Because of weekend traveling, I am a little behind the regular posting schedule this week. I would have liked to have had this post up yesterday in the late morning or early afternoon, but I couldn't because I did not re-watch the game until late last evening.
I continue to believe that LSU simply dominated that game. Sure, the offense stalled for two long stretches, one in the first quarter and the other in the third and spilling over into the 4th. Vandy could get nothing going on our defense, however, and while we are always "one play away from being in trouble" until Keiland scored his second touchdown there in the 4th quarter, Vandy never came anywhere near making that one play.
Because I am by nature a cautiously optimistic, and because "cautiously" is the first word of that phrase, let's start the detailed analysis with what went wrong: the offense. We continue to have problems on the offensive line, both in pass protection and when we try a power running game. I was keeping a close eye on the center-left guard combination of T-Bob Hebert and Josh Dworaczyk and I think I can diagnose the problem in pass protection. The pass rush seems to have the most success when coming from Dworaczyk's zone. He sometimes has trouble finding a man to block, has trouble keeping his man's arms down (Jefferson's arm was hit while throwing twice, and I think both came from Dworaczyk's man), and gets beat by inside rushers at times.
The coaches think Josh Dworaczyk is a very talented offensive lineman, but he is still inexperienced. I think the problems coming from his direction should slow down as the season progresses.
I still can't figure out why we can't get a consistent push when we run with Charles Scott. I do think that perhaps the problem has been overstated a bit, because Scott had more success running the ball than his statistics suggest. While he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, he converted a number of important 3rd-and-short situations that probably did not help his average, but helped his team a lot. I don't want to gloss over the fact that we aren't getting the same kind of production from that area that we got last year, but I also don't want to condemn it without qualification, because qualification is needed.
The offensive line does a lot better when we run other schemes. When Keiland Williams is in the game, we tend to go with a zone blocking scheme that works a lot better than a power-them-off-the-ball scheme. It doesn't hurt that this is the best Keiland has run since he's gotten here. He's running with authority and without being tentative. He's getting the most out of plays. He hasn't yet tried to reverse field and get us a huge loss. I hate it for Charles Scott, who was clearly our best back last year, but I'm just afraid that Keiland is the runner who is best able to take advantage of what our offensive line is able to do well, and he should be getting the touches. I just think that as of right now our offense is going to do better with a cut-back runner in the game. It's too bad that we lost Richard Murphy, who really could have thrived with what we're doing.
In the passing game, people have rightly asked why we threw so many screen passes and short throws. I will agree that we went screen entirely too often, to the point where the screens resulted in way too many unsuccessful plays. Part of the problem on the screens was a lack of blocking by the wide receivers. This group of receivers is not as good at blocking on those screens as previous generations of wide receivers were, and the best blocker of the group is Brandon Lafell, who is also the best receiver and seems to get the ball the most on these types of plays.
That's why the screens weren't as successful as they could have been, but they were also overused. I think that is a result of Jordan Jefferson not being a particularly accurate thrower right now. He missed on a couple throws to wide open receivers on Saturday, including a sure touchdown to Chris Mitchell that he sailed over the receiver's head. Another example was the first snap of the game for us where it looked like Brandon Lafell made a great catch that was ultimately ruled incomplete. Lafell was wide open and the throw just wasn't on target, and made Lafell have to try to make a circus grab. I think Gary Crowton is reluctant to call the intermediate routes because he's afraid Jefferson just won't hit them consistently. Still, I think it was poor playcalling to try those screens again and again when they were having such limited results.
Speaking of poor playcalling, I also didn't particularly like seeing us run not one but two options in which Brandon Lafell was the pitch man.
On defense I paid particularly close attention to the left end spot, which in the absence of Pep Levingston was occupied by a rotation of Chancey Aghayere and Lavar Edwards. These two are drawing praise for their performance, but the starting Vandy right tackle handled them one-on-one the entire game until he got hurt. Those two redshirt freshmen have talent, but they were no match for him. After he left the game with a broken ankle, Aghayere and Edwards were able to get into the play a lot more.
I still cannot express enough how well the defense as a whole played. Everyone got into the act of making positive plays. Kelvin Sheppard seems to be the message board whipping boy so far this year, and he dropped what should have been an easy interception, but let's not lose sight of the fact that it was "easy" because he read the play. While he couldn't come up with the ball, he broke up the pass what might otherwise have been a positive play for Vandy. He also gets criticized for missing tackles, and yes he missed a couple, but he also made a couple big stops.
We still aren't getting to the passer enough, but we are at least creating a little pressure. I would like to do a little more of this and really get a good pass rush going. I just don't know if he have a pass-rushing defensive line, though.
I saw Morris Claiborne get into the game and make a tackle. That's a name you're going to hear a lot in coming years.
All in all, the Vandy game was a positive step forward for the team as a whole, but we are not where we want to be yet. We get a couple relatively easy games the next couple weeks, and hopefully we can iron out the wrinkles.