November 6, 2006

Tigers hanging on to SEC West hopes


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What: Alabama (6-4, 2-4 in SEC) at No. 12 LSU (7-2, 3-2 in SEC)
Where: Tiger Stadium (92,400), Baton Rouge, La.
When: November 11, 2006
Time/TV: 6:45 p.m. CT/ESPN (Mike Patrick, play-by-play; Todd Blackledge, analyst; Holly Rowe, sideline reporter)
Series record: Alabama leads 43-21-5.
Last meeting: 2005: LSU nipped the Tide 16-13 in overtime in Tuscaloosa.

About Louisiana State
Head Coach: Les Miles has posted an 18-4 mark in his first 22 games as LSU's head coach. Prior to taking over in Baton Rouge, Miles spent four seasons at Oklahoma State, where he compiled a record of 28-21.
2006 by the numbers: Scoring offense: 35.0 ppg (1st in SEC); Pass offense: 255.6 ypg (2nd in SEC); Rush offense: 166.2 ypg (2nd in SEC); Total offense: 421.8 ypg (1st in SEC); Scoring defense: 10.0 ppg (1st in SEC); Pass defense: 144.2 ypg (2nd in SEC); Rush defense: 71.4 ypg (2nd in SEC); Total defense: 215.7 ypg (1st in SEC); Turnover margin: -1 (7th in SEC); Net punting: 31.9 ypp (12th in SEC).

How LSU's offense operates: LSU's base offensive formation is the Pro-I, but offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher will often spread defenses, making good use of quarterback JaMarcus Russell's howitzer and the wealth of talent he has to work with at the wide receiver spots. The Tigers rank first in the SEC in total offense and are second in the league in passing offense and rushing offense.

LSU's best offensive player: Russell leads the SEC in total offense (250.1 ypg), passing efficiency (168.4) and is second in passing yards (239.7 ypg). At 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, Russell moves extremely well and is difficult to take down. The Mobile native can make all of the throws, but sometimes struggles with interceptions. Of his eight picks this season, six came in road games at Florida and Tennessee. Along with Tennessee's Erik Ainge, Russell ranks second in the SEC with 18 touchdown passes.

Greatest area of strength for the Tigers' offense: In Craig Davis, Dwayne Bowe and Early Doucet, LSU has three receivers with more than 450 receiving yards this season. Bowe leads the Tigers in receiving yards (709) and touchdown receptions (8). Davis has a team-high 44 receptions, followed by Bowe (43) and Doucet (37).

Where's the weakness on offense?: Hard to pick one for a unit that ranks either first or second in the conference in total offense, rushing offense and passing offense. If there's one thing missing, it's an every down tailback. In getting 17 carries last week, true freshman Keiland Williams appears to be coming on, although it was Russell (82 yards) who led the Tigers in rushing in their 28-24 win over Tennessee. Combo back Jacob Hester leads LSU in rushing yards (291) and rushing touchdowns (6).

How LSU's defense operates: Bo Pelini, one of the hottest names among college football defensive coordinators, employs a 4-3 alignment. He'll also mix in a three-down look and zone blitz out of it. The Tigers currently rank first nationally in total defense, second in pass efficiency defense and third in scoring defense. In previous stops at Nebraska and Oklahoma, Pelini implemented zone blitz schemes that resulted in a bushel of turnovers. Under Pelini's direction, Nebraska's defense recorded 32 interceptions in 2003.

LSU's best defensive player: In addition to serving as the Tigers' unquestioned leader, senior free safety LaRon Landry's 47 tackles rank second on the team. An excellent blitzer, Landry is a finalist for the Lott Trophy, which annually honors college football's top defensive back .

Greatest area of strength for the Tigers' defense: Tough call between the secondary and defensive line, but I'll go with the big guys. Led by tackle Glenn Dorsey and ends Tyson Jackson and Chase Pittman, LSU leads the SEC in sacks (28). Pittman has just 18 tackles through nine games, but 5.5 of those have gone for losses. His 4.5 sacks are second to Jackson's six. Dorsey has eight tackles for loss and three sacks.

Where's the weakness on defense?: As talented as this unit is, it hasn't been able to produce a high number of takeaways. LSU's 15 takeaways rank 10th in the SEC.

Kickin' it up a notch: Skyler Green has finally graduated, leaving Davis and cornerback Chevis Jackson to return punts for the Tigers. Davis, who replaced Jackson back deep three games ago, returned a Fresno State punt 77 yards for a touchdown two weeks ago. Chris Jackson, who struggled with the rugby-style punting scheme LSU went with early in the season, is averaging 42.4 yards per punt. Jackson currently ranks last in the SEC in net punting. Placekicker Colt David has made 4-of-7 field goal attempts, with a long make of 45 yards. He's connected on all 36 of his extra point attempts. Jackson handles kickoffs and has 18 touchbacks to his credit.

Odds and ends: LSU is 6-0 at home this year, outscoring their opponents 274-36 in those six contests… The Tigers are averaging 45.7 points in their six home games…How does a team as talented as this one have two losses on the season? Conservative play calling and mental mistakes led to a 7-3 loss to Auburn and five turnovers did the trick in a 23-10 loss to Florida.

2006 Schedule
9/2 Louisiana-Lafayette (W, 45-3)
9/9 Arizona (W, 45-3)
9/16 at Auburn (L, 7-3)
9/23 Tulane (W, 49-7)
9/30 Mississippi State (W, 48-17)
10/7 at Florida (L, 23-10)
10/14 Kentucky (W, 49-0)
10/21 Fresno State (W, 38-6)
11/4 at Tennessee (W, 28-24)
11/11 Alabama 6:45 p.m./ESPN
11/18 Ole Miss TBA
11/25 at Arkansas 1:30 p.m./CBS

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