Well, we didn't turn it over?
Yet, it's hard to feel good about a performance where you forced four turnovers and only won by five. What you'd really like to see are positive strides and consistency, but we can't seem to find either. Last week, it seemed we opted to lean on our power running game, throw in select spots (to a overly predictable rate) and lean on wearing out South Carolina. This week? Well, we threw it on first down a ton.
Frankly, there just isn't any reason for this team to throw it on 1st down as much as they did. Of 29 first down plays, we threw it 13 times. This team's strength is at running back, and they would be much better suited trying to get ahead of the sticks on early downs and putting themselves in premium opportunities to throw the ball. Instead, we played behind the sticks most of Saturday, which is basically a drive-killer for this offense. Of all 19 3rd down plays, 15 came with five yards or more to convert. Simply put, that's putting yourself in losing position.
In Billy's initial thoughts I argued that I believed the coaching staff, in essence, attempted to force the passing game into action. After last season's debacle, they came to realize that relying on the ground game in blowout after blowout maybe didn't set them up for optimum performance. The passing game never developed, and Alabama finally exposed us. There is an attempt to thwart that, though I question the execution. Many question 29 pass attempts. The quantity doesn't bother me nearly as much as the style and timing. As noted above, throwing it 13 times on 1st down is just not acceptable. In large part, it would seem this is an attempt to "reverse trends" so that the offense isn't as easy to game plan for... yet, some trends shouldn't be ignored. If you do something well, keep doing it. I'm not going to take the time to calculate the yards per carry for every 1st down play of this season... oh wait, yes I am.
LSU is gaining an astonishing 6.7 yards per carry on 1st down runs this season. This includes goal line snaps, which often go for three or fewer yards and drag down the totals. It does not include end of half and end of game snaps to down the football. 6.7 yards per carry. That is a trend you don't want to get away from. My hope is that the coach's re-evaluate and realize the trying to throw it on 1st down for the sake of diversity is a poor idea.
Let's dive into it.
78 total plays (not sure why there are 3 sets missing from the breakout)
Shotgun, Singleback: 17
Shotgun, 2RB: 6
Ace Formation: 7
Here's the Jeremy Hill TD run, pre-snap:
Yes, those are 9 Aggie gentlemen eagerly awaiting his arrival. This is what you do with 9 Aggie gentlemen eagerly awaiting your arrival:
We ran a considerable amount of zone plays this game, more than I can remember any game before. The running game looked more like 2010 LSU with Stevan Ridley as the lead back. Hill's patience, vision and explosion are maximized in a scheme like this. Here, we ran a pretty simple student body right zone play. PJ gets the big block that sets up the play, but as you can see both Collins and Dwor are able to get down field and engage in the second level. Further, Nic Jacobs is able to get across the face of Damontre Moore, prohibiting him from making the play. Copeland puts on the finishing touches and after that it's really just Hill's job to run free. Touchdown.
Discussed some above, but not their best effort. I get the concept here. The Aggie secondary is weak, our passing game needs work, good opportunity to attack and improve, right? Well, in principle, yes. But the way it was all devised is not intuitive. Throwing on 1st down, putting yourself behind the sticks, constantly trying deep routes, none of these things are going to help develop a consistency that can get Mettenberger into a nice place. Instead, it's the up and down with more bad plays than good. All that being said, our WRs were getting open, and getting deep on them. If Mettenberger hits a couple of those throws, the score of this game is drastically different.
Most frustrating is the drive in the 4th quarter. We run eight consecutive run plays to get the ball to their 9. They looked gassed. We're gashing them right and left. Then, inexplicably, we try to throw a bubble screen on 1st and 10. We lose three yards. Completely unnecessary call here. We weren't struggling on the ground. We covered 57 yards in 8 plays. If we had covered 57 yards in 15 plays, okay maybe. But we're rolling right over them, why go away from it? Even still, 2nd and Goal from the 12, we were still covering over 7 yards a carry, so we could pick up a 1st or put ourselves into a 3rd and very short with two good runs. Instead, we opt for the Warecat, which goes for 2 yards and then a loss. It's a terrible sequence that results in a sure touchdown turning into a FG.
I do like that they went to the zone runs with more regularity. I also liked that they expanded on the Warecat and continue to evolve it's presence in this offense. Those are things that play to our strengths and really allow us to have true diversity. Also, why do we refuse to use a RB screen game that's worked every time we've tried in 2012?
Mett: A large chunk of these reviews are always reserved to reviewing his play, largely because he has the most affect on the outcome of the offense. His struggles continued this week. Some weeks it's decision making, some weeks it's accuracy, some weeks it's drops, this week I'd put it squarely on that middle issue. His decision making was solid most of the afternoon. We created several winning match-ups for him and he simply overthrew his wide receivers far too often. Griese (who is terrible) remarked that it seemed like he was trying to make "every throw perfect." I think there's certainly some of that. I think the wind may have played some factor, though having gone through pre-game warm-ups, he should have been acquainted with how it would alter his throws. It didn't seem to affect Manziel, so I'm not inclined to give him a big pass on that.
The comeback route continues to be his best throw. He seems to thrive when just asked to throw it to a spot. I wonder somewhat if he's over thinking the game right now. Great quarterbacks often get credit for tape study and being analytical and being able to translate what they see on tape to the field. But a lot of that is intuitive. They have a feel for it. It's habit and repetition. For example, Drew Brees knows all of his contingencies. He has a feel for the game in that regard. It's not, "Oh, option 1 isn't open, okay, option 2, oh, now that isn't open, okay option 3, sack." From the moment he sees option 1 isn't available he likely knows whether option 2 or 3 will be too. I haven't seen that from Mett.
There's a lot of talk about his lack of pocket presence, and it's come to light a few times, but I think it's largely overstated. Generally, when he's sacked, he had no chance. On a couple occasions Saturday he did a good job evading pressure, once somehow getting out of a sure sack, to reduce negative plays. He seems to be feeling that backside pressure better now. Those are baby steps.
His best play of the game was the Boone touchdown toss. But I wanted to highlight a throw earlier. 1st and 15, we just got a false start from PJ. Again, playing behind the sticks. At this point, I'm near expecting this winds up in a punt. We go I-Formation and get Twins to the weak side, isolating Beckham in the slot on a safety. This is a total winning match-up. Mett does a great job of recognizing it. Beckham runs a really beautiful deep out, about two yards past the sticks. The pass pro is okay with Moore giving Alexander about all he can handle on the right side. Alexander rides him upfield just enough so that Mett can step up into the pocket (which wouldn't be possible without good interior protection) and deliver a really strong throw for a 17 yard gain and a 1st down. This is Mett fully realized. The best you can get from him. The hardest throw in football in a high pressure situation, and he nailed it. Now, where's the consistency?
One point of major frustration is the number of ball Mett gets knocked down at the line. This is clearly something defenses are keying on. There's absolutely no excuse for a 6'5" QB to have this many balls knocked down. On one play, Obioha (who is gonna be a good one for the Aggies) came with a hesitation rush. He's slowly pressing the pocket but moreso he's reading Mett's eyes all the way. As soon as the ball is released he times it and bats it down.
He made a good decision on one comeback route to Boone that was well covered. Threw it away in his vicinity. I like that he didn't try to force this throw on the route he clearly feels most comfortable throwing. He narrowly avoided a fumble on a poorly protected play in the 1st half. Dwor got beat by Moore on the outside and Mett tried to step up into the pocket, however, Collins is slowly being pressed into the pocket so he bounces off of him and bubbles trying to avoid the pressure. He tries to pull up and dump the ball to Ford, but he's hit as he throws and fortunately got the ball off.
Really struggled on the deep ball all day, which is unfortunate because it was there for the taking. He overthrew Beckham, Shep and Jacobs at various points. He did make one really nice fade throw to the sideline for Landry. Beautiful throw and Landry went up to get it and got his hands on it. He couldn't secure the ball, and it's dropped. Very frustrating. Plays like that can be huge confidence builders for the QB. There was another deep play that would have connected if not for PI, but we'll take that. Also made a dumb decision trying to throw after passing the L.O.S. Though, upon replay, we LSU fans know this is the "Eli Manning Play" and it was close.
Both sacks I put on bad protection. First Dwor was beaten badly by Moore, the other was a horribly called blocking scheme on a double A-gap blitz where both came free. Finished 11/29, 97 yards, 1 TD. GAME MANAGER
Ware: Some ugly blocking early on limited some potential bigger runs of his into short gains or even losses. Found a small crease and picked up four on an inside toss. Also Damontre Moore got hurt on the play. WHY IS HE FAKING INJURIES TO SLOW DOWN OUR DOMINANT OFFENSE? Made a really nice bail out play on the Warecat from the gun (Waregun?). Snap came in low, but he fielded it cleanly, made the proper read on the zone/read and ended up picking up five. Not much else of note. Finished with 8/15. No running room for him.
Hill: He's emerging as the best back on this team, as Hilliard did down the stretch last season. I mentioned the zone running stuff earlier, and Hill is the main benefactor of this... it takes advantage of his skill set. We did it with Ware some too, but mostly Hill. He looks the most spry and explosive of all the backs. He really wore on their defense in the late 3rd/early 4th. You could visibly see how tired they were... less pursuit, less strength at the point. I'm a huge proponent of the zone running plays because I think you can get away with less than stellar blocking and still manufacture yards, often in chunks. When the blocking is really good, as it was on his 47-yard TD run, well, you get 47-yard TD runs and all the back has to do is have the vision to spot the hole and explode. Hill gives you that. Better vision than the other backs and more explosiveness than all but Ford. Finished 18/127 and 1 TD. 1 catch for 7.
Ford: His role is pretty well defined. However, I've never seen him this fired up. We ran some zone stuff with him too. Loved the call out of Warecat to get him the toss. Bunch everyone tight to the formation, which seems to preclude the sneak again and we flip it to Ford, which basically just turns into a race to the corner, something he'll win most every time. On his touchdown, the play was pretty well blocked on the right side. Alexander crushed the edge and caves in. Travis Dickson came in and was able to pick off a LB. Neighbors didn't get a great block, but he got just enough to give Ford the edge and let his speed do the rest. Gold star to Jarvis Landry on the play, whose down-field blocking is the reason we get a TD here and not just a big gain. Seems like I'm repeatedly writing, "gets the edge" on his reviews. Finished 11/78 for 1 TD.
Hilliard: Quiet game. He seems to be fading. Played very few snaps. Finished 3/5.
Copeland: Probably his least effective game. He didn't really stand out at any point. No dominant blocks, no lane clearers. Missed a few blocks.
Beckham: Ran the really nice deep out play. Got open deep a few times. Can't remember him blocking much, but I know he avoided a block in the back barely at one point. Finished 4/35.
Boone: Continues to be the Kadron Boone the TD Goon. That's the worst nickname ever. On the play where we ran dual post routes, he was able to bring the safety with him, which says to me that defenses fear him. Tried to get him deep around mid-2nd quarter. I couldn't fully see the route, but looks like a slant and go. He never really got separation. Mett threw it up and gave Boone a chance to make a play on the ball, but Boone didn't do the best job of fighting for position or attacking at the highest point. Incomplete. No matter, we connect on it later, Mett's finest throw and Boone makes the catch of the day (in all of college football for my money). It's tear dropped in over shoulder, ahead of the defender and Boone lays out to make the catch and falls into the endzone. Boom! Why can't it be like this all the time. Finished 4/49, 1TD.
Landry: One look the staff gave that I really liked is out of the I-Formation, we motioned Landry down to the end of the line, which, historically, is a near dead tell for a run play with an extra blocker. This draw Everett down into the box and Landry is his responsibility. We send Landry out, completely defeating the jam, so badly that Everett outright tackles him. It's a really nice look out of a 3rd and short. Hope to see more looks like this.. it's a way to diversify without being cutesy. Ran a nice fade route but couldn't come down with the ball. Drew another PI when we spread out the D and he drew single coverage from Toney Hurd. He beats the jam and is wide open in the middle of the field. Hurd tackles him for an obvious PI. Great blocking on the Ford TD. Finished 1/-3 (eek!)
Wright: Quiet day. We tried to find him on a slant, but he gets no separation. He does have body position, but the play is broken up by good coverage. On one play they lined up about 9-yards off of him. This should be a dead pass for us in the future. Easy pitch and catch on a hitch route. 9 yard gain. Had one poor block on a 9-yard run. If he gets the block, play springs for bigger.
Clement: This is the first game I can remember him coming out more frequently. There were snaps where Jacobs was the lone TE (first I can remember) or Dickson was the other TE in a 2 TE situation. Not sure if he was nicked, tired or perhaps getting a slight benching. I thought he had a better game than last week, where he really struggled. Did a really nice job of sealing the edge on outside runs. I'm looking forward to improved TE play in a couple of years.
Jacobs: Couldn't get separation on a 3rd and short, double move we tried to get to him. Got wide open on a PA pass and was overthrown. Superb block on Moore on the Hill long TD run.
Dwor: Really struggled after playing pretty well last week. Carter wrote that he was dominant against Clowney, and while I didn't see that, he played a solid, workmanlike game. This week, not so much. Damontre Moore really took it to him, especially early. Got beat on an inside out move that lead to the first sack. Seemed to get better as the game wore on, though.
Collins: Up and down game. Missed Everett early, which allowed Ware to get torched. Got beat off the ball by Mathis on a zone play. Play still went for two, but Mathis gave him fits. On a later play Mathis came free either completely missed in the line calls by PJ or whiffed by Collins, it's hard to tell. He came across PJ's face though, so I'm thinking it's on him. Did love seeing him on an inside power toss. Right side dominated the LOS and here comes the monster barreling down with Hilliard behind him. Got a holding call on the double a-gap blitz, sparing Ware from a big hit. Great job of getting 2nd level with Dwor on the big TD run.
PJ: On an early play he got second level and it looked like a potential big gainer. But a blitzing CB is able to stop it in it's tracks. Drew a false start when we were pushing pace and really moving. Those are drive-killers. tremendous job on the long TD.
Turner: I noticed we pulled him some this game, which I don't believe we did at all vs. South Carolina. He seems to be gaining the coach's trust. I don't have anything else notable down about him, but he and Alexander did a really nice job in the run game, mostly.
Alexander: USC never really challenged him in the pass game. A&M immediately did. They got Moore lined up on both sides and let him have a go at both tackles. He showed some poor pass blocking technique, stuff that can be learned with experience. On one play, they send the OLB on a blitz. Alexander's body positioning is fine, but he doesn't initiate contact until they are about 4 yards deep into the pocket. The lack of engage allows the OLB to get his hands up and knock the ball down. Moore gave him about all he could handle. A good learning experience against an experienced guy with an array of pass rush moves. Got beat by Obioha for the same reason as the OLB... he must engage earlier. Later, same thing with Moore. No engage, no pass block. Nearly lead to a sack, but Mett escaped somehow. One play I do want to note. Just to give you an idea how big and strong this kid is, naturally. He latched onto Moore and doesn't just drive him off the ball, he goes 5-7 yards down field, and not just that, he finishes the block by throwing him to the ground like a rag doll. He absolutely dominated a potential All-SEC Junior DE with pure brute force. He's a monster.
The offense is still a mess. To beat Alabama we're going to need a steady does of zone running, some measured throws and probably a few trick plays. I could see this game going a few ways, but I imagine our game plan will be similar to 2010. Let's hope for the same outcome.