2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - LSU vs. Oregon
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Sept. 3 LSU 40 … Oregon 27
CFN Analysis: LSU might have beaten Oregon in a blowout, but it's not like the offense worked all that well. The ground game was powerful, cranking out 175 yards and three scores, but it only averaged 3.6 yards per carry, and the passing game didn't help ; Jarrett Lee was awful. He might not have thrown any pick-sixes, but he only connected on 10-of-22 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. LSU won on defense, stuffing Oregon all game long with Tyrann Mathieu coming up with a huge performance with 7.5 tackles, a forced fumble, two broken up passes, and a touchdown. Now the Tigers get to take a week off against Northwestern State, and they'll get a chance to come up with more of a passing game before going on the road to face Mississippi State and West Virginia. If the defense keeps playing this well, the offense's job will be to keep the mistakes to a minimum. With just one fumble and four takeaways, the Tigers did what they needed to do.
Oregon's inexperience showed on the lines, but more than anything else, the running game simply didn't work. The defense got shoved around a bit, but LSU only came up with 273 yards of total offense and did nothing through the air. The four Ducks turnovers and 12 penalties were the difference, and while the stats might not look that bad, overall, the team didn't look ready for primetime once the Tigers took control early in the second half. The schedule eases up a bit before going to Arizona, and that's the only rough road battle left to deal with until the showdown at Stanford in mid-November. The national title dream is gone, and to win the Pac-12 title, the offense will have to get LaMichael James and the ground attack rolling again. James only ran for 54 yards and a score, but he won't have to deal with LSU anymore.
(AP) ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a rare opening matchup of top-five teams, both missing key players, Jarrett Lee admirably directed LSU's offense in place of suspended quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
Being without standout cornerback-punt returner Cliff Harris was more than mistake-prone and third-ranked Oregon could overcome.
The Ducks' fill-in punt returner had a fumble that led directly to an LSU touchdown and Lee's touchdown pass came against the defensive back playing in Harris' spot in the fourth-ranked Tigers' 40-27 victory Saturday night.
"I asked them to put to the perimeter all the things that could be considered distractions," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I enjoyed Jarrett Lee's gutty effort. I liked how the offense did the things they needed to do."
Already without the suspended Harris, the Ducks made things even harder on themselves with four turnovers -- three that LSU converted into 20 points while building a 30-13 lead.
Highly touted freshman De'Anthony Thomas fumbled on consecutive touches late in the third quarter, one on a rushing attempt and then on the ensuing kickoff, and the Tigers took control with touchdown runs from Michael Ford and Spencer Ware in a span of less than 3 1/2 minutes.
"Those are self-inflicted wounds," coach Chip Kelly said. "The drops, the turnovers and the penalties are the things that really killed us. Against a team like that, you're not going to win the game."
Harris, who can be found on most preseason All-America teams, was suspended in June after police caught him driving 118 mph, and also having a suspended license at the time.
The Tigers were also without receiver Russell Shepard, who was suspended for at least this game because he discussed another NCAA inquiry with a teammate. He was third in receiving and fourth in rushing for LSU last season.
Besides the legitimate national title hopes both teams had, they had a tie in ongoing NCAA investigations into their dealings with Willie Lyles, who ran a Houston-based service that provided scouting reports of high school players.
And this was the first season-opening game of top-five teams on a neutral field since 1984, when Jimmy Johnson won his debut as coach of Miami against an Auburn squad featuring Bo Jackson a year before he won the Heisman Trophy. There was a crowd of 87,711 at Cowboys Stadium, where LSU played its second consecutive game.
The Tigers ended their 2010 season on the Dallas Cowboys' home field in January with a 41-24 victory over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl when Jefferson passed for three touchdowns and ran for another score.
But Jefferson is now suspended indefinitely, as is reserve linebacker Josh Johns, because they are facing felony charges of second degree battery stemming from a bar fight near campus last month.
Plenty of subplots in this one.
"We've had a lot on our minds as team coming into this game," Lee said. "It's not something that we wanted to happen. But you have to put that to the side and move forward."
Lee's 10th career start, his first since a win over Louisiana Tech in 2009, was far from spectacular. The senior completed only 10 of 22 passes for 98 yards, but didn't have an interception and appeared steady throughout the game.
The lone LSU turnover came when Lee stepped up toward the line to point out a pending blitz, at the same time the ball was snapped behind him. That set up Rob Beard's second field goal to give Oregon a 6-3 lead.
Oregon, which lost to Auburn in the BCS national championship game last season, has consecutive losses for the first time since they losing its last three regular-season games in 2007.
"This is going to show the character of this team, how hard we're going to come back and play after this loss," Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas said. "The offense had self-inflicted wounds all game."
LSU took a 16-13 lead just before halftime, going ahead to stay, on Rueben Randle's 10-yard TD catch from Lee.
Randle caught the ball in the front corner of the end zone over freshman cornerback Terrance Mitchell -- in the spot Harris would have been playing on defense.
The other LSU touchdown before halftime came when fill-in punt returner Barner fielded a punt inside the 5, took a couple of steps backs. That's when Tyrann Mathieu stripped the ball away, scooped it up after it bounced on the turf and took a couple of steps into the end zone.
LSU has won 34 consecutive nonconference games, the longest such streak in the nation, including all 23 in the regular season under seventh-year coach Miles.
"Our football team is united. They play together," Miles said. "You put a ball on the line and they'll scrap you for it."
Ware had 26 carries for 99 yards while Fort had 14 runs for 98 yards and two TDs, his second on a 16-yard run in the fourth quarter.
LaMichael James had one of the worst games at Oregon, even though he scored a touchdown for the 12th time his last 13 games. James had 18 carries for 54 yards, only five more than he had against Auburn in the national title game.
"I don't think we were ready mentally. We have a lot of underclassmen and people who've never played in a college football game," James said. "It was difficult."
De'Anthony Thomas, who scored on a 4-yard run in the final minute, had his first fumble when big defensive end Sam Montgomery reached in and stripped the ball away. The ball popped directly into the hands of safety Eric Reid.
After Ford's 5-yard TD, Craig Loston punched the ball out of Thomas' hands, setting up Ware's 1-yard TD that made it 30-10 after Mitchell was called for pass interference in the end zone.
Darron Thomas was 31-of-54 passing for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a game the Texas native considered "bigger than the national championship." Thomas went to Oregon instead of LSU after Miles wouldn't promise that he could play quarterback.
Oregon (0-0) vs. LSU (0-0)
in Arlington Sept.
3, 8:00, ABC
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Here's The Deal … Unfortunately, all the controversy off the field and all the ugliness surrounding the LSU fighting incident sucked the wind out of the biggest non-conference game of the 2011 college football season. No, there really is no diminishing the magnitude of 1) what might be the biggest Pac-10/Pac-12 regular season game not involving USC in several years, and 2) a matchup good enough to possibly be for the national championship.
LSU starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and linebacker Josh Johns were arrested and suspended for their alleged role in the August 19th bar fight, with it being reported that Jefferson allegedly kicked the victim in the face. While attempts are being made to see if the players might be eligible, the team is going on without them.
Has this been a distraction to the Tigers? Of course. Will this mean they'll rally in the face of adversity? That'll be the big test, but no matter what happens, the outcome of the tremendous neutral site showdown won't have too much to do with the incident. LSU, even without Jefferson, is still good enough to make a run for the BCS Championship, while Oregon, even with some suspension issues of its own and with some major personnel changes being made on both sides of the ball, appears to have it all geared up and ready for another run to the title game.
Of course this game is important to both teams, and while college football perceptions change on a weekly basis, the Pac-12 needs this win a whole bunch more than the SEC does.
LSU can lose to the Ducks, run the table, and play for the national title, while Oregon would need a ton of help to lose this and end up playing for it all – it might not seem fair, but that's the deal after so much SEC national champion success in recent years. Unless there are two unstoppable unbeaten teams – like if Oregon and Oklahoma go without a blemish - a 12-1, SEC Champion LSU will almost certainly get an invite down to New Orleans on January 9th if it wins the conference title game after beating Mississippi State, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Ole Miss on the road while taking care of Florida, Auburn, Arkansas at home. If the Tigers run the table, and look great doing it, many will use the bar fight as part of an excuse to what they weren't quite there against the Ducks on the first weekend. However, if Oregon loses, it'll be tough for the Pac-12 to get too much respect from the eastern side of the U.S. This is it. This is the game the new league needs to have
National perceptions are formed in battles like these. An Oregon win would be a terrific tone-setter for the rest of the Pac-12 season and beyond, while an LSU win would only cement the SEC's dominance as the best conference in America.
LSU is No. 3 in the Coaches' Poll, and Oregon is No. 4. The rest of the college football season will be shaped by this one game, and if both teams play up to their capabilities and expectations throughout the year, then yes, there's a possibility that the August 3rd Cowboys Classic really could be more important than anything that happens on January 9th.
Why Oregon Might Win: There's football shape, there's game shape, and there's dealing with Oregon shape.
In today's day and age, most top programs make absolutely, positively sure that their players are fit throughout the offseason and everyone is on a training regimen that's even harder than anything that happens during the season. However, as coaches have explained over and over again, part of the reason for scheduling Cupcake State to start the year is to get everyone used to going 100 miles per hour again. Practices just don't properly prepare players for what happens in real live action, and while the extra time and focus on the Oregon offense will surely help – as opposed to getting a few days in the middle of the season to figure out how to slow down the machine – all the film study in the world won't help the lungs when the Duck attack starts to roll.
Of course, Boise State didn't seem to need a tune-up at the beginning of the 2009 season, holding Oregon to just 31 yards on the ground with LeGarrette Blount punching out -5 yards net and LaMichael James being held to 22 yards. The difference is that this year's Oregon offensive backfield is better, faster, smarter, and more experienced with quarterback Darron Thomas, Doak Walker winner LaMichael James, and speedster Kenjon Barner all knowing exactly what they're doing. And that – along with sucking wind – will be LSU's issue; not only is Oregon's offense going to try to fly at warp speed, but any new wrinkles added to the mix should work.
There's no game tape uncovering any subtle nuances that head coach Chip Kelly and his staff are going to implement, and to stop Oregon, the defensive discipline can't break down. The defenders have to be in their lanes at all times, they can't do too much freelancing, and they have to play smart, smart, smart. The defensive adjustments have to come as fast as the Oregon up-tempo attack will allow them, and if Kelly and his staff can stay one step ahead the entire night, and if they're able to keep the linebackers confused, LSU will be doing too much guessing. Against Oregon, especially in the second half, that's a problem.
Why LSU Might Win: How do you stop the Oregon running game? How do you negate the up-tempo offense that tries to keep defenses on their heels? 1) Athletic, veteran linebackers, 2) team speed, and 3) third down stops.
Glossed over in the aftermath of the 2011 BCS Championship was how the Oregon running game was shut down cold – held to just 75 yards. Darron Thomas did a great job of keeping the team in the game with 363 passing yards and two scores, but Auburn's plan was to make Oregon win through the air. The Tiger defense was loaded up with veteran who saw it all and made the quick adjustments needed, and LSU has the experience factor going its way, too, with seven defensive starters back including a lightning fast group of linebackers that should make up for any problems by being able to move. The bigger factor will be the veteran secondary that will see time in a 4-2-5 alignment to get even more speed on the field. Even if James and the Oregon runners get to the second level, they'll likely have to deal with a swarm.
It's a new season and a new team, but LSU was terrific defensively on third downs last year allowing teams to convert just 35% of their chances – good for 16th in the nation. If the new starting defensive tackles are as good as advertised, and if the veteran ends can keep everything in the middle, and if the linebackers don't take too many missed steps, LSU's defense might be one of the few in America that slow down the Oregon offense.
What To Watch Out For: Jarrett Lee, your table is ready.
Everyone is trying to find the next Cam Newton, and there was talk this spring of Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger possibly being the spark needed for the woeful LSU offense. He has all the tools, but he hasn't been able to quite put it all together in practices to keep Lee out of the No. 2 spot. With Jefferson out, Lee has taken the responsibility to make the offense and the starting quarterback job his, and now it's all on him to keep the chains moving and he has to use his veteran abilities to keep the mistakes to a minimum. Thrown to the wolves early in his career, he made too many mistakes and was too much of a team-killer with pick after pick being taken for six. However, he has been a whale of a backup with key performances to beat Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama last year when the pressure was on the most. He doesn't have to be special to beat Oregon, but he has to be smart, steady, and mistake-free.
All the talk might surround the LSU problems, but Oregon lost star running back prospect Lache Seastrunk after all the Willie Lyles problems, won't have superstar corner and return man Cliff Harris after he was suspended for excessive speeding, and a slew of other key parts of the puzzle – at least when it came to the depth – are out, suspended, gone, or hurt. More than anything else, Oregon has to find a good rotation on the defensive front with three starters out. There's speed, quickness, and talent, but dealing with the fantastic LSU offensive line is no way to try to jell.
What Will Happen: The loss of Jordan Jefferson won't be a problem for LSU by itself, but the distraction, along with the suspension of receiver Russell Shepard, along with the lack of a prep game will be too much to get by an Oregon team that'll sputter early before turning it on late. Lee will be fine, and running back Spencer Ware will be terrific pounding the ball between the tackles, but Oregon's defense, the forgotten side of the equation, will surprise in the second half. The Duck defensive front seven is just as athletic as LSU's, and it'll show why with a steady enough pass rush on Lee to force two key mistakes late. Oregon's offense won't blow up, but it won't give away the turnovers like LSU's will.
CFN Prediction: Oregon 23 ... LSU 20
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LSU -1 O/U: 55
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