LSU is better with Flynn than Russell
College Football Expert Matt Hayes
Wouldn't you know it, the guy with everything to prove couldn't say "I told you so" if he had wanted to. Matt Flynn was holed up in the training room, a bum ankle the only glitch in his magnificent night.
Outside the locker room, while LSU celebrated a victory over Virginia Tech in the first meaningful, poll-reverberating heavyweight match of the season, offensive coordinator Gary Crowton tried to explain an overwhelming, undeserved preseason assessment of his quarterback: Flynn is this team's only weakness.
"I can tell you this," Crowton says. "He's not going to lose it out there when things get tough."
Which is to say he's not going to be JaMarcus Russell. Look, I know this is sacrilegious to all those NFL personnel guys who drool over Russell's freakish frame and his ability to throw a ball 70 yards on one knee and his 1-point-whatever-second release. But this LSU team is better with Matt Flynn at quarterback.
You want some numbers? In 11 games the previous two seasons against ranked teams, LSU was 7-4 with Russell -- and he threw nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdown passes (13). Those four big-game meltdowns -- against Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and Auburn -- prevented the most talented team in the most talented conference from winning anything other than a couple of meaningless bowl games.
Never have 22 wins in two years felt so unfulfilling.
"You would think with all those wins," says wideout Brandon LaFell, "we'd have a championship."
And you would think, after a 48-7 wipeout of Virginia Tech in the season's most anticipated nonconference game, the questions would end. Let's not undersell what happened. Tech led the nation in total defense the past two seasons and has nine starters -- five of whom will be first-day NFL draft picks -- returning from last year's unit.
And there was Flynn, the fifth-year senior/first-year starter playing flawlessly in a big game, something they haven't seen in Red Stick since Matt Mauck guided the Tigers in that magical 2003 national championship season. The popular theory this offseason was that Flynn would follow in the footsteps of Mauck, the serviceable quarterback who did what he was told and stayed out of the way.
Flynn even hinted in July that such a comparison might be accurate, saying, "My job is to guide this offense and keep us out of trouble." Look, with all due respect to Mauck, he's no Matt Flynn. And Flynn is no JaMarcus Russell -- which brings us back to my original point: This team will not beat itself as it did in previous seasons.
The quarterback position isn't about who has the strongest arm or who looks the best in game-day silks. It's about making decisions, about the ability to stand firm and not crumble under the enormous pressure.
In the Tigers' two most important games the past two seasons -- losses to Georgia in the 2005 SEC championship game and Florida last season -- the offense committed seven turnovers and scored a measly 24 points. In Flynn's two career starts against top 10 teams -- blowout wins over Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl and Virginia Tech last week -- the Tigers had no turnovers and 88 points.
That's not skewing numbers to make a point. Those are cold, hard facts. LSU relied too much on Russell's strong right arm when things got edgy or games got dicey. And no matter how hard you throw a ball against a wall, it's not going through.
Besides, it's not like Flynn is some noodlearmed overachiever. He doesn't have the best touch on deep balls, but he's extremely accurate on short and intermediate throws and he allows LSU to expand its dangerous running game with his ability to execute the read option play.
"With Matty back there," says LSU running back Jacob Hester, "we're a different offense."
They're a different team. No longer will big games from a stout defense be nullified by poor decisions from the most important position on the field. No longer will a team full of stars rely so heavily on one to do the work of many.
"Don't make too much of this," says LSU coach Les Miles.
How could we not? For the first time in Miles' three seasons in Baton Rouge, this is a team that looks like it can navigate the brutal SEC roadmap and do something it should have done already: win a national championship.
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Re: LSU is better with Flynn than Russell
"You want some numbers? In 11 games the previous two seasons against ranked teams, LSU was 7-4 with Russell -- and he threw nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdown passes (13). Those four big-game meltdowns -- against Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and Auburn -- prevented the most talented team in the most talented conference from winning anything other than a couple of meaningless bowl games."
IMHO Flynn will win the big game where Russell struggled, his good running will help him in the tough games, I heard on ESPN today that he may not play tonight due to a slight injury but would play for sure if it was a tougher opponent.
Just something to keep an eye on in tonight's game.
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