Well, that was fun.
I don't know that saying that the Tigers "clawed" their way to victory is really all that accurate. I'm not sure I really agree with Matt Hinton's goon/burlap sack metaphor either.
I'd say that last night, LSU's defense looked more like a pit bull that clamped onto Mississippi State's neck, and held on until all the thrashing stopped. Authorities were amazed by the amount of blood found at the scene.
On to the observations:
- Bad first, just to get it out of the way. This defense has an amazing secondary, an intensely athletic defensive line, and at the moment, kind of a meh group of linebackers. And LSU can live with that -- hell the 2003 and 2007 defenses were pretty similar -- but we're going to need more out of Ryan Baker and company at some point. State managed to exploit it a little by throwing to the tight end, and that's something LSU may see some more of. Quarterback misdirection runs also were successful because once Chris Relf cleared the defensive line the linebackers were usually out of position. The linebackers don't have to be this team's best asset, but they can't be a liability consistently.
- Give Dan Mullen some credit for figuring out really quickly, that the last thing his offense needed was to get in third and long against LSU's "mustang" package. Early on, LSU tried using something of a 3-3-5 nickel look to keep as much speed on the field as possible. But once State started having some success against it, Chavis went back to a 4-man front that played into the defense's strength, the front and defensive backfield.
- Good job by Drew Alleman on field goals, and that's the most important thing for him. But get healthy quick Brad Wing. D.J. Howard just doesn't have the leg for good punts, and neither he nor Alleman can get the ball as deep as LSU wants on kickoffs. Maybe taking the redshirt off of James Hairston should be considered?
- On the subject of special teams, LSU's return units are really struggling to create some lanes. Baker Swedenburg is a good punter, but Tyrann Mathieu had very little room to operate.
- Rough night for the offensive line, especially in interior run blocking. T-Bob Hebert came out really strong but suddenly started playing on roller skates around the second quarter. And Will Blackwell really struggled, especially with mental mistakes. The good news was that backups Greg Shaw and Josh Williford did strong jobs when asked, and that the early reports on Chris Faulk's ankle are that he shouldn't be down long. An advantage of playing on Thursday is that he gets some extra recovery time before week four.
- At quarterback, Jarrett Lee played with fire a few times, especially in the third, but it felt like he and the coaching staff hit their collective stride as the fourth quarter opened. Lee hit all five of his passes, and State's defense kind of fell back on their heels. The playcalling was superb, backing them off with a few quick intermediate throws, sucking them back in with the run and then BAM, play-action for six.
- As I mentioned in Poseur's piece, Lee's interception really wasn't a big deal. It was down the field, and with the game well in-hand. Probably a miscommunication on the route depth between Lee and Rueben Randle. The bigger issue was staring down receivers, especially on some of those third-down curl routes. State came very close to picking some of those off. Better to throw those picks down the field than in the flats, because we all have seen what happens in those instances. The coaching staff is doing a really good job of letting Lee stick to what he does well, namely getting the ball off quickly to his primary receiver. But down the stretch, LSU will have to get a little more inventive, or more teams will sit in short zones with cover-two over the top and wait for Lee to make a bigger mistake.
- On another note, Odell Beckham continues to improve, especially his hands. He does a fantastic job of snatching the ball out of the air with his hands. I'd like to see the coaches continue to find ways to get him the ball in space, and let him use his speed down the field when he can get one-on-one.
- Michael Ford is a nice change-of-pace back from Spencer Ware, but he's virtually worthless on passing downs. Ware is a better receiver out of the backfield, and Ford is a complete liability in pass protection. State's one sack came when Ford completely whiffed on a blitzing defender.
- Fifteen tackles-for-loss and less than 20 yards allowed in the second half says way more about the LSU defensive than anything I can probably add. Not that that'll stop me of course.
- I feel like the spotters need to rewatch this game. How did Sam Montgomery finish with only 2 tackles? It felt like he was everywhere. Bennie Logan was a force in the middle, and Michael Brockers has played like an All-American through these first three games. I don't know that he'll always get the big stats, but the 6-6 sophomore is drawing two blockers on almost every play and keeping his teammates clean.
- I can only say one thing about Anthony Johnson: my God, he's only a freshman.
- Safety play continues to be outstanding, especially against the run. Brandon Taylor has been so crucial against these spread running teams, both getting his teammates set in their assignments and carrying out his.