SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
9/07/2007 06:04:00 PM
Welcome to Baton Rouge
BATON ROUGE, La. -- I’ve covered enough top-10 showdowns in my time to know that college-town traffic comes with the territory -- but usually not 30 hours before kickoff.
The interstate and streets in and around LSU’s campus were pure gridlock Friday afternoon as revelers began gearing up for Saturday night’s showdown with LSU and Virginia Tech – the first true marquee matchup of the 2007 college football season. Baton Rouge has seen an influx of transplants from New Orleans in the two years since Hurricane Katrina, so the city was already well over capacity even before football fans from around the state and the country began pouring in this weekend.
Perhaps its Louisianans’ own recent experience with tragedy that has turned LSU fans into the most hospitable home team I think I’ve ever seen. From the time you land at the airport, there are signs welcoming Virginia Tech (and believe me, there were no shortage of orange-clad Hokies visitors walking along Chimes Street on Friday). The marquee on a church adjacent to campus reads: “Welcome, Virginia Tech: Our Thoughts and Prayers Are Still With You.”
It seems Tigers fans are saving their venom for a different enemy. It’s been eight months now since former LSU coach Nick Saban made the traitorous decision to become the new coach at rival Alabama, yet the top-selling item at an LSU merchandise tent on the corner of Perkins and Arcadia are a set of bright-yellow “Nick Satan” T-shirts. “They’re very popular,” the proprietor told me as I plunked down my $10 (to give to an LSU fan I know back in New York; relax) before heading next door for delicious lunch at Parrain’s Seafood. (Order the crawfish etouffee if you’re ever in town.)
Upon sitting down at the bar, I was surprised to be immediately recognized by a loyal Mailbag reader named Bruce. From Bruce and his friends -- not to mention a traffic jam’s worth of callers on a local sports-talk radio show -- I learned that Tigers fans aren’t particularly worried about Virginia Tech. Like the rest of us, they saw the way the Hokies’ offense struggled mightily last week against East Carolina. Bruce himself thinks the double-digit spread (rare for a matchup of two top-10 teams) is a bit too high, but some of those callers didn’t seem to share in his skepticism. “We’re going to put up 45 points on your poor guys just like we did to Mississippi State,” screamed one caller.
I don’t know about that, but I do know there are going to be a whole lot of ticked off Cajuns late Saturday night if the Tigers don’t take care of business against the Hokies. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single purple-and-gold clad soul here who doesn’t believe Les Miles’ team is on a path to the Superdome for the January 7 national title game (and they’d sure as heck like to see Pete Carroll’s Trojans on the other sideline). As you saw from my prediction, I agree Frank Beamer’s team is facing a daunting challenge -- not just from LSU’s suffocating defense but from what will undoubtedly be a deafening Tiger Stadium. (One of the loudest roars I’ve ever heard in person came here in 2003 when Skyler Green broke a long touchdown to put away Georgia en route to the Tigers’ eventual national championship.)
Before you go chalking this one up as a snoozer, however, and decide to blow it off to head to the movies Saturday night, there are three potential wild-cards to keep in mind.
One: Virginia Tech is one of the best teams in the country at producing defensive touchdowns (like Macho Harris’ interception return last week against ECU). I’m not saying Tigers QB Matt Flynn is prone to interceptions – we haven’t seen enough of him to know – but one complaint about his performance last week was that he seemed to lock in too much on go-to guy Early Doucet. You don’t want to do that against Virginia Tech’s secondary.
Two: I know you don’t need to be reminded, but just in case: special teams.
Three: This one is completely out there, but boy would it be intriguing. During a visit to Hokies practice in early August, I got to see impressive freshman QB Tyrod Taylor in person. He’s a tremendous athlete who can scramble and throw on the run. During the course of fall camp, he managed to pass up two upperclassmen to rise to No. 2 on the Hokies’ depth chart.
If starting QB Sean Glennon struggles early against the Tigers and if it becomes clear the Hokies’ protection isn’t going to hold up and if Virginia Tech’s coaching staff feels he’s ready, they could potentially put Taylor out there and see if he can at least use his mobility and athleticism to keep LSU’s defense off balance. It’s a remote possibility, but something to keep an eye on.
Well ... I’ve got another 26 hours to kill until kickoff. In this town, I don’t think that will be a problem. Enjoy the games.
Glad you could make it to BR for the big game, and thanks for your kind comments on the native hospitality. This is most likely the most important game of the year for the offense to get through without a "2006 Florida game meltdown". By the time LSU gets to the grudge rematch of THAT contest, they will have another three games under their belt, including one interesting matchup with Spurrier's team (he gave LSU fits in a past life). I strongly believe that if LSU makes it to the Florida game 5-0, it's Katy-Bar-the-Door for the big one in the big easy. This is truly the (purple and)golden age of college football. Enjoy the contest all.
As much as I want the tigers to go undefeated, Virginia Tech, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Arkansas may have something to say about it. I believe the only team who may go undefeated is West (we only play two teams this year) Virginia. Still, we should be playing for the national title. Geaux tigers!!!
First true marque match-up of 2007? What about Cal-Tenn? In your report on the LSU-VaTech game, you noted, "... most of us had already decided earlier in the week your guys were probably going to beat the Hokies ...". Isn't a marque match-up one that "experts" like you divide evenly about?
Stew, do you remember when the biggest debate was if Michigan and Ohio State should have a rematch in the National Championship game - I know hind sight is 20/20 - but thank goodness they got it right. Geaux Tigers!!!
What? Texas' offense ignites in the second half, scoring 34 points against a highly talented TCU defense, and the Texas D holds TCU to 6 offensive points and just over 200 total yards, and all you can say is Colt McCoy doesn't look efficient? He threw one legit pick in the first half, the second was tipped and should've been caught by the UT wideout.
thanks for being the first to mention that the Ducks also beat Michigan in Eugene a few years back. As far as the talking puppet on ESPN that said the Ducks haven't been players on the national scene for six years, what about the 11-1 record a couple of years ago when their only loss was to USC. The PAC-10's not perfect but we are better than the eastern and southern media make us out to be.