This may seem a week late, but Richard, Poseur and I decided to take a little more time with the open week to discuss not only the Florida game but also the second half of the coming season.
Well, I don't know about y'all, and I'm usually the last one to resort to hyperbole, but that was the absolute worst offensive gameplan I've seen from LSU in several years and a waste of a damn good defensive effort. There seem to be no real plan of attack or cohesiveness in what LSU wanted to do to Florida whatsoever. What did y'all think?
It was bad, but I think a lot of it was just how Florida shortened the game. LSU essentially only had three drives in the first half. Two stalled at midfield and one resulted in a red zone field goal. The fourth possession was just too late in the half to matter all that much. So the offense probably graded at a C in the first half, maybe even a B-. It was just that there was almost no possession.
But the second half was awful. I've already posted about the third quarter, and the fourth quarter wasn't all that much better. Once again, Florida just ate clock and LSU barely had any possessions. After the two horrid third quarter possessions, when the offense got the ball for the third time in the half, there was only 7:17 left and the team was down by 10.
The game simply got away from LSU. The offense only had five or six possession in the entire game in which they could run the offense with the full playbook. Florida won this game entirely by time of possession. It was ugly for LSU, but the offensive problems stemmed a lot from Florida's offense being on the field twice as long as LSU's in every quarter save the second quarter.
In the third quarter it felt like the coaching staff was just saying "well, lets see if this play works," with no cohesive thought process of what they wanted to do. It almost seemed like they couldn't decide whether they wanted to try and grind things out on the ground, or take some shots down the field. It wasn't a conservative gameplan, but it didn't feel really aggressive either.
I honestly kept thinking back to the 2008 Auburn offense -- a unit that just doesn't seem to know what it wants to do. The running game was effective enough that it never needed to be abandoned, especially when the score was never desperately out of reach until the waning minutes. But at the same time, if your quarterback can't get through his progressions quickly, give him less of them. Use some half-rolls, more screens, anything quick that will chew up yardage. There seemed no real urgency to try those kinds of plays except in long-yardage situations, which made no sense. And, at least in person, it felt like those plays were there, they just weren't tried.
This isn't to say I think LSU could have won, but I definitely think they could have scored more than 3 friggin' points.
I find myself getting sucked into the "it's all Gary Crowton's fault" school of thought, which in my head I know is probably unfair. The defense played pretty well, though not as well as the press it is getting. The score was a little deceptive, actually. Florida thoroughly outplayed us on both sides of the ball. They just played a really conservative style of offense that shortened the game, and then missed a couple opportunities to score that would have made the game more lopsided
As Poseur pointed out, the offense moved the ball decently well in the first half, having two drives stall around midfield and one drive get all the way to the goal line, resulting in a field goal, and finally a 2-minute drill that ended with a forgivable interception. I still cannot get over the fact that we did not seem to try anything that was designed to make Florida uncomfortable, to get them back on their heels and wondering what we would do next.
As much as I said that this game does not matter, the LSU team went out and did pretty much the only thing they could do that would greatly upset me: play without passion or imagination. I'm not talking about the players there, though. Or at least, I can't tell if they lacked passion. I do think that the play-calling and offensive game plan in general suffered greatly for its lack of imagination.
I'm generally the last one to jumps on the "blame everything on the coach" bandwagon, but I have to say that was the absolute worst game-plan I can remember seeing from LSU in some time, and that's squarely on Crowton's shoulders. I don't want to jump to conclusions, but in light of some of the talk we've all heard from other schools about his offenses always regressing, it's a little disturbing.
There's been a lot of talk from fans about the offense being too conservative, and I'd like to know just what pattern they saw from the attack at all? I actually think a more conservative and run-oriented gameplan might have led to a few more yards, first downs and maybe another field goal or two. While there were a few plays with success in the early going, those plays kind of took a hike in the second half. There was no concerted effort to really run the ball, despite enough success to make it worthwhile -- Charles Scott did average four yards per carry. There were a number of times I said to myself "that play would have been a great first down play" about something run on second down (or a second down play run on third down). The second half featured almost no short passes or screens to try and slow Florida's rush or put Jordan Jefferson in rhythm, or any attempt to shorten his reads and get the ball out quicker.
These are the kinds of common sense questions we were all asking about the defense last year. And I think we can all agree, that's not a good sign.
What's curious about Florida is that I don't think they played a conservative gameplan so much as they played the same one they've used all season long. This isn't the dynamic passing team of 2008 or 2007 without Louis Murphy or Percy Harvin. There's only one receiver the team seems to really trust and that's Aaron Hernandez, and the strength of this team is in the backfield right now. Florida's offense is looking closer to the Pat White/Steve Slaton West Virginia teams and I'm betting it's going to stay that way the rest of the season.
I can however, definitively say that LSU showed passion. The players were hyped up all through warm-ups and looked ready to challenge the Gators at midfield during pre-game. The defense played with passion and I think that unit should be damn proud of its effort. I think, and I hope, that this group of seniors has the mental fortitude to avoid last year's tank-job in the final three games. But right now, the offensive coaching staff, specifically Crowton, has to forget about wizardry and get back to a simpler, more focused gameplan. Or any gameplan at all. Am I the only one who fails to see some sort of pattern?
Do either of you feel like the focus of the rest of this season has changed? Has Gary Crowton and this offensive staff officially become a question mark?
First off, I do think the offense is conservative. Not in the sense of "run first", but that this offense is pathologically risk averse. Crowton is still calling the game as if he is shell shocked from last season. It's time to get over it. The players will never put it behind them if the coaches can't. I'm not saying we need to go out and run tons of trick plays and make lots of risky passes into triple coverage, but geez... let's take SOME risks. This team is so afraid of risk that it is bogged down in the mud, unable to act at all. The offense is not working, that is obvious, do SOMETHING. Anything.
So, yes, Crowton is a gigantic question mark. Another real problem is how players seem to be regressing. Keiland Williams is a senior and he still does not hit the hole. I'm not asking for the world here. There comes a point that it is the coachees' fault, not his. He has never harnessed his immense talent. Our receivers are running sloppy routes and are not coming back to the ball on underthrown balls. This isn't high level football theory here, this is basic stuff. Help your QB out. Jefferson seemingly cannot make a second read, much less a third. How much of that is coaching? The offensive line breaks down in a different way on every play. What is going on? What offensive player, aside from LaFell, has seemingly gotten better over the past three years? When so many players aren't developing, that becomes a coaching issue.
I do not hate Crowton. In fact, I think he's done a pretty good job here until this year. But coordinators have a fairly short shelf life at a program for whatever reason. It's probably just his time to move on and we can try a new system, or just a new guy. Whatever magic Crowton had, it has worn off. The offense is not working. This is a results-oriented business. I don't really care how well the team is practicing. No one cares how the sausage is made. This offense, by just about any measure, is among the worst in college football and, frankly, that's unacceptable.
Does this mean our goals change? Absolutely not. Even in the midst of last year's meltdown, LSU played Bama extremely tough. This year's team is better than last year's, and there's no reason the team can't rally again for the Bama game. We're one upset away from controlling the West and earning a rematch with Florida. Until we are eliminated, the goal is to win the SEC.
Is that the only standard of success? Well, no. I just want this team to play better than last year, which I think they have. LSU has already equaled it's number of SEC wins from last season, so we're one win away from official improvement. That's the minimum standard, but given the struggles of everyone else around the SEC, I think this team should go 6-2. As much as LSU has struggled, this team looks like a better team than Auburn, Arkansas, and Ole Miss. So let's go out and beat them and earn the Cap One Bowl. That would be a terrific bounce back year. Anyone who complains about 10-2 needs their head examined. This team, realistically, needs to win 10 games for me to be truly satisfied with this year given the talent. That allows for a loss to Bama and one additional stumble, whether it be in the bowl game or to one of the trio of West teams still on the schedule.
Of course, I doubt Les Miles or any of the players give a rat's ass whether I am truly satisfied with their performance.
Again and I disagree -- trying down-the-field passes behind a leaky offensive line (see first possession, third quarter) or three straight passes after three consecutive, successful running plays (see second drive, third quarter) is hardly risk-averse. It's bad playcalling, it shows a lack of a general plan of attack, but it's NOT risk-averse. If anything, it's kind of like jumping out a window when you could just use the front door.
I go back to this sense of that Crowton is just kind of throwing any play out there to see what sticks. It's giving me flashbacks to the defense of 2008 in that there are answers that seem obvious to us and yet oblivious to the team -- more rollouts, more screens, high percentage throws that can help get a quarterback in rhythm before you take the shots down the field.
I think Keiland has the same problem you see out of Reggie Bush in the NFL. He's always been a speed-first guy who thinks he can run to the corner and get by everybody and sometimes that's a brutally hard habit to break, no matter who the coach trying to break it is. And I very much disagree about our receivers. Terrance Toliver is light years better then what he was as a freshman, the only thing holding him back is the offense's overall lack of production. Chris Mitchell does what he can, hell; even R.J. Jackson has given this team a positive contribution -- which is a minor upset. The receivers aren't the problem on this team. I even think the offensive line has improved a lot -- which is why I don't understand why LSU didn't run the ball more than it did. They were having enough success for it to be worthwhile and it wasn't like Florida was up 21 points -- they were only up a touchdown until the start of the fourth quarter.
The "great for one season" knock on Crowton keeps echoing in my mind. He was excellent in 2007, and a refreshing change from Jimbo Fisher. But we are two years in with an offense full of players whose strengths and weaknesses he undoubtedly has to understand -- yet can't seem to scheme for. I actually like the idea of moving towards a no-huddle attack but the execution of it has been frustrating to the point that it HAS to be scrapped (it's this year's "Danny McCray as nickel back"). This trend has to be halted and very quickly. There's also the question of his quarterback coaching. Both of the quarterbacks he's been charged with developing have bad habits that seem to get worse, not better, as the season progresses. Again, this is a bad sign.
People do, however, need to understand that there's half a season left to coach and he's going to coach it. You don't get better by axing your offensive coordinator at mid-season. All that would signify is a complete lack of hope in your team to play through it. And again, I've never been one to jump on the "fire Coach X" bandwagon. But, if you were to ask me for a list of replacements I could spout of a pretty realistic (realistic as in attainable possibilities) group of names in short order.
That isn't to say this team has underachieved. Only an idiot would say that. LSU sits at exactly where EVERYBODY (yes, everybody) expected them to be at midseason. There is no goal that is out of reach for this team yet, and the mean level of expectations remains highly attainable. As Poseur said, one more conference win and LSU has officially improved on last season, regardless of what fans say.