"Whaaattttt would you do, if I sang... out of tune.... would you stand up... and walk out on me?" I could be almost certain that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote this song about the 2013 LSU defense, not Kevin Arnold, or whatever the Beatles meant it to be about. In this case, getting by with a little help from your friends is a weekly endorsement of just how good this LSU offense is playing. "Oh we allowed 450 yards and 35 points? That's okay, guys, I got you," Zach Mettenberger says, in real life.
If the early goings were any indication (and they weren't) then LSU and MSU are roughly equals, particularly in Cowbell City. No longer is losing to Mississippi State affectionately termed as "Croomed," as they are neither awful, nor incompetent. Losing to the Bulldogs is not something endured by the Tigers since 1999... and 1991 before then.
It. Just. Doesn't. Happen. But the Bulldogs seemed determined to give us the fight of our lives before eventually yielding, and yielding and yielding some more.
We know what this offense is, and I don't suspect we will see many new "wrinkles" the rest of the way. We're a team that operates mostly in 21/22 personnel, but will occasionally dive into the well to find some 20, 10 or 11. Though ur personnel groupings would seem to dictate an offense that favors a strong running game, it's actually the passing offense that we've had no trouble igniting all season. Early on against Mississippi State, particularly the first drive, our running game accounted for nothing while Mettenberger, Beckham and Landry effortlessly drove us down the field. Everything seems to be coming easy for them right now, which is nice to see. It was apparently early on that LSU simply wouldn't be stopped on offense and now matter how sieve-y this LSU defense can be, Mississippi State simply didn't have the firepower to go score for score with us. By the 4th quarter, they ran out of touchdowns and we seemed to find them all.
Mett: He continues to do it week in and week out. Efficient, calculated, dissection. He turned it over, but it was really nice to see there was no hangover after a tough loss. There's only so many ways to say "in control" but that's what's going on right now. I think another thing that most impresses me is that he's so damned tough. Finished 25/29 for 340 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT.
Hill: Remains our best back, though I thought they were trying to spell him some this week. 16 carries is his lowest full game total since Clemson, when he carried it only 12 times. They seem to be trying to more actively involve him in the passing game, though with little success this week, after a good showing against UGA. Even if you take away his 69-yard scamper (which you shouldn't because it was impressive), he still managed nearly six yards a pop. There's a sizable difference between Hill and any other back we put out there... and I think the rest of the backs we put out there are pretty good. Finished 16 for 157, 2 TDs, 3 catches for 13 yards
Hilliard: Are we seeing a resurgence of Hard Hittin' Hilliard? Kenny's play has been up and down since his strong freshman year, but he seemed to run with more confidence and authority against State. Scored three TDs, one on "Flip 90," one on a zone lead and one on a lead dive to complete the rushing trifecta. His long TD run was impressive as he flashed good vision and then enough speed to beat a safety to the end zone. Finished 6 for 39, 3 TDs.
Blue: I felt Blue looked solid. He just doesn't seem to be the same back we saw in 2012. Not certain if he's still gaining confidence back or if the injury robbed him of some explosiveness. At one point, we ran a zone lead play left and a massive cutback lane opened to his right, but Blue simply put his head down and ran into the back of blockers for 5-6 yard gain. Later we saw Hill with the same situation, and he cut it back for a 15-yard gain. Thought he made a really nice play on a check down pass, running through the tackle of a Safety to get a 1st. Ran through another tackle late, and his TD run was a nice piece of vision, though against a worn out squad. Finished 6 for 31 and 1 TD, with 2 catches for 19 yards.
Magee: He seemed to take a back seat this game, though we spread it out and inserted him early. The staff didn't seem to be confident they could get a push in the running game early on. No real notes on him. Carried it late. Finished 6 carries for 18 yards.
Copeland: Frankly, seems to have lost his job. He plays less and less by the week. We still get him in there, and maybe they are trying to preserve him some, but the staff seems to prefer Neighbors. Did get a strong block on Blue's TD. Finished 1 carry, 0 yards, 1 catch, 6 yards.
Neighbors: The only thing noteworthy is on Hilliard's long touchdown he absolutely crushed one of their OLBs. It was nasty. Seems to be the "starter," though I didn't count snaps. Finished 1 carry for -1 yards.
Jones: Got in the game late at FB. He was the FB on Hilliard last TD run. Had a false start, but the refs either missed it or didn't care. I didn't think he was aggressive enough. He seemed to know what he was doing, but he didn't attack the hole like we'll see Copeland and Neighbors do. Must be fearless to play FB.
Beckham: Hey, if you were worried that lost fumble would cause a hangover for him, it didn't. There's so much trust between Mett and this guy (and Mett and Landry), that it's a beautiful thing to watch. The back shoulder throws are seemingly indefensible. Especially to Beckham, to whom you can really throw it high and outside and he can pluck it, as he did multiple times against State. He did have one "drop" but it wasn't very well thrown. My favorite catch of the night was on 4th and 2. He ran a flag route and the route was so good he spun the DB around. Mett just threw it to the area, for a big conversion. Finished 9 for 179 and 2 TDs
Landry: Got hurt, as we all know, but played through it. I think you'd have to hit Jarvis with a mack truck to keep him off the field. The epitome of toughness. It's nice when a "quiet" night from Landry is nearly 100 yards. He uses his body to shield off defenders so well, as he did on one nice back shoulder gain. You could tell he was hurt on his next to last catch, as he just couldn't push off. Finished with 8 for 96 yards.
Boone: No catches, but we took a couple of shots to him. Looked like he dropped a contested slant route, and then we tried a back shoulder throw but it was well defensed.
Dural: First Dural sighting in a while. We sprinted Mett out right on a 3rd and forever and he lollipopped a throw down the sideline to Dural, who was running a route I couldn't decipher. Dural went up and pulled it down. Held on despite absorbing a blow. Nice job by him. Finished 1 for 21 yards.
Gordon: He got the key block on Hilliard's TD run. MSU fans wanted holding, but his hands were inside and you'll never get that call. Did a good job on Hill's long TD run. We took one shot to him, but nothing much else.
Stokes: He got rolled up on late and came off gimpy. Didn't seem like he was in quite as much this week, but still our no 2. blocking TE. Like Gordon, did a good job on Hill's long TD run. Nothing much else.
Dickson: On one play he seemed to completely run by the man he should have blocked... the guy made the tackle on Magee, but maybe it's by design assuming Magee could beat a DL in space? Caught a short out pass to convert on 2nd and short. Got pushed by Autry, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Finished 1 for 6 yards.
Collins: Got key blocks on Hill's long TD and Hilliard's too. On Hilliard's play he got a piece of the DE before hitting 2nd level and picking off a LB. So fun to see him in GL sets, typically driving his man 3-4 yards deep into the endzone. No major complaints.
Vadal: I thought he struggled early on and got beat a couple of times in the running game, but by the 2nd half he was pushing people around like a man. He's just so big and strong. A solid bounce back week after struggling vs. UGA.
Porter: Missed a block on a pull early. Then got blown up inside on a FB dive play for Neighbors. Did get a solid block on Hill's 2nd TD. He got a hat on the LB and Hill plowed into them both, which turned it into a pancake. Didn't notice him a ton other than that.
Trai: He and Hawkins really need to work on their communication, particularly on stunts. Twice were they beaten badly by them. He did get a really strong kick out on one of Hill's runs. No other major plays stick out.
Hawkins: Rough game. Got pushed around by Chris Jones early. Then beat by Preston Smith, but bailed out by a facemask. Yielded a sack to Chris Jones... completely whiffed. Missed a block on a zone toss that went for a loss. Then got pancaked by Chris Jones. Aforementioned miscommunication on the DL stunt that resulted in a sack. Also got a false start. Nearly gave up another by a strong spin move by Jones. Should probably put this tape in the garbage and set it on fire and forget it.
For the third straight week the LSU defense yielded 400+ yards, and it's clear that change is in order. Early on we saw Rashard Robinson entering the game and Jalen Mills sliding into a nickel role. Tashawn Bower saw meaningful snaps, as we continue to try and solve the pass rush problem. Lamar Louis saw more than a few series, though yet again, failed to distinguish himself. All that being said, does it sound ridiculous for me to say I feel like they improved this week?
Once again, we let a team pile up a big 1st half, only to tighten up a bit in the 2nd. MSU gained 264 of their 468 total yards and 23 of their 26 points in the 1st half. Most of this season we've stuck to base personnel, rarely flipping into Nickel/Dime packages... and none of the Mustang looks that we thrived with in 2011. Against State, we seemed to deploy the troops differently, opting to go Nickel/Dime against their spread. Chavis seemed to feel more threatened by them spreading it out then, say, Auburn, who we also stuck to base against. The tackling is still porous, but there seemed to be less confusion on the back end this week, even with rotating in more young guys.`
At the start of the season, we'd have all agreed that our best defensive players this season would be: Loston, Barrow and Freak. Six games in and I'm not so sure they aren't Kwon, Martin and Hunter.
Hunter: I don't have any sensational notes on him, but he's doing all the right little things, and he's clearly overtaken the starting DE spot from Allen. I'd like to see more of the pass rushing aggression we get from Allen, but Hunter's athleticism allows him to do some unique things, such as drop into coverage and be competent or string out plays that most DEs couldn't handle. I don't think he's AS explosive, but at points he reminds me of a young Mingo.
Rasco: Actually got a really nice pass rush on Dak's long TD run. Spun inside the OT and completely beat him, but he obviously didn't finish the play off. Could have done a better job closing on the QB. They tried a jet sweep to his side and he blew up the OT, causing the play to bubble and eventually go for a loss. Overall solid game.
Allen: I want to say he's our best pass rusher on the outside, but he often takes himself out of plays. Made a couple of outstanding plays in this one. Once, he beat the OT across his face, closing the running lane and then reached around the OT to tackle the back. On a QB draw he blew up his man and latched on to Dak, but Dak's so big and strong he dragged him for a couple. Nothing else of note.
Bower: He's certainly strong. He seems to know what he's doing, but needs more experience. Got down blocked hard by a TE when crashing off the OT. Did a nice job cutting down a pulling guard on one play.
Neal/Maclin: Saw some late snaps, nothing of note.
Freak: I feel like his down-in, down-out consistency isn't there, but he's almost surely good for one to two explosive plays a game. Generated a sack early by completely blasting by his man. On a give play he smoked his man and swallowed Perkins for a loss. Made another nice play by defeating his blocker and getting Perkins at the LoS. Otherwise, most of my notes were of him being blocked up.
Ego: Quiet and mostly ineffective. Did make one nice read and play on a veer, tackling Dak for a short gain. Got an offside penalty.
LaCouture: Played significant snaps. Nice to see him stand up an entire OL and stuff the hole a few times. Got a sack late doing something similar. I can see the promise here. He's improving.
QT: Good to have him back for depth purposes. Rotated in early. Showed good hustle chasing Dak down, but otherwise nothing of note.
Mickey: Played late, nothing noteworthy.
Barrow: The highs and lows of his play are becoming aggravating. On State's first play, he got blocked up by a WR, which sprung them for a big gain. On other plays, he attacked aggressively and looked strong. MSU kept getting Lewis matched up on him, which was a nightmare for us. When you see him attack an inside run, blow up a pulling guard and make the tackle, you think he may have turned the corner. Except he then usually gets completely lost and blocked up. Maddening.
Kwon: Got a huge hit on Prescott early in the game, though no sack. Forced a late fumble by attacking the pitch man (Russell). Late in the game we deployed a LB trio of Kwon/Debo/Louis all of which are burners. He gave up one pass but his coverage was strong. Fairly quiet night, thugh.
Welter: I'm not going to harp on this. I hope he is benched this week.
Louis: ... Except that Louis didn't do anything to distinguish himself. Got smoked by two pulling OL. Looked slow in pursuit on a wide running play. Did look athletic on the fumble recovery. Nothing else of note.
Debo: Came on fairly late, but not with all the youngsters, so he got some run with veterans. His aggression is obvious. Closed hard on a running play his first play in. He opted to cut down the blocker, but didn't do it well, so the hole remained open. Looked like he could have shot past the OL and made a TFL. Next play, he reads the zone read well, shoots the gap, but misses the tackle. Looked so damn fast, though.
Beckwith: Got in late, didn't notice anything. Didn't play any other packages, that I noticed.
Mills: Only a couple of notes. He did a nice job on one run play of cutting down an OL, which allowed Freak to make the tackle for no gain. On another, he made a poor tackle attempt, which resulted in a 20 yard gain. He got beat by Morrow and seemed all pissed about it, as if anyone was to blame but him. I guess the pass rush, though we flushed Dak from the pocket. Miles referred to him as a "nice nickel" this week. Curious what that means.
White: He played okay. The long TD I thought his coverage was good and he got pushed off. Played physical against MSU's much larger WRs. Disrupted a square in that should have been caught, but his jam may have thrown off the timing. Got beat on one play, but the throw was bad so he was able to catch up and break it up. Got burned badly in the 2nd half, but the throw was awful, so didn't cost him. He was five yards off his man. Got a pick late, but our coverage looked out of whack. Man was wide open underneath him. Fortunate to have the ball thrown to him, but he showed nice athleticism on the return.
Robinson: It's one game... against Mississippi State... so I'm not ready to crown him, but man, sure looks like this kid can ball.The fact that he's even on the field is a testament to his immense talents. Got an early defensive holding call, but his coverage was physical and it's a penalty I can live with. MSU tried a throw back screen to his side, with a blocker. Super impressive as he zips right by the blocker and made a good, physical tackle on a guy listed 40+ pounds more than him. If you watched Robinson's HS tape, this comes as no surprise. He's a physical player, despite slight weight. On White's pick he absolutely crushed Dak Prescott, too. Had a nice break up on a deep ball. Played physical and disrupted a route in a Cover 2. Nearly turned out to be a big gain, but Martin got over in time. Miles says he is "ready to play football." Don't be surprised to see a ton of him in the coming weeks.
Thomas: Saw him a bit, but nothing of note.
Collins: Didn't play in the secondary, that I noticed.
Martin: I think he's grown a ton in a short time span. His tackling still isn't A+, but he's improving. Nearly got a pick on a badly thrown wheel route. Tipped a 3rd and GL pass attempt from the five. Showed great coverage capacity by making up a ton of ground on a ball that probably should have been a TD. He batted it down. They were trying to attack the hole in the cover 2, but he made up the space. I just see solid, steady improvement from him.
Thompson: I thought he played well. He's earned more time, even if Loston comes back. He looked mostly competent in coverage. They did throw a nice TD over him, but he was actually in decent position. Seemed like if he gets his head around, that's a pick, or at least a knock down. Broke up a couple passes with timely hits. He attacked nicely on a couple of wide running plays.
Eugene: His playing time seems to be dwindling, even though we entered more Nickel/Dime looks that were formerly his specialty. He did get a pass break up, which was nice. Nothing else.
LeBeau: Wanted to give some props to a walk-on. Kid made the final tackle of the game and couldn't have been happier. Mett gave him five (probably the first time he's ever interacted with him) and some coach ran over jumping up and down and bear hugged him. Was kinda cool to see.
Keehn: We punted twice. First one was an awesome 49-yarder that flipped field position and pinned them back. 2nd one he bounced into the EZ. Good height and depth on both kicks, though.
Dela: Remains perfect. Ice cold. This kid needs a meme.
Hairston: Couple of short kicks, but mostly put them into the EZ. We gave up one long return early, but otherwise, superb job in coverage.
Beckham: Some may worry about his decision to bring just about every kick out of the EZ, but I'm guessing he's told to. I'll take the extra 1-2 yards he gives up on most returns for the fact that he's likely to break one. No punt returns this week.