My old friend Scott Alexander gives us great insight into Saturday’s battle in Baton Rouge. A former LSU basketball player, Scott is a wildly popular television and radio host in New Orleans, calls a wide variety of games and has been a producer for national major college and studio broadcasts. Enjoy a great read!
Is the Tiger Nation surprised by the tremendous success of the team this season?
Surprised would be a huge understatement. The expectations in Baton Rouge were the lowest they’ve been since when Nick Saban took over in 1999. I was ridiculed when I suggested in the preseason that a 9-3 season would be well within reach. After all, at SEC Media Day this year, the Tigers were picked to finish fifth. Not fifth in the SEC … fifth in the SEC WEST.
And the media weren’t the only ones disrespecting Coach Ed Orgeron and his team. The Vegas oddsmakers set the over/under for season wins at SEVEN! LSU happens to be one of only two Division-1 teams (out of 130 programs) to have at least eight regular-season wins every year since 2000. The other is Boise State, and we all know the easy conference wins they accumulate every season.
My point here is that the LSU fan base bought into both of these factors, as well as the fact that the Tigers had new players at nearly every offensive position and a new offensive coordinator, former Dawgs’ quarterbacks coach Steve Ensminger. Add in that the scheduled featured four preseason Top 10 opponents (Miami, Auburn, Georgia, Alabama) plus a few more in the Top 25, so there was ample reason for the Bayou Bengals uneasiness. So YES, most Tiger fans are happily shocked with their start.
What have been the keys to LSU’s success in 2018?
The running game was a complete unknown in Baton Rouge for the first time since I can remember. Like Georgia, LSU always seems to have at least two to five NFL backs on its roster, most recently Derrius Guice and Leonard Fournette. The new ‘no-name backs’ have come through in a big way. New quarterback Joe Burrow, the Ohio State transfer, has given the Tigers leadership at the position for the first time in decades and although the wide receivers are all new, they are easily the most talented LSU has had since 2013, when Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry were roaming the field in Tiger Stadium.
But as most everyone knows, the key to this team is defense. Dave Aranda is the highest paid defensive coordinator on the planet, and he is earning every penny of it. The Tigers were the only college team with two preseason Defensive All-Americans (LB Devin White and CB Greedy Williams), but Aranda is arguably the most valuable member of this team right now.
What does LSU need to do to beat Georgia?
To beat Georgia, LSU needs to play within themselves on offense, establish the running game and get the ball in space to the tall, athletic wide receivers. Defensive pressure on Fromm will be huge. The Tigers lost their best pass rusher, the mercurial K’Lavon Chaisson, in the Miami game, so this will be easier said than done. But most importantly, if LSU loses the game in trenches, then this will be a long day for Tiger fans and a long, joyous night on Bourbon Street for the Bulldog faithful!
What is your take on Georgia?
My take on the Bulldogs is that they are obviously one
of the heavy favorites for the National Championship this year. I imagine that most LSU fans were rooting hard for Georgia to win that championship game last year, as there is no love lost between the Tigers and Tide fan base. And because of the shocking way the Bulldogs had the Crystal Ball snatched from them, I think they are probably the hungriest team in the country as well. And never underestimate hunger when it comes to the emotional game of college football!
These two great programs don’t play each all that much, but when they do, the stakes seem to always be big and there have been some memorable match-ups, which stand out to you?
So many great LSU-UGA matchups immediately come to mind, especially all of the 10 of them I attended in person … except the first one in Baton Rouge. I was in college and I honestly don’t remember much about that game except the final score, a 23-14 win in 1986. I’ve been to nearly every college campus in the country (and every single Power-5 conference school), and always tell people that Athens, Ga. is my favorite college town. And my first visit there was again, as a college student in 1987 when LSU got very lucky winning a 26-23 thriller behind the play of the Tigers last great quarterback Tommy Hodson.
The 1998 “Quincy Carter Game” was memorable, not only because both teams came into this September matchup ranked in the Top 10, but as a two-decade Atlanta resident, I came down to Baton Rouge from the ATL with 60 good friends, who all happened to be very rabid Bulldog fans. The freshman Carter showed off in a big way (almost 400 total passing, rushing and receiving yards … yes receiving too), the Dawgs won a wild night game in Tiger Stadium 28-27. The following year, I was also in Sanford Stadium when LSU quarterback Josh Booty led a late Tiger rally to cut the lead to 23-22 with seconds left on the clock. But instead of kicking an extra point to put the game into overtime, the Tigers elected to go for the win with an ill-fated two-point conversion. Georgia star linebacker Will Witherspoon batted down Booty’s pass in the end zone and the Witherspoon family who happened to be sitting with me went wild along with the rest of Sanford Stadium.
Of course, the two UGA-LSU match-ups in 2003 (the 17-10 thriller in Tiger Stadium and convincing win in the SEC Championship Game) are both huge memories for all Bayou Bengal fans because those victories paved the way for LSU’s first National Championship in 45 years. I was back in Athens the following year when the Dawgs got their sweet revenge swamping, the Tigers 45-16, and again a year later when Georgia destroyed LSU by a similar score in the SEC Championship.
I was in Athens again for the “AJ Green Game” when LSU stole another one 20-13, and again two years later for yet another LSU-Georgia SEC Championship Game in the Georgia Dome. The Dawgs led the game early 10-0, but the the Tigers scored 42 straight points to complete one of the most dominant regular seasons (13-0 record) in college football history. That is until they got swamped by Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide in the National Championship revenge game.
How does the LSU/Saints popularity go and rate around the state and in New Orleans?
Let’s just say this. In the fall, almost everyone’s moods in New Orleans and almost the entire state of Louisiana, is dictated by how the Tigers play on Saturdays and how the Saints perform on Sundays. Football is religion down here in Bayou Country!
What is your score for Saturday and are the LSU faithful jacked up for this one?
I’m writing this before LSU and Florida played this week, but if the Tigers can pull off another victory in the Swamp, and both teams are going into the game undefeated, it will be a rabid crowd for the ages. And even if they come in with a loss, the atmosphere will still be sky high. LSU loses a huge edge whenever their legendary night-game atmosphere gets moved to the daytime. The Tiger Stadium magic almost always occurs at night, and it’s always been that way. In fact, I know many fans who refuse to attend afternoon games any more because the atmosphere almost feels like a neutral site. And although both teams are ranked in the Top 5 at the moment, without that night game Tiger Stadium magic, I think the Bulldogs should win this game. They are the better overall team at this stage. And if you need a score, let’s go with a 30-26 Georgia victory. The good news is that the loser of this game stills controls their own destiny to get to the SEC Championship Game if they sweep the rest of their conference games (assuming LSU beat Florida this past Saturday).
Good luck UGA fans, you have a great team. This has been a fun, competitive under-the-radar rivalry over the years. In fact, it might surprise some of you, that most of us in the Bayou love rooting for the Dawgs whenever we’re not competing against you. But as for Alabama, now that’s a whole ‘nother story altogether …