Thursday, September 18, 2008

Special Guest Enemy: And the Valley Shook

It's another round of Special Guest Enemy, this time with Poseur of new-and-improved for 2008 LSU blog And the Valley Shook. No, I don't know what the name means, either. Something about some game, I think. Haven't the foggiest. Despite that confusion, Poseur was kind enough to answer some questions of mine about the most mysterious sixth-ranked team ever, and in the spirit of goodwill I tackled a set of questions about Auburn for ATVS; you can read those responses here. As always, my Q's are in bold with Poseur's A's in quotations. Enjoy.

1. Through the first three weeks of the season LSU's faced an FCS team (albeit a good one), had a hurricane-induced bye week, and taken on a could-very-well-be-an-FCS team in North Texas. How much, if at all, do you feel LSU's soft and chaotic schedule will hamper their preparations for Auburn?

"A lot. Right now, we just have no idea how good (or how bad) LSU really is. The team has simply sleepwalked through its first two games and there’s been almost no intensity. And now we’re about to have the most intense game of the season. I’m not sure if the team can just turn it on. The gap between North Texas and Auburn is massive (see, this is the insightful analysis you were looking for). (Don't sell yourself short, you're ahead of Corso already.--ed.) I’m treating this like it’s the first game of the season. Those first two games were scrimmages. We know almost nothing about this team."

2. With Gameday coming to our fair citaaaaaay, America's finest humorous poster-makers (along with some tool from Washington St.) will be descending on the Loveliest Village to display their wares. If you were going to construct an LSU-Auburn-related sign for Gameday, what would it be?

"Man, I suck at slogans. Probably something along the lines of 'The Refs Won’t Bail You Out Again' or LSWho? The National Champs. That’s Who.'"

3. Fill us in on the quarterback situation: I assume Hatch is going to continue to be the starter, but do you expect Miles to continue to give Lee snaps? Could we see true freshman Jordan Jefferson as a change-of-pace? And lastly: how would you evaluate LSU's performance at the QB position as a whole so far?

"This goes back to the lack of intensity thing, but the quarterbacks have looked just short of awful. I mean, I’m almost wishing we had South Carolina’s quarterbacks (almost). Hatch’s arm strength is questionable and while arm strength is overrated, it seems you could clock some of his swing passes with a sundial (I’ve already used that joke at ATVS, but it’s new to your readers, so if you’re an ATVS reader, just ignore that line). Lee’s got more talent, but he looks nowhere near ready to be the starting quarterback. And the coaching staff has favored Hatch at every turn, so while I expect Lee to get some snaps, I think LSU will live and die with Hatch.

"Miles lifted the redshirt off of Jefferson to take three meaningless snaps against North Texas. I’m thinking it’s because the two nominal starters have shown next to nothing. Jefferson isn’t a sure thing to play but I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw some action if Hatch and Lee continue to play like they have.

"Final evaluation? I’d give our quarterbacks a D. Maybe a C-. Here’s the combined line against North Texas: 20-36, 209 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT. That’s against North Texas’ vaunted defense. Adjust accordingly for facing a defense with a pulse. Then adjust again for Auburn’s defense."

4. As well as freshman CB Neiko Thorpe has played for Auburn thus far this season, some of us Auburn fans ... well, maybe just me ... are worried about him matching up with various members of LSU's deep receiving corps. Assuming Brandon LaFell and Demetrius Byrd are LSU's top 2 receivers, who's the No. 3 and the No. 4 and how concerned do you think we ought to be?

"[Terance] Tolliver should be the #3 guy as he’s built like a prototype NFL receiver. He’s a big target, he’s fast, and when he is on, he’s unstoppable. Problem is, he’s never on. He’s probably dropped in the depth chart behind the Mitchells, Jared and Chris, who have both been more productive. Simply put, we’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of talent, which makes the QB play even more inexcusable.

And don’t forget Richard Dickson, our tight end, who is our QB’s security blanket. Hatch always looks to Dickson when he’s in trouble, which is a pretty good plan. He’s Mr. Reliable."

5. I can admit it: I like watching Trindon Holliday play. But I noticed that outside of his special teams work, he only carried the ball twice and didn't have a reception against UNT. Do you expect Crowton to get him more involved with the offense now that we're into SEC play?

"He’s been trying, but I think everyone has figured out that sweep play. LSU might have too many running backs, and it’s just hard to get Trindon the football. Every carry he gets is a carry Scott, Murphy, or Williams can’t get. And each has proven to be a more reliable runner from the line of scrimmage, though Keiland has played very tentatively in the first two games.

"Trindon’s more exciting, but Charles Scott is the key to the offense. Holliday will get one or two carries only as a change of pace, but expect to see a lot of Scott and Murphy. Even better, every carry they have is a play our quartebacks don't throw a pass."

6. How much of a beat, if any, do you think the LSU defense will skip with Jacob Cutrera filling in for the injured Darry Beckwith at MLB?

"Nothing against Cutrera, who is a favorite punching bag of Tiger fans, but he’s not Darry Beckwith. Beckwith is probably the player LSU could least afford to lose to injury. Cutrera played very well against North Texas, but that was North Texas. He’s not a great tackler and he lacks closing speed. He’s solid, but we went from an all-SEC guy to an adequate fill in. That’s a huge hit."

7. I try not to think about LSU's defensive line more often than I have to--I don't need the shakes--but I have to ask: how close have they come to living up to the preseason "best DL in the country" talk over the first two games? Any potential dropoff from 2007? (Please say yes.)

"The defense has been pretty vanilla the first two games, but to get at least a glimpse of the DL’s ability, consider the way it completely manhandled Armanti Edwards. I thought someone was gonna kill that poor guy during that game. Opposing offenses are averaging 2.3 yards per rush (I know, look at the offenses). Still, that’s pretty good, and we haven’t started blitzing yet, so the sacks haven't come.

"The defensive line is just so deep. The strength isn’t just the starters, it’s that LSU is two-deep at every position without much dropoff, so they keep coming at you all game long without any relief. Sweet dreams."

8. Where, on either side of the ball, are the matchups with Auburn you feel less confident in? If you were Auburn, where would you look to attack LSU, both offensively and defensively?

"Stack eight in the box and make our quarterbacks beat you. LSU’s offense is loaded at every position except quarterback. The offensive line is terrific, the running back corps is deep and talented, and the receivers are all physical freaks. Then we have a transfer from Harvard’s JV squad running things. This isn’t rocket science. The weakness kind of pops out at you.

"On offense, if the spread doesn’t work against LSU, it’s time to scrap the experiment. The big question mark (other than Cutrera), are the cornerbacks. Chris Hawkins gave up the underneath routes all night against North Texas, though he was playing deep and never gave up the big play. LSU is vulnerable to the Chinese water torture of a dink and dunk attack of lots of short passes. I’m not sold on our secondary. Also, LSU has always had problems with running quarterbacks. You can probably guess who I hope gets the start at QB for Auburn."

9. Over the past several years the "Tiger Bowl" has grown in importance (and, uh, bitterness) to fans on both sides of the rivalry. Speaking of the LSU fanbase in general, where does the Auburn game rank in terms of how badly they want it? Are there fans who see it as the biggest game of LSU's year?

"We hate you. I mean, absolute deep-seated loathing. I hate you so much it makes me want to root for 'Bama, which only makes me hate you more.

"We don’t have a traditional rival, really. The Arkansas thing is cute, but I’m yet to meet an LSU fan who really cares about the Boot. My parents hate Ole Miss, but they haven’t been relevant in years (Ole Miss, not my parents). So we can pretty much focus all of our hatred on you, saving a little bit for 'Bama. The Tiger Bowl sets the tone for the whole season, as it’s a must win game for both teams.

"Here’s just a brief list of things we hate about you (cue the Ugly Kid Joe!--ed.): the Cigar Game, Damon Duval fighting the band, Dameyune Craig or however he spells his name (that's correct, actually--ed.) having the game of his life against us, the Jamie Howard Game, stomping the Tiger eye, 'Corndogs' (probably the most mystifying insult ever, we’re not upset about it, it’s like someone yelling 'umbrella!' at us. It just makes no sense whatsoever. It’s like being heckled by Dadaists), the way your fans sucked up to USC on the message boards in 2003, every story about how LSU fans raped and killed Auburn fans or whatever (most stories have reached urban legend proportions – I’m surprised a guy with a hook hand hasn’t attacked an Auburn fan yet), Refgate, Refgate II, pretty much anything Tommy Tuberville has ever said or done in his entire life, and most importantly, the way the Auburn game is always close or something freakish happens. Usually both.

"If you’re a Tiger fan 35 or under, you probably hate Auburn more than any other team by a wide margin. In the last 10 years, we’ve been the dominant powers of the West. And that comes on the heels of 1994-1997, which was simply a terrific stretch of games in this rivalry, or any rivalry. So as we became a power, the biggest roadblock has always been Auburn."

10. Lastly, do you think this Saturday's game will live up to the dramatic standard set by the last four years of this series? Why or why not?

"If LSU or Auburn wins the game on a late score, that wouldn’t even rate in this rivalry. You need a close game, a late score, something controversial, AND a disaster of some sort and then you’d just have the 1996 game. The bar is set so impossibly high it can’t help but not live up to it. We’re reaching the point where the only place left for this rivalry to go is a sword fight between the coaching staffs. I’d bet on Miles to win that. (Actually, every summer Tubby travels to a small chalet outside of Nantes to take fencing lessons from the great French sabre master Francois Mimeaux, so I wouldn't be so sure.--ed.)

Both offenses have struggled, and you don’t want to be a struggling offense going up against either of these defenses. So I expect a low-scoring affair because I just don’t think either offense is capable of breaking it open. So it’ll likely come down to the last drive again. Which means a great finish is likely. Though asking for a last second touchdown might be a bit much. Asking for an earthquake or a fire is asking way too much."

Probably, though I wouldn't count it out. Vitriol aside--actually, why put the vitriol aside when it's part of what's made this such a zesty rivalry this decade?--I do recommend getting the lowdown on LSU at And the Valley Shook and thank Poseur for his time. See you umbrellas Saturday.

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