Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The fine line between great and dramatic

Three days later, I finally have time to write about The Only Game That Mattered last weekend.

Alabama-LSU was the most (insert adjective here) game I've ever seen. You could call it "intense" or "dramatic" or "physical" or "full of crazy defensive plays that turned would-have-been-huge touchdowns into not-quite-as-huge field goals or nothing." The thing you could probably not call it: "great."

I mean, I have no problem calling it a great game in a competitive sense; we got arguably the two best teams in the country going to overtime to (probably) decide a spot in the BCS title game. That's awesome. Whether it was a great game is a slightly different matter. Dominant defenses plus overtime does not necessarily equal greatness. I guess it doesn't really matter whether the game itself was great according to my vague definition of the word, but there are some related things about the two teams that I'll get to momentarily.

Let's start with the defenses: They're both unquestionably dominant. There's a reason LSU and Alabama are at/near the top of the polls, and it's not because of spectacular quarterback play or really anything other than having defenses that just utterly suffocate people (not literally). As much as I laugh about Les Miles having the logical-thinking skills of a 5-year-old, he has John Chavis pumping out consistently elite defenses that are basically as good as Nick Saban's, which is saying something. Every stat out there (raw or advanced or any other type) says these are two of the 10-ish best defenses in the country. Stuff like this is just ridiculous:

That is so, so clutch.

As for the offenses ... gack. Even with defensive awesomeness taken into consideration, there are some things that are more or less defense-independent that neither team could do with much competency (completing passes to relatively open receivers, to be specific). About a month ago, Geno Smith threw for 463 yards as West Virginia put up 21 points and 533 total yards (!) against LSU; that's a lot. A.J. McCarron was reasonably efficient (16 for 28 at 7.1 yards per attempt) but was completely useless in any obvious passing situation Saturday night. And neither team hit four yards a carry despite having Trent Richardson on one side and the Spencer Ware/Michael Ford combo on the other. That has a lot to do with the defense but doesn't exactly demonstrate all-around TOUGHNESS POWER MANBALL DOMINANCE.

Also, Jarrett Lee is apparently still Jarrett Lee:

I was less surprised by the horrific back-to-back picks than I was by the immediate turn to Jordan Jefferson, who had taken basically zero meaningful snaps this season prior to that point. He ended up with 10 pass attempts and 11 carries, which says a lot about both the way the game went and the complete lack of faith everybody at LSU had in the passing game (for good reason). The safest way to avoid disaster is to avoid the possibility of disaster and let the defense do the rest.

Shockingly, neither guy is guaranteed much of anything at this point:

Miles is not naming a starter for Saturday night's homecoming contest against nearly six-touchdown underdog Western Kentucky. He says he expects both Lee and Jefferson to play throughout the remainder of the season.

While Lee has started every game and is 9-0 in that role this season, Jefferson took nearly 80 percent of the snaps in the top-ranked Tigers' 9-6 overtime victory over Alabama last Saturday night. Lee threw two interceptions in the game and never saw action after the second one early in the second half.

I'll be a little surprised if Jefferson doesn't get the nominal starting gig from here on out. I mean, yanking a guy after two bad throws and giving him no snaps the rest of the way doesn't exactly scream "you're still the guy," and it's hard to envision anybody having much confidence in Lee in a meaningful game given a track record that's filled with waaaay more disastrous plays than good ones. The fact that Jefferson can grab an extra 30-ish yards a game on the ground isn't insignificant.

On a related note, has any BCS-era team won a national title with a quarterback controversy-type thing? I don't think so*. Whether that'll end up mattering for LSU remains to be seen; it seems like having a decent passing game will be necessary at some point, but the defense might be awesome enough to make it a total nonfactor.

So ... rematch? I've been specifically avoiding everything with "rematch" in the headline for the following reason: Anybody who thinks they know enough to decide yes or no right now is an idiot. Both of those teams are very good and totally worthy of playing for the national title. Oklahoma State and Stanford are also very good. And Oregon played LSU arguably better than Alabama did despite losing by two touchdowns; it's not irrelevant that Oregon outgained LSU by 60 yards and gave up two scores directly off of fluky special-teams turnovers by DeAnthony Thomas in his first career game. That was also at a neutral site, whereas Alabama got LSU at home. I can't sit here and definitively say, "yup, those are the two best teams in the country." I still think they are, but that's, like, my as-of-today opinion, man ...

... and could easily change based on the results of Oregon-Stanford and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State. I just won't know until all the data is in; actually, I probably still won't know for sure, but at least I'll be able to base my opinion on more than just one game of questionable quality.

What's kind of irritating, though, is that it'll only matter if Oklahoma State and Stanford both lose. There's no scenario in which Alabama can play in the title game without a bunch of help, and that's a lame byproduct of a stupid polling system that requires an arbitrary drop after any loss, regardless of who it was against or by how many. Losing in overtime to the No. 1 team apparently equals a three-spot drop, which is dumb because it's not possible to do any better without winning. If Stanford/Oklahoma State/Boise/whoever could do better than that against LSU -- which is the logical comparison point for the teams ranked right behind LSU -- they should be No. 1 since they'd hypothetically beat LSU in regulation.

The polls are full of stupidly illogical unwritten rules like that. Argh. If you think they're the two best teams, put them at one and two on your freakin' ballot. If you don't, stop talking about a rematch until everybody you think is better proves themselves to be NOT better. Like I said the other day, it's really not as complicated as the voters make it. /rant.

One more thing about the game: LSU might not be historically dominant and might not play games I define as great, but there's no debate about resumes at the top of the polls. Beating Oregon at a neutral site, beating West Virginia (back when West Virginia was frightening) on the road and beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa gives LSU about two more legitimately impressive top-25(-ish) wins than anybody else in the country. They've earned their (probable) title-game spot the hard way.

*2008 Florida doesn't count since Tim Tebow's playing time was purely situational and Chris Leak was good.


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