do is manage the offense that's it. Just like Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn(who wasn't a starter until his senior year by the way) during the National Championship seasons. Jefferson did have the better ability to run but has a longer throwing
motion and has never been able to grasp what was going on. He always had that deer in headlights look. LSU will be fine and so will Oregon. It should be a great game Saturday!

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 10:41am

Patterson isn't at LSU anymore. There goes most of your ST performance and half your field coverage.

by Some_FF-Player_in_nawlins (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 10:57am

I'm not even going to approach the argument that Lee is better than Jefferson, but instead will point out that they are very different players. Lee is a pocket passer whereas Jefferson was more of a two read scrambler. Jefferson has improved as of late, but, is still not what one would consider a first-tier college quarterback. As long as Lee has at least a couple of seconds to go through his progressions in the pocket, he'll be above replacement level for as long as he's needed. One of the improvements to this LSU team over previous years, at least from what we're hearing from the local sports media, is that the offensive line is much improved. So, without having to run for their lives constantly, I expect better performances from both LSU quarterbacks. Looking back at Lee's previous times on the field, especially two years ago, his interceptions were often influenced by having very little procketp rotection.

Will it be enough to beat Oregon? I haven't got a clue. Just that, Oregon will not steamroll LSU because of the quality of LSU's defense (both recently observed in practice, and historically). So, the main question is, will LSU's offense score enough and not turn the ball over too much to keep Oregon from managing to get and keep a lead.

by trill :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 11:33am

I haven't seen every snap Lee has taken, but both he and Jefferson are guilty of making elementary errors like staring down receivers and trying to force the ball to guys who are covered. Jefferson was just more likely to tuck and run. In the games I saw Lee had a hard time getting into the flow of the game; he seemed like he was either forcing throws to covered WR's or rushing his reads and dumping off too soon. Seemed like the kind of errors that could be corrected with more experience and maybe a vote of confidence from the coaching staff, but I don't attend their practices or film room sessions so what do I know.

The OL is deep and experienced, despite graduating LT Barksdale. Definitely a strength this year.

by Kal :: Tue, 08/30/2011 - 2:19pm

Scramblers are a lot more dangerous to Oregon's D than non-scramblers. The Ducks' best defensive trait is their secondary, who play very opportunistic. Even without Cliff they'll be out to get interceptions and whatnot.

Really, though, the article is sound if a bit misleading. The game will be almost entirely decided on whether or not Oregon's offense can produce points or how badly LSU can push them around. Special teams is unlikely to be a major factor, as the Ducks also got a lot of value out of their ST play.