That's the best image I can come up with for something so surreal. Any photoshoppers in the audience are welcome to do their best.
Well, for those of you brave enough to stare into the abyss again (beware, for it will stare back) tonight in the Sunday replay, here's a quick rundown of some things to watch for:
- Kudos to the offense for one thing - getting Jarrett Lee in. It actually showed foresight for the coming road stretch. Better to find out if he can contribute at home than at Florida or Auburn. And clearly he can. He probably should start, but he doesn't have to necessarily. Overall, he executes the passing game better, specifically the short/screen game. But, he still has the streakiness and pressure problems of his freshman year. Under duress he'll make bad decisions and bad throws off of his back foot - and we've seen where those problems lead. The solution is to continue the rotation. There's still a role for Jordan Jefferson as well, as the change-up quarterback because of his obvious mobility, but also as a "cooler" of sorts, for Lee. Even as his freshman year, Lee seemed to benefit from the occasional sitting for Andrew Hatch. Maybe he just needs to calm down, maybe seeing the defense from a different perspective helps, but I think using both, in a run-first, low-risk game plan, can work. At least for the rest of this season. Besides, it's not like there's much choice.
- Stevan Ridley continues to be exactly what this offense needs. He's channeling Jacob Hester with his running style, flashing some quick feet and body control to go with the obvious pure power. That said, he needs a partner, and Richard Murphy ain't it. He's adding almost nothing with the ball in his hands, though he's more valuable in pass protection than most of the other backs. But as far as the actual carries go, they'd be far more useful going to Michael Ford or Spencer Ware (who is also much more useful as a receiver and also laid some great blocks at fullback).
- Terrance Toliver redeemed himself with some clutch catches in the end, but he continues to struggle watching the ball into his hands and lets too many passes get to his body.
- Playcalling: I won't address the final sequence yet (and honestly I'm not sure what I can add that hasn't been said), but overall it was streaky. I loved the quick screens to Russell Shepard and the other receivers. I loved that Jordan Jefferson was allowed to run read options and other designed QB runs, with a single option play that was obviously a line check. That said, when Lee came in and began hitting passes, the offensive staff got greedy, almost as if they said "oh wow, now we can throw" and definitely got too pass happy. The play-action "flip 90" pass to Ridley that was intercepted was a very well designed play, but unnecessary when Ridley was having no problem finding room between the tackles.
- As for 1 p.m. on Sunday there hasn't been any final word on Sam Montgomery, but when the initial report is ligament damage, I wouldn't expect him back. At least Lavar Edwards, Chancey Aghayere and Barkevious Mingo did a fine job in his stead. Edwards came in with a sack immediately following the injury, and had the push that set up the 4th and 1 stop on UT's final possession. Mingo has next-level speed as a pass rusher, but he's still vulnerable in run defense - which gives Edwards even more value.
- If Kelvin Sheppard had 10 tackles, he probably should have finished with about 15. Run defense in general featured way too many missed tackles. When we talk about the run defense wearing down, missing tackles early is a part of that. When they allow an opponent to extend drives, it just adds to the wear-n-tear on the defensive line.
- Patrick Peterson might have been neutralized by the Volunteers' special teams, but he still had his usual effect on defense. I don't recall Matt Simms looking his way a single time.
- Speaking of the UT passing game, it was clearly designed to exploit LSU's inexperience at linebacker and nickel/dime personnel. A lot of quick throws to tight ends and slot receivers. That's another area where tackling has to be ratcheted up.
- The only comment I'll make about the final play: "Precious" Derek Dooley (seriously man, go find "Stunning" Steve Austin's blond hair and y'all can team up. I bet "Beautiful" Bobby Eaton is available too) can talk about the officials all he wants, but here's the bottom line. He does have a right to substitute - but your defenders have to leave the field. He ran multiple players on in those closing seconds (and at least one player tried to double-back to the sideline), but almost none of the defenders on the field even attempted to run off. It's not the referee's job to tell your players to head to the sideline in that scenario.