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LSU and South Carolina played football. I watched it twice. Then I wrote some stuff about it.
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress." -Frederick Douglass
I am quite certain that when notable social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass penned these words, it came in the midst of a 3,000-word opus on the LSU offense. Therein he eloquently described how the regression of ground attack prohibited further evolution of the aerial assault. He noted his preference for fast, physical, aggressive football.
For 2012 LSU, the offense should replace the down and distance markers with "Work in Progress" signs and work up from there. Through the first three weeks of the season, the offense seemed to be slowly building upon it's strengths, gradually adding layers to the playbook as Mettenberger could digest them. The run game seemed dominant as ever. Then Auburn happened. Then Towson. Finally Florida. Suddenly the offense not only quit progressing, it began to spiral out of control, culminating in a 42-yard rushing performance in Gainesville.
Oft-repeated anthems of the previous four seasons were all tuned up again. "Miles is ruining this offense." "Coach Stud is a brainless BBQ buddy." "We ruin all the QBs." Even a new anthem developed, perhaps my favorite: "Everyone say sorry to Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson."
Even Delusional Optimism turned to Factual Pessimism. Altogether we collectively sang, "We suck!" But it was all okay because the week after Florida we were to return to Tiger Stadium and iron out the kinks against the lowly... oh shit, wait? No. 3 in the country fresh off a beat down of another top 10 opponent? Can we auto-sim the rest of the season and get to the recruiting part of the game again?
We heard the same things we've heard for years. "We know. We'll fix it." - Les Miles. Most of us chuckled and offered some snide response. One of us got to go on TV and predict we'd lose. It's okay, Poseur, it was early, Delusional Optimism hadn't woke up yet.
It became a foregone conclusion that LSU's offense was just plain bad and a good South Carolina D with Super Shredder coming off the edge were primed to etch another dominant performance.
Then a funny thing happened. LSU ran the ball.
And they ran the ball.
And they ran the ball again.
And South Carolina couldn't do anything about it.
All told they ran the ball 53 times at an outstanding 4.9 yards per carry. Much like the LSU we've become accustomed to watching, they just kept coming... running back after running back... toss sweep after toss sweep... dive play after dive play... Ware, Hilliard, Ford, Copeland, Hill, hell even the spirit of Alfred Blue picked up 37 yards. They ran the ball until South Carolina, quite literally quit, watching true freshman Jeremy Hill, the night's bell cow, scamper 50 yards for the game icing touchdown.
By no means will anyone look back at this game and determine it to be a brilliant offensive performance... BUT... it's the type of confidence building steps out of the struggle that lead to progress. The question turns from "Well what do we do?" to "Well, where do we go from here?"
Overall, really high grade from me. The gameplan made a world of sense. Throw a ton of quick throws on unpredictable downs and run the ball left right and middle. They showed a couple of new wrinkles. They utilized their absurd riches at running back. I didn't feel like they got cutesy like they did last week. Even if you dislike/disagree with the Warecat, particularly down by the GL, it was at least straight-ahead smashmouth football, not a slow developing jump pass off a deep toss play. There weren't too many headscratchers overall.
More important than in-game stuff, a big round of applause for the way the coaches got the guys prepared. Coming off a tough loss to Florida, it would be easy to let things spiral out of control and go into despair. They kept the players focused and motivated on the task at hand. They developed a good game plan. They shuffled the offensive line and found the best group of the season. The wide receivers did a better job of catching the football. All-in-all a great job.
Shotgun, Singleback: 8
Shotgun, 2 RB: 1
Mett: His struggles continued. Right now, I think the glaring issue is the lack of consistency. That makes sense for a young QB (in terms of experience). More than anything LSU needs his play to level out. His accuracy oscillates. At times, he'll put a throw in a tight window, in stride and you'll stop and say wow. Then he'll airmail a throw that leads to an easy pick, like he did against Florida. He had a clean pocket most all of the night, so his struggles can't be placed on lack of time or pass rush disrupting his rhythm. The coaches did a good job of protecting him throwing on early downs and keeping him to mostly three-step drops. At Florida I felt they failed to keep him in short drops and non-predictable throwing downs.
Did a really nice job on the early middle screen to Ware, flicking it out side arm. Again we saw a variety of quick snaps. I can't be sure if it's Mett pushing tempo or the coaches, but I like that we incorporate this at times. There are times Mett quick snaps and will hit the slant when the defender is playing off. I would like to believe this is his own heads up play. Herbstreit made a prescient call in the game discussing how the game plan took the pressure off Mett and allowed him to make easy reads and short, easy throws. That very play, Mett telegraphed a slant to Boone and Legree picked it off. Terrible decision and Mett let the whole world know where he was going. On the first 5-step drop of the night I can remember the protection held up pretty well, but a LB did come free. Mett stood tall in the pocket and threw the out to Beckham. The throw was low and outside and Beckham does a great job going down to get it. Nice work all around. The next play, we pushed tempo and gashed their D, which was not prepared. Great job by Mett to get the offense lined up and the play called.
Down in the red zone we run a slant and go with Landry. Absolutely perfect route (more on this later), and Mett overthrows what would have been a walk-in TD. My favorite play of the game came from the Shotgun, single back look. Landry runs a slant but it's not there, but he sticks with the play and begins dragging across the field. Mett tracks him all the way and hits him in stride for a 16-yard gain. I hope we build more out of this formation.
Hit Boone on a tightly covered comeback route. Great throw putting it right on him. At one point we ran the toss sweep on back-to-back plays. The first time we ran it to the strongside and gained 10. The second time, we ran it to the weakside for a three-yard loss. I'm fine with the play call, but what I'd like to see here is Mett to audible. Landry is matched up on DeVonte Holloman, a LB. That's a winning matchup. Find it and challenge it. One of the more talked about throws is the one he sailed to Beckham. It's 3rd and 15 and pass pro held up pretty well (Dwor got away with a likely hold). The ball goes pretty high and Beckham makes a pretty athletic climb to go for it. It's both a bad throw and a ball that should be caught. We ran a PA pass and tried to hit Wright on the post. He had a step and this would have likely been a TD. However, Clowney beats the double-team between Ware and Copeland which forces Mett to short-arm to throw. Later he took an ugly sack trying to step backward to get out of the pocket, he walked right into it. Couldn't see the coverage, but I'm guessing everything was locked up downfield. He also badly overthrew a fade route to Jacobs in the endzone. Awful throw. Also telling that LSU so lacks a big WR we're reliant on our back-up TE for jump ball duties. Late in the game we ran three straight plays in the red zone while trailing by one. The crowd booed the conservative calls, but Les clearly didn't trust Mett here. He played for the FG all the way. I could go either way on this.
The biggest confidence I take away is that there seems to be a burgeoning confidence in Landry from Mett. They were on the same page almost all night. Landry caught the ball reliably, which builds Mett's trust. Very good sign. He finished 12/25 for 148, 0 TD, 1 INT.
Ware: Battled injury early. I believe the word was full-body cramps. That sucks. He still ran pretty effectively. One early impressive run he dragged Shaq Wilson an extra 3-4 yards. Loved that sneaky little middle screen we ran sneaking him out of the backfield right underneath Clowney, who we let come free. Best run of the night came on 3rd and 1. Ware danced behind Copeland in the hole and cut right off his block, but right into the arms of three Gamecock defenders. No matter, Ware loves bringing friends along with him. He picked up another 4-5 yards with them in tow. First play in the Warecat went seamlessly for a a nice gain, aided by a Bush-Push from Ford. USC clearly didn't know what to do with this look at first. 2nd attempt, not such a great job. They were completely overloaded on the left. Ware should see that and go right, where there were gaps. Kicked a dive play outside and used a powerful strong arm to pick up five on a 3rd and 3.
One play I loved, 3rd and 6 we lined up in a 3 WR look and brought Shep across the formation, looking like a speed sweep all the way. We faked that sweep and gave it inside to Ware. The play wasn't blocked particularly well, but Ware's second wins this play. We pick up the 1st. Solid game overall for being banged up. Finished 14/55 and 1 catch for 27.
Hilliard: Where did the power go? Hilliard didn't do a good job lowering the boom this game. I think he tried to do too much at times. Most frustrating was the 3rd and Goal play on the opening drive. The play is well blocked out of an unbalanced line with Dwor lined up on the right side. I think Kenny got complacent. The hole was large. Looked like a walk-in TD. He hits the hole fine but he's way too upright. Victor Hampton whiffs on the tackle and throws his arms up in disgust thinking he allowed a TD. Instead, Hilliard tries to spin out of his tackle attempt and winds up with his back to the endzone and he's hit by Bowens, who stops him in his tracks and brings him down. Would have liked to see him lower his shoulder on Hampton, who wouldn't stand a chance man-up tackling him. Did a poor job in pass pro allowing Taylor to get his hands up and knock down a pass.
Overall, he still had some nice explosive runs, but I'm worried he's starting to try and be Mr. Homerun. Sometimes the best play is taking the 2 and moving on. Use your power, Kenny, that's the gift god gave you. Finished 10/33.
Ford: Routinely amazed by his speed to take the edge. I'm not sure I've ever seen a guy run horizontal from midfield to almost the sideline, only to cut it up last second and pick up 6+ yards with such consistency. Can we run the triple option with Ware, Shep and Ford? That would be fun. Finished 7/41.
Copeland: Got himself a couple of carries. One play nearly gave me a heart attack. We ran the usual FB dive, but the hole clogged and tried to break it outside with Clowney pursuing. It looked like a disaster, but he actually showed good quickness and managed to somehow get it back for no gain. Played a ton of snaps. I'm not going to write 1,000 words on his game, but we ran for 258 yards. He had a good day at the office. Finished 3/12.
Neighbors: I like this guy. He's earned his time. Played about 7 offensive plays. Got a really physical block on Holloman which sprung Hill for 9. Also in at FB when Hill scored his 1st TD of the night.
Hill: A star is born (so we say about seemingly every running back we trot out lately. It's possible all of these guys, all 6 of them (including Copeland) will be playing on Sundays. Saw the field early. He actually lined up at FB on the middle screen to Ware. Caught an early screen pass for a 1st down conversion on 3rd and long. Showed his explosiveness. Left in to pick up a 3rd and 1 and showed his power.
The one thing I kept noting about Hill is his explosiveness. I watched a fair amount of his HS highlight videos, where he showed plenty of big plays, but I never watched and thought he was this explosive. Hill has this unique ability to hit another gear at the right moment... just enough to shoot past a block or zip by a defender. Tremendously impressed with his physical abilities alone.
Best play of the night for me wasn't even his 50-yard TD (though that was special too). It's 2nd and 7 and Hill runs into a crowd. The play is poorly blocked. It looks like a nothing gain, so much so Musburger and Herbie start talking about something else and then WHAM. Hill never stopped. His legs were pumping. Turns a no gain into a 6-yard gain. In the words of Rod Tidwell, "I'm all heart motherfucker! " This was a statement run. Not just to the SC defense but to our own coaching staff. Hill's effort screams, "Give me the rock." You guys know my mantra... when the beast is hungry, you feed the beast. So we fed him.
On the touchdown, the play isn't initially blocked up that well. Turner is totally stonewalled at the LOS. SC LB Bowens gets through the line with a shot at Hill, but he's able to dance free and cut upfield, nearly into the back of Copeland. But now he finds the running lane. Copeland gets the kick out. Alexander and Jacobs do a good job of pinning up the inside. PJ is on the 2nd level and gets on a LB. By sheer coincidence he's in the way of Super Shredder, but Hill isn't out of the woods yet. Taylor makes an arm tackle attempt at him and 3 SC DBs are in his path. He breaks the arm tackle and then shows that explosive burst again, running away from the pack for 50. Super impressive. I'm in love. Finished 17/124 with 2 TDs and 1 catch for 21 yards.
Landry: Might be the best game of his LSU career. He's become our go-to WR in the I-Formation, 2 TE looks. Super aggressive blocker. My favorite block of the night came late on a Ford sweep play. He drove his DB up the field but kept awareness, peeled off and came back to deal a crushing blow to a pursuing LB to spring Ford for a couple extra. Team player. As mentioned above, looks to be emerging as Mett's go-to target. Remain really impressed with his route running. Landry isn't an explosive fast guy like Beckham. But he's got great short area quickness. He plants and BOOM. He's a smart route runner too. Stays with plays, understands the soft spots in the zone. Really love watching this cat play football. Finished 4/55 but played bigger than the numbers.
OBJ: He's making strides. He caught the ball better this week. Caught the very first pass on the first play of the game. Showed good body control and hands to slide and catch an early low out route. Dropped the high throw from Mett on the out and up. That could have been a big gain. Finished 2/21.
Wright: Targeted several times. Did a good job blocking on the outside run plays. Targeted on a deep PA pass. He was open. Love him as a blocker. Finished 3/18.
Boone: Quiet night. Mett's pick was intended for him. Did a nice job using his body to wall off the defender while making the catch on a comeback route. We ran him on a skinny post and he had a step, but the ball is batted down at the LOS by Super Shredder. Not much else. Finished 1/6.
Shep: Quiet night. Used in motion in the play to Ware I described above. Hit a great crack back on a LB. Not much else of note.
Magee: I must mention Magee here as he saw a handful of snaps (5 or so). The key here is Magee lined up in the slot in 4 WR looks. We intentionally targeted the first time we ran the formation. Tried to set up a tunnel screen to him. Wish it had worked. Instead, Super Shredder bats it down (again). A less freakish DE and you probably get that off easily. The staff obviously sees the need to get Magee the ball. I'm anxious to see where that goes.
Clement: Not his finest night. He really struggled blocking early on. He struggled both in run and pass blocking, which is a bit unusual for a guy who usually does a pretty good job out there. Drew a false start, as well. His blocking improved as the game wore on.
Jacobs: He got Clowney duty on the first drive. Not the most enviable task. He did not win. I think he blew a blocking assignment on our 2nd and GL play on the opening drive. He wound up latching onto a LB with Travis Dickson. Didn't seem like the type of person who would command a double team, especially tightly packed here where there are plenty of free bodies. He got Clowney back later with a tremendous down block. Overthrown on the jump ball in the endzone. Curious if we'll see that again. I love him as a blocker. His early receiving returns give me hopes he can be a great starter next season.
Dwor: Handed the unenviable task of lining up at LT to face Super Shredder. The coaches made the right choice. First of all, there was nothing dominant about this performance. But Dwor didn't need to be dominant to have a good day. He needed to be effective. He was. He looked a lot more nimble than the Auburn game. That really concerned me against Auburn, so I was happy to see him moving so well. Lined up on the right side in an unbalanced look. that was fun. He only had one terrible miss on the day, allowing Clowney a completely free run at Mett. Fortunately, he was completely bailed out by a super athletic play by Collins, who dove and misdirected Super Shredder. He also had a rough cut attempt. However, we ran the ball right at Clowney several times. We really challenged him. Dwor did a pretty good job of getting on him and moving him in the run game.
His main contribution may have been overall strengthening of the line. Last week there seemed to be communication breakdowns. Collins seemed more comfortable playing with him at LT than Hurst. That's important, because Collins is our best OL.
Collins: Tremendous game. Boy this kid is good. My notes are all positive. Hard to find a bad one. I'll just say this, when he's blocking two guys on a lot of plays, a lot of plays, it's hard not to marvel. I don't really know what to say other than he's special. He's Faneca special. I really believe that. This is just the beginning.
PJ: All hail one of my favorite players on the line. He's a battler... always has been. Not the most talented. Not the most athletic. No real shot at playing on Sundays IMO. He's just a good, hardworking college football player. He's banged up and he came out and played his best game in a while. Further, I want to give him credit for really helping this young unit gel. He's playing with three guys with little experience and he pulled them all together for the best OL performance of the year.
Most impressive part of his game is how well he handled the 0-tech most of the game. He's not a pure drive blocking machine (like say, Williford), but on Saturday he showed some power against some good interior DL. Late in the game, he seemed to wear down. He got beat a few times. Overall, a good day.
Turner: I wish I had written it more publicly, but the e-mails can back me up, I promise!!! I saw this coming. I liked what I saw from Turner against Florida, though he struggled at times. I thought a week of practice might iron out the kinks for him. It did. Turner delivered the best RG performance of the year. He looked saavy. Sometimes when young guys get beat, it's all over and ends in disaster. Not really so for Turner. He keeps battling. He'll do anything he can to get in the way, at worst. Opening drive he gets driven back a bit, but he does a great job keeping his hands inside and ends up being able to re-direct the defender to ensure the lane is created. Pancaked a guy a few plays later.
At times he absolutely blasted guys off the ball. These aren't guys from Towson or Ole Miss (see what I did there?), we're talking. These are some very talented SC DLs and he manhandled them at times. My favorite play, he deposited the DT into the ground. Oh, but he was just getting started. He peeled off and then went LB huntin' and found him one! He didn't have a perfect day, but for his first ever start, I'm very impressed. IMO, there's no reason to move him out of the lineup.
Alexander: The thought of pairing him with Turner for the next 4 years makes me just want to do this:
Much like Turner, he's a saavy blocker for a young pup. For as big as he is, he's going to turn into a real manbeast blocking in time. He is already naturally strong. I believe the phrase is "Stick Moffit on him."
He wasn't perfect. He had a false start on the 4th and GL attempt the forced a FG. Maybe a blessing in disguise, as Ware looked short. Bottom line: he handled RS SR. Devin Taylor (4 TFL, 1.5 sacks) by himself with little help, all night. That's a saavy vet trusted to a true frosh all night. He did a great job.
We dominated this game everywhere but the scoreboard. So, a typical Les Miles victory. The offense got back it's strengths, running the ball with force. The play action game continues to struggle. Mettenberger continues to struggle. But you know what? LSU is good enough to win with bad QB play. Hell, they did it almost all of last year.