So is Jacob Hester the best tailback on the team? Or, the safest tailback for a season opener on the road against a desperate and potentially dangerous SEC bottom dweller? Or, are there unresolved and significant problems with Williams and Scott? Or, is Shawn Jordan so strong at fullback that Coach Miles sees an opportunity for something different here?
One explanation floating around is that Coach Miles wants to make sure that the Tigers don't get surprised in Starkville by making silly mistakes, like an especially costly fumble. What does that have to do with starting tailback, though? Williams and Scott are sure to see playing time, even in a close game. The threat of a critical error at the wrong time is always there.
Another potential explanation is that Coach Miles is trying to be coy with Virginia Tech's coaching staff. Really? Does Virginia Tech care that much whether Hester or one of the other backs gets the nod? I have a hard time believing they'll change their gameplan significantly based on the name of our starting tailback. They're all talented and have potential, but only Hester has proven himself to be an impact player. So I have an even harder time believing that Coach Miles is trying to deceive Virginia Tech by not putting his A-team on the field against the dangerous Dawgs.
Some on fan bulletin boards are even saying that Hester is getting the nod out of respect for his contributions over his career. OK - but why at tailback? He's competent there, without doubt. But isn't this team good enough to be looking for excellence at that position?
As the saying goes, "all things being equal, go with the simplest explanation." Coach Miles just isn't confident in his other tailbacks yet. If true, that's not a good thing.
Last season, LSU's offense was first in the SEC in scoring and total offense. And, like both USC and Florida, last year's offense relied on the passing game. The difference this year is that Flynn, although the leader of the [Peach] Bowl trouncing of Miami two years ago, is not Russell. He may prove to be just as good - maybe even better at some things, like mobility. But he also may prove lacking in some areas, like physicality or the ability to change the game with one throw. Russell and the receivers were able to overcome (most of the time) the fact that LSU did not have a game-winning ground game. Solid? Most of the time. Game-winning? Never. Will Flynn be able to carry a below average running attack?
I'm not doubting Flynn. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Matt Flynn has a great senior year and is ultimately touted as one of the most underrated signal callers in the nation. The question is, can an LSU team with BCS credentials afford another year without a consistent and explosive running threat? Flynn is a pretty good runner himself. But if he gets hurt? Uh...let's not talk about that just yet....too scary.
Auburn and Florida held the Tigers to under 100 yards total rushing - and beat us. In both of those games, the passing attack was about average for the season, with Russell completing 55% and 58% for 269 and 228 yards respectively. Of course, the Tigers had 5 turnovers against Florida - that didn't help. Later in the season, Ole Miss held the Tigers under 100 yards on the ground and gave all Tiger fans more drama than we wanted. These games provide a stark reminder of what can happen in the SEC to a powerful passing offense that lacks balance on the ground. Conversely, the Tigers dominated Arizona and Notre Dame with a balanced running and passing attack that arguably left both defenses grasping at straws.
Tailback by committee might be good enough to give LSU another 11-2 season. With three strong runners who can pick up first downs and execute inside the red zone, the Tigers will be able to run the ball. But if Coach Miles can find one to step up and be a first down breakaway threat, we might have something very special on our hands. I don't imagine Coach Miles thinks Hester is that guy. I think he's playing it safe and waiting these other guys out. It sure would be nice if either Williams or Scott would run all over the Bulldog defense and claim the spot for the rest of the year. If that happens, and Matt Flynn stays healthy, LSU could live up to the pre-season hype. If not, then I guess we'll get to enjoy another successful but stressful season, bite our nails and gnash our teeth, and dream of what might have been.