We're a bottom-line crowd here at ATVS, and when discussing LSU's 24-19 victory over Texas A&M Saturday, it's important to keep something in perspective: LSU found a way to come home with a big road win over a ranked opponent. Should we be satisfied? No, and as you'll see below, we aren't. But 24 hours removed from the game, I feel the need to make it clear that there are no moral losses.
On to the carnage:
- We start with the defense, because they've earned the accolades. Not so shockingly, a bit asleep early, but give John Chavis a lot of credit for adjusting to Johnny Manziel's quickness in the second quarter, switching from a four-man front to the 3-2 "mustang" alignment. It matched A&M's speed with more speed on the LSU side, and while it probably should have given the Aggies a bit of an advantage in the running game they were never really able to take advantage.
- Mega-kudos to Kevin Minter, who continued to make his case as the best linebacker in the SEC with a 12-tackle/sack/interception performance that earned him the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week award. He is truly becoming a sideline-to-sideline playmaker.
- If there's one player that was completely emblematic of LSU's play, it has to be Tharold Simon. He was utterly horrible in the first half -- lazy tackling, slow out of his cuts and at times just plain caught flat-footed. In the second half, that completely tightened up. He helped to shut Mike Evans out in the fourth quarter following six catches through the first three, holding the Aggies' downfield game in check and forcing them to dink-and-dunk underneath with Ryan Swope. And of course, he made what proved to be a game-clinching interception by staying disciplined on a Manziel scramble play and reading the quarterback's eyes.
- I've been harsh on Eric Reid at times this year, and I'm going to continue to be this week. Awful, awful game. Poor tackling. A couple of really bad angles in run support. Biting on playfakes. Nevermind an embarrassing, cheap-shot of a personal foul penalty on a third-down incompletion. That play would have almost assuredly led to a punt and given LSU a chance to run the clock out, and Reid had a solid three steps to see that Evans had lost the football before throwing his shoulder into Evans' chest. Simply put, those are the types of penalties that can cost the Tigers games. Reid was expected to be the veteran leader of this young secondary. A calming influence. Instead, he's one of the chief sources of its discipline issues.
- Speaking of discipline issues -- I've come to expect that we'll just have to learn to live with a degree of them from this team. Sometimes that's just a part of a particular team's personality. But things like defensive offsides, those kind of cheap yards are just too valuable to give up. To a degree, I chalk some of them up to the frustration of chasing down Manziel, but Barkevious Mingo has to be better than that. That said, Jake Matthews popped out of his stance uncalled more than twice trying to keep up with him. But officiating incompetence is a way of life in this league.
- Defensive line: very active day for Bennie Logan, who did as good a job of chasing that jackrabbit quarterback as any 300-pounder could have. Freak Johnson continues to be good for at least one big play per game, if not more. Sam Montgomery was held in check, but give Luke Joeckel a tip of the cap for that. The guy's going to be a very high draft choice for a reason.
- Offense: it feels like things took another step back after the South Carolina game. Sloppiness would be one thing, but at times LSU went back to looking like a team that didn't really know what it did well. And when the offense is regularly picking up four or five yards a pop on the ground, that's kind of ridiculous. LSU ran the football 15 times on first down for 123 yards -- that's an 8.2 clip. Even if you take out Jeremy Hill's 47-yard touchdown run, which was on first down, this team still averaged 5.4 yards per carry on first and 10.
- Playcalling was completely schizophrenic this week. Gone were the quick underneath throws and screens that worked so well versus South Carolina, replaced by more deep throws that never connected. Does this team need to work on its passing game? Yes. Does A&M have a lousy secondary? Yes. But throwing 29 passes in a tight game, in which your running game is completely slashing through the defense at will, is simply poor game management. It got worse in the fourth quarter, when a missed field goal gave LSU the ball with 7:33 to go and a five-point lead. Prime time to wear the Aggies out with a 10-play drive that eats up 3-5 minutes and either ices things with points, or completely flips field position with minimal time on the clock. Things even kicked off with a four-yard run by Spencer Ware. Instead, LSU threw 5 passes on a drive that gained 26 yards and ate all of two-and-a-half minutes and A&M got the ball back with nearly five minutes left to work with.
- There's been some argument that this team needed to work on its passing game in preparation for Alabama. Because there's no way this running game will work against that defense. So LSU should change how it plays against Texas A&M (who couldn't stop this running game even with eight or nine defenders in the box), based on what might happen in two weeks in a completely different game? There's an old military saying: never fight the last battle, or the next battle, only the one you're in. Right now, this team needs to worry about what is in front of them.
- Case-in-point, LSU's first drive of the fourth quarter. Eight straight running plays put LSU's offense on the nine-yard line. And then a three-yard loss on a bubble screen attempt suddenly puts LSU at second and goal to go from the 12. This is the very definition of getting too cute with regards to playcalling. If you're gashing an opponent with something, gash away until they stop it. This team has had its best successes in the last two weeks when it commits to the running game.
- Meanwhile, it's starting to feel like an accident when Zach Mettenberger completes a pass. There were a few drops this week, but not many. He was simply missing receivers, including some open shots down the field. His mental approach appears to be all over the place, vacillating between looking harried and unsure of himself and pressing too much to make a play. The result is a complete mess in terms of timing. LSU threw 12 times on first down and connected on six passes, for a net gain of 32 yards. Meanwhile, the Tigers completed just one pass on nine third-down attempts (five of which came in 7-yards-or-longer situations). To a degree it feels like watching Alex Rodriguez hit in the postseason. Mettenberger appears to be gripping the hell out of every pass in an attempt to place it perfectly, and results have been misses on some throws that shouldn't be that hard, such as the post to Odell Beckham Jr. in the second quarter or the corner route to Nic Jacobs in the fourth.
- The easiest way to work on that is what LSU did versus South Carolina -- quick throws, screens plays that are quick timing reads and get the ball out of Mettenberger's hands quickly. The lack of carryover is incredibly frustrating, and 100 percent on the offensive staff. These issues go back to what we've talked about before: this team struggles to adjust to its own mistakes.
- On the subject of carryover, it was very frustrating to see the offense come out throwing the second half, right after Ford and Hill seemed to be getting going in the second quarter. The Aggy linebackers looked too slow to get to either once they hit the corner. Likewise, where were Ware and Terrance Magee in the passing game?
- Route combinations: the two-man pass plays aren't popular with some, but when it comes to deep throws they A) aren't a bad thing against a team stacking the line and B) were executed fairly well by the wide receivers Saturday. Open long throws to Beckham, Russell Shepard and Kadron Boone were all open at times, though only one was hit (an excellent throw and catch, to be fair). The problem comes when it's a short throw on an obvious passing down. No QB will be able to find a lane with six or seven defenders dropping into the passing lanes.
- In the interest of balance, there were a couple of smart playcalls: I think more use of the Warecat is something to look forward to, though LSU should be quicker to go to it inside the 10-yard line, and continue to add some wrinkles; the Ware-sneak-and-pitch is a smart constraint; as is the Mettenberger bootleg. As awkward as the junior QB may look on his feet at times, in a situation where he only has to pick up a few yards, and the defense will obviously be looking run-first, that can be a very smart playcall. Likewise, the short speed option pitch has become a fairly dangerous weapon for this team in the right situations. The thought of Mettenberger running might make you groan, but out of the shotgun it's essentially a long handoff (Mettenberger will be taking two steps and pitching it every time) that puts Michael Ford, Hill or (hey, here's a novel idea!) Shepard on the edge of the defense very quickly.
- The offensive line had its issues with Damontre Moore, but there's no shame in that. By and large, they did a great job of creating room in the running game, despite not having the numbers advantage. Vadal Alexander and Connor Neighbors did a great job of setting the edge on Ford's first-half touchdown run, along with Jarvis Landry sealing off the corner down the field. La'El Collins continues to be a dominant pulling guard. He, and P.J. Lonergan created a huge gash in the middle of the Aggy defense on Hill's long touchdown run.
- Speaking of the freshman back, he continues to find his groove as the game progresses, with excellent vision and a big-time speed/power combination. LSU has to continue to keep him involved, especially when he has success early. He's a "snowball" runner. Seems to get stronger as the game goes on. He may not need to start, because Ware still gives you a real advantage in the passing game, but working him in can pay dividends in the second half, even against an elite defense like Alabama's.
- Special teams were clearly affected by the wind, and Brad Wing continues to struggle with his consistency at times. That being said, he's still good for a boomer when this offense is backed up. He definitely misses Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks finding the ball inside the 20-yard line though. I'm not even all that sure I can really put much blame on Drew Alleman for missing a 54-yard field goal. That being said, LSU needs to be very judicious in their reliance on him from now on.