You know, if you lightly tap somebody in the head with a ball-peen hammer enough times, it'll eventually do some damage. That's what LSU's 38-7 win on Saturday felt like. LSU didn't overwhelm Tennessee from start to finish, but just kept tapping away until the Volunteers couldn't take it anymore.
I spent most of this game at an extended family function, which prevented me from watching as closely as I usually do (I missed most of the 99-yard drive), and has also delayed this posting, but I still had a few thoughts:
- This was a rough performance from the interior offensive line this week. A week after they completely blew Florida off of the ball from the word go, the Tiger front played more like they did in the early part of the season. They just leaned on the Tennessee front, and while it eventually wore them down, it made for a lot of tough sledding for the first two and a half quarters.
- He's playing hurt, but T-Bob Hebert in particular really struggled with UT's Malik Jackson. Granted, Jackson's one of the more explosive DTs in the league, but he's also one of the smallest. There also seemed to be some communication issues with Jarrett Lee. It's hard to know who is at fault there, but at times there seemed to be some dispute over snap timing.
- Lee seemed to be a little shaky early in the game, but KragStud did a very good job of quickly calling a few high-percentage throws, and Lee was able to right himself.
- The screen pass that Spencer Ware was well-timed and well-executed. Tennessee brought pressure from Lee's left and he quickly put the ball right behind the blitzers. Rueben Randle and Chris Faulk did a good job of creating room for Ware. One of my cousins had said "this would be the perfect time for a running back screen" and my immediate reaction was "I'm not sure we want to call plays where Lee has to stare down a rush right now," but credit the kid for proving me wrong.
- Speaking of Randle, he is continuing to exert himself as one of the SEC's best players. His catch and run on that little hitch/out pattern was the kind of explosive play this offense needs when the offense isn't humming the perfect tune.
- Once again, we saw how Jordan Jefferson can offer this team a counterpunch not just in the passing game, but in the running game. The interior is struggling, but when you can spread out the defense by formation, plus make them honor the quarterback as a runner, it's a little easier to find some creases. Russell Shepard also continues to offer more pop as a runner than a receiver.
- On another spread running game note, while I understand the thought process behind it, J.C. Copeland shouldn't be the set back on shotgun running plays. Yeah, having a pure blocker back the can be nice at times, but Ware can give you that physical presence with the added flexibility of running/catching the ball. Copeland is just too limited.
- I wish it were so simple, but Michael Ford really needs to practice almost nothing but his blocking, because he's one of the most complete runners on the team and he's almost completely useless on passing downs. In the first half following a play-fake, Ford was practically run over by a charging defender, and I distinctly remember the "oh crap" moment as I thought Lee was about to get lit up. Ford clearly seems to know his assignment; he simply cannot carry it out. That's a problem.
- It felt like Tyrann Mathieu was pressing a little too much in this game, trying to make big plays happen at the expense of fundamentals. He had a few good coverage moments, but he also got completely chucked by Da'Rick Rogers and then dragged for a good five yards trying to get a strip. And yeah, Mathieu almost always goes for the strip but he's usually pretty good about getting a good wrap up on the ball-carrier first. In general, the defense lost track of fundamentals at times, like tackling and losing gap containment.
- Morris Claiborne's interception and 89-yard return was an All-American type of play, at an All-American moment. Tennessee had just hit a 38-yard pass play, and the road-upset mojo was starting to swing the Vols' way for a moment. A 14-point swing, basically.
- At the end of the half, I think from Les' vantage point probably looked really iffy. It was a dicey challenge but he must have really liked what he saw. As for the next possession, whether LSU had a challenge or not should have been irrelevant to a review of the Jefferson QB sneak. Every play is supposed to be subject to review, and if half a player's body is over the goal-line on a short-yardage play, that shouldn't be hard for the referees to think about. Credit to the players for calmly lining up and executing the field goal with the clock running. It wasn't a hurry up situation, but sometimes teams can let any time crunch get to them.
- Speaking of special teams, very happy to see ODB get in on kick and punt returns. Mathieu hasn't been able to find much room, and while I don't think that's mostly his fault, Beckham is just plain faster. And Claiborne can always use a breather on kickoffs.
- Something to watch for next week -- UT had some luck using end-around/reverse action behind inside runs, getting LSU's linebackers crossed up and creating more room for the back. That's a tactic Auburn makes heavy use of anyway, and I'm sure Gus Malzahn will be targeting the Tigers' weakness at linebacker this Saturday.