Stats & Info: LSU Tigers

SEC West: Matchups to watch

September, 30, 2014

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAmari Cooper will match up against a stingy Ole Miss pass defense.
The SEC West has been dominant in the first month of the season. Consider these stats:
  • The SEC West is 25-0 against teams not in the SEC West and has won those games by an average of 34.1 points.
  • Six of the top 15 teams in The Associated Press poll hail from the SEC West -- more than the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC have in the top 15 combined.
  • All seven teams from the SEC West rank in the top 20 of the Football Power Index, including the top three teams in the rankings: Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn.
  • The SEC West has five undefeated teams, which is two more than any other conference in the FBS (the Pac-12 and Big 12 each has three).

Given the quality of the division, it’s no surprise that six of the 10 toughest remaining schedules belong to teams in the SEC West.

This week will be the first real conference test for many of the SEC West’s top teams. Three of the weekend's best games (and perhaps the three best, period) -- Alabama at Ole Miss, Texas A&M at Mississippi State and LSU at Auburn -- all involve SEC West teams. Below is one matchup to watch in each of these games.

Alabama at Ole Miss
Matchup to Watch: WR Amari Cooper vs. Ole Miss pass defense
Amari Cooper is averaging an FBS-high 163.8 receiving yards per game and has the longest active streak of 100-yard receiving games in the nation (six). Ole Miss, on the other hand, is allowing 133.5 passing yards per game and has not allowed a receiver to crack the 100-yard mark this season.

Cooper has accounted for 49 percent of Alabama’s receiving yards and has 41 more targets than any other Alabama receiver. He has more yards after the catch (320) and more receptions of 20 yards or longer (10) than Ole Miss has allowed this year.

The Rebels must limit Cooper downfield, after the catch and on third down. QB Blake Sims is 9-of-10 with seven first downs when targeting Cooper on third down, which is a big reason Sims leads the nation in third-down QBR.

Ole Miss leads the SEC in most major passing categories on defense and has eight more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed, the highest margin in the country. To continue this success, the Rebels must contain Cooper, who statistically has been the best wide receiver in the nation this season.

Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Matchup to Watch: Texas A&M receivers vs. Mississippi State secondary
Texas A&M is averaging more than 400 passing yards per game and has an FBS-high 27 completions of 20 yards or longer this season. It will face a Mississippi State defense that has allowed the most passing yards per game in the SEC and has had trouble stopping big passing plays.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs will need to limit Texas A&M's receivers after the catch. The Aggies have 340 more yards after the catch than any other SEC team and are averaging 8 yards after the catch per reception (fourth in SEC).

Determining which receiver to try to shut down may be a challenge. The Aggies have seven receivers with at least 100 receiving yards this season (tied for second-most in the FBS) and have an FBS-high nine players with a receiving touchdown.

LSU at Auburn
Matchup to Watch: Auburn’s run game vs. LSU run defense
Since Gus Malzahn took over as coach, Auburn has run on 69 percent of its plays and ranks third in the FBS in rushing yards per game, behind two triple-option offenses. Auburn is 13-0 in the last two seasons when it runs for at least 250 yards and 3-2 when it does not.

One of those losses came at LSU last season, when Auburn was limited to 213 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per rush. LSU forced Auburn to pass on 40 percent of its plays, Auburn’s second-highest percentage in a game last season.

Without DT Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, however, LSU has not had the same rushing defense as the one the slowed Auburn in 2013. LSU is allowing the third-most rushing yards per game in the SEC and has allowed two opponents to rush for at least 250 yards. LSU did not allow any team to reach that mark in 2013.

LSU has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards in the nation to opposing quarterbacks, which is not a good sign considering Auburn's Nick Marshall ranks third among active quarterbacks with 1,341 rushing yards since the start of last season. Nonetheless, if LSU can follow the blueprint that it set in 2013 -- and that Kansas State followed in 2014 -- by limiting Auburn’s run game and forcing Marshall to pass, it might hand Auburn its first loss of the season for a second straight year.

Kentucky over Florida headlines BPI picks

February, 14, 2014

Mark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports
BPI gives Julius Randle and the Wildcats a 60 percent chance to beat Florida on Saturday night.

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates teams using a system that takes into account factors such as the pace of a game, margin of victory, game site and absence of key players.

In addition, BPI can be used to make projections of each team’s chance of winning a specific matchup. The team with the higher chance to win according to BPI has won about 73 percent of the time this season. For example, on Saturday, Feb. 8, BPI correctly projected three teams in the Top 15 of The Associated Press poll (Michigan, Texas and Cincinnati) to lose to lower-ranked or unranked opponents.

Here is a preview of five of Saturday’s matchups, examined using information produced by BPI:

Florida at Kentucky (9 PM, ESPN)
BPI Projection:
Kentucky 60 percent likely to win
These teams are closer in BPI – Florida No. 3, Kentucky No. 6 – than in The Associated Press poll (3 and 14, respectively), and the BPI projection reflects that.

The location of this game is significant. The Gators would be more likely to win according to BPI if these teams were playing on a neutral site (55 percent likely) or at Florida (69 percent), as they will on March 8.

The matchup quality for this game (a 0-to-100 gauge of the quality of a contest, based on the teams’ BPI) is 89.3; no game in the remainder of the regular season has a greater quality number.

Pittsburgh at North Carolina (1 PM, CBS)
BPI Projection:
Pittsburgh 56 percent likely to win
Despite Wednesday’s dramatic loss to Syracuse, Pittsburgh remains among the nation’s most powerful teams. All five of the Panthers’ losses have been to teams in the BPI Top 30, with three of those coming against BPI No. 2 Syracuse and BPI No. 8 Duke; four of those losses were by a combined 10 points. Two of Pittsburgh’s wins (over Clemson and Stanford) rank among the Top 20 this season based on BPI Game Score.

The quality of their performance across all of their games makes the Panthers the team BPI projects to win this game against BPI No. 33 North Carolina.

Kansas State at Baylor (7 PM, ESPNU)
BPI Projection:
Baylor 56 percent likely to win
With Kansas State (BPI No. 40) coming off its overtime victory over BPI No. 4 Kansas, it might be surprising to see the Wildcats as underdogs to a team that isn’t likely to make the NCAA Tournament as things stand now, but that is the impact of home-court advantage. According to BPI, Kansas State would be 73 percent likely to beat the Bears (who are No. 57 in BPI) if this game were in Manhattan, Kan., instead of Waco, Texas.

LSU at Arkansas (5 PM, ESPNU)
BPI Projection:
Arkansas 73 percent likely to win
If BPI ranking determined selection to the NCAA Tournament, Arkansas (BPI No. 44) would be the 33rd of 36 at-large selections, as it stands now. That would appear to leave the Razorbacks with little margin for error.

In the teams’ first meeting this season, on Feb. 1, LSU (now 63rd in BPI) beat visiting Arkansas 88-74. The Razorbacks registered a 40.6 BPI game score that day, their second worst of the season.

Brigham Young at Saint Mary’s (8 PM, ESPN2)
BPI Projection:
Saint Mary’s 64 percent likely to win
Much like Arkansas, BPI No. 51 Brigham Young and No. 53 Saint Mary’s appear to be in the gray area of possible tournament selection heading into this matchup. As it stands now, if BPI ranking determined the NCAA field, BYU would be the third-most powerful team and the Gaels the fourth-most powerful to miss out on one of the 36th at-large spots.

Instant impact recruits for 2014

February, 5, 2014
National Signing Day has come and gone, and most ESPN 300 recruits have finalized their college decisions. Here are some notable recruits that could make an instant impact in their freshman seasons.

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (No. 4 in ESPN 300; No. 1 Defensive End)

Texas A&M’s defense last year ranked last in the SEC in most categories including points per game, yards per game and yards per play. The Aggies did not win a game in which it scored fewer than 40 points. Garrett, the top player in the state of Texas, could have an immediate impact to help shore up that defense. He’s the highest-ranked player Texas A&M has signed since the ESPN began recruiting rankings in 2006.

Leonard Fournette, LSU (No. 1 in ESPN 300; No. 1 Running Back)

Fournette is considered the best player in the Class of 2014 after rushing for over 1,800 yards as a senior. On paper, the Louisiana product is a perfect fit as a downhill back in LSU’s system. He also fills a need. The Tigers lost 64 percent of its rushing output from last season with the departures of several running backs including Jeremy Hill. If Fournette lives up to his ranking, you can pencil him into the 2017 NFL Draft after his junior season. Over the last two seasons, 18 LSU players have declared early for the NFL Draft, most among all schools.

Raekwon McMilllan, Ohio State (No. 13 in ESPN 300, No. 1 Inside Linebacker)

Ohio State’s defense struggled down the stretch in 2013 as the quality of opponent improved. The Buckeyes allowed at least 34 points in each of its final three games against Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson. With the departure of linebacker Ryan Shazier, who led the Buckeyes in tackles and tackles for loss by a wide margin, there is an opening at linebacker. Five-star recruit McMillan is physically ready to play at the next level at just under 250 pounds, and as an early enrollee, he has extra time to get ready for a prominent role next season.

Racean Thomas, Auburn (No. 28 in ESPN 300; No. 5 Running Back)

Auburn broke its school rushing record last season, racking up 328.3 rush yards per game. Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason left for the NFL Draft, so Gus Malzahn’s run-first offense has a void at running back. Enter Thomas, a well-rounded running back recruit from Oxford, Alabama. The only other top-50 running back Auburn has signed since 2006, Michael Dyer, helped lead Auburn to a national title as a true freshman.

Chad Thomas, Miami (FL) (No. 65 in ESPN 300; No. 6 DE)

Over the last two seasons, Miami has struggled to stop the run. In that time frame the Hurricanes are last in the ACC in rushing yards allowed (196.4 per game), yards per rush (4.7) and 10-yard rushes (151). Miami also lost several defensive linemen to graduation. Thomas is an athletic product of nearby Booker T. Washington High School and may be counted on to play an early role.

Andrew Brown, Virginia (No. 5 in ESPN 300; No. 1 Defensive Tackle) and Quin Blanding (No. 10 in ESPN 300, No. 1 Safety)

Virginia surprised many by signing two five-star defensive players despite having just one winning season in the last six years. Virginia’s biggest issue on defense last season was allowing too many big plays. No ACC team allowed more 20-yard plays than the Cavaliers (69). Brown and Blanding are the two highest-ranked Virginia signees since ESPN began rankings in 2006 and are considered ready to contribute right away.

The bowl winners will be ...

December, 19, 2013
With bowl season upon us, we can project the winners of the 35 Football Bowl Subdivision bowl games using the Football Power Index.

FPI is a predictive measure of team strength that uses the elements of team offensive, defensive and special-teams performance (adjusted for opponent) that correlate most with future results.

We can use each team’s FPI and the site of the game (all bowl games are treated as neutral) to calculate the expected point differential in a matchup and the percentage chance of each team winning.

In prior years, FPI has done reasonably well in projecting bowl winners (taking the team with the higher chance as the “winner”), getting about 65 percent of games right since 2004.

There have been some lean years in the past, but FPI has been quite good in the three most recent bowl seasons, accurately projecting 70 percent of winners in those games.

FPI takes into account only a team’s on-field performance to date in the given season. It doesn’t explicitly take into account players who are out with injuries or for other reasons, coaching movement before the bowls or differing levels of motivation that are sometimes thought to exist in bowl games.

In the 2013 regular season, starting with games on Sept. 26, FPI accurately projected 74 percent of winners.

FPI believes there to be a very clear favorite (80 percent or more to win) in four of the five BCS matchups, with Ohio State and Clemson as the most evenly matched BCS opponents.

The projections for all 35 bowl games this season are below. A couple of things that stand out:

The two most-lopsided matchups, according to FPI, involve a Pac-12 team facing a Big 12 opponent from Texas. FPI has Oregon as 91 percent likely to defeat Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl and Arizona State as 91 percent likely to beat Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl.

The most-even matchup, according to FPI, is Kansas State versus Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, with the teams separated by a little more than a point in FPI (the Wildcats are 53 percent favorites). The closest “high-profile” bowl game is the AT&T Cotton Bowl between Oklahoma State and Missouri, with the Cowboys 54 percent likely to win, according to FPI.

The Vizio BCS National Championship is the only bowl game with both teams ranked in the top 10 in FPI. Three other games involve two FPI top-20 teams: Wisconsin-South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl; Oklahoma State-Missouri in the Cotton Bowl and Ohio State-Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Alabama defense can do no wrong

November, 8, 2013

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Alabama defense has punished opposing quarterbacks.

Alabama has won two straight BCS National Championships and has a record of 33-2 since the start of the 2011 season. Alabama’s defense ranks at the top of nearly every statistical category during that span and is the only team to allow fewer than 10 points per game and 250 yards per game. Alabama has shut out its opponent nine times in the last three seasons, four more than any other FBS team.

Recently, Alabama has been playing some of its best defense in the Nick Saban era.

In the six games since allowing 42 points to Texas A&M, its most under Nick Saban, Alabama has outscored its opponents 246-26. The Crimson Tide have scored five more touchdowns (31) than its opponents have points (26) during that time.

In those games, Alabama has allowed two touchdowns in 67 opponent drives (three percent), by far the lowest touchdown percentage in the FBS. No other team has allowed fewer than six touchdowns during that time. After allowing Johnny Manziel to post a Total QBR of 74.0 against them, the Tide have held opposing quarterbacks to a 17.9 QBR in the last six games.

Even more impressive is Alabama’s dominance in the first half.

The Tide have not allowed a single point before halftime in its past six games. In three of the last six games, Alabama’s opponents did not run a first-half play in Alabama territory.

There have been nine pass attempts by opponents on the Alabama’s side of the field in the first half during the last six games, with opponents throwing more interceptions (3) than completions (1), including an interception returned for a touchdown by Landon Collins against Tennessee.

The Tide have had an average winning probability at halftime of 95 percent in its past six games. In those games, only Ole Miss (16 percent) had more than a seven percent chance of winning at halftime, according to ESPN Stats & information’s win probability model.

They key to Alabama’s defensive success has been its ability to control the line of scrimmage. The Tide have pressured opposing quarterbacks on 26 percent of its dropbacks this season, the highest percentage in the SEC. They have also allowed an SEC-low 2.0 yards before first contact on designed runs.

Alabama will be tested this week as SEC West rival LSU comes to Tuscaloosa. Last season, Zach Mettenberger posted a Total QBR of 83.0 against Alabama, the highest allowed by the Crimson Tide since Utah’s Brian Johnson had a 85.5 in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

Is LSU 'D' up to challenging Alabama?

November, 8, 2013
Establishing the run has been critical for Alabama’s success under Nick Saban.

Since 2008 Alabama is 57-0 when rushing for at least 140 yards and 12-7 when it doesn’t. However, the Tide average just 121 rushing yards per game when facing LSU under Saban, its lowest average against any SEC opponent.

LSU's defense isn’t up to its typical standards this season, as it has already allowed more rushing yards this season (1,336) than it did in either of the previous two seasons. Still, compared to the competition Alabama has faced thus far, LSU could provide a stiffer test.

Where Alabama Has Been Successful

Alabama has been dominant rushing against SEC opponents this season, leading the conference in yards per game (269) and per carry (6.9).

One reason for its success is that Alabama leads all automatic-qualifying (AQ) schools averaging 2.9 yards after contact per rush. Both T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake average at least 3.4 yards after contact per rush, two of the top three averages among AQ running backs (minimum 60 carries).

As a result, Alabama has been very good at avoiding negative runs this season, particularly of late. In Alabama’s last five games, only 12 percent of its rushes have resulted in zero or negative yards, the lowest percentage among AQ teams in that span.

Alabama’s Weak Schedule

Meanwhile, Alabama has feasted on weak competition. The five SEC opponents it has faced are also the five worst run defenses in the conference on a per game basis.

The only two Alabama opponents that rank in the top 50 nationally (Virginia Tech and Colorado State) both held the Tide under 100 yards rushing.

Against those two teams, Alabama backs were hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 27 of its 53 designed rushing attempts.

How LSU matches up

While LSU’s run defense is better than Alabama’s previous SEC opponents, it is still on pace to be the worst run defense in the Les Miles era.

The biggest difference has been its inability to make plays in the backfield.

LSU’s opponents average 2.1 yards before contact this season, a full yard more than last season.

In LSU’s loss to Georgia, the Bulldogs ran for 3.9 yards before contact per designed rush, the most LSU has allowed all season.

Georgia had four separate carries when rushers were not touched until at least 15 yards down the field, more than LSU allowed in its other four SEC games combined.

Alabama dominated the line of scrimmage in last year's meeting, averaging 4.3 yards before contact, the worst average for LSU in the last three seasons.

Sixty three percent of Alabama’s rushes resulted in at least five-yard gains, LSU’s worst percentage allowed in the Les Miles era.

LSU is going to have to turn up its prowess at the line of scrimmage to beat the nation's top team.

LSU has never beaten a top-ranked Alabama team, but had chances to win all three of the prior meetings. The losses were by a combined 13 points and none were decided by more than six points.

Georgia wins back-and-forth affair with LSU

September, 29, 2013
Below are some storylines from Week 5 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football. For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Georgia outduels LSU in back-and-forth game
No. 9 Georgia’s three-point win over No. 6 LSU featured five ties and four lead changes, including three lead changes in the final 8:09 of the game.

There were plenty of plays that had a significant impact on either team’s probability of winning the game. In fact, there were 10 plays that changed each team’s chance of winning by at least 10 percentage points in either direction.

The biggest play of the game was Aaron Murray’s 25-yard pass to Justin Scott-Wesley in the fourth quarter to take the lead for good. That pass increased Georgia’s win probability from 48.8 percent to 75.3 percent, or by 26.5 percentage points.

Aaron Murray plays big against top opponent
Aaron Murray (82.6 Total QBR) threw for 298 yards and four touchdowns in Georgia’s win. This season, Murray and the Bulldogs have won two of three games against Top-15 opponents, and Murray has posted a 80.7 Total QBR in those games.

In his first three seasons at Georgia, Murray won one of eight games against Top-15 foes and posted a QBR below 20 in four of those games.

The biggest differences have been turnovers and sacks. In those first eight games, Murray had 12 turnovers, including 10 interceptions, and took 26 sacks.

In the three games against Top-15 opponents in 2013, Murray has three turnovers and has taken three sacks, and he was not sacked on Saturday against LSU.

Welcome back Braxton Miller
Braxton Miller threw for 198 yards and matched a career-high with four passing touchdowns against Wisconsin.

After posting a 68.9 Total QBR against the Badgers, Miller has raised his Total QBR from 67.7 in 2012 to 73.2 in 2013.

The biggest difference has been his accuracy. This season, Miller has completed 64.9 percent of his passes and has been off target (overthrown, underthrow or wide) on just seven pass attempts. Last season, Miller completed 58.3 percent of his passes and was off target on 17 percent of his throws.

Alabama defense back on track
It appears that Texas A&M’s 628 yards and 42 points against Alabama was more of an aberration than a sign of what is to come for Alabama’s defense. Alabama’s other three opponents have combined for 696 yards and 16 points in three games, including 205 yards and zero points for Ole Miss on Saturday at Alabama.

The Tide have a +20.9 defensive EPA against those three opponents, meaning its defense has contributed almost 21 points toward its margin of victory by controlling field position and forcing turnovers.

To put that into perspective, Alabama’s +20.9 defensive EPA in those three games would rank second in the FBS behind only Baylor (+29 def EPA) this season.

Murray, Georgia too much for LSU

September, 28, 2013

Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesAaron Murray and Georgia had a lot to celebrate about in the Bulldogs' 44-41 win over LSU Saturday.
If the South Carolina win three weeks ago didn’t quiet the critics who said Aaron Murray couldn’t win big games they’re certainly silent now.

Led by another big performance from Murray, the ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs rallied to beat sixth-ranked LSU Tigers in a 44-41 thriller Saturday. It was Georgia’s second win in three tries against a Top-10 team this season (No. 6 South Carolina on September 7).

This is the first time in Georgia history it has defeated two AP-ranked teams in a season before October 1st. Georgia is the fifth team in the last 15 years to defeat two Top-10 teams prior to October, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last, prior to Georgia, was Alabama in 2008.

Murray comes up big
After winning only one of his first seven games against Top-10 teams, Murray has now won two straight.

The senior QB had a hand in all five of Georgia’s touchdowns Saturday, throwing for four and adding another on the ground. His five TD responsible for ties his career high.

It was a big improvement over his 2011 performance against LSU, in which he completed only 16 of 40 passes for 163 yards with one TD and two interceptions.

The key for Murray Saturday was his accuracy down the field. He completed 7-of-11 passes thrown 15 yards or longer, including three touchdowns. It is the most completions (7) and touchdowns (3) LSU has allowed on such throws over the last 3 seasons. In 2011 against LSU, Murray was only 1-of-11 on throws 15+ yards downfield.

Murray now has eight TD passes in his last two games against Top-10 teams, matching his total for his first seven such games combined.

He also passed Eric Zeier, Peyton Manning and Chris Leak on the SEC career passing yardage list, now trailing only fellow Georgia QB David Greene by 99 yards.

Mettenberger’s homecoming
On the other side, LSU QB Zach Mettenberger didn’t disappoint in his Georgia homecoming. Mettenberger is from Watkinsville, GA (15 minute drive south of Athens) and originally enrolled at Georgia before being dismissed.

He threw for a career-high 372 yards and three TD, showing continued improvement from his junior season. After posting a 39.3 Total QBR last season, which ranked 98th out of 122 qualified FBS quarterbacks, Mettenberger has a 87.6 Total QBR this season (86.0 on Saturday). No FBS quarterback entered Saturday with a bigger increase in Total QBR from 2012 to 2013.

Rare defensive letdown for LSU
LSU allowed 44 points in defeat Saturday after going 63 straight games without allowing 40 points in a game. That was by far the longest active streak in FBS.

Entering Saturday, LSU was one of only eight FBS teams which hadn’t trailed this season but that ended with Georgia’s first TD.

LSU ground game will challenge Georgia

September, 27, 2013

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Jeremy Hill's rushing, especially in the first quarter, has fueled the LSU offense.
When the LSU Tigers face the Georgia Bulldogs this Saturday in Athens, the Tigers will rely on a much-improved offense. LSU enters Saturday having scored at least 35 points in each of its first four games of a season for the first time in school history.

The running game, led by Jeremy Hill, has been the foundation of the team’s offensive success. Only 14 teams in the nation run the ball a higher percentage than LSU’s 62 percent, and Hill has been one of the best backs in the country since returning from suspension.

First-quarter dominance
Part of LSU’s success has been its ability to get early leads, with its running game serving as the offensive catalyst.

LSU is one of just eight FBS teams not to trail all season, outscoring opponents 62-3 in the first quarter. Five of those first-quarter touchdowns have come on the ground, tied for the most in the FBS.

Hill has led the first-quarter dominance. In each of the last two weeks, he’s rushed for touchdowns on each of LSU’s first two drives.

On two game-opening drives this season, Hill has four carries for 112 yards, including 58- and 49-yard TD scampers against Kent State and Auburn. Hill also scored on his first touch of the season, a three-yard TD in Week 2 against UAB.

What Hill does best
Hill has bolstered LSU’s offense with his explosive running ability and nose for the end zone. He is averaging 8.3 yards per rush and his 12 rushes of at least 10 yards are the third-most in the SEC. His six rushing touchdowns lead the SEC.

Opponents have been prepared for LSU’s running game even if they can’t stop it. Over 44 percent of LSU’s carries this season have been against at least eight men in the box. Alabama is the only other SEC team that faces a loaded box more than 40 percent of the time.

Hill’s bruising style has allowed him to thrive despite this defensive strategy.

His average of 5.3 yards after contact per rush is third-best among BCS-AQ players (minimum 40 rushes), and he is the only player in FBS with three 30-yard runs against a loaded box.

Hill attacks the opponents’ defensive line head-on, with more than 60 percent (27 of 42) of his rushes this season up the middle. He averages nearly 11 yards per rush on those carries, compared to four yards per rush when going left or right.

Can Georgia stop Hill?
Georgia’s run defense struggled in two games against top-10 opponents this season, allowing 423 combined rush yards vs Clemson and South Carolina.

However, last week Georgia did hold a North Texas team that was averaging 174 rush yards per game to only seven yards on 25 carries.

This will be the first meeting between LSU and Georgia since the 2011 SEC Championship game when the Tigers ran for 207 yards in a 42-10 win.

Georgia must improve on that performance in order to win this weekend -- LSU has won 25 straight games dating back to 2007 when rushing for at least 207 yards.

Mettenberger aces chemistry class -- so far

September, 20, 2013

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesZach Mettenberger has been highly successful through three games in 2013.
After struggling much of last season, Zach Mettenberger might be the most improved quarterback in the nation this year as he enters Saturday's SEC opener against Auburn (7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Mettenberger has been playing at a consistently high level this season. In his previous two seasons, he never had three straight games with a raw QBR (unadjusted for opponent) over 50. This season, he’s started with three straight games over 70.

He is the only Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback to increase his QBR by at least 50 points from 2012 to 2013 (39.3 to 91.6).

Mettenberger’s chemistry with top receivers
His recent success can be directly attributed to a better rapport with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The two have been targeted on 62 percent of Mettenberger’s passes and have caught all nine of LSU’s touchdown passes after combining for seven last season.

Mettenberger has emerged as one of the top deep passers this season, thanks to his improved accuracy when targeting Beckham and Landry on long throws.

His average of 11.6 yards per attempt is fifth in the nation and 4.2 more yards than last season. In addition, his seven touchdown passes of 20-plus yards are the most in the FBS.

This season, Mettenberger has completed 12 of 19 passes traveling more than 15 yards to Beckham and Landry, a significant increase from his completion rate of 41 percent to them last year.

The improved chemistry with his top receivers has also manifested itself on third down. Mettenberger has increased his third-down conversion rate through the air from 36 percent in 2012 to 57 percent this year.

He’s been even better when targeting Beckham and Landry, who have caught all nine third-down pass attempts thrown to them for first downs.

In LSU’s opener against TCU, Beckham and Landry converted five third downs into first downs through the air, including Landry’s 20-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that sealed the win.

Mettenberger should be able to continue his third-down success against Auburn this weekend. The Tigers have struggled to defend the pass on third down, ranking 11th in the SEC in opponent QBR and 12th in completion rate this season.

What he must do better against Auburn
Mettenberger played one of his worst games last year against the Tigers, who had the second-worst total defense in the SEC.

He was the only SEC quarterback with a QBR below 50 against Auburn last season and had more turnovers (2) than touchdowns (0). His QBR of 17.7 was his second worst in any of his 18 career games.

Mettenberger struggled to find Beckham and Landry, who combined for five catches for 38 yards on 11 targets. The duo didn’t have a catch of more than nine yards, as all three deep throws intended for the two fell incomplete.

Mettenberger was not much better on third down in that game. He missed Landry on all three third-down pass attempts (Beckham wasn’t targeted) while committing two key fumbles, including one on the Auburn 2-yard line.

One area in which Mettenberger can exploit Auburn is against the blitz. The Tigers have not generated a sack in 31 drop-backs this season when sending five or more rushers.

That’s good news for Mettenberger, who has five touchdown passes when facing five or more rushers, tied for the most among BCS AQ quarterbacks.

How do you contain Johnny Manziel?

September, 12, 2013

AP Photo/Eric GayJohnny Manziel is tough to stop once he takes off.
In Nick Saban’s news conference Monday, he was asked if he would like to make Johnny Manziel a pocket passer.

Saban’s response: "You are not going to make him be a pocket passer because if someone is not open, he is not going to throw them the ball. He is going to extend the play to run or to make a play throwing the ball.”

Is this true? Is it possible to keep Manziel in the pocket?
Answer: Manziel is almost impossible to keep in the pocket.

In 2012, Manziel gained 857 of his SEC-leading 1,410 rushing yards on scrambles. That’s 30 more rushing yards on scrambles than Taylor Martinez, Tajh Boyd and Braxton Miller combined.

Manziel had 15 scrambles that gained at least 20 yards. No SEC player had more total rushes of at least 20 yards, let alone on scrambles.

Manziel did not just tuck the ball and run when the play broke down. He threw for eight touchdowns and 26 first downs when scrambling, including six touchdowns and 14 first downs on third down alone.

Saban saw Manziel’s ability to make plays out of nothing firsthand. Against the Tide, Manziel completed all six of his passes outside the pocket for 78 yards and had an additional 94 rushing yards on scrambles. It was the most such yards that the Tide have allowed in a game in the past four seasons.

Florida and LSU were able to contain Manziel for a half. What did they do?
Answer: To start, Florida and LSU had talent.

They had a combined 11 defensive players selected in the first five rounds of the NFL draft, including four players taken in the first round.

Second, they stopped giving Manziel lanes to escape.

The Aggies had double-digit leads against both LSU and Florida in the second quarter, in part because Manziel made plays with his legs. He was a combined 6-of-9 passing outside the pocket for 80 yards and five first downs. He also had eight scrambles for 42 yards, including two scrambles for first downs.

But in the second half, LSU and Florida adjusted by sending fewer pass-rushers and having a player spy Manziel.

The Gators did not blitz once, and the Tigers blitzed only on obvious passing downs. The Aggies went from 5.3 yards per play and one three-and-out in the first half to 3.5 yards per play and six three-and-outs in the second half.

Manziel had a combined 38 yards outside the pocket in the second half.

How do SEC QBs rate via QBR?

August, 19, 2013
The SEC opens the 2013 season with six teams ranked in the top 12 of the preseason AP Poll. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU all have legitimate chances to win an eighth straight BCS National Championship for the SEC.

As recent history suggests, quarterback play is essential to winning the title. Four of the last five quarterbacks to lead their team to a BCS National Championship have ranked in the top eight in Total QBR.

Heading into the 2013 season, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the starting quarterbacks of these six ranked teams from the perspective of ESPN’s new Total QBR metric?

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (90.5 Total QBR – 1st in FBS out of 122 qualified QBs)

Manziel converted a first down on 51.9 percent of his third-down pass attempts last season, best in FBS. He also ran for 28 first downs on third down, including 22 first downs on broken plays. As a result, Manziel led the nation in unadjusted Total QBR on third down (98.6).

In order to repeat his success, Manziel must improve his second-half performance. His unadjusted Total QBR in the first half of games was almost 20 points higher than his unadjusted Total QBR in the second half of games. In Texas A&M’s two losses against LSU and Florida, Manziel had a second-half unadjusted Total QBR of 9.7 and 9.3, respectively.

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama (81.5 Total QBR - 5th in FBS)

McCarron posted an above average QBR (above 50) in all 14 of his games last season. McCarron’s worst game was a 53.1 Total QBR against Georgia in the SEC Championship. Every qualified quarterback had at least one worse game (in terms of QBR) during the season. McCarron threw just three interceptions in 314 attempts, resulting in an FBS-leading 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Yet two of McCarron’s interceptions occurred inside of his opponents’ five yard line when the score was within seven points. Each of those interceptions decreased Alabama’s win probability by more than 10 percentage points.

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia (78.2 Total QBR – 13th in FBS)

Georgia gained a first down on 40.4 percent of Murray’s pass attempts last season, which ranked third in FBS. Murray led the nation in yards per attempt (10.1) and percentage of pass attempts that gained at least 20 yards (16.1 percent). His Total QBR rank jumped from 21st in his sophomore season to 13th in his junior season.

The biggest question surrounding Murray is his ability to win games against top-ranked competition. In his career, Murray has faced 14 teams that finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Georgia is 3-11 in those games and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in seven of those games.

In comparison, Georgia is 25-2 against all other opponents and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in four of those 27 games.

It is important to note that Total QBR accounts for the strength of the defenses that Murray is facing.

4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (68.2 Total QBR – 34th in FBS)

South Carolina gained a first down on 39.5 percent of Shaw’s pass attempts last season, which ranked seventh in FBS. In addition to precise passing, Shaw scrambled for 225 yards and 13 first downs when the play broke down.

Shaw must improve his downfield accuracy. Six of his seven interceptions last season came on passes of 20 yards or longer downfield. Additionally, he must improve on the road; Shaw’s had an unadjusted Total QBR of 42.8 in five road or neutral site games compared to an unadjusted Total QBR of 77.7 in six home games last season.

5. Jeff Driskel, Florida (60.4 Total QBR – 46th in FBS)

Driskel gained 470 yards and averaged nine yards per rush on designed running plays. As a result, he added the 16th-most clutch weighted expected points on rushing plays in FBS last season.

However, Driskel was sacked 36 times on just 310 dropbacks (11.6 percent). He lost the second-most clutch weighted expected points as a result of sacks, behind only NC State’s Mike Glennon.

6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (47.1 Total QBR – 79th in FBS)

Mettenberger’s best game of the season came in LSU’s 21-17 loss to Alabama. He posted a 95.5 Total QBR in that game, which was the second-highest Total QBR allowed by Alabama in the Nick Saban Era (Stephen Garcia 97.3 Total QBR in 2010).

Yet, Mettenberger struggled against the rest of the SEC, completing 52 percent of his passes with as many touchdowns as interception (4) in his seven other conference games. He had a below average (below 50) Total QBR in five of those seven games.

Total QBR measures all quarterback contributions to scoring accounting for game context and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale, and 50 is average. For more information, see the description of the NFL version, which has the same principles as the college version, here

Tyler Kaufman/Icon SMISam Montgomery (99) and Kevin Minter (46) joined Barkevious Mingo (49) as three of the six LSU players -- all on defense -- taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.
Much like the past few college football seasons, the first three rounds of the NFL Draft were dominated by the SEC -- 32 of the 97 draftees have come from the SEC, the most from one conference in a single draft (the previous record was 25 from the ACC in 2006).

Last year there were 16 SEC players drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.

Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was one of six LSU players drafted -- all from the defense -- the most defensive players ever drafted from one school the first three rounds in a single draft.

LSU’s six players drafted are just one fewer than the entire Big Ten Conference.

The rest of the Day 2 roundup:
• The Cincinnati Bengals chose North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard with the 37th pick. That’s the latest the first running back has been chosen in the Common Draft Era.

• Then Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o was selected 38th overall by the San Diego Chargers, the first Notre Dame linebacker to get picked in the first two rounds since Courtney Watson (to the New Orleans Saints) in 2004.

The last Fighting Irish linebacker to go as high as Te’o was Demetrius Dubose (34th to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) in 1993.

• With the next pick, the New York Jets chose West Virginia QB Geno Smith. The Jets had a 24.7 Total QBR last season, 2nd-lowest in the NFL (only the Arizona Cardinals were worse). Since drafting Mark Sanchez, the Jets have not finished a season ranked higher than 16th in Total QBR.

It’s the highest a West Virginia quarterback has ever been drafted.

A few things to note about Smith’s college experience:

1) He attempted more than 96 percent of his passes out of a shotgun or pistol formation in his career. Dana Holgorsen introduced Smith to the pistol in 2011, and he threw 42 touchdowns and four interceptions out of that formation.

2) He threw 177 of his 518 passes (34.2 percent) at or behind the line of scrimmage last season, including a BCS AQ-high 112 screen passes. As a result, Smith’s average pass traveled only 7.7 yards past the line of scrimmage, the fewest air yards per attempt of any top QB prospect.

• Boise State has had six defensive backs drafted in the past seven years -- they had six drafted in the previous 40 years combined.

Since Chris Petersen took over as head coach in 2006, the Broncos have had eighth players selected in the first two rounds. Before 2006, Boise State had just two players ever chosen in the draft’s first two rounds.

• If we need more evidence that this is a passing league, there have been 16 cornerbacks selected and 11 wide receivers, the most of any position, and there have been nine safeties taken, tied for fourth-most.

• The 55 defensive players drafted is the most ever through three rounds.

• The 25 defensive backs taken is the most ever through three rounds.

• The six running backs is tied for the fewest through three rounds.

Offensive improvement key for LSU in 2013

April, 11, 2013
AP Photo/John RaouxLSU's success will be contingent on Zach Mettenberger stepping up in 2013.
With the college basketball season in the books, College Football Live embarks on its Spring Bus Tour, visiting eight schools over the next two weeks. Today we take a trip to check out the LSU Tigers.

Since Les Miles took over as head coach prior to the 2005 season, LSU has been among the winningest programs in the country. The Tigers’ 85 wins under Les Miles are more than any school from a BCS-AQ conference.

But LSU’s 2012 season lost some momentum before it even got started when 2011 Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off the team in August.

The Tigers lost to Florida and Alabama during the regular season, failing to hold leads in each game. In the Chick-fil-A Bowl, it was a similar scenario as LSU was outscored 12-0 by Clemson in fourth quarter and lost 25-24.

Looking ahead to 2013
LSU took a bigger hit in terms of underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft than any other school. Eleven Tigers have declared in the hopes of starting their pro careers.

Among the big returnees is quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who threw for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

Former Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron accepted the same position at LSU with hopes of making the offense more dynamic.

In the three seasons in which LSU made the BCS Championship Game (2003, ’07, ’11), the team averaged 36.1 points. In all other seasons since 2003, the Tigers averaged 29.6 points, including 29.8 last season.

On the defensive side, ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery declared for the NFL draft. They were two of the reasons that LSU was able to rush four instead of five and regularly drop seven into pass coverage.

When rushing four, Mingo and Montgomery combined for 37 of the Tigers’ 71 quarterback hurries and 10 sacks, and LSU allowed only seven touchdown passes in 348 attempts.

They said it
"We'll have a different view of the quarterback position now. It will enable us to throw the football more effectively. We'll throw the football down the field more efficiently."
-- Les Miles (looking ahead to 2012 season)

Mettenberger struggled throwing downfield in conference play last season.

He completed less than 33 percent of his passes of 15 yards or longer against SEC opponents and was less efficient than the duo of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee in 2011.

10 plays that shaped the BCS race

December, 5, 2012

Mark L. Baer/US PresswireManti Te'o and Notre Dame were involved in many of the moments that shaped the 2012 season.
Oct. 13: (7) Notre Dame stuffs Stepfan Taylor in OT to edge (17) Stanford
Down seven, Stanford had first-and-goal at Notre Dame’s 4. Taylor got stuffed four straight times, including a fourth-down run in which replays showed he may have crossed the goal line

Oct. 27: (5) Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o picks off Landry Jones to seal win over (8) Oklahoma
Leading 20-13 with less than five minutes left, Te’o intercepted a Jones pass at the OU 45. Te'o finished the campaign with seven interceptions, tied for second-most in the FBS.

Oct. 27: Jarvis Jones forces fumble near goal line to key (10) Georgia over (2) Florida
As Florida’s Jordan Reed was lunging for the end zone for a score that would have set up a game-tying two-point conversion attempt with a little more than two minutes left, Jones laid a hit on him that forced the ball to pop out and result in a touchback. The loss was Florida’s only of the season.

Nov. 3: Pittsburgh misses game-winning field goal in OT, falls at (3) Notre Dame
Notre Dame trailed 20-6 late in the third quarter, but fought back to force overtime. Pitt had a chance to spring the upset in the second OT, but Kevin Harper pushed the 33-yard field goal attempt. Everett Golson made the Panthers pay with a game-winning touchdown run in the third OT.

Nov. 3: (1) Alabama scores with 51 seconds left to win at (5) LSU
Trailing by three on the final drive, T.J. Yeldon took a screen pass 28 yards to the end zone to put Alabama up for good in a rematch of last season’s BCS title game.

Nov. 10: (1) Alabama jumps offside in final minute, allows (15) Texas A&M to run out clock
It was this upset that vaulted quarterback Johnny Manziel to the front of the Heisman race.

Nov. 17: Baylor shocks (1) Kansas State behind Lache Seastrunk’s 80-yard score
On a night that completely shifted the college football landscape, Baylor took out the nation’s top-ranked team in epic fashion. Up 21 points in the third quarter, Seastrunk’s 80-yard touchdown run put the game out of reach.

Nov. 17: (13) Stanford drills field goal in OT to stun (2) Oregon in OT
After Zach Ertz’s touchdown catch survived a replay review and tied the game, Jordan Williamson hit a 37-yard kick in overtime to hand the Ducks their only loss of the season.

Nov. 24: (1) Notre Dame uses goal-line stand to top USC, seal berth in BCS title game
Down 22-13 in the final minutes, USC had first-and-goal at the 1. ND did not allow the Trojans in the end zone, locking up a spot in the national championship game. On the season, the Irish allowed one rushing touchdown and five total touchdowns in goal-to-go situations, both of which ranked No. 1 in the FBS.

Dec. 1: (3) Georgia’s Chris Conley comes up short vs (2) Alabama in SEC title game
With Georgia driving down the field in the final seconds trailing by four, Conley caught a deflected pass at the Alabama 5. He fell down and could only watch as the Bulldogs’ championship hopes expired.