Ladies and gentleman, I think we've found an identity. Look, whether you are a Les Miles supporter or denier, you all see the same thing: Les loves to run the football. In fact, he wants to run the shit out of it. Power running 24/7, 365 like clockwork. If he had his druthers (what the hell are druthers?), we'd run the ball 65 times a game for 4 yards a carry and pound every opponent into bloody submission. Last season our offense looked something awful (backed up by every poor statistic you can imagine) due to our inability to run the football. Parse the stats, and I still maintain that the only glaring difference in the 2007 offense and the 2009 offense was our inability to run the ball with any sort of effectiveness last season. Hell, go re-watch the La. Tech game closely and you'll see us get stuff on 3rd and short multiple times. All of that lead to a miserable offensive season and an average overall season in which we remained in single-digit wins and lost our first bowl game under Miles.
We (I can't think of a single fan who wanted him to stay) spent the off-season calling for Gary Crowton to join the growing list of the unemployed in this country. But it didn't happen. The most painful aspect of it all is that we never seemed to find a positive direction for our offense.... we never found an identity. After all last season, and 6 quarters of this one... I think *crosses fingers* *knocks on wood* *hugs a leprechaun*... we have found an identity.
Well, for three quarters, it wasn't pretty. After watching the Vanderbilt offense for about 10 minutes, I knew we'd never be in danger of actually losing the game (even at 10-3 in the mid third). It was plainly obvious that they just weren't going to move the ball on us. The game zipped by due to a lot of rushing (82 attempts between both teams) and a lack of scoring. Sans 1 big play from them, they hardly moved the ball. Take out the 51 yard run, and they are hovering around 80 total yards for the game. DOM-IN-NATION.
Now, on the other side of the ball... it was a bit more messy. The first half was flat out disgusting. The second half was much, much better. Play calling, execution, decision making, blocking, catching, running... you name it... we did it bad in the 1st half.
Coming into the game, I expected we'd work on building JJ's confidence. Let's be clear: Vandy doesn't have a terrible defense. Hell, I'd say they are on equal footing with more talented squads Arkansas and Auburn. They have some sneaky talent in there, including two pretty solid corners. It doesn't surprise me that they were able to minimize our output in the 1st half. However, JJ didn't allow the coaches to do anything with him. He was missing opening targets (high, low, right... left.... you name it) all night. Hard to sustain drives when JJ throws it at a wide open Shep's feet on 3rd and short.
Anyway, let's get down to it:
The Big Points:
-The defense, particularly the defensive line, absolutely dominated. The secondary remained largely untested (they only completed two passes to WRs). Once again, LBers in coverage were tried... the only real damage in the passing game came in intermediate stuff, but only 5 catches for 38 yards for their TE. LB coverage is an area that needs improvement, but they seemed to make strides with Baker in there.
-The offense struggled the entire first half, and some of the second, until they switched to exclusively zone blocking in the rush game. Hell, JJ didn't throw a pass in the 4th, and Lee only threw one.... that's how good the run game was working. We I speak of identity above, this is what I'm talking about. I hope and pray GC keeps this in the gameplan, because our OL drastically improved and Ridley began gashing the D once we made the full switch. Regardless, prepare yourself for ground and pound and wear you down. This team, despite it's sick WR talent, isn't going to be an air-it-out force. We are going to be a power running football team that milks the clock and relies on playing keep away and good defense to beat opponents.
-Shep is a multi-dimensional threat that I love seeing get the ball. My one complaint is that he's still not a great "catcher." Stick to the jugs machine Shep... I know you have it in you, but your hands aren't great yet.
-This is the worst game Jordan Jefferson has played since arriving at LSU.
-Loved seeing Blue and Ware get involved during plays that actually count. Not a shock to me they got snaps above Ford, who reportedly struggled in camp this summer. We have a very, very talented backfield.
-I'm a huge JJ fan. That being said, I f'n love watch Lee throw the ball. I'm a sucker for gunslingers who shoot lightning out their hands, and Lee gets rid of the ball so quick it's impressive. His strike to Randle makes you long for him to be the starting QB, particularly after JJ's rough night... but has he learned to take care of the ball? We'll never know... unless he gets a shot. I hope Les let's JJ know that if his play doesn't improve his job is in danger. Enough with the being patient shit.
-Drake Nevis is a manchild.
-PP7's name was hardly called tonight. Quiet night.
-I mentioned this in the game thread, but for those who bitched about Brick Haley last year (and there were quite a few), you need to man up and apologize. The struggles of the DL last year had nothing to do with Brick and everything to do with a lack of talent. Kudos to Miles for restocking the DL with a sick amount of young DL talent. Get used to it folks, our DL is going to be good for a long, long time.
-Herm Edwards is horrible... horrible color commentator. BUT, he did hit on an issue that I think all LSU fans have seen: simplify. He mentioned this several times throughout the game. LSU has so much talent that we (GC) try to get too cutesy trying to get everyone the ball. Our offense brings up so many sets, so many personnel groups etc. that it's hard to develop continuity. Fittingly what worked best tonight was the simplest stuff we ran: zone blocking schemes.
-If you aren't familiar with the zone blocking scheme, here's a few links to educate you: 1, 2, 3, 4. Really, it's the simplest shit ever. Mike Shanahan ran this to about 97 straight 1,000 yard backs. Alex Gibbs has made a career off developing OL who do it. Rich Rodriguez's entire offense is based on a zone blocking scheme. If you are REALLY interested in learning more, read up on some of what those guys do. Trust me, it's simple as shit... basically run right and hit the shit out of whoever is in front of me, but super effective.
-Stevan Ridley is the best back on this team. And he ran extra cautious tonight, throwing two arms over the ball any time any sort of contact was initiated.
-I've never seen a team with so much skill position talent be this questionable at QB. It's very... odd.
-This defense is just going to get better and better, count on it.
-Besides the second half slump, one of the main overarching complaints about last week was the lack of sustained drives. This week we saw drives of: 82, 75, 53 and 81. All but one reached double-digit plays.
-We can run the ball! Hallelujah!
-For everyone hoping the entrance of Billy Gonzales meant the introduction of some spread option principles into our offense, this TD must have been your wet dream. Last week we saw Shep take one to the house on what was practically a counter play. Tonight, his 30 yard scamper was a straight up jet-sweet, a play we saw Percy Harvin run again... and again... and again. Shep got nice blocks from Barksdale and Josh D. and most importantly, Murphy down field, and took it to the house untouched again. That's 3 TDs in 2 games for Shep.
-After being given a short field on a Vandy KO return TO, we capitalized with four consecutive running plays, the last of which resulted in the first TD for freshman Alfred Blue. Running out of an I-Formation, the play was designed as a simple Dive, but the hole quickly closed. PJ made a tremendous block on the DT, taking him to the ground and Blue cut back left off the block through daylight and hit pay dirt. A nice display of vision from the freshman.
-The final play came on a simple zone running play. You've probably heard it referred to as student body left. This was it. All the lineman zone blocked left, which got the defense moving right, Ridley hit the cutback beautifully into wide open space and sprinted to the end zone untouched. Simple design, great run by Ridley.
JJ: Worst game I've seen him. Erratic, impatient... you name it. The INT sits squarely on his shoulders, as there was little pressure and TT was open in the back of the end zone if the ball is thrown well. Instead, JJ short arms it right into the hands of the DB. He missed a lot of open targets. There were a couple drops, but even on those, they weren't the best throws. I've long been a JJ defender, but performances like this make him impossible to defend. I hope Les makes it clear to him that this job is not clear-cut his if he plays like that.
Ridley: Is there any doubt he's our best back? Ridley has the best vision of any back we've had in a while. The zone blocking scheme is perfect for his skills, and he's able to capitalize and turn the plays into big chunks. Let's hope we continue to scheme this way. Great game from Ridley. He ran with an attitude and covered up the ball well, to wipe out his fumbling "problem."
Murphy: Had two nice runs on the night and a nice block. While I'm happy for Murph and his story, I think the offense would be better served with him taking a backseat to the younger, more talented freshmen behind him. Blue looks like a legitimate no. 2 threat, and Ware is a do everything type of back that can still run with power. If we maximized the touches of those two with Ridley, we could have a devastating run game.
Blue: Up and down game. Made a couple nice runs, including his TD, but also fumbled an option pitch that really cost us. Finished with 23 yards on 5 carries. Very solid.
Ware: We only got a glimpse of him, but I like what I saw. The pass he caught was a beautiful design by GC, lining Ware up at FB and running him in a wheel route. Still not sure how or why he tripped, as the pass was on the money and it probably could have gone for six, but still a nice play. His run at the end was also nice and flashed the ability that excited us about him as a recruit.
Ford: This is the new name for the "Why isn't Miles playing him" crew, but I think it became fairly evident watching him tonight. Of all the backs that played, Ford was the least decisive and aggressive running. His final carry was miserable as he bounced around in the hole and ended up with 2 yards. Ford is an athletic freak with all kinds of upside, but he needs to learn to stick his nose in there and run tough if he wants to get carries on this team.
Stamp: Quiet game. Threw a nice block on Ware's late run.
RR: Okay game. Very nice catch and run over the middle to convert a 1st down. We really got to see his great YAC ability on that play. He's tough to bring down and definitely has a burst. Dropped a pass or two. The balls weren't particularly well thrown, but I'm a big believer in that if the ball is in a WR's vicinity, it should be caught. Also threw a nice block for Ridley and made a nice catch from Lee.
TT: More involved this week after a quiet week last week. Had a nice block on the outside for Ridley. Settled into the zone and made a nice catch in the 1st half. Caught a short pass in the 2nd, but did little with it... seemed like an awkward move. Solid game.
Shep: Ran for daylight on the 30 yard TD. Play was well blocked, all he had to do was run. Dropped a couple passes. Like Randle, the throws weren't great, but they were in his vicinity. If he wants to be a great WR.. he's got to catch those balls. It's clear by now that Shep will be a focal point and force in our offense. I loved the two back set where he ran a nice drag route from the RB position and JJ put it on his numbers. Creative way to get him in a mismatch that worked for an easy 1st down.
Bark: Good game. Gave up the pressure that lead to the only sack. Player just outquicked him inside. I'm really pleased with Joe at LT. Run blocking has been good and little to no backside protection concerns. He hasn't been mentioned yet... that's a good sign. (Oh I got a tremendous chuckle of the announcer saying, "He's replacing 'the great' Ciron Black... riiiiight).
Josh D: Solid game. Came out early for a reason I still haven't figured out. Saw him finish off a few nice run blocks. He's definitely stronger this season. Things were quiet on the left side.
PJ: Best game I've seen him play. He was wearing out their interior linemen. Absolutely dominated the DT on Blue's TD run. No problems with snaps or pressure up the middle. Very good showing.
Williford: Looked miserable the first series. Came off his feet quite a bit. Improved as the game wore on. He's a big guy with a ton of potential, but still raw. Made some nice blocks and showed the ability to move, but also struggled on some plays.
T-Bob: Played both RG and LG in spots. Was in the game for Shep's TD and a few of Ridley's runs. Nothing stood out neither good nor bad.
Hurst: Looked really good on Ridley's TD run crashing down and picking up and man and driving him out of the hole. Gave up some pressure on a few passes, forcing JJ into quicker throws. Overall, I haven't been as impressed with Hurst as I hoped, but he's by no means a liability.
Mitch: Nice catch after running a fairly poor route. Made a couple of nice blocks to spring good runs.
Clement: Great block to spring the Ridley TD. Otherwise quiet.
Nevis: Absolutely man beast. Vandy doubled him and still couldn't contain him. He broke double teams on both of his sacks. Routinely showed up in the backfield. Finished with 5 tackles. 2.5 sacks and 1 QBH. A menace all night.
Slammin' Sam: Got his 2nd sack on the year. It's odd, he seems to not get mentioned much, but he holds up at the point of attack really well.
Adams: Made a nice TFL... should have been bigger, but he over ran the play a bit. Adams has yet to establish himself as a playmaker, but his athleticism makes him a versatile threat on the outside. He holds up well at the point of attack.
Pep: Quiet. No stats.
Brockers: Did a great job avoiding a cut block and stuffing a play at the LoS. Finished with 3 tackles.
Downs: Got a gift in the 1st half, coming unblocked up the middle for a TFL. Got nice pressure on another play that resulted in a TFL for Sheppard.
Mingo: Great game. Finished with 5 tackles and a sack. A true force off the edge. Credited with a forced fumble, but I think that belonged to Daniel Graff. Speed off the edge is amazing. Tracked down Larry Smith once from behind... impressive.
Sheppard: Manned the middle. Finished with 9 tackles, .5 sacks and a 1 QBH. Seemed to find the ball a lot. Stuffed the run at the line a lot. Missed a tackle on the 51 yard run.
Baker: Great to finally see him on the field. He's a force. Speed, hitting... he's a monster out there. Pounded Smith on a bobbled snap. Recorded a sack later in the game. Finished with 6 tackles, 3 TFL and 1 sack. Not bad for a guy coming off 4-6 weeks of inactivity...look out world.
Francois: Rarely saw him. Had good coverage on the TE in the endzone on an overthrow. No stat line.
Brooks: Love having this guy as a 4th DB. He's a very sound tackler. May not ever be a star starter, but he's very, very solid as a dime back.
Mathieu: Wanted to give him his own section. This guy is the 2nd best corner on our team. Absolute stud. Stuck his nose in a running play to make a stop. Broke up a pass play with a great break on the ball. He has all the tools to be the next great one at LSU. Playing a lot already.
Loston: Got his first start. Only finished with 2 tackles. Missed a tackle on the huge run play, which cost LSU 3 points. He made the tackle on the play, but could have stopped it at 12-15 yard gain instead of 50 yard one.
Rest of Secondary: I'm grouping them all together because there was so little passing we saw almost nothing from them. Coverage remained good. Not much else to say.