One of the big stories coming out of last night's game is the injury situation. Jordan Jefferson came out of the game with some sort of leg problem. Josh Downs left the game with a knee problem, and you can see the ice on his knee on the picture to the left. It is not clear that either of these are serious. Jefferson may have simply had a cramp, and while he only had to stay out for one play, we scored a touchdown on that play and it was the last time our offense touched the ball. Downs, at least, is walking off the field on his own, which suggests it's probably not one of those dreaded ligament tears.
Richard Dickson is another matter. After making 3 catches early in the game, he left with what appeared from the television viewpoint to be some kind of a neck problem. He did not return to the game. I have been unable to find any indication of what his injury was or how serious it is. On a team without a lot of established weapons in the passing game, it would be a real blow if Dickson was seriously hurt.
Anyway, we have seen a torrent of negativity on the interwebs about this LSU team in the wake of this win, which was in the wake of insufficiently (to some) impressive wins against University of Washington and Vandy. And I'm not just talking about our own comment section. The headlines over at the Times-Picayune are "LSU Tigers Still Don't Look the Part against Louisiana-Lafayette", "LSU's Jordan Jefferson Still a Work in Progress", "LSU Playcalling Remains Quirky", and "LSU: A Curious Team Thus Far".
It's not exactly a sick feeling out there. It's just a feeling that this team is leaving people wanting more. That's fair, and I agree that this team is not where we want it. The offensive line should be dominating teams like this and is not doing so. Jordan Jefferson misses open receivers at times. The defense is much improved from the Washington game to now, but still gives up the occasional long, methodical drive or big 3rd down conversion.
With that out there, I want to temper that attitude. While we are not where we need to be, I do not think we are all that far from where that place. Last night, we used more of a medium-field passing game, which I am convinced right now is the way for us to open up the running game. Jefferson missed a couple of deep receivers again, but the throws to Dickson and the second touchdown pass to Lafell were exactly the sorts of passes we weren't seeing enough in previous games.
Getting Reuben Randle involved (I know that name is misspelled, but SBNation's database has it misspelled, so I'm deliberately messing it up so that it will automatically link) could also be a big help in that midfield passing game. He got the ball thrown his way for the first time in his career tonight, and made one catch on two tries. He almost came down with a deep ball in the face of really good coverage, and it would have been a spectacular play.
This is not a perfect team, but I see no reason to depair of our chances, at least not yet. The defense was outstanding again last night, creating turnovers and negative plays. Yes, ULL made a few nice plays on offense, but teams do that at times even when they're overmatched. The difference between this game anda huge blowout was the fact that we didn't get quick scores, except for the Holliday touchdown. We have a little ways to go, but we see no indication yet of the intense problems we saw defensively last year or of the interception problem that put us in bad positions constantly.
I watched the game again (thank you TIVO for letting me watch a full game in an hour while eating breakfast) and watched the line play. I felt better after watching it on replay. I thought both lines played well, better than I thought watching it live. In particular, I think the defensive line played very well. ULL was only effective running the ball when they ran misdirection plays, screens, and options where they disguised who had the ball. Any time they lined up and ran at us, we stuffed them exactly how you would expect a superior team to stuff an inferior team.
We will have to work out those problems on misdirections and deceptive plays, however. In particular, Chancey Aghayere got burned a couple times biting on a fake or rushing in on a screen. Then again, he also completely blew up a screen on ULL's first possession by staying home and getting between the QB and the receiver, forcing a bad throw. Aghayere's a young player still, and if you're going to make a mistake, the mistake I can most easily live with is the mistake of running too hard towards the ball.
On the offensive side of the line, we're still trying to figure out why we can't get Charles Scott going. We have two new starting offensive linemen, both the center and the left guard. I am far from an expert on evaluating line play, but I was keeping a close eye on that part of the line and did not see a big problem there. In fact, in my observation, when I could diagnose exactly where someone came from to blow up a play, it was usually coming from the left side right side of our line.
To cite one example, when Charles Scott was stopped on a 4th and short, the tackler came from off the right tackle. It appeared to be a standup blitzing linebacker coming in. Joseph Barksdale crashed inside and let the linebacker into the backfield untouched. He either thought it was someone else's assignment (and for all I know, it could have been), or his assignment was to assume he could not catch up to a run going to the left side and let him go. In either event, let him go Barksdale did. No one else picked him up and he came across the backfield to hit Charles Scott behind the line of scrimmage and stop the play for no gain.
To cite a second example, one another running play I saw, Lyle Hitt executed a typical zone-blocking technique of hitting the first level defender only for a split second and then disengage to track down a second-level defender to block. The problem occurred when the first-level defender then disrupted the play. I simply don't know enough to evaluate exactly what Hitt was supposed to do or how that play was supposed to account for the first-level defender.
The good news on the line is that, unlike last week, Jordan Jefferson was not running for his life on every pass play.
Overall the offense played much better than it played against Vandy. We did not have long stretches of ineffective play like we've seen in our previous two games. It would be great to see more big plays, but at least we consistently moved the ball forward last night. That's progress. We didn't roll all over them, but were the superior team and we steadily moved the scoreboard in our favor all game. At no point was ULL really in this game and I'm not sure what else we should really expect.