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12/22/14 5:55 am CST

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Good morning, Tiger Fans,

With the Music City Bowl between LSU and Notre Dame just eight days away, today we’ll continue our position-by-position comparisons of the two teams, but first we have a couple of other football-related topics to touch on, starting with some news on the coaching front.

According to reports like this one from the Advocate, Texas A&M has reached out to LSU’s John Chavis about its open defensive coordinator position. Chavis just completed his sixth year at LSU and this isn’t the first time that he’s been courted by other schools, but what makes this time interesting is that LSU has offered Chavis a new contract extension which has not yet been signed. LSU’s defense has finished in the top-15 nationally in each of the last four seasons, and this year it finished 1st in the SEC. Obviously, losing Chavis would be a huge blow to LSU, but I’ve seen nothing to make me think he’s going anywhere. Still, this is a story we’ll be monitoring closely. 

In other football-related news, my friend Jim Kleinpeter of nola.com is reporting that LSU cornerback Jalen Collins will enter the 2015 NFL draft, while fellow defensive back Jalen Mills will return to LSU for his senior season. According to this report, Collins received a favorable draft grade from the NFL Advisory Committee (which means they projected him as either a first or second round pick), while Mills did not. For those of you keeping track, so far WR Travin Dural and punter Jamie Keehn have already stated they are planning to stay for their senior seasons, and there are reports that defensive end Danielle Hunter is very likely to stay. Several other players are considering the draft, including linebacker Kwon Alexander and offensive linemen Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins. So far there’s been no word on which way those three are leaning.  

Now let’s jump back to our position-by-position review of LSU and Notre Dame by looking at the running backs. In case you missed it, yesterday we began the comparisons with the quarterback position and gave the advantage to Notre Dame. Here we go…

RB
Few teams can match LSU’s stable of running backs, and Notre Dame isn’t one of them. LSU’s Leonard Fournette may not have been as dominant early on as many were expecting, but he steadily improved throughout the season and made quite a statement against Texas A&M with his Herschel Walker-like run that garnered national attention. Fournette has rushed for 811 yards and is currently 111 yards short of becoming the school’s all-time freshman rushing leader, and considering all the great backs that LSU has had, that statement says a lot. Fournette alone would probably be enough to give LSU the edge over most schools at the RB position, but what makes LSU’s running game so strong is its depth at the position (not to mention its O-line which will get to in a subsequent report). With Terrance Magee, Kenny Hilliard and Darrel Williams sharing the load, the Tigers’ backfield always has fresh legs, and that’s a big part of why they’re averaging 219.5 yards per game on the ground. Notre Dame, on the other hand, doesn’t have a running back who can impact the game like Leonard Fournette, and they don’t have the depth LSU has. What they do have is a very capable back in Tarean Foster who has rushed for 800 yards this season. Foster has pretty good speed once he hits the second level, but the most impressive thing about him is the way he churns away yards after initial contact. Foster runs with a low pad level, and is deceptive in the way he peeks through the defense and gets by tacklers. Notre Dame’s second and third leading running backs average less than 25 yards per game, and there’s not much depth behind them. As a team, the Irish are averaging 150 yards per game (81st in the country). 
Advantage LSU 

Stay tuned, as tomorrow we’ll continue this series by comparing the two teams’ wide receivers.  

In football recruiting news, there are a couple of tidbits to pass along on offensive tackle prospects.  Last week I mentioned O’Shea Dugas (OT, 6’5", 300, Northside, No. 22 on our list of Top LA Prospects) as someone who might be a backup plan for LSU, but yesterday Dugas announced on Twitter that he has committed to LA Tech. LSU never offered Dugas. I also learned last night that LSU extended a new offer to current Texas A&M commit Connor Lanfear. Lanfear is being courted by several schools since A&M recently fired their O-line coach, but so far there’s been no indication that he wavering in his commitment to the Aggies. 

In basketball news, the LSU men’s team will return to action tonight with a home contest against Charleston at 8 p.m. The game will be televised by the SEC Network. LSU (8-2) is riding a five-game win streak and is coming off a 79-70 road win over UAB. The College of Charleston Cougars (5-6) have lost two straight, one on the road in overtime at Charlotte, and a Saturday 80-68 loss against Davidson. Fans can receive a free ticket to tonight’s game by bringing a toy to donate for the long-running Toys for Tots Program. The toy needs to be new and unwrapped and can be presented at the upper concourse ticket windows of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center beginning at 6:30 p.m.

While on the topic of basketball, here’s a very brief video of LSU’s No. 1 basketball recruit for next season, Ben Simmons, throwing an alley-oop to himself off the backboard. I can’t wait to see this kid in purple and gold!

Last but not least, congratulations to former Tiger wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry for what they’re accomplishing in the NFL. Yesterday OBJ had eight receptions for 148 yards and two TDs, which gives him 90 or more receiving yards in eight consecutive games. The NFL record, set by Hall of Famer Michael Irvin in his eighth year in the league, is nine consecutive games. As for Jarvis Landry, yesterday he set a Miami Dolphins’ record for the most receptions by a rookie when he hauled in his 76th reception of the year. 

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Reader Comments: Scott, remember that JUCO quarterback that LSU decided not to pursue - you know, the one that was kicked off the team at Clemson and recently signed with Ole Miss? Well, I sure am glad Miles passed on him. Check it out:  Former high school football star Kelly arrested in scuffle with police

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12/21/14 5:50 am CST

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Good morning, Tiger Fans,

It was great hearing from many of you yesterday about the chart I posted comparing LSU’s 2013 and 2014 end of the year stats. While the stats showed clearly what we expected to see - that LSU improved on defense while declining considerably on offense – one of my longtime readers took them a step further and removed LSU’s three “cupcake wins” this year to see what kind of effect it had on the stats. His finding? Well, you can see for yourself in the Reader Comment at the end of this report.

With LSU’s bowl game against Notre Dame just a little more than a week away, today we’ll begin our position-by-position comparisons of the two teams starting with the quarterbacks.

QB
LSU isn’t the only team in this matchup that doesn’t have everything figured out at quarterback. Two years after leading the Irish to the national championship game, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson produced 3,355 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season. Those numbers are impressive, but it was Golson’s inability to protect the football (14 interceptions and eight fumbles), and his inability to lead his team to wins late in the season, that prompted head coach Brian Kelly to re-open the quarterback battle this December, giving Malik Zaire an opportunity to win the job. Even though the Irish have plenty of question marks at quarterback, we still have to give them the nod at this position, as LSU has proven to be too one-dimensional with Anthony Jennings at the helm. Jennings’ season total of 1,460 passing yards, which is less than half of Golson’s, demonstrates that point. 
Advantage Notre Dame

Between now and Game Day we’ll incrementally compare the other positions and eventually we’ll conclude with a few Keys to Victory.

Speaking of quarterbacks, a lot of Tiger Fans got a look at LSU QB commit Justin McMillan last night as his team, Cedar Hills, defeated Katy for the Texas 6A state championship in a game that was televised by FSSW. I didn’t get to see any of the game because I was busy with an early family Christmas celebration, but I heard from many of you who were impressed with McMilan’s performance. McMillan’s final passing stats were an impressive 20-of-25 for 220 yards, one TD and one INT. His leading receiver was LSU target DaMarkus Lodge who ended the night with four receptions for 101 yards and two TDs.  

In other recruiting news, one of LSU’s biggest out-of-state targets, five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, gave LSU fans some good news yesterday when he named LSU one of his top-2 schools. As those of you who follow DandyDonLSU on Twitter already know, Mack named LSU and TCU as his two finalists, in no order. Mack will be visiting LSU on January 16th, the first weekend after the dead period. Also, JUCO cornerback sensation Justin Martin, who will be visiting LSU on January 30th, has named LSU as his leader. If LSU is able to land these two five-stars, along with elite in-state prospects Tyron Johnsons (WR, 6'1", 185, Warren Easton) and Donte Jackson (ATH, 5'11", 175, Riverdale), this class could finish exceptionally strong.

I’ll leave you today with a couple of good reads to go along with your Sunday morning coffee, and the Reader Comment I mentioned earlier about yesterday’s stats comparison. 

• Here’s an article on Notre Dame’s QB situation, per CSNChicago.com.  

From the ice rinks of north Alabama to Death Valley, LSU fullback Connor Neighbors is all about playing aggressively

Reader Comment: Football stats, like any stats, can be deceiving. In LSU’s case, their stats for 2014 are greatly benefited by the three cupcake wins they had over Sam Houston State (56-0), ULM (31-0) and New Mexico State (63-7), outscoring the opponents by a combined score of 150-7. By taking those three games out of the season stats, LSU’s points per game in nine contests decreases from 27.6 to 20.1, and their points allowed increases from 16.4 to 21.1 per game.  While the 2013 team obviously enjoyed padding their stats against their three cupcake non-conference wins (56-17 over UAB, 45-13 over Kent State and 48-16 over Furman), their stats do not change as significantly.  Their points per game decreases from 37.0 to 33.2, and their points allowed increases from 22.7 to 24.9.  So, yes, the defense did improve this year, but maybe not as significantly as we might think at first glance (3.8 ppg differential), and the offensive disparity was much greater than the entire season’s stats would imply (13.1 ppg differential).

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12/20/14 5:55 am CST

Good morning, Tiger Fans,

The first thing I’d like to do is congratulate the 19 LSU student-athletes who received their degrees from LSU yesterday. Of the 19, eight are LSU football players – running back Kenny Hilliard, tight end Travis Dickson, defensive end Jermauria Rasco, linebacker D. J. Welter, former placekicker Josh Jasper, and walk-ons Sam Joseph, Tre Sullivan and Myles O’Brien. LSU baseball catcher Micah Gibbs also graduated. Hats off to all of these student athletes, and to all the young men and women who graduated yesterday.

Since we’ll soon be turning our attention to the upcoming Music City Bowl game, I figured now would be a good time to review LSU’s regular season stats and compare them to last year’s. In the chart below, all of the stats are final regular season stats, with the exception of last year’s QB rating and turnover margin. I didn’t have those two stats readily available for last year’s regular season, so I went with the final stats (post bowl game) for those two.

 stats LSU 2013 2014

A few observations and comments:

You don’t need to study the stats to know that LSU’s offense was much worse in virtually every category this year, but let’s take a look anyway. The three most telling stats, in my opinion, are run-to-pass ratio, passing yards and third down conversion. Obviously, these three stats are closely related. Last year LSU was much more balanced run-to-pass (60/40) compared to this year (69/31), and as a result threw for over 100 yards per game more than this year. That’s huge, and of course LSU’s lack of a passing game this year made it very hard to move the chains. Last year LSU ended No. 1 in the nation in third down conversions, whereas this year the Tigers currently rank 73rd. How LSU fares in this regard next year will once again depend largely on QB play, and that is clearly the biggest question mark for the 2015 Tigers team.

On defense, LSU improved in almost every category this year, but the biggest improvement was in pass defense, as the Tigers held opponents to almost 40 fewer yards per game through the air. LSU’s pass defense last year was good, and it finished a respectable 13th, but this year it has been great and is currently 4th in the nation. The outlook for next year’s LSU defense looks even better at every unit (DL, LB, DB), with the possible exception of linebacker if Kwon Alexander enters the NFL draft.

On special teams, the two most notable stats are average yard per punt (big improvement by Jamie Keehn) and field goal percentage (big decline by Colby Delahoussaye). Keehn showed much better consistency this year and increased his average by nearly six yards per punt. In the return game, numbers were pretty comparable. As for next year, Jamie Keehn has stated that he will return for his senior year and that is great news for the Tigers. All of the Tigers’ place kickers will return as well. It will be interesting to see whether LSU sticks with Leonard Fournette as a kick returner, and who will join him back there in Terrance Magee’s place. Overall, the outlook for LSU special teams in 2015 is excellent.

One thing that stood out to me is that LSU committed fewer penalties this year. Although I haven’t seen stats to confirm this, it seems that LSU committed far fewer pre-snap penalties along the offensive line, and that reflects well on new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes.

In football recruiting news, LSU’s biggest out-of-state target, Daylon Mack, de-committed from Texas A&M yesterday. Later today Mack is expected to name is top-2 schools, and Tiger fans will be waiting anxiously to see who he names. It’s widely believed that Texas will be one of the two, with the other either being LSU or TCU. Mack is widely considered the No. 1 defensive tackle in the country, and landing him would be huge for the Tigers.

Also, another offensive tackle target emerged yesterday, and he’s a big one. His name is Fredrick Johnson and he is a 6-foot-6.5, 301-pound tackle out of Royal Palm Beach, FL. Johnson committed to Virginia Tech in September but has since reopened his recruitment and is reportedly planning an official visit to LSU in January.

In basketball news, the LSU women’s basketball team implemented a new platoon system with Purple and Gold units and rolled over UC Santa Barbara 78-45 at the Thunderdome. In what was an interesting change of pace, LSU (5-5) broke its 10 players into two units and split up the action between the media timeouts. This game plan worked against lowly UC Santa Barbara (0-10), but I would be surprised to see it again moving forward. Below is what Coach Nikki Caldwell said about that approach. The Lady Tigers will return to action at the Miami Holiday Tournament on December 28 against UNC Greensboro.

“I thought the groups were very competitive based on our practices over the last couple of days,” head coach Nikki Caldwell said. “When the players picked their teams, it gave us a good balance of experience in guard play and post play. It was really an opportunity for us to explore different looks especially on the defensive end because we knew we were going to have a wave coming in. The players knew they had to go hard for four minutes then I’m going to get sub. Then, I’m going to go hard for another four minutes and get another sub.”

A few tid-bits in closing: 

• Even though the season is still 55 days away, it’s never too early to get excited about LSU baseball, and two Tigers who are reason for excitement were honored yesterday. The two are LSU junior shortstop Alex Bregman and sophomore left-handed pitcher Jared Poché, who were named 2015 second-team preseason All-Americans by Collegiate Baseball magazine. For more on this story, see this article by LSUSports.net.

• Tickets for the 2015 LSU Baseball First Pitch Banquet are now on sale at lsutaf.org. The event, which signifies the beginning of the college baseball season, will be held at 6 p.m. on Sunday, January 25 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Baton Rouge. Former Major League pitcher Kyle Peterson, the lead college baseball analyst for ESPN, will serve as the keynote speaker for the banquet. For more info, click here.

• Last but not least, I’ll update our Ticket Exchange later today, so if you have any Music City Bowl tickets to see, please let me know.

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