LSU Tigers: ESPN Stats & Info

LSU poses challenge for Murphy

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
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Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsTyler Murphy has been a heads-up QB since taking over the starting job.

New quarterback Tyler Murphy has helped lead an offensive turnaround in Gainesville. While Florida has still been heavily reliant on the run, Murphy’s ability to protect the football and convert in key situations has been a huge upgrade over Jeff Driskel. This week Murphy faces his toughest test as Florida travels to face LSU (Saturday, 3:30 ET).

Preventing Negative Plays
One key area in which Murphy represents an improvement over Driskel is in preventing turnovers and sacks. Florida turned the ball over on 25 percent of the drives that Driskel quarterbacked this season while Murphy has just one turnover since taking over the job against Tennessee.

Driskel’s turnovers had a direct impact on Florida’s fortunes. In the Gators’ only two losses over the past two seasons, he turned the ball over seven times.

Before his injury this season, 17 of the 34 points Florida had allowed came off Driskel turnovers, including a pick-six on his final play against Tennessee. Since Murphy took over, Florida has not allowed any points off turnovers.

Over the last two seasons, LSU has scored the second-most points off turnovers in the SEC. The Tigers have been even more efficient this year in converting miscues into scores, increasing their points per turnover forced from 4.1 in 2012 to 5.0 this year.

Driskel has also been very sack-prone, with sacks on nearly 12 percent of dropbacks in his career, the third-worst rate in FBS in that span. Murphy has been sacked on only five percent of dropbacks this year and has not fumbled the ball once.

Converting in Key Situations
Florida has also improved its red zone and third-down production under Murphy. Florida averaged 2.8 points per red zone drive with Driskel this season compared to 5.2 with Murphy. In Florida’s loss to Miami, the Gators managed one touchdown and one field goal in six drives that reached the red zone, as Driskel had more turnovers (3) than completions (2).

LSU has the ability to give Florida trouble inside the 20-yard line. The Tigers have allowed opponents to score a touchdown on only 48 percent of drives reaching the red zone this season, the second-best rate in the SEC.

Murphy has also been more effective on third downs. His third-down conversion rate on passes is 53 percent, 24 percentage points higher than Driskel. Murphy has also converted 11 first downs on the ground, including seven on third down. Driskel ran for just five first downs this year, with none coming on third down.

Murphy’s ability to use his legs goes beyond third downs. He is averaging 5.6 yards per rush, third-best among SEC quarterbacks (min. 10 rushes), and has the highest rate of rushes gaining at least five yards in that group.

While Murphy has been very efficient in a limited sample size, he has not had to face much adversity. Florida has only thrown the ball on 28 percent of its plays since Murphy took over, and it has not trailed in the second half. Against an LSU team that scores over 45 points per game, Murphy may have to handle an increased workload for the Gators to win Saturday.

Has LSU's Mettenberger turned the corner?

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
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AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherZach Mettenberger has shown improvement under center lately.

When Zach Mettenberger was named the starting quarterback early in the offseason, LSU fans were hopeful that he would be able to improve a passing game that finished 10th in the SEC in passing in 2011.

However, for most of this season, that hasn’t been the case. While in his first eight games, Mettenberger averaged slightly more yards per game (177.4), he also had more turnovers (7) than Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee had combined last season (6).

Despite those struggles, in the biggest game of his young career last Saturday against Alabama, Mettenberger rose to the occasion.

After completing just 46.2 percent of his passes in his first four SEC games, Mettenberger completed 24 of 35 passes (68.6 percent) for a career-high 298 yards.

He was especially strong in the second half, going 14-of-17 for 206 yards. It had been 31 games since the last time a quarterback threw for 200 yards in a half against Alabama's defense.

The question going forward is whether Mettenberger’s play in the second half is a trend or a fluke. His play on third downs and against the blitz bodes well for future success.

On third downs, Mettenberger converted eight first downs through the air, tying the most allowed by Alabama in the Nick Saban era. Last season, in two meetings, LSU did not convert a single third down through the air against the Crimson Tide, throwing for more interceptions (1) than yards (0).

In Mettenberger’s first four SEC games, he converted just 34.3 percent of his third-down pass attempts into first downs with three turnovers. Against Alabama, he converted 57.1 percent of his passes into first downs, including 85.7 percent in the second half (6-for-7).

Mettenberger also showed marked improvement against the blitz, particularly in the fourth quarter. Mettenberger was 7-of-8 for 118 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Alabama when the Tide sent at least five pass-rushers. That’s more yards than either he had or Alabama had allowed in those situations in a full game until then. Mettenberger also completed three passes of at least 20 yards against the blitz, one more than he had in his previous four SEC games combined.

Downfield passing had been another area in which Mettenberger was expected to improve LSU’s offense. In non-conference games, Mettenberger completed 66.7 percent of his passes that travelled at least 15 yards in the air. However, in conference play, Mettenberger is just 6-of-30 on deep passes (20 percent). But in the fourth quarter against Alabama, Mettenberger was 2-of-3 for 58 yards on deep passes.

While Mettenberger comes in after the best half of his career, this week’s opponent has struggled defensively the last two weeks. Mississippi State has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 77.8 percent of passes the last two weeks without an interception (both losses). During its 7-0 start, Mississippi State intercepted 12 passes, so Saturday’s game is a good litmus test to see if Mettenberger truly has turned the corner.

Irish defense draws the line in red zone

November, 1, 2012
11/01/12
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Five great nuggets of information to get you ready for the weekend in college football.

1. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are the only FBS team this season that has not allowed a touchdown drive longer than 75 yards. In fact, the Irish have allowed just six offensive touchdowns in 92 opponent drives all season, the fewest touchdowns and lowest percentage in FBS. The key has been excellent red-zone defense. Notre Dame's opponents have scored a touchdown on 21.7 percent of their red-zone possessions, the lowest percentage for an FBS defense in the last nine seasons.

2. Since Week 2 of the 1993 season, the LSU Tigers have been shut out three times in 244 games. All three of those blankings came:
• At the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide
• Took place in the state of Louisiana
• Game was played at night

In 1996, Alabama shut out LSU, 26-0, and in 2002 won 31-0. Both games were played in Baton Rouge. The third shutout came in the 2012 BCS Championship Game, 21-0, in New Orleans. Dating back to 1975, LSU has been shut out nine times. Seven have been in the state of Louisiana (six in Baton Rouge) and four have come against Alabama.

3. The SEC has a rich tradition of productive running backs, but this season might feature something that hasn't happened in 40 years. Currently there are no SEC players averaging 100 yards per game on the ground. The conference leader is Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel (99.1) and he's a quarterback. The last season that the SEC failed to produce at least one player averaging 100 yards per game rushing was in 1972, when Auburn's Terry Henley led the conference at 93.7 yards per game.

4. Out west, the Oregon Ducks have scored at least 42 points in all eight games this season. Oregon is the sixth team in major college history to reach 42 points in its first eight games of a season. However, only one of those teams stretched the streak to nine games: The 2010 Oregon Ducks. That streak was stopped in the 10th game of the season against California. Dating back to last season, Oregon's 42-point streak stands at 11 games, which is the longest all-time.

5. Perhaps the Kansas State Wildcats should be grateful to be No. 2 behind Alabama in the BCS Standings after three weeks. Since 2001, only one of the 11 teams that led the BCS Standings after three weeks went on to win the national championship (USC in 2004). Over that same stretch, five teams ranked second after three weeks won the title (Miami in 2001, Ohio State in 2002, Texas in 2005, Auburn in 2010 and Alabama in 2011).

Alabama, Auburn going opposite directions

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
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The Alabama Crimson Tide have a chance to do something this week that's never happened in their tradition-rich program. The Crimson Tide have scored at least 33 points in all six games this season, but they have never reached the 33-point mark in seven consecutive games.

Last season was the only other time Alabama had a streak of six such games, which was broken with the 9-6 loss to LSU. More good news for Alabama? This season is the sixth time that Alabama has scored at least 33 points in at least five consecutive games in a single season (1920, 1945, 1973, 2009, 2011). Of those previous five seasons, the Tide's combined record is 57-3 with three national championships (1973, 2009, 2011).

As for the other SEC team in the state of Alabama, the Auburn Tigers are 1-5 (0-4 in the SEC) just two seasons after claiming the national championship.

The Tigers are the fourth team in the AP Poll era (since 1936) to start a season 1-5 or worse within two years of winning the national title -- and no team has done it since Michigan State in 1954 (won title in 1952). The others are Ohio State in 1943 (won title in 1942) and TCU in 1939 (won title in 1938). All three of those teams started 1-5 in those seasons. The last team to finish a season with a losing record within two years of winning the national championship? Georgia Tech went 5-6 in 1992.

One more from the SEC. Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel leads the SEC with 676 yards rushing this season, and has gained 70.3 percent of those yards on scrambles. That’s 90 more yards scrambling than Denard Robinson, Braxton Miller and Collin Klein have combined.

Manziel is averaging 10.3 yards per scramble, including an FBS-best nine scrambles that gained at least 20 yards. On third down and at least five yards to go, Manziel leads FBS with 12 rushing first downs, including at least one in every game. He now faces an LSU defense that allows 2.6 yards per rush, the sixth lowest in FBS this season.

In the previous 14 years of the BCS, only twice have teams ranked first and second in the initial standings advanced to the national championship game. It happened in 2005 (USC-Texas), and 2011 (LSU-Alabama), and in both instances the No. 2 team won the title. But there's also hope for those who don't start off with a high ranking in the initial standings. Two teams have been 10th or worse in the initial standings and advanced to the title game, and both won. In 2003, LSU was 12th in the initial standings, while Florida was 10th in 2008.

Finally, no FBS team has more all-time wins than the Michigan Wolverines, who go for the program's 900th win on Saturday against the Michigan State Spartans.

It's interesting to note that despite holding the record for wins, Michigan has never finished in the top three in wins in any decade. In fact, of the 13 full decades that Michigan has played football, it finished outside the top 20 in wins six times. The best the Maize and Blue have ever done in wins in a decade is fourth (1940s and 1970s).
The Big 12's held on all season, but the SEC finally passed it for the No. 1 spot in the ESPN Stats & Info Conference Power Rankings.

The Big 12 still has the No. 1 spot in the computer polls, but the Big 12 took a hit in the human polls after just four Big 12 teams showed up in Sunday's AP rankings. The SEC took the lead by a full point after steadily creeping up on the Big 12 since the rankings debuted.

What was the biggest factor for the move? From the Stats & Info Blog:
Losses by Top-5 teams LSU and Georgia did not impact the SEC’s conference ranking because they lost to teams that were also in the Top 10.

On the other hand, losses by TCU and Texas Tech impacted the Big 12 in the rankings since they lost to teams with worse records entering the game.

The computers still favor the Big 12 over the SEC due to the depth of the conference, but the gap has narrowed. The SEC’s dominance in the polls has vaulted the conference into first place for the first time since the final conference power rankings of the 2011 season.

It's going to be a tight race all season, but for now, the SEC's pulled ahead by a nose.

LSU hopes Mettenberger passes test

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
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AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU QB Zach Mettenberger will look to turn around a passing attack that struggled last season.
With six starters returning on offense and five on defense from a team that reached the BCS National Championship Game, it’s no surprise the LSU Tigers are No. 3 in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25. That’s even with the loss of cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers – both NFL first-round picks – and the dismissal of All-America cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who won the 2011 Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

A major reason for the high expectations is at quarterback, where LSU fans believe it’s a matter of addition by subtraction. Redshirt junior Zach Mettenberger replaces Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, who shared the starting job last season. Who would’ve guessed that would be the case for a school replacing two players with a combined 50 career starts (32 for Jefferson, 18 for Lee) since 2008 with one who has never started an NCAA game?

With Jefferson and Lee as the primary starters over the last four seasons, the Tigers’ passing attack has struggled mightily. They finished in the bottom half of the SEC in four key passing statistical categories during that span.

In 2011, LSU nearly became the second team to beat four AP top-3 opponents in one season (Notre Dame did it in 1943) since the poll came into existence in 1936. The Tigers beat No. 3 Oregon, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Arkansas before losing to the second-ranked Crimson Tide in their rematch in the BCS National Championship Game. In four of its key games – the season opener against the Ducks, both Alabama matchups and the SEC Championship Game against Georgia – LSU got almost nothing from its passing attack yet managed to win three of those contests.

Enter Mettenberger, a strong-armed, pure pocket passer and the most highly touted quarterback to arrive on the LSU campus since JaMarcus Russell (ranked sixth), the first pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, signed in 2003. Mettenberger, the ninth-ranked quarterback in the 2009 signing class, first signed with Georgia but was dismissed from the team in 2010 before ever playing a down for the Bulldogs after getting into legal trouble.

Mettenberger then transferred to Butler (Kan.) Community College, where he led his team to the national title game in his lone season there and was the top-ranked quarterback in the junior college ranks before signing with LSU in 2011. Last season, Mettenberger completed 8-of-11 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown in five games.

LSU already possesses arguably the best set of running backs in the country and one of the nation’s most ferocious defenses. If Mettenberger can improve LSU’s oft-anemic passing attack, it’s easy to envision the Tigers in South Florida playing for the national championship for the second straight season.

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