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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Looking Towards Oregon-L.S.U.

L.S.U.’s 2011 season will begin with a bang: Oregon, Sept. 3, in Arlington, Tex. — two teams whose national championship aspirations might receive a tremendous boost or suffer a disappointing setback depending on the game’s result. The head-first dive into 2011 contains that boom-or-bust theme, with L.S.U., for instance, looking at a torrid start should it knock off the Ducks in what should be the marquee game of the season’s opening weekend. Considering the game’s importance, it’s never too early to take a look ahead.

The excitement in Baton Rouge — about the entire 2011 season — is understandable. Still, one couldn’t blame Les Miles for wanting to push this game back a few weeks. L.S.U.’s question marks entering the 2011 season might eventually resolve themselves, but these issues — touched on below — might still be in place come the first Saturday of September. Take, for example, the following:

1. Game one for the new offense. There’s no question that Oregon will remain potent offensively, thanks to the return of LaMichael James, Darron Thomas, several talented skill players on the outside and a handful of young players itching to make an impact. Oregon will score points, even against L.S.U.; how many points, however, remains to be seen.

L.S.U. will be in a different boat: the season opener marks the first game for new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, who plans to install a less predictable, more pass-heavy offense. Focus on the words predictable: this offense will do its best to keep opponents off balance, which was not a phrase often used to describe the work done by his predecessor, Gary Crowton.

2. A new look under center. File this under the same theme as above: just as Kragthorpe’s offense will be in its infancy, there is a strong chance that the season opener will be the first start for L.S.U.’s new quarterback. Now, there is a sincere chance that Jordan Jefferson will retain his starting role, particularly given his strong play down the stretch last fall. Jefferson was effective over his final three games — even if that period included a loss to Arkansas — mixing in consistency in the deep passing game with a solid dose of yardage on the ground.

Nevertheless, last fall saw Jefferson take a significant step back in his progression into a legitimate SEC quarterback. His uneven play, from start to finish, leaves newcomer Zach Mettenberger, a Georgia transfer via junior college, with a meaningful chance at unseating Jefferson for the starting job. If Mettenberger does outplay the incumbent starter during the spring and the fall, a date with Oregon is not exactly the finest way for him to begin his college career; while he has all the tools to succeed, Mettenberger has yet to take a snap on the F.B.S. level.

3. Competition in the secondary. It’s not a matter of numbers: L.S.U. returns the majority of last season’s contributors. It’s more about the challenge of finding a new stopper, a role held more than capably by Patrick Peterson over the last two seasons. Who becomes L.S.U.’s new top cornerback? Based merely on experience, junior Morris Claiborne will be charged with defending the opposition’s top receiving option; he’s currently battling an ankle injury, but will certainly be back at full strength by the fall.

The most intriguing competition is occurring at both safety spots, however. It’s a matter of numbers, as noted above: L.S.U. has several young, athletic options, such as sophomores Eric Reid and Craig Loston, but the period heading into the fall will be vital for the team to search out and identify roles for the returning contributors.

4. Filling the interior of the defensive line. Want to slow down Oregon? Two teams provided the blueprint last fall: the first was California, though the Bears were aided by a banged-up LaMichael James; the second was Auburn,which did a superb job slowing down the Ducks on the ground. If L.S.U. is going to duplicate this plan, it will need to find new starters inside to replace Lazarius Levingston and Drake Nevis.

Is sophomore Michael Brockers ready to step into a starting role? He made a single start a season ago, starting in place of Levingston in a loss to L.S.U., and will be at least a vital part of the line rotation. Miles has already pointed towards a pair of freshmen as potential difference makers: Ego Ferguson, a redshirt freshman who could stand out against the run; and true freshman Anthony Johnson, rated by most recruiting services as the top interior line prospect in the country.

To beat Oregon, you need to stop the run. As a whole, there are not significant questions regarding this defense; still, if the youngsters up front can’t provide a push on first and second down, Oregon might experience significant success moving the football.

Is it September yet?

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  1. DMK says:


    I feel like Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund. Need the fix. Bad.

  2. BamaMatt says:

    The Auburn team that physically manhandled Oregon in the BCS title game was nowhere near perfect. They had a ton of gaps in their talent and while Cam Newton’s talent was strong enough to get them through the season unscathed, Newton was not at his best in that title game. Auburn won because beating Oregon is as simple as denying their ground game. LSU will not have any problem doing that and in my opinion, if they can put three TDs and FG on the board, with either QB, this won’t be a difficult win.

  3. Uberd says:

    pretty much agree with bamamatt.

  4. metacym says:

    Quote: “2.BamaMatt says:
    March 10, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Auburn won because beating Oregon is as simple as denying their ground game.”

    Maybe 2009 Oregon. But not 2010 Oregon. Thomas is a significantly better passer than Masoli was. Check the youtube highlights of UO vs UCLA 2010 if you have not observed how much better the Oregon passing game is lately. Did Oregon lose the NT game because of the passing/receiving game? Sure, that was certainly part of why the BCS title went to AU. But throughout the last season, Stopping Oregon was not achieved by just stopping the running game. And at that, One team ‘almost’ stopped us, And one team beat us by a FG at the last minute of the game. So there isn’t a huge array of material to reference in ‘shutting down the Oregon running game’ as of 2010. UO certainly has some unknowns entering “11 season. New starters on both lines. But nothing but a wealth of talent at WR, RB, TE, DB, & QB. So maintaining an effective and balanced offense does not look to be an area of concern for the Ducks in the near furutre.

  5. Thunder Duck says:

    SEC fans aren’t the only ones who think they figured some things out about the Ducks in the Natty. So did the Ducks! Should be a great game with Darron Thomas returning to face the team that thought he was best suited to play WR. Hope he plays within himself and makes better decisions than he did against Auburn. DT manages this game well and the Ducks win going away. Win the Day!

  6. DMK says:

    I think the idea is that it’s a lot easier to envision LSU giving up 10 points than 55 points.

    The question has long been: How will the fancy, gimmicky spread offense fare against a real (SEC) defense? Auburn, whose defense was nothing special in SEC terms, held Oregon to 19 points.

    So, the debate will certainly continue. And it will continue until Oregon-like squads start scoring the same 55 against SEC teams that they do against their conference rivals.


  7. DuckFreak says:

    Those that think stopping Oregon’s running game is a piece of cake based on Auburn- I look forward to playing a legit SEC team on a legit playing surface.

    We will see what happens- but I will say that the playing conditions for the BCS game dramatically impacted both teams offenses negatively. Our defense was not good enough to shut down Cam that consistently-and neither was Auburns good enough to shut down Oregon’s run game that consistently.

    And even after all that- ask Cam Newton and Auburn if Oregon was a “easy win”.

  8. Nate says:

    Quote: “DMK says:
    March 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    So, the debate will certainly continue. And it will continue until Oregon-like squads start scoring the same 55 against SEC teams that they do against their conference rivals.”

    You could look at it that way, but Oregon also but up 44 on Tennessee who held LSU to only 16 (and should have won that game btw). Also, LSU gave up over 20 pts 7 times last year against less formidable offenses. Oregon will probably not put up 55 against LSU but way more than just 10. In the 20-30 range is much more likely. Just sayin’.

  9. chasman says:

    Hmm, when you read the LSU experts discuss the game you would think they were as good or better than Auburn last season. Then I checked the score, and surprise, surprise, THEY LOST, and they lost by more than Oregon. They also needed A MIRACLE to beat Tennessee, a team that Oregon blew out of their own stadium. Oh well, I guess if you’re in the SEC you are great by association, and are legends in your own mind.

  10. DMK says:

    The good thing is that we’ll find out in under six months!

    No one’s arguing that LSU wasn’t a weird team last year, or that the championship game didn’t follow the script we’d thought it would. As for Oregon-Tennessee, the Vols just didn’t have the depth to play into the second half of games; for as low as they were, they played Bama, Oregon and Florida to stalemates in the first half.

    We’ll find out. If Oregon puts up 40+ on LSU, then that will be then end of this debate for at least a year (or until they face another SEC squad in New Orleans!).

  11. James says:

    One thing the Ducks will have going for them is they won’t be playing a spongy, wet sod field that was only 5 days old.

    If Oregon’s D managed to hold on the SEC’s most potent offenses to 22 points, what will they do to LSU who could be breaking in a new QB in front of 100,000?

  12. jeff says:

    last season is done and over. so the bottom line is, this game will give the victor the inside shoot at the NT.

    Ducks will win.

  13. DMK says:

    No matter who wins, this game and UGA-Boise contest are likely have a huge ripple-effect in terms of late-season BCS rhetoric, namely how a one-loss SEC Champ will be viewed if, say, one of two undefeated teams at the end is a TCU or something …

  14. the Son of Nun says:

    SEC football is won & lost in the trenches. In case you didn’t know, LSU is known as D-line University. Talented D-linemen grow like wild flowers in Louisiana. Drake & Lazar will be missed, but quickly replaced by players just as talented. Our O-line comes back fully intact in 2011.
    Also, reading this article lets me know the author only knows of LSU by what he sees on Sportscenter. The real stars towards the end of 2010 were freshmen! Patrick Peterson’s #7 jersey will be worn deservingly so, by Tyrann Mathieu. A freshman DB that played lights out all year, Tyrann was MVP in the Cotton Bowl. Freshmen DBs Simon & Reid also played lights out in 2010 when Claiborne & Taylor were injured. Freshmen RBs Michael Ford & Spencer Ware will easily replace the talented Mr. Ridley(ask the Aggies about Ware). As for Mettenberger not yet taking a snap on the F.B.S. level, does the name Cam Newton ring a bell?

    Paul: These remain questions that need to be addressed. For every Cam Newton there’s a JUCO bust, or a can’t-miss athlete who flames out in wondrous fashion — the name Ryan Perrilloux comes to mind. The post was merely meant as a primer to a game six months in the future. More analysis of each team will come over the summer and the week leading into the game. Did you see that I have L.S.U. as an early No. 1 heading into spring ball?

  15. the Son of Nun says:

    This article is titled “Looking Towards Oregon-L.S.U.”, but only covers LSU’s challenge to plug the holes. What about Oregon??
    The Ducks lose 23 seniors to graduation this year. This includes 3 starting offensive lineman, 3 starters on the D-line, plus three-year starting linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger. If you watched the NC, you watched Oregon get raped in the trenches on both sides. And now they have to find a total of 6 new starters for the trenches, plus replace two 3yr starting LBs. On top of that, they lose corner Talmadge Jackson, who was the primary run-stop DB with 146 tackles and defensive back Marvin Johnson.
    Needless to say, this won’t be easy! Here’s an article that goes more in depth about Oregon’s struggles:

  16. the Son of Nun says:

    I almost forgot. Remember these two names: Sam Montgomery & Barkevious Mingo. Montgomery and Mingo were easily two of the most impressive first-year defensive ends in the SEC. They just might make Oregon forget the name Nick Fairley.

    Paul: How could we forget a name like Barkevious Mingo?

  17. ATLduck says:

    That article from the Bleacher Report is written by Phil Caldwell, one of the most biased anti-Duck writers I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t trust anything he writes.

  18. Scott Reppond says:

    This will probably be the toughest game all season for both teams. Oregon comes with a quick spread offense that is capable of putting up tons of points and yards.

    However, LSU has a strong d line and one of the best secondaries in the country. Oregon will move the ball and they will score points, but they won’t be able to run the score up like they do against alot of teams.

    On the offense, LSU is very physical and they have a very physical running game. If they are able to run the ball against Oregon therefore opening up a solid passing game, could be a long day for Oregon.

    Two questions on LSU is how will LSU’s d be able to play against Oregon’s spread offense and Which LSU offense will show up to play, the one which struggled most of the season or the offense that played against Bama and Texas A&M?

    Will be a great matchup. This game could go either way.

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