Posted: Wednesday September 29, 2010 11:47AM ; Updated: Wednesday September 29, 2010 2:46PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Breaking down Texas' and LSU's offensive woes; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

The lack of a clear offensive identity is hurting both Texas and LSU

Georgia would have a hard time finding an upgrade over Mark Richt

Boise's blue turf brought it national recognition; but is it an advantage?

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Garrett Gilbert and the Longhorns seem to be caught between two offensive identities.
Garrett Gilbert and Texas seem to be caught between two offensive identities.
Jim Cowsert/Icon SMI

Two semi-recent BCS champions, LSU and Texas, have seen their offenses go belly-up. For Longhorns fans, this is a new and quite perplexing development. Tigers fans, on the other hand, have been watching the same film for three years. I can't solve their problems for them, but hopefully I can shed some light on how they got here.

Help me out here, Stewart. I'm a diehard LSU fan and I am struggling with trying to comprehend what the heck is happening with its offense. I watch a lot of football and cannot remember seeing a team do less with as much talent as they have. Is this a case of Les Miles just being too stubborn to yank [coordinator Gary] Crowton and/or [quarterback Jordan] Jefferson? Are Stevan Ridley, Russell Shepard, Rueben Randle, Terrence Tolliver et. al not as good as I think and we really have zero talent? This just does not make any sense.
-- Russell Macomber, Ormond Beach, Fla.

Stewart, What does it take to have a good running offense? Texas gets better recruits and should have better coaches, so I don't understand why they can't run the ball while a team like N.C. State can run the ball with some kind of consistency. I don't mean any offense to N.C. State, just happened to watch their game on Saturday also. So, when the recruits are better, is it on the coaches, or are these recruits just not panning out? Is it because of the offensive line, or because of the running backs? Or is this one on the great Greg Davis?
--Tucker, Monett, Mo.

Well, let's start with both teams' offensive identities: What are they? For three years, I haven't been able to figure out what exactly LSU's Miles and Crowton are trying to do. At least during their 2007 title season, they had a powerful, go-to running back (Jacob Hester) who could pick up the tough yards and open up the play-action for quarterback Matt Flynn. Since then, it's been a potpourri of misery. At one point, the Tigers were a running team with Charles Scott. Sometimes they still are with Ridley. Sometimes they morph into an option team. Sometimes they realize they've got a bunch of speedy receivers and perhaps Jefferson should try to throw downfield to them. Crowton's master plan seems to be to throw as many different looks at a defense as possible, which is admirable (Boise State does much the same thing), but the Tigers aren't particularly good at any of them.

Texas, meanwhile, had a pretty clear identity for the past six years -- the shotgun-spread, with an efficient quarterback (first Vince Young, then Colt McCoy) who can both run and pass. It worked pretty darn well. Then, in a bold and, in hindsight, questionable decision, Mack Brown and Davis decided to chuck that approach this offseason and switch to a pro-style attack. The rationale made sense -- Garrett Gilbert is more of a pro-style quarterback than his predecessors and therefore would need a productive running game to be successful. But to make the switch, they needed offensive linemen who had primarily pass-blocked for their whole careers to morph into more physical, hard-nosed attackers. I don't think that's happened. So now it seems like the 'Horns are caught between two identities -- they want to run right at you, but that's not really going so well, so they still try the slip-screens and quick-drops that worked for McCoy, but Gilbert and his receivers don't have the timing down.

More than anything, however, an offense -- even the running game -- can't be successful without a reliable quarterback. LSU hasn't had one since 2007. (You wonder where Miles' program might be today had Ryan Perrilloux not bumbled his way out of town.) It's past the point where one might expect Jefferson (10-of-22 for 75 yards and two picks against West Virginia) to progress, and the only alternative, Jarrett Lee, did not inspire confidence when given his shot two years ago. Maybe it's time to give him another. Meanwhile, Gilbert (four TDs, four INTs this season) is going through the expected growing pains of a guy who's played four-plus games, but some folks are already panicking that he might not be the one. I'd remind those folks that Young and McCoy both struggled early, too.

All is not lost for either team. Texas' defense still has the potential to be special (come November, the second half against UCLA will ultimately be viewed as an aberration), and, win or lose Saturday against Oklahoma, Brown's teams have a history of going on a post-Dallas tear. LSU, meanwhile, is 4-0 (all against BCS-conference foes) despite its offensive ineptitude, in part because of a nasty defense, and in part because of ...

Stewart, Patrick Peterson's Heisman pose ... was it brash and foolish? Or was it a good p.r. move? Also, what do you think are the chances PP7 wins the trophy? 99:1, 999:1, 999,999,999:1? Charles Woodson had four TDs, 8 INTS, played on an unbeaten team and almost single-handedly beat Ohio State on national TV. Will it take a similar performance for a DB to win the trophy?
-- Matt, Baton Rouge, La.

The pose was p.r. genius. Peterson absolutely deserves to be in the Heisman conversation -- and now he is. The pose turned a great but not uncommon highlight (his punt return) into a signature moment. There's no question Peterson is brash -- he's made no bones about the fact that he's going after the Heisman -- but so are most who play his position. Like you said, the odds are still stacked against him. Peterson only touches the ball a handful of times per game, with little control over how many punts he'll get to return or whether opponents will throw or punt away from him. Like with Woodson, his team will need to be in BCS contention come early December, and he'll need to make some big plays in the Tigers' biggest games.

Stewart, I am a believer that a fan base must always answer the question "And hire whom?" before they talk about firing a coach. If you cannot name a better option than the current guy, forget it. I find myself teetering on the Mark Richt discussion. If he goes, who would be your hire?
-- Dave, Atlanta

I'm with you, Dave. If Georgia runs off Richt this year, it will be textbook Clemson/Ole Miss Syndrome. (Note the example cited in that link: Minnesota. How's that working out?) Historically, Georgia is more prestigious than either of those teams -- but not as much as Dawgs fans like to think. In all my travels, I'm not sure I've ever come across a fan base whose self-perception is so far from reality. Georgia fashions itself a national power in the vein of Ohio State, USC, et. al., based primarily off one glorious three-year run 30 years ago with Herschel Walker (and some kick-butt years in the 1940s). Prior to this season, the Dawgs under Richt had vastly outperformed their historical "equilibrium," and in fact Richt's career winning percentage (.752) is the highest in school history (not counting Bobby Winston's lone 5-1 season in 1894).

But in today's SEC, the goal is national championships, and three other league coaches hired by their schools more recently than Richt -- Florida's Urban Meyer, LSU's Miles and Alabama's Nick Saban -- have 'em. Richt doesn't. And at 0-3 in the SEC, winning one anytime soon probably seems like a very remote possibility. But realistically, the chances of hiring another Ray Goff are higher than the school landing its own Meyer or Saban. Texas head-coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp (a UGA alum) is a realistic and enticing possibility, but beyond that, there is not a single coach out there I'd consider an upgrade from Richt (and even Muschamp is no guarantee). Let's see how the season plays out. With a light upcoming schedule, a freshman quarterback who should theoretically progress and the return of A.J. Green, my guess is the Dawgs will go on a run. If they can salvage things and win eight games, and still fire him ... well, just take a look at Tennessee for a glimpse into their immediate future.

The Mandel Initiative
Source: SI
Stewart Mandel and Mallory Rubin discuss the latest college football news and developments, while sportscaster Brent Musburger joins the show to chat about Boise State, Stanford and more.
 
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