Classic Study Hall: LSU vs Ohio State (2007)

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 07: Darry Beckwith #48, Tyson Jackson #93 and Curtis Taylor #27 of the Louisiana State University Tigers celebrate a blocked field goal against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the AllState BCS National Championship on January 7, 2008 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Of all the recent BCS title games, I was most looking forward to giving this one the Study Hall treatment because ... well, I really don't remember much about it.  The general memory is 1) Chris Wells broke a long run and tOSU took an early lead, 2) tOSU fell apart/LSU hit the gas, 3) the end.  Let's expand on that a little, eh?

One of the most interesting ideas to emerge from SBN's BCS Evolution site is the concept of the flexible tournament, the idea that there isn't a clear, well-defined number of teams deserving of a shot at the title from year to year.  Sometimes the current system works just about perfectly -- 2005, for instance.  Sometimes there are 3-4 deserving teams (say, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2010).  And sometimes, as in 2007, the concept of an all-in, 16-teamer seems just about perfect.

The 2007 season was truly a clusterf*** of the utmost degree.  Over the last six weeks of the regular season, an incredible 11 teams ranked among the BCS' Top 5: Arizona State, Boston College, Georgia, Kansas, LSU, Missouri, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.  The No. 2 team in the country lost approximately 38 straight weeks.  LSU lost to Kentucky and fell from the top spot, reached the top spot again and lost again, and still made the BCS title game.  Much of the season, new teams threatened to crack college football's rigid top-tier power structure -- Arizona State and Oregon from the west, Boston College and West Virginia from the east, Missouri and Kansas from the midwest; and honestly, it felt almost disappointing* when two established powers -- LSU and Ohio State -- made the title game in the end.

* Well, of COURSE it was disappointing to this Missouri fan.  Stupid Oklahoma...

While a 16-team playoff might have produced any of about eight different champions this time around, this is not the system we have.  We got LSU and Ohio State, and the night of January 7, 2008, we got our first two-loss national champion.

Just to fill in the gaps in my own memory, let's go quarter-by-quarter here.

First Quarter

To say the least, Ohio State responded well at first to having to face LSU in their backyard.  On the Buckeyes' first drive, Todd Boeckman found Brian Robiskie for seven yards on third-and-5 (it took just three plays for Robiskie to make more of a positive impact than he had in the previous year's title game), and on the next play Beanie Wells raced 65 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Ohio State lead.  A poor snap on third-and-7 led to an LSU three-and-out, and Boeckman found Brandon Saine for 44 yards on the first play of the Buckeyes' next drive.  It set up a Ryan Pretorius field goal, and just six minutes into the game Ohio State had a surprising 10-0 lead.  Things are looking great for the Buckeyes! They've responded beautifully to last year's BCS disappointment!

LSU responded well to the sudden adversity.  Matt Flynn found Early Doucet for 10 yards on third-and-7, then Jacob Hester converted a third-and-3 at the LSU 40 and a third-and-1 at the tOSU 15.  LSU stalled and settled for a field goal, and after Wells ran for 12 yards on two plays, Ohio State punted.  Chad Jones fumbled the A.J. Trapasso punt, but Harry Coleman recovered at the LSU 16; one of the most underrated, forgotten plays of a given game comes when an offense recovers its own fumble.  We tend to forget about those plays, but they are so incredibly pivotal.  Instead of OSU starting the second quarter in nearly guaranteed scoring position, LSU instead started the game-tying drive.

First Quarter S&P: Ohio State 1.172, LSU 0.526.

Second Quarter

Bullet dodged, LSU started breaking off larger chunks of yards, and OSU began to falter.  After Hester converted another third-and-1, Keiland Williams went over left end for 10 yards; OSU's Todd Denlinger committed a personal foul penalty to boot.  From the OSU 46, Flynn found Demetrius Byrd for 20 yards, and James Laurinaitis committed another personal foul.  Flynn found Richard Dickson for 13 yards and the game-tying touchdown; the 84-yard drive benefited significantly from 28 yards of Ohio State penalties.

Now tied, OSU responded reasonably well.  Wells broke off a 29-yarder over left end (he was brilliant early in this game), then Boeckman found Robiskie for another 19 yards.  Yet another OSU personal foul -- this one on Brian Hartline -- backed the Buckeyes up, but a 22-yard pass to Saine kept them rolling.  On third-and-3 from the LSU 21, Boeckman floated a lovely pass to Robiskie near the end zone, but it was dropped, and Ricky Jean-Francois blocked the resulting field goal attempt.

The personal fouls were costly, but the drop-and-block completely took the wind out of Ohio State's sails.  Plays of 13, 9, 18 and 9 yards set up a Flynn-to-Brandon-LaFell touchdown pass, and midway through the second quarter, LSU was up 17-10.  Then it got worse.  Chevis Jackson made a gorgeous interception, setting up a 24-yard touchdown drive.  Hester went in from a yard out, and it was 24-10 LSU.  If OSU recovers the Chad Jones fumble, they have a chance to go up 14 points; eleven minutes later, they're down 14 points, mostly at their own doing.

A Tyson Jackson sack killed OSU's final drive of the half, and LSU went into the break up 14.

Second-quarter S&P: LSU 1.230, Ohio State 0.656

Third Quarter

Though they had imploded in the second quarter, Ohio State was still within reach when the second half began.  LSU methodically drove into OSU territory -- Hester converted yet another third-and-1, then Flynn converted one as well -- but Vernon Gholston sacked Flynn for a huge loss and LSU was forced to punt.  Naturally, however, OSU roughed the punter.  (It was major roughage, though I honestly don't know how the rougher failed to block the punt.)  Then, on the next play, OSU committed another personal foul.  Three plays later, Flynn found Doucet for four yards and the game-deciding touchdown.

A Quick Note about Penalties: on average, there is very little correlation between penalties and wins/losses, as strangely as that may sound.  Penalties often hint at a level of aggressiveness that pays off for a team as often as it costs them.  Because of that, there is no current place for penalties in the S&P+ formula.  But there are always exceptions to the rule.  This game, for instance.  Ohio State lost this game not because of "SEC SPEEEEED," but because of their own dunder-headedness as much as anything else.  (Then again, the physicality that led to the penalties potentially also led to their good plays, so maybe this isn't as good an example as I thought.)

Ohio State is not a team built to come back from 21 points down, but they did a reasonably decent job here.  They drove into LSU territory before Ali Highsmith and Jean-Francois combined for a third-down sack.  They picked Flynn off on the next drive, then poked the ball into the end zone on the resulting 11-yard drive.  They were back within 14 points when the fourth quarter began.

Third-quarter S&P: Ohio State 0.721, LSU 0.706.

Fourth Quarter

LSU went three-and-out to start the final stanza, and Ohio State had their chance to make this a game again.  Boeckman found Hartline for 17 yards, Wells went left for 11 more yards, and Robiskie went over the middle for 13.  OSU faced a third-and-4 from LSU's 31, but Boeckman was sacked by Kirston Pittman for a short loss.  Fourth-and-7, last gasp for the Buckeyes ... and Boeckman was lit up by Ali Highsmith and seemingly eight other Tigers.  He fumbled, Harry Coleman recovered, and that was basically ballgame.  OSU got the ball back after another three-and-out, but Curtis Taylor picked Boeckman off.  LSU went 53 yards in nine plays to go up, 38-17.  Boeckman found Hartline three times late, eventually scoring on a 15-yarder, but mistakes and LSU's devastating defensive line had long since put the game away.

Now, to the stats.

LSU 38, Ohio State 24


LSU
Ohio St.


LSU
Ohio St.
Close % 96.9%

STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 61.1%
39.0%

Success Rate 55.2%
50.0%
Leverage % 80.6%
67.9%

PPP 0.39
0.52




S&P 0.942
1.022
TOTAL



EqPts 26.4
22.4

PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 48.6%
38.5%

Success Rate 21.4%
22.2%
Close PPP 0.37
0.35

PPP 0.27
0.14
Close S&P 0.853
0.738

S&P 0.486
0.366







RUSHING
TURNOVERS
EqPts 9.4
10.1

Number 1
3
Close Success Rate 43.2%
40.0%

Turnover Pts 5.8
14.4
Close PPP 0.21
0.40

Turnover Pts Margin +8.6
-8.6
Close S&P 0.646
0.805




Line Yards/carry 2.67
3.32

Q1 S&P 0.526
1.172




Q2 S&P 1.230
0.656
PASSING
Q3 S&P 0.706
0.721
EqPts 17.0
12.3

Q4 S&P 0.804
0.727
Close Success Rate 57.1%
37.0%




Close PPP 0.61
0.31

1st Down S&P 0.830
1.082
Close S&P 1.179
0.677

2nd Down S&P 0.728
0.661
SD/PD Sack Rate 0.0% / 14.3%
16.7%/15.4%

3rd Down S&P 1.070
0.445
Projected Pt. Margin: LSU +12.6 | Actual Pt. Margin: LSU +14

Different Script, Same Result

When I wrote about Florida-Ohio State last week, I said the following:

The "ESSSSS EEEEEE SEEEEE SPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED" meme has been around as long as the SEC, I believe, but the modern (and most defensible) iteration of it began, really, in early-January 2007.  That was when an SEC team -- one that required a little bit of politicking just to get into the title game -- took on an Ohio State team that had been considered, since the season's first day, the nation's preeminent team ... and absolutely pantsed them.  Ran circles around them.  It was so bad that, the next season, when Ohio State played well for a while and ended up losing to LSU by a respectable margin (14 points on the scoreboard, four EqPts in the box score, and in LSU's backyard, no less) ... it was roundly viewed that they got dominated again ... but really, a lot of that was just hungover perception from this game.  (In my opinion, anyway.)  Rarely in such a big game has one team seemingly had such a speed advantage over another.

That was probably an incomplete thought.  LSU's defensive line was fantastic -- and athletically superior -- on passing downs, but the point I was trying to make was simply that Ohio State was not, as a whole, athletically dominated in this game.  They made killer mistakes -- mostly in the second and third quarters -- but the aforementioned SEC SPEEEED was not the reason they lost this game.  It was obvious LSU had an athleticism advantage when OSU had to pass, but otherwise the battle was mostly a draw.

Strong Strengths, Weak Weaknesses

It's funny to say this, but Ohio State ran the ball quite well in both the 2007 and 2008 title games.  They managed an 0.811 S&P against Florida in 2007 (3.36 line yards per carry) and an 0.805 S&P against LSU (3.32).  Their problem against LSU was simply that their overall efficiency was not that strong.  Their fourth and fifth drives took a turn for the worst when Wells was stuffed for no gain on first-and-10; if Wells got past the line, good things happened, but if he got stuffed, OSU's passing game was exposed.  The combination of OSU receivers' lack of separation and great Florida/LSU defensive lines was too much for either Troy Smith or Todd Boeckman.  Though LSU's sack rates (16.7% on standard downs, 15.4% on passing downs) did not match Florida's ridiculous ones (22.2% / 30.0%), they were clearly good enough against an OSU team not well-equipped to play from behind.

Targets and Catches

LSU Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
Early Doucet (WR)
10
7
70.0%
37.0%
51
5.1
Richard Dickson (TE)
4
4
100.0%
14.8%
44
11.0
Demetrius Byrd (WR)
4
2
50.0%
14.8%
28
7.0
Brandon LaFell (WR)
2
2
100.0%
7.4%
15
7.5
Keith Zinger (TE)
2
1
50.0%
7.4%
18
9.0
Charles Scott (RB)
2
1
50.0%
7.4% 16
8.0
Quinn Johnson (FB)
1
1
100.0%
3.7%
3
3.0
Keiland Williams (RB)
1
1
100.0%
3.7%
-1
-1.0
N/A
1
0
N/A
N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 27
19
70.4%
100.0%
174
6.4
TOTAL (WR) 16
11
68.8%
59.3%
94
5.9
TOTAL (RB) 4
3
75.0%
14.8%
18
4.5
TOTAL (TE) 6
5
83.3%
22.2%
62
10.3

Ohio State fans should appreciate LSU quarterback Matt Flynn; he performed the role of Craig Krenzel quite well in this game.  Just don't make mistakes, make conservative reads, convert your third-and-1's, and let your defense set you up for scores.  Flynn completed 70% of his passes for a less-than-robust 6.4 yards per attempt, and the biggest weapon for the Tigers was the good old tight end.

Ohio State
Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
Brian Hartline (WR)
11
6
54.5%
42.3%
75
6.8
Brian Robiskie (WR)
7
5
71.4%
26.9%
50
7.1
Brandon Saine (RB)
4
3
75.0%
15.4%
69
17.3
Ray Small (WR)
3
1
33.3%
11.5%
14
4.7
N/A
1
0
N/A
N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 26
15
57.7%
100.0%
208
8.0
TOTAL (WR) 21
12
57.1%
80.8%
139
6.6
TOTAL (RB) 4
3
75.0%
15.4%
69
17.3
TOTAL (TE) 0
0
N/A
0.0%
N/A
N/A

Credit Ohio State's offensive staff for, possibly, realizing OSU's lack of separation ability and figuring out a way to surprise LSU numerous times with passes to running back Saine downfield.  It was a nice and important wrinkle, but it was only going to work so many times.  Eventually Ohio State was going to have to count on Hartline and Robiskie to succeed, and until the last drive (when the game was far out of reach), it just didn't happen with any reliability.  Robiskie did catch five of seven balls thrown his way

In the two national title games, Hartline and Robiskie combined to catch 12 of 23 targeted passes for 112 yards (4.9 per pass).  Take away Ohio State's garbage time drive in this one, and it's 9-for-19 for 73 yards (3.8 per pass). Yuck.

Also: in two national title games, Ohio State tight ends were targeted zero times.

Summary

In sports, timing is everything.  In college football, however, it's more than everything.  Mark Richt is somewhat maligned at Georgia, in part because he hasn't ever won a national title.  But if he had put his 2002 team on the field in 2007, they'd have likely romped to the national title.  Meanwhile, Les Miles has yet to lose fewer than two games in a season in Baton Rouge, and yet he is a member of the Title Winners fraternity that has denied Richt.  And to that end, LSU has put together two title runs in the BCS era -- both of which came when the BCS title game was being held in New Orleans.

No matter the timing, and no matter the gray area, however, the banners are still the same size.  Miles won one in one of college football's oddest seasons.  His team put itself in position to take advantage of Ohio State's lapses, and power to him -- and them -- for that.

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