News, notes and observations from the week that was and looking ahead to two huge games this coming weekend …
-- Don’t look now, but LSU’s defensive numbers are approaching what we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing from LSU defenses.
Through this weekend’s games, LSU ranks first in pass efficiency defense, fourth in passing yards allowed (158.4 per game), fourth in scoring defense (15.9 per game) and 15th in total yards allowed (318.1 per game). The only number that seems really out of whack is LSU ranking 63rd in rushing defense, allowing 159.7 yards per game.
These numbers may look strange considering LSU gave up 34 points and 570 yards to Mississippi State and 41 points and 566 yards to Auburn, but the Tigers have allowed seven points or fewer in five games, including the past two wins over Kentucky (41-3) and Ole Miss (10-7), and no more than 313 yards in each of their past three games.
I know, a lot of LSU’s good defensive numbers were put up against weaker teams like Sam Houston State and ULM and Kentucky. But ULM outgained Texas A&M on Saturday, and Ole Miss racked up 31 points in a loss to Auburn. Statistical averages are just what they say they are: an average.
Is this a great LSU defense in the classic Chinese Bandits sense? No, but it is improving, especially since Kendell Beckwith at middle linebacker and Jamal Adams at safety have been playing bigger roles. And after a week of rest, there couldn’t be a better time this season for this team to play a team as good and as balanced as Alabama.
-- Saturday’s game will mark LSU’s earliest home finale since the Tigers wrapped up the 2000 season with a 30-28 victory over Alabama on Nov. 4, 2000. It’s been an unusual schedule in that regard, as well as the fact that the Tigers have played nothing but night games.
We’ll find out Monday when LSU’s game at Arkansas will kick off. If picked at night for showing on one of the ESPN networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC), the Tigers will play all night games for the first time ever. As it is, LSU is guaranteed 11 night games with the 6:30 p.m. kickoff at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving, already an unprecedented number.
Quite frankly, I was skeptical that ESPN and the SEC Network would heed LSU’s request to play more night games. The fact that Saturday’s prime-time clash with Bama will be the Tigers’ first (and likely only) appearance this season on CBS played a big part, too. But this was one time LSU asked for something and the SEC and its TV partners listened.
Now if only Mike Slive’s successor will do something about these permanent cross-divisional opponents …
-- Back when the Saints were in the NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers were to New Orleans what Alabama often is to LSU in the SEC West: a huge hurdle to climb.
The Saints don’t have to beat the 49ers to win their current division, the NFC South, but Sunday’s game still looms as a mighty big one. The Saints have scrapped hard for the momentum they now possess thanks to their two-win two-step last week over Green Bay and Carolina. At 4-4, the Saints are now a game and, I guess, seven-eighths ahead of the 3-5-1 Panthers (those who can’t do math write) and well clear of the spiraling Falcons (2-6 and idle Sunday) and 1-7 Buccaneers.
But this is big. After a 1-3 start, the Saints are 3-1, achingly close to being 4-0 in their last four if they could have just held on at Detroit.
But New Orleans has shown remarkable resilience to get to this point. Now heading into the second half of their schedule, the Saints have a chance to not only win the division and secure at least one home playoff game but round into the kind of dangerous foe that Arizona or Philadelphia or Detroit (again) wouldn’t like to see showing up in their town come January.
The time to make a move is now with the season’s longest homestand (three games) against the 49ers, Cincinnati and Baltimore. At least a 2-1 mark in those games is a must to keep the Saints’ stock rising.
-- It’s a grim fact of life that you lose those near and dear to you as the years go on, but it was particularly saddening to see two old friends staring back at me from the Sunday Advocate obituary page.
One was Kenny Kleinpeter. If you’ve covered an LSU game over the last half-century, you met or at least saw Mr. Kenny at his post in the press box. Over a 55-year stretch that ended a few seasons ago, he only missed three home games. He worked plenty of basketball games as a game marshal, too. His love of and devotion to LSU athletics was only surpassed by his love of and devotion to his family.
The other was Mark Saltz. If you’ve read our newspaper or browsed our website over the last 20 years or so, you’ve seen Mark’s work. He was on staff from 1997 to 2010 but worked freelance long before that, and his archived photos still grace articles on occasion, even after he moved on to his own photography business and dive instruction in Florida. Mark was passionate about photography and the outdoors and the sea, and it was impossible for his passion not to brighten the lives of those who spent any time around him.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.