This time of year, a strong ground game can make all the difference in the world.
Just ask Ole Miss. They rolled into Baton Rouge last weekend undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the country ready to run over a Tiger team that already has two losses in conference play. The Rebels came to Death Valley with a quarterback on a roll, the best scoring defense in the country and the most realistic chance to make a run for a championship since the 1950s.
Considering LSU was having trouble scoring any points of their own and stopping other quality teams from scoring at will, this looked to be a great matchup for Hugh Freeze and the boys from the Grove.
Enter a strong ground game.
On its winning 92-yard drive that ended in a short touchdown pass, LSU started this fourth quarter march with 12 straight running plays. Twelve straight. Nothing fancy, nothing tricky. Just old-fashioned, smash mouth football. In this era of football dominated by video game-style offenses, nobody tries to beat a top three team running the ball that much. No one except “The Hat,” that is.
Over the course of the game, LSU rushed the ball 55 times and threw it only 16. This unorthodox, out-of-balance approach to offense is of no surprise to anyone who has followed the coaching career of Les Miles. He is a dedicated, unwavering supporter of a strong ground game being the key to victory. No matter how bleak the polls or how long the odds, he will not stray from his game plan. That philosophy will see its reflection in two weeks when Alabama and its own version of an imposing ground game comes marching into Tiger Stadium. The winner of that game will likely be the team that can best implement their game plan of a strong and punishing ground game to wear down their opponent.
This gridiron battle sounds a lot like another highly contested battle taking place over the next few weeks, also involving a matchup of well organized, focused ground game efforts.
On November 4, just four days before Nick Saban brings the Crimson Tide to Tiger Stadium, Louisiana will have its primary election for several closely contested races, including U.S. Senate, the 5th and 6th Congressional District, and numerous local races that will dictate the future of this state. In advance of this election, political machines across the state are focusing on their ground game right now to identify their likely voters, design a game plan to ensure they show up to vote and implement it to perfection.
What makes the ground game so important this election year is that we are in an “off-year” election cycle. This means since there is not a presidential election this year, it is often difficult to get a majority of your likely voters to show up and vote. This voter apathy in cycles like this is an affliction effecting any and all political parties, which is why they are all focused on strong ground efforts to get those likely voters to the polls next Tuesday.
Both Republicans and Democrats claimed in an article from The Advocate this weekend to have signed up in excess of 1,000 volunteers to turn out voters and they are putting their money where their mouth is.
The article describes the subtle, but different approaches to this effort. Republican Party officials state they are taking likely voter data from the Republican National Committee and layering it with local on-the-ground feedback they are getting from door-to-door walkers. The Advocate states that both Republicans and Democrats stress that the quality of contacts is more important than the quantity. Jason Doré with the state Republican Party said, “You get somebody from that neighborhood or at least from that area. They are the ones who are the main point of contact.”
A Democrat spokesperson said they are heavily relying on a similar data-driven game plan used by President Obama in 2008 and 2012, only this time heavily subsidized with outside money and paid volunteers from other parts of the country sent here to help.
According to Kirsten Alvanitakis, a Michigan native sent here to lead the communications effort for the state Democratic Party, “Our national partners are heavily invested down here.”
As an example of this, The Advocate article goes on to say that, “For the 2014 Senate races in Louisiana and nine other states, the Democrats set up the $60 million Bannock Street project, taking the name from the address of a Denver campaign office for Michael Bennett, who won election to the Senate in 2010 with the help of a strong ground game that boosted turnout beyond expectations.”
Additionally, we know that the national unions view some of these local Louisiana races as ground zero to push back on education reform efforts. Education Week recently released a report that showed national teacher unions are expected to funnel roughly $60 million across the country into elections this year, with a large chunk of those dollars going to local and state races. As an example of this effort, we have already seen the teacher unions spend more than $10,000 in the Jefferson Parish School Board races. If dropping national union money is not enough of an investment to stop reform, the president of the local teachers union is even personally running as an opponent to one of the reform minded candidates.
The political ground games are in full force and they will continue to battle each other every day until November 4.
Next week, we will know who wins. The scoreboard will show us all who has the best ground game. Republicans or Democrats? LSU or Alabama?
I don’t yet know the answer, but I do know one thing: Once Les Miles hangs up his coaching hat and retires, a future career in political consulting may be in the cards for him. Any person that dedicated to designing and implementing a strong ground game definitely has a future in politics.