Will Death Valley Give LSU the Edge?

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Tiger Stadium is famous for being a tough place to play, but how big a difference has it been this year?

According to Les Miles, Tiger Stadium is where opponents' dreams go to die. As long as you narrow the definition of "dreams" to "hopes of winning", this has been true at night. Miles has only lost one night home game in his tenure in Baton Rouge.

Does that still hold this year? Do the Tigers play noticeably better at home than on the road? The lazy answer is a simple yes. Their best game was the 41-3 drubbing of Washington at home, and their worst game was their 12-10 escape against Auburn on the road. They lost to Florida on the road but beat South Carolina at home. Ipso facto, LSU plays better at home. Done and done.

Well, I'm not satisfied with the lazy answer. I decided to compare LSU's performance against non-cupcakes versus what its opponents have done against non-cupcakes. The tables here show the difference between what happened in LSU's games versus the season averages for these teams against BCS AQ conference teams. In short, it's all BCS AQ vs. BCS AQ action.

First up is offense:

Opponent Site YPC Comp Pct. Yds/Att. Pass Eff.
Washington Home -0.26 +10.4% +3.02 +40.0
Auburn Road -1.07 -12.9% -1.61 -41.7
Florida Road -1.36 -6.0% +0.84 -3.9
South Carolina Home +1.75 -8.3% -0.47 -16.7
Texas A&M Road +1.12 -15.5% -3.80 -41.3

Here we can see that Washington really was Zach Mettenberger's best game relative to the opponent's average defensive performance. He was also pretty miserable against Auburn and Texas A&M, both road games. His performance against South Carolina was just a bit under expected in yards per attempt and passing efficiency, even if his completion percentage was down. The game against Florida looks from here like his second best, but it's skewed by a single 56-yard completion. Factor that out, and it's between his South Carolina and Auburn/A&M performances (though much closer to South Carolina). Mettenberger, it seems, does do better at home.

No such pattern emerges in respect to the rushing game. The two best games are far and away the most recent ones, which, not coincidentally, are the two in which Jeremy Hill has seen significant carries. The home/road narrative simply doesn't apply. The one about Hill rejuvenating the running attack, however, does.

On to defense:

Opponent Site YPC Comp Pct. Yds/Att. Pass Eff.
Washington Home -2.46 -9.8% -0.91 -20.7
Auburn Road -0.08 +0.7% -2.39 -33.5
Florida Road -1.21 +1.4% -2.04 -27.8
South Carolina Home -2.17 -7.4% -2.51 -36.1
Texas A&M Road -2.11 -14.5% -2.76 -55.2

On the passing defense front, no home/road split pattern emerges. Washington did fairly well compared to the other four teams here, but easily the best job the defense did was against A&M in College Station. Against South Carolina at home was its second best, but then Auburn on the road was its third best.

With the rushing defense, again, there's no real pattern. Florida is the only team that really stands out as having a good rushing day, and yes it was a road game. What about Auburn, you say? Well, those Tigers are downright miserable at running, and they fared poorly against LSU. There's simply not much room to undercut Auburn's season average against BCS AQ teams. The other three teams here did about equally as bad running the ball on the Tigers' defense, so again, no wide home/road split is here.

Having looked at all of this, any juice that the Tigers will get from playing at home will likely be in the play of Mettenberger. But what does that even mean? He had one really good game against a mediocre Pac-12 team that was playing a long way from home. Against the SEC competition, in nearly every category I looked at he was below what the opponents give up on average against BCS AQ teams.

For Mettenberger just putting up what Alabama allows on average would be a good game, and that presents a problem. I used Alabama's season averages against BCS AQ schools and Mettenberger's average attempts per game against BCS AQ competition (24.8, rounded to 25) to project a line for him. Rounding to the nearest whole number, he'd go 12-for-25 (48.0%) for 132 yards (5.28 YPA), 0 TDs, 2 INTs, and a passing efficiency of 76.4. I don't think that line is good enough to get LSU a win. It's far too many attempts, for one, and that many turnovers would be big trouble.

Of course, five games is not that big a sample size to draw from. LSU, like every team, doesn't stay even at the averages across games. Sometimes they're better; sometimes they're worse. The Tigers definitely need a game where they come out better, and playing at home probably helps that more than playing on the road would. With that said, little about this season so far suggests that we should see a dramatically better performance this weekend than past weekends from them solely because they're playing at home.

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