Tom Herman has maximized his opportunities against SEC teams: Is that a bad sign for LSU?
There’s a coach outside of the SEC who has been money in the bank against the conference in the Playoff era.
He’s on the right side of 50, he has never been afraid to speak his mind and his team wears a shade of orange. He upset an SEC power in a New Year’s 6 Bowl. Even better, he played an integral part in constructing a game plan to take down Alabama in a Playoff game.
Believe it or not, Dabo Swinney is not the coach that I’m referring to. It’s Tom Herman.
While Swinney’s demolition of Alabama and sheer brilliance during the Playoff era proved why he’s the biggest single obstacle standing in the SEC’s way of annual glory, Herman could be just behind him on that list. For a coach who figures to have plenty more matchups with the SEC (including the one against LSU in Austin in Week 2), that seems significant.
Somewhat quietly, Herman built up a pretty solid track record against the SEC during the Playoff era. For whatever reason, Herman prepares better for the SEC than he does against, oh, I don’t know … Maryland.
As a head coach, Herman is 3-0 against SEC teams. That record includes the Sugar Bowl win against Georgia a few months ago that clinched the Longhorns’ best season in a decade, the blowout Texas Bowl win against Mizzou last year (AKA the Drew Lock trolling game) and a 34-0 beatdown of Vanderbilt while Herman was at Houston in 2015.
What that record doesn’t include is the masterful game plan he drew up to put up 42 points with a third-string quarterback against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. At the time, of course, Herman was only the offensive coordinator at Ohio State.
Even though Herman won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant that year, the instant reaction to that game and the ensuing national title victory against Oregon was that Urban Meyer delivered one of the great single-season coaching jobs in college football history. I’d argue that Meyer’s 1 Playoff appearance and 0 Playoff points in the post-Herman era plus Cardale Jones’ post-Herman struggles both collegiately and professionally suggest that Herman deserves even more credit for what that Ohio State offense did against Alabama.
So yes, while Herman wasn’t technically the head coach, you could still say he was instrumental in 4 victories against SEC teams in 5 years of the Playoff era.
Including that Alabama game, here are the numbers for Herman against SEC teams in that stretch:
That was with 3 different programs. Herman’s personnel changes and he still finds ways to scheme against SEC squads. Granted, it helps when you have a defensive coordinator like Todd Orlando who seems to have a knack for scheming against SEC offenses. Herman hasn’t necessarily needed to win a shootout against an SEC team since the Alabama game.
As the numbers show, Herman usually has a relatively balanced offensive attack, at least from a production standpoint. Despite his spread, up-tempo offense, there’s been more success in the ground game. Nobody would have predicted Texas to outrush Georgia 178-72.
The mobility of Herman’s quarterbacks seems to always be a major factor. In those 4 games, the quarterback carried the ball an average of 17.8 times with a minimum of 14 rushes. We know Sam Ehlinger will call his own number against LSU a bunch to try and combat the pressure that Dave Aranda will dial up. The Tigers will use the Georgia game plan to show how NOT to contain Ehlinger:
With Ehlinger back and Herman with the most momentum he’s had as a head coach, the LSU showdown will be a fascinating test on a variety of fronts.
Besides the fact that Herman turned down LSU in favor of Texas a couple years ago, it could add another chapter in this growing story of him becoming a worthy SEC adversary. Outside of Swinney, there aren’t many of those these days. Without Urban Meyer or Paul Johnson around anymore, the list is slimmer than ever (don’t forget that Johnson beat 4 different SEC teams in the Playoff era).
Herman, for my money, is already worthy of being on that list having drawn up offensive game plans to beat both Nick Saban and Kirby Smart in the Playoff era (the only other members of that exclusive club are Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn). And as we know, Herman and those deep Texas pockets don’t look like they’re going anywhere anytime soon.
The next step for Herman would be adding LSU to his list of SEC victims. On a bigger scale, the next step would be getting Texas to the Playoff and taking down an SEC team en route to a national championship. That’s a massive step. Obviously. There’s no guarantee Herman reaches such an apex as a head coach.
But if there’s an SEC squad standing in Herman’s way — and not Maryland — history suggests that he’ll get his team rise up to the occasion, and that he’ll usually do some trolling in the process.
Maybe it just means more to Herman.