A Tale of Two Halves

Wesley Hitt

LSU was a different team in the second half of the season.

There's been a lot of words spilled so far on the basic theme of "the offense sucks and the defense is awesome." In fact, TSK has an article up on that very subject right now. It's pretty cool, you should go read it.

It's easy to see it that when we look at the season ending numbers. There's also the constant criticism that Miles can't, or won't, change on offense and we keep doing the same thing over and over again. However, this team changed radically over the course of the year. There was a major philosophic shift, it just didn't really work.

Let's break the season into two halves. First, let's only look at games against BCS conference teams or else, clearly, LSU was much better in the first half as the team beat up on the likes of North Texas. But we can divide the first half of the SEC schedule ending with Texas A&M and including Washington from the second half starting with Alabama and including the bowl loss to Clemson.

Well, let's just look at how the offense changed:

Rush Yards

Pass Yards

Plays

Total Yards

Yards/Play

Totals

173.7

200.5

67.9

374.2

5.51

BCS Totals

153.4

195.5

68.8

348.9

5.07

1st Half

188.6

153.4

68.8

342.0

4.97

2nd Half

118.2

237.6

68.8

355.8

5.17

Remember, the first half also includes a dismal performance in Gainesville in which LSU rushed for a whopping 42 yards. Even with that dragging down the numbers, LSU rushed for an average of 188.6 yards per game over the first half of the season. In the second half, LSU rushed for a full 70 yards less per game. I know it's been popular wisdom to say that LSU capably replaced Alfred Blue with Jeremy Hill, but the rushing offense declined precipitously in the second half.

The passing game picked up the slack. Early in the year, Zach Mettenberger generally looked lost in the pocket, and he never cracked 200 yards passing against a BCS conference team in the first half. In the second half, he'd clear that bar against every opponent except Clemson, and he was usually knocking on the door of 300.

This is where we run into the problem of cause and effect. The offense gained about the same number of yards, but the distribution was wildly different. So did Miles abandon the running game or did he see his passing game start to work only to be betrayed by the team's usual strength? The criticism of Miles has long been that he will not change, but the offense did change right before our eyes. We went from a successful power running team to a team that relied on the pass. 118 yards rushing a game would rank 107th in the nation. That won't get it done. LSU couldn't effectively run the ball in the second half, which is a huge concern going forward, particularly since it seemed the passing game actually started to work.

The defense is even more concerning. While the offense just changed the shape of its production, the defense saw its production change completely:

Rush Yards

Pass Yards

Plays

Total Yards

Yards/Play

Totals

101.6

206.0

69.0

307.6

4.46

BCS Totals

101.8

225.8

70.6

327.6

4.64

1st Half

91.2

153.6

67.2

244.8

3.64

2nd Half

112.4

298.0

74.0

410.4

5.55

Anything jump out at you? Because it sure jumps out at me.

LSU's pass defense went from the best in the country to the worst. Let's also keep in mind that LSU faced the team with the Heisman winning quarterback in the first half of the season, not the second. LSU allowed 153.6 yards/game in the first half, which would lead all of NCAA in pass defense. Over the second half, LSU allowed 298.0 yards/game, which ranks 121st. Only West Virginia, Baylor, and Louisiana Tech have a worse pass defense. Let that sink in. LSU's pass defense in the second half of the season was about as bad as West frickin' Virginia, a team nationally lampooned for having a crappy defense.

This is no fluke either. There's not one game throwing the stats out of whack, well, actually that's not true . Here's the game by game passing numbers in the second half: 165, 304, 316, 359, and 346. That's right, the outlier is the good defensive performance. Over the last four games, LSU allowed 331 yards passing a game. THREE HUNDRED THIRTY-ONE.

A defense that was among the nation's best, if not the nation's best, was downright terrible in the second half of the year. I have no idea why the defense started to play so poorly, but maybe some people were more concerned about their draft prospects than winning football games. A collapse this huge has all the earmarks of a team that has simply thrown in the towel.

LSU now has five players from this defense declaring early for the NFL draft. I know I'm supposed to be concerned because that's a lot of talent leaving the program. But it's also a lot of talent that simply did not produce in the second half of the season. Maybe a house cleaning is precisely what the Chief ordered.

Because they could hardly play worse.

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