Good to see Shep back involved with the offense more.(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Well, Billy tried to warn you, but I'm not sure he expected this. Coming off the highest of highs from last week, we returned to planet Earth with something less inspiring. Would it have been nice to come out and steamroll McNeese, roll up 500 yards of offense, hold them to under 100 yards and look like the all-consuming force of the college football world? Absolutely. But we should know better than that now. We'll probably save that effort for next week, against the best offense we have faced all year.
So, don't worry; I'm not gonna go all Jerry Maguire on you this week. And you shouldn't either. It's one game sandwiched in between two of our biggest games of the season. The plan was pretty simple: stay healthy.
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Not to be openly negative, but there just weren't many things to get excited about this game. The effort was lacking. Unlike the six games to date, the defense didn't pursue well or hurry to gang tackle. The DL created very little havoc. Drake Nevis was mostly quiet. We played bland, boring, read and react defense most of the night. Other than Ryan Baker and Morris Claiborne, the defense played flat footed most of the night. We never really "established" ourselves as clearly more dominant. Oftentimes against over-matched opponents you'll see a dominant defense come out and set the tone early. Didn't happen for us. That's not to say we played horribly. McNeese's only points were gifts from two turnovers. But they didn't exactly bludgeon McNeese like you may have expected.
Offensively... well... we played. After topping 385 yards for the previous two weeks, we failed to break the 300 barrier this week. There's no two ways about it... we were woeful. Ridley looked like he was running in mud. JJ was abysmal. Lee was inaccurate most of the night. The line didn't dominate at the point of attack. McNeese actually ran more plays than we did, largely because we couldn't convert a 3rd down to save our lives. But we did average 4.5 yards per play, at least. We amassed 179 yards rushing (really 203 if you don't count the JJ sack losses).
The gameplan offensively was pretty straight forward. Power running straight ahead and a bevy of screen passes to our WRs (we'll call it... The JIMBO FISHER!). We continue to audition for a back-up to Ridley, and I think we may have found our man (or men, even). Michael Ford has really put his best foot forward the past two weeks, and true freshman Spencer Ware continues to see his role expand by the week. Russell Shepard looked more like the player we saw the first couple weeks of the season rather than the last few.
At one point after Jasper ran the fake punt, we went uptempo on offense and came with a no-huddle look. First time I've seen us do this all year in a non-pressure situation. Les or Gary was obviously trying to generate some energy out there, because we were playing very lethargic.
Even the ST units struggled. Jasper uncharacteristically missed a chip shot AND a XP. Ugly. But the coverage was pretty good all night. Both guys punted it well, including killing three inside the 20, two with excellent plays by both Daniel Graff and Ron Brooks.
-We actually ended up with a 4th and 1 inside the two when we scored our first TD. We came out in a standard goal line package, with Tyler Edwards in as an extra blocker. Hurst and Clement blew open the right side and Stamp and Edwards cleaned up the free men to give Ridley a huge hole to walk through. Nothing interesting, just straight-ahead power football.
-2nd TD we came out in a similar big set, once again with Stamp at FB and Ridley dotting the I. We ran a very basic I-Formation Dive play off the left side. Josh D. got a great block, as did TT downfield. Ridley broke through a tackle (the only one I can remember him breaking through all night) and finished it off.
-3rd TD we ran a nice toss play with Ford out of the I with Stampley. Stampley got a nice kick out and the left side of the line all blocked down well. T-Bob pulled on the play and got a nice kick out as well. Ford cut inside of T-Bob and Stamp's blocks and got it up field for the score. Nice piece of running from Ford on a well blocked play.
-Finally, the 4th TD came from the I-Form again. This time J.C. Copeland was in, seeing his first action on the season as a FB. Ford dotted the I. By this point, McNeese's defense was extremely worn down. Chris Faulk was in for Joe Barksdale at LT. The left side of the line all reach blocked and the right side kicked out. Ford patiently followed JC into the hole. JC laid an effective block, Ford cut back inside off of it into a huge running lane and sprinted the rest of the way for six. Faulk blocked two men on the play...
JJ: Not exactly an awe-inspiring performance. Not exactly a workmanlike performance. Not exactly a capable performance. Actually, far and away his worst performance of the year. He held the ball too long. His accuracy numbers were good, but mostly came on short throws. The first sack he took, I didn't feel was his fault. Once he hit his back foot, the pressure was on him. The second sack was totally on him though. Held the ball too long, then of course fumbled it... which gave McNeese their only TD of the game. He was ineffective running it as well... JJ brought very little to the offense for this game. Did see him throw that shorter inside screen we typically only run with Lee due to JJ's long throwing motion. He looked awkward getting it out, but he short armed it in to Murphy, unfortunately, it was well defended.
Lee: Had JJ not played like one-legged version of Marcus Randall more people would be talking about Lee's anemic performance. His throws were errant all night. Even his completions looked more like what we've come to expect from JJ - they got there, but they didn't give the WRs a chance to make a play. He threw a bubble screen at DLO's feet. Threw another bubble screen high to Shep that resulted in a minimal gain. Hit Shep high on an out that could have been a TD if he threw it well... instead Shep had to turn his body and go up and get it... halting his momentum. Also threw a near pick six that may have been a QB/WR mix-up. Not a good night for our QBs.
Ridley: Got two TDs, but looked like he was running in mud. Uncharacteristically went down on first contact. He didn't fight for those extra yards like we've become accustomed to seeing from him. But he came out unscathed, and only got 15 carries, so all-in-all, a victory. I have zero concerns about Ridley's ability to perform.
Ford: The team MVP of the night. Ford ran it well all night long. Even if you take out the 36-yard TD scamper, 9 carries for 50 yards is very respectable. He ran tough, and he didn't dance. Ford got upfield in a hurry and read his blocks very well, and it's obvious he has an extra gear not present with any of our other backs. Made a very nice run on an option play with JJ.
Ware: You can call him "The Natural." For reals. This kid just oozes "player." We've seen his sticky hands as a receiver already this year, and he got to flash his running ability a bit in this game. Ware doesn't waste time with dancing around... he gets up field and flashes a sneaky quickness. This guy is going to be a VERY good feature back in the future and important part of this offense this season.
Murph: Made two nice catches early in the game to help move the chains. Only had one carry. Murph's contributions to this team are as a blocking back and as a leader.
Jasper: Get this guy more touches Les!
Randle: No catches. Quiet night. No reason to bother him really with a finger on the mend.
Toliver: Registered only two catches for 27 yards. Apparently ran the wrong route on Lee's near pick six. Made one nice catch and run. Got deep on their secondary once and drew and obvious PI that was missed. Got a nice block on Ridley's second TD run.
Shep: Arguably the best game of his LSU career. Recorded a career high seven catches. Chipped in an additional three carries. Had a huge screen play called back on a very questionable "illegal man downfield" penalty. Danced a bit on one play, but mostly does a good job of cutting upfield. He was featured a lot with Randle being down. Becoming a factor in the bubble screen game, which is something I like to see from him.
OL: Just grading them out as a unit because none particularly stood out. All of them got some nice blocks, but all of them looked mostly lethargic. This was probably their best "blow them off the ball" game... since they aren't that type of line and McNeese is a smaller school. Chris Faulk continues to impress me though. If Barksdale went down (knock on wood), I have zero concerns about Faulk stepping in seamlessly.
Nevis: Not an overly impressive performance. Got good penetration on a few plays, but McNeese's plan seemed to be to let him come up field and run by him... best strategy I've seen used on him yet. Most teams try to run at him and pay for it. McNeese let Nevis do his aggressive thing and run himself out of plays. Of course, they also had the shifty type of back that could make that work. Still finished with 5 tackles, 1 TFL and a safety.
Pep: Quiet game. Probably would have recorded a sack, but Baker got there first. Finished with three tackles and a QBH.
Edwards: Credit goes to him for the safety. He absolutely blew his man into the backfield that drove the RB backward and Nevis cleaned up. Superb play by him. Otherwise, he remained quiet. Finished with one tackle.
Ag: Made one nice tackle, fighting off his man and tracking down the back. Misplayed the back in the backfield and could have had a good loss, but put his head down and the back broke away. Finished with three tackles.
Adams: Recorded extensive time for the first time since UNC. Looked okay... effort was there, but needs to play with more discipline. Did a good job of crashing down on run plays. Recorded five tackles.
Mingo: Quiet night. Missed chasing down a screen pass by inches... almost caught the RB from behind for a minimal gain. Got a QBH.
Maclin: Got his first playing time of his career. Only played on the last couple of drives. He didn't make any plays, but I liked what I saw from him because he fired off the ball low and hard. The future is bright at DE.
Davenport: Came in late, and now we see why he isn't in the rotation. Every play he came out straight up. His natural strength allowed him to hold position, but he just comes out too high.
Montgomery: Hawthorne gave him credit for a tackle, so he was obviously there in spirit.
KShepp: Played well. Got a nice strip and recovery in the 3rd quarter. Mostly just played read and react and cleaned up plays. McNeese didn't do a good job of getting blockers on him (something Florida and Tennessee did well) and so Shepp was able to roam and make plays. Finished with 10 tackles.
Baker: LSU's defensive MVP... he was all over the field. I was most impressed with his coverage... he hung with a good receiving TE all night and limited completions. Finished with nine tackles, two TFL, and two sacks. Glad to see he didn't go for that strip move on the sack this time and just delivered the blow.
Francois: Can't remember a single notable play. Finished with two tackles.
Barrow: Played at the end of the game. Made a couple nice tackles. Nothing entirely noteworthy.
Minter: Played late... recorded two tackles.
T. Jones: Came in late, but didn't do anything to stand out.
Claiborne: Nice game. Finished with one tackle, one INT and three pass breakups. Mo is a very good cover man who is really coming into his own since the UNC game. I saw an interview with Saban after our 2003 NC game, and he made this comment: "Our two corners can cover and the guys up front can rush, and that's a combo that has been pretty good for us this year." Reminds me a lot of this year's defense.
Zod: Returned to his warrior-like return status. Recorded one tackle, and also a QBH on a corner blitz. Made a risky decision fielding a punt... he needs to be careful with that. I like his aggressiveness, but we don't need turnovers there.
Mathieu: Didn't make any game changing plays this week, but held excellent coverage late to force an incompletion. Finished with two tackles.
Hatcher: Solid game. Finished with five total tackles. No big hits, just cleaning up plays along the way.
BT15: Finished with four tackles... nothing stood out. Got a big hit on a late reception.
Reid: Played a good bit. Made one big hit trying to dislodge a reception, but the receiver held on. Finished with four tackles.
Loston: Played late, recorded two tackles... also returned a kick for a short gain.
Simon: Made one tackle... played some corner late.
Jasper: Off night. Missed FG and XP. Nice job punting... killing two inside the 20. Averaged 42.3 yards. Also made a chip shot FG and scrambled for a 1st down.
Helton: Boomed a 56-yard punt. Killed one inside the 20. Nice night.
Graff: Keeps doing his thing, two more ST tackles.