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LSU Was Really Good This Year, Part 1: The Numbers

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The Numbers Don’t Lie

LSU v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Between the Tigers and Saints this year, I might just give up on watching my favorite football teams play live for the rest of my life. Just tell me the final score and I’ll watch the highlights sometime during the week. I can’t handle the emotional distress that I get from watching LSU and New Orleans lose in literally the dumbest ways possible. The heartbreak is too much. I get so excited when I get to watch these teams play. Remember, I grew up 3,000 miles away, in a country without ESPN (for LSU purposes) and extremely close to the NYC market (for Saints purposes). I didn’t get to see my favorite teams play often. These days, I get to watch every game and I get so excited when me and my dad put the game on that the each loss is so crushing that they may be taking years off my life. At least when I was a pre-teen, I could just drown my sorrows in actual tears (exhibit A: LSU @ Arkansas, 2002) and let all my emotions out that way. Now, I have to be an adult and keep all my emotions hidden from the world.

~~ I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives and now it’s happened in mine ~~

As LSU fans, it’s hard to separate ourselves from the overall record of the Tigers this year when we try to gauge how good (or bad) this team was over the course of the season. It’s hard. 4 times this year we had to endure crushing defeat and had to live with all the sadness. We can look at, say, Notre Dame, their 4-8 season and very easily put it off to bad luck (which it might as very well been) and go on with our lives. It’s time to do that with LSU.

My hypothesis is that LSU was really darn good this year and the advanced statistics back this up. I use Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings religiously. I trust computers. Humans can’t remember and calculate data from the over 200,000 plays that get run on a year to year basis. S&P+ has LSU ranked fifth overall. A 7-4 team is ranked FIFTH! That’s incredible.

Offensively, LSU totally dominated every defense that wasn’t an absolute elite defense. They struggled against defenses that everyone else struggled against. Their 4 losses came against defenses ranked second (Alabama), fifth (Wisconsin), seventh (Auburn) and eighth (Florida) in overall defensive S&P+. I’m not saying it wasn’t frustrating watching the games, but their performance is relatively excusable. We played the Wisconsin game on the road with someone who turned out to be a backup quarterback. LSU was one of the best teams at running the ball, fifth in rushing S&P+. When they ran the ball, they were explosive, ninth in “explosiveness (ISOppp) and the Tigers offensive line was one of the best in the country, ranking fourth in Adjusted Line Yards. This was a great unit. The only place they kinda struggled was Power Success rate where they finished 63rd. The running game finished 30th in efficiency/rushing success rate, which isn’t elite but still pretty dang good.

The passing game was certainly not at the elite level of the rushing attack but serviceable none the less. 38th overall in passing is nothing to be ashamed about. Their best trait was their explosiveness which ranked 48th. You also know how much I like Danny Etling

Defensively, LSU was disgusting. Elite all across the board as they finished 4th in overall S&P+. There was no weakness on this team. The Tigers finished ninth in rushing S&P+ and third in passing S&P+. They were dominant on first down (fourth overall), second down (fifth overall), in the first quarter (fifth overall), second quarter (fifth overall), third quarter, (sixth overall), on passing downs (sixth overall) and standard downs (fourth). It was dominant all the way through.

In terms of the overall wins and losses, this team was so close in all four losses. LSU is eight in Second-Order Wins according to S&P+ meaning they lost some heartbreakers where, in some cases, they dominated their opponent like Florida only to lose. LSU’s win expectancy in the Florida game was 80 percent. 80! The four losses were four coin flips that arguably could have been different if one play goes different in each game. Against Wisconsin, Auburn and Florida, LSU is in their opponents territory with a chance to win when the game expires and against Alabama they held the team that S&P+ is saying is the best team since 1945 Army scoreless through 3 quarters. This was a really good and unbelievably unlucky team.

It sucks to have to live through four such losses but I do feel comfort in knowing that over the course of the season, this team was dominant and it makes me feel great about the future.