This time last year I was dancing down the streets of Chicago in drunken glee. LSU had gone into the Swamp, taken down the Gators and done so in spectacular fashion, with a tipsy fake FG and the great play of Jarrett Lee, atoning for his 2008 sins. Florida ended up being only an above average team, but the significance of that moment will not be lost on me. It was a really satisfying, rewarding victory. I wish I could say the same about this game.
It's not that I'm not ecstatic to now be 6-0 and to crush one of our bigger rivals from the past decade. Of course I am. It's just that, it's a lot less satisfying when that team is pounded into submission about 8 minutes into the first quarter, and it's apparent that no amount of effort is going to will them back into the game. Then again, who am I kidding? Beating the hell out of Florida is pretty damn satisfying. True enough, the game is never over before the clock hits 0:00, but if ever a game between reputable programs was over before the teams took the field, it may have been this one.
Losing John Brantley against Alabama spelled trouble for Florida. When news began to surface that backup QB, Jeff Driskel (whose play has been uninspiring to say the least) would also be inactive for the trip to Tiger Stadium... doom seemed imminent. With all due respect to Jacoby Brissett (whose physical talent is evident), making your collegiate debut as a true freshman, in Tiger Stadium, with this defense as your welcoming party? No, thank you.
What's nice to see is that this LSU team doesn't take anything for granted. The 2010 squad seemed complacent, at times (see Tennessee). At they very least they were error prone. Not this version. They knew they'd be feasting on a green, freshman QB in Death Valley and approached the game as if Tim Tebow himself was suiting up for the Gators again. I think last year's squad would take beating Florida as an accomplishment.* This year's squad sees it as merely a necessary step to get where they are headed.
*I'm not saying it's not an accomplishment, just that it appears the mindset/approach is different.
It's always fun for me to sit down and re-watch the game, not in a drunken, excited tizzy. On gameday, I'm all raw emotion and excitement and nerves. When I re-watch, I'm objective and analytical. The tape always shows me things that I may miss during the game, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Though I haven't been able to devote the energy to it that I would like this season (damn you, job). As a result, here are a few of my thoughts from this game:
-Really love the early play call to go play action and hit Randle deep. This was really a simple play. Only two routes. Joseph stayed in to help protect on Lee's blindside. Beckham motioned across the formation and ran a simple flag route (which he was also wide open) and Randle ran a fly pattern. Randle cleanly beat his man, and Lee dropped a perfect pass right out in front of him for an easy touchdown. Really nice play call.
-Rueben Randle played like a true no. 1 WR. He was dominant and impossible to cover. I've had my doubts about him asserting himself as a true no. 1 WR, but games like this give me hope. The ability is all there, but he needs that selfish, "I'm going to take over" mentality.
-Spencer Ware, on the other hand, has that in spades. Ware was running mean and determined on Saturday. He's a fierce load to handle when he gets going down hill. Some guys just run with an edge and tenacity. Ware is one of those cats. Love watching him bowl over defenders and plow ahead for 3, 4 more yards... routinely.
-Speaking of Ware, on his first TD run, Josh Williford and JC Copeland laid down some slam dunk blocks. Williford pulled the ole "put his dick in the dirt" and Copeland absolutely blasted someone (who I didn't think enough off to write the name down in my notes). It was a sight to see. Imagine, a 330 lb. guard opening a hole for a 280 lb. FB to clean out a guy for a 230 lb RB to score. That's a whole lotta mass coming at you. BTW, in the second half, Copeland blew up another LB, and the safety came down to "fill" on Ware. He dove at Ware's feet, and no, not in the "I'm gonna take his legs out" type of tackle. He wanted none of it.
-The offensive line was dominant on Saturday. Easily their best performance of the year. And Florida has some super talent up front, don't be mistaken. I realize Will Blackwell won SEC OL of the week, but Chris Faulk deserved the honors, IMO. He was blasting people all over the field all afternoon. We were driving them 4, 5 yards off the field, nearly every play.
-By that same token, allow me to give tremendous props to a player who garners little attention: Mitch Joseph. I kept rewinding plays and saying, "Who is that OL putting that DL on his back? Oh wait, that's Mitch." He absolutely blew UF's DL out of the water all afternoon, and I'm happy Miles rewarded him with the jump pass TD.
-By the way, jump pass. Lulz.
-Jarrett Lee made two nice throws on deep balls to Rueben Randle. I like seeing that. His numbers were shiny on the day, but I think the two long throws compensated for an otherwise lackluster performance. Not that they shouldn't count, but his decision making and ball placement still concern me. Florida has a secondary that is ripe for the taking, and Tennessee and Auburn don't pose much of a threat either. If he gets through Bama flawlessly, I'll eat my words.
-Aflred Blue ran tougher and more motivated than I can ever remember seeing him. Good for him, and good on Miles to let him run with it over Ford. Hope his family recovers nicely.
-Jefferson looked good. Thought the endzone toss to Randle was a throw away, but the timing was off on that play for whatever reason. Decent toss to DLo, though a little behind him. Wasn't all that effective running, but defense has to respect it, thus, the jump pass. Ran a really nice PA and hit a nice toss to Shep. Like seeing that.
-I liked seeing Jarvis Landry mix it up when blocking. He's tenacious.
-In the case of the LSU offense, less is more. We run far more 2-man routes, with one read and throw away than I can recall from the past few years with Crowton. The instruction is obvious, there's your guy, if he's not open, throw it away. No sense in forcing a complicated progression on two guys who have struggled with such in the past.
-The defensive line was marvelous. Florida's line was getting little to no push all day. Even their good runs were typically crafty work by their RBs rather than pushing us around. Some are concerned that a power rushing attack could hurt our "undersized" front, but I think the "functional strength" of this team more than compensates. Sure, you can go down the depth chart and say we are small here and small there, but these guys are deceivingly strong. Size isn't everything when it comes to stopping the run. The 1994 Minnesota Vikings lead the NFL in rush D. They had DTs that checked in at 275 and 278. In that case, their penetration prevented run games from ever getting going.
-The defense seemed to be everywhere on Saturday. They flowed and disengaged very, very well. It wasn't uncommon to see one or even two DL in on just about every tackle, and not because they piled on after a long play down field.
-Early, Brockers absolutely ripped through Dan Wenger (who had a miserable game against our DTs) and made a TFL. He's got dominant ability.
-Safeties did a really nice job of reading and filling. They played most of the game 10-15 yards off the ball, but both Taylor and Reid did an exceptional job of diagnosing plays, crashing hard and filling. Very sound tackling.
-Montgomery continues to impress. One play he stood up the OT, disengaged and made the tackle. On another he lifted Jordan Reed off the ground and deposited him 3 yards into the backfield. He gets trapped inside sometimes, but overall, he's the most complete DE on the team.
-Mingo plays with reckless abandon at times, but his speed is so valuable. On one play, he missed Burton in the backfield. Ended up a small gain, should have been a loss. On another, he zipped into the backfield and caused Rainey to bubble, and the play ended up being a 1-yard gain, only because of Rainey's quicks. Plays like that don't get recorded on the boxscore. He got tremendous pressure on the play that resulted in a Brandon Taylor pick. He's a lot to handle and commands a lot of respect from opposing teams.
-Ego Ferguson got some PT, but you can see why he's a backup. Got blown up on one play. Rebounded the next and stuffed the ball at the L.O.S. He still plays too high.
-Our linebackers still struggle mightily in coverage. Florida was able to sneak a few plays out with crossing patterns and slipping guys out of the backfield. They must improve.
-However, Kevin Minter is really coming on at MLB. His coverage is mixed, at best, but he's really solid as a downhill, run-stuffing MLB, and if it's between the spotty coverage and less impactful Hatcher and spotty coverage, run enforcing Minter, Minter is the obvious choice, especially the next 3 weeks.
-Speaking of Hatcher, he ate up a blocker on one play, which allowed Taylor to come free and make a nice open field tackle. However, he later tried to arm tackle Gillislee. Can't have that.
-Mathieu continues to make plays. Early he diagnosed, closed and cleaned up on a screen play. Saved a potential huge play by Rainey (whichwas been called back, but nice to see the effort). And showed pure coverage skills on the pick. The kid can flat out play.
-Loving the depth Hairston gets on KOs. Struggled a little in the wind, but still booting it pretty strong.
-The Wing improvise was the highlight of the day. Great athleticism, stupid penalty.
-Otherwise, I'm still disappointed in our STs. We continue to give up healthy returns on KOR. We allowed a tipped punt. Alabama plays good STs. Arkansas and Auburn have dangerous return men. Would like for us to shore this up sooner than later. Also, the KR haven't been very good, sans the TD from Mo. We must improve.
Overall, a strong effort. The offense went 2 quarters in the middle of the game without doing a lot. That's a little concerning. They don't need to score every possession, but milk clock and wear the defense down. Then again, the gameplan went very vanilla. We haven't really had to show much thus far. Sustained drives are our best friends. Defense was flat out dominant all day. Mo slipped on the long play, and I still don't understand that rule, but hey, it happens. Florida didn't do much of anything. They got desperate, early, going for it on 4th, trying a fake punt, etc. Clearly outclassed.