Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Not Faster, Just Better

I just can't wait for the meme to take hold that Ohio State was too slow to play with LSU. People see what they want to see when they watch games and because the stereotype is that Big Ten teams are physical and SEC teams are fast, the fact that an SEC team beat a Big Ten team will lead to that conclusion. In reality, LSU won last night for three primary reasons. First, a Jim Tressel team played bizarro Tresselball. Tresselball, as established in the 2002-3 time frame, is supposed be about great special teams play, dominating defense, and a mistake-free offensive approach that capitalizes on the weaknesses of its opponents. Ohio State lost by two touchdowns last night despite outgaining LSU 353-326 because the Bucks had three turnovers, five personal foul penalties, and two major special teams screw-ups ( a blocked field goal and a roughing the kicker penalty that prolonged an LSU touchdown drive). Ohio State looked like a talented, but sloppy team. To engage in a little Herbstreit-esque amateur psychology, they looked too geeked for the game and that emotion caused them to do all sorts of dumb, uncharacteristic things that I would associate with a Bobby Bowden team. Based on a sample size of one, I'd say that any game in which Jim Tressel is pumping his fist and carrying on like a cheerleader will be a bad one for Ohio State.

Second, LSU out-schemed Ohio State. The Bucks started the game using their one good idea: the fly pattern to Brandon Saine off of a fake pass to Beanie Wells. After that, all of the innovation came from the Tigers' sideline. The touchdown pass to Richard Dickson was a thing of beauty, as Ohio State left the tight end totally uncovered because of the unbalanced formation that LSU threw at them. Generally speaking, LSU's offense was way more diverse than Ohio State's and they kept the Bucks' defense off balance all game. On the defensive side, the blitzes dialed up by Bo Pelini consistently generated pressure and they were coming from all sorts of different angles. LSU simply did more creative things than Ohio State, which isn't bad for a team that was supposedly going to lose because of its inferior coaching staff.

(To me, the explanation for SEC teams deploying better schemes than Ohio State comes down to competitive pressure. LSU won't succeed in the SEC solely on the basis of its athletes because there are a number of teams in the conference with great talent. [This is why most of the criticism of Les Miles misses the mark. If he was just rolling Nick Saban's players out onto the field, he wouldn't be 34-6 in the SEC with a national title, a conference title, and two major bowl wins.] Thus, they have a sideline full of excellent coaches who do creative things to put their players in positions to succeed. Ohio State, on the other hand, faces only two teams in the Big Ten with comparable talent, one of which is coached by a checked-out octogenarian and the other was coached by a pretty good coach who has been gradually retiring for the past four years. Ohio State doesn't face the same pressure to maximize its talent, so they're a little like Saudi Arabia right now.)

Third, by the end of the game, LSU was whipping Ohio State up front. Ohio State did a reasonable job of handling LSU's defensive front in the first quarter, but as the game progressed, LSU's defensive front got better and better. They negated Beanie Wells and they were getting after Todd Boeckman on just about every passing down. Conversely, LSU's offensive line played better and better after the first quarter. Bill Walsh said that the most important thing in football is a fourth quarter pass rush and last night's game illustrated the point.

See, it's possible to analyze a game without once relying on the speed crutch. And the great thing is that I don't have to try to explain why LSU's speed was decisive when Ohio State's 240-pound tailback ran away from the LSU secondary on the fourth play from scrimmage.

Random stuff:

1. Could someone explain to me why Mayhem in the AM spent roughly half of their time this morning regurgitating the Roger Clemens "news" from yesterday? If you're "Atlanta's sports leader" and the Atlanta market is dominated by college football, then why are you spending so much time on the morning following the college football national championship game discussing an issue that is much more of a Bob Ryan-Mike Lupica story (read: something about which the Northeastern media obsesses and then assumes that the rest of the country cares)? For the love of G-d, you people were at the game! Tell me about the game! Tell me something I might have missed not being in the Superdome! Don't babble on about a story that you acknowledge is a farce! My thoughts on the steroid jihad are nicely summarized in this passage from Gary Huckabay at the Baseball Prospectus's blog:

[Henry] Waxman and his committee are displaying the basest kind of vile pandering, willing to do anything for a few minutes in front of a live camera with an opportunity to wag their atherosclerotically clubbed fingers in righteous anger. We’re talking about small widgets in a small business, that’s already done a hell of a job cleaning up their act, if you actually look at the numbers.

And before anyone gets the idea of writing me with yet another ironically juvenile “What about the children?!?!?!?” diatribe…piss off. The children are at far greater risk from the advertisement barrages that bracket innings within the game. No six year old should know who the hell Spuds MacKenzie or the Budweiser frogs are. Let’s tally up the damage to children from steroids compared to alcohol, shall we? Selective protection of the young teaches hypocrisy.

This whole issue is bulls–t, and everyone, in their heart of hearts, knows it. The collective societal masturbation on this issue is something out of Ionesco, and the number of whorish sell-outs who should resign in disgrace is climbing faster and more brazenly than Barry Bonds‘ HR totals ever did.


2. This will be a one-time admission from a Michigan grad, but when Ohio State is beaten in the national title game by a head coach from Elyria and a defensive coordinator from Youngstown, that's an indication that there's something special about football in the state of Ohio. Now, returning to our regular programming...

3. Der Wife could not believe how Hitler Youthy the Ohio State band looks in their berets and quasi-military uniforms. There, that felt much better.

4. In their heart of hearts, LSU fans need to acknowledge that they've won all three of their national titles in New Orleans and that playing at home might be a wee bit of an advantage. (Miami and USC fans need to make the same admission.) Home crowds are good for a lot of things, one of which is prolonging momentum. That seems like a relevant point to make on the morning after a game decided by a 31-0 run.

5. In the realm of things I'm excited for next year, Ryan Perrilloux in Gary Crowton's offense ranks right up there. When I put my objective hat on, I'll admit that I'm also excited to see what Beanie Wells looks like as a junior because he was pretty phenomenal as a sophomore.

6. In a reflective moment, proclaiming Georgia to be the most overrated team in the country was my worst pick of the summer and tabbing LSU as the best team in the country when everyone else was stuck on USC was the best. The weird thing is that I was totally right about Georgia for the first seven games of the year and then they had one of the most complete transformation I've ever seen from a sports team after the dance off in the end zone in Jacksonville.

12 comments:

peacedog said...

The discussion of coaching has reached the next level from a few years ago - where people are now looking at the conference-wide coaching landscape to help try and gauge a given coach (some people, anyway). Now don't we need to start paying more attention to the assistants? LSU's guys certainly seemed to be getting it done last night. OSU? Maybe not so much. . .

As for the fist pumping. . .

You know, Richt was being uncharacteristically animated in the Florida game, perhaps. The thing is, this was merely a small sign, and it was one that was already present. He was pretty animated in the Vandy game, albeit not in a good way (and hence his getting on his guys at the end of the game, for celebrating like this was a big when when we nearly blew the game). And, it wasn't just about how animated he was. UGA, from the playcalling dwon to how they were practicing, was doing things a little bit different.

It paid off. I guess I'm wondering if Tressel made some changes for this game - getting more rah rah because "it's a championship game". I'm not sure that's a worthwhile tactic, though I don't know that I've properly grasped the situation here. If I'm right, the change needs to be all-encompassing (if that makes sense).

OSU certainly didn't call plays like it was taking a fresh approach to the game.

peacedog said...

Oh, the other thing: regarding "home field". I think it helps to play bowls in one's "back yard". I do not think it's the same as playing at home, though. And OSU travels well. That isn't to say they got proportionate representation, but it wasn't like a normal away game either.

Having said that, some of the crowing from certain blogs about some sort of systemic bias against (the big ten?) in bowls is mostly absurd.

Fox said...

Nice analysis. I hate to be the one to point this out but you and Mandel agree on the core point--that LSU didn't win because it was faster. Sorry about that.

Andrew said...

"that's an indication that there's something special about football in the state of Ohio"

Ha! Nice attempt to salvage something from this huge embarrassment for the Big 10.

LSU is faster, bigger and better. People from the south are just more physically gifted than people from the north. And they're smarter as well. That is scientific fact.

Dawg 05 said...

Great analysis on the title game. One thing I would add: LSU's ability to play man on the outside made OSU no dimensional. OSU couldn't get the big downfield pass play to force LSU to back off and that pretty much ended the game. Load up on Beanie, give up a few ground yards, win a ballgame.

I think Charles Rogers Theorem was completely true about Georgia in the summer. UGA wasn't a good team at the beginning of the year. However, I think the change was 1/3 Celebration, 1/3 O-line becoming men, and 1/3 Knowshon.

Charles Rogers Theorem for next year: USC?

Chg said...

Everything I've read that disclaims the SEC speed "myth" goes on to somehow acknowledge it later in the post or column, including your's.

The true argument isn't that there is a supreme difference between the elite of each conference (though there is a slight edge to the SEC, especially in depth), but that there is an advantage that becomes more acute the deeper one goes in the conference standings.
That is the basis of the "SEC has better athletes" claim.

As you say, SEC staffs have to produce good schemes because they face supremely talented teams week in and week out. OSU does not, and can win merely by outathleting all but a couple of conference foes.

However, the Buckeye's continuing athletic deficiencies at one key position were the difference in the game. LSU asserted their athletic dominance of OSU's line by tossing them around like rag dolls. Florida chose to run past them as if the Buckeyes were standing still. Both d-lines demonstrated a vast advantage in a key component of athleticism (strength or speed) that was directly responsible for comfortable wins.

Michael said...

Andrew, square Gettysburg and Grant's Western Campaign with your theory, please.

Dawg, I agree on your analysis of what LSU was able to do to the Ohio State passing game. OSU's pass routes were a little vanilla. Way too many fly routes as opposed to deep middle routes that would have put more pressure on the LSU corners to do something other than run fast. OSU really could have used a legitimate TE threat. As for the next CRT, I need to look at what each team has returning.

CHG, LSU's success on the DL was a factor in the win, but I don't see how that supports the speed theory. Michigan whipped Florida up front; does that mean that Florida is slow?

Michael said...

Andrew, square Gettysburg and Grant's Western Campaign with your theory, please.

Dawg, I agree on your analysis of what LSU was able to do to the Ohio State passing game. OSU's pass routes were a little vanilla. Way too many fly routes as opposed to deep middle routes that would have put more pressure on the LSU corners to do something other than run fast. OSU really could have used a legitimate TE threat. As for the next CRT, I need to look at what each team has returning.

CHG, LSU's success on the DL was a factor in the win, but I don't see how that supports the speed theory. Michigan whipped Florida up front; does that mean that Florida is slow?

Andrew said...

uhhhh,

maybe because you had 4 times as many men, and 10 times the industrial capacity to construct armaments?

CHG said...

The true argument is that the SEC has better athletes. It changed to "speed" in the MSM because that was the component of athleticism that Florida used to dominate the OSU line. Last night, LSU relied on strength to manhandle the OSU line.

Speed and strength are fundamental aspects of basic athletic ability, and in consecutive high profile games, Ohio State was unable to matchup along the lines with a top line from the SEC.

Anonymous said...

Chg, you act like LSU's players were born a bunch of freaks and that it was all down to the immutable laws of nature. Could it be possible that maybe the difference had something to do with LSU being considerably more experienced? OSU started only two seniors on its *entire team* this past season. LSU had how many - 20 seniors?

You expect players to be at their best in their senior year. A major problem for OSU in recent years has been early departures. And because the Big Ten does not allow for oversigning of recruiting classes, Big Ten teams often field less than 85 scholarship players. Michigan and OSU both fielded something like 75-77 this year. When SEC teams suffer attrition, they just oversign and plug in the gaps. When Big Ten teams suffer it, it can seriously set back the program.

Anonymous said...

I meant to add that OSU had only five *total* seniors on its roster this year. That's unbelievable.