Exert. Your. Will. If that were ever a game plan, then we saw it this week. On the Geaux Show I made mention of the fact that I thought this game was a matter of pride. What we saw Saturday was a different LSU team than we've seen through the first six games of the season. By different I do not mean better or worse. But there was an attitude on display... an edge.
If you are a fan of Friday Night Lights (the TV series), and I hope you are, there's a point in the final season where East Dillon is up against a team that is playing chippy and overly aggressive. Coach Taylor tells Vince, the quarterback, "We're gonna play our way." From that point on, East Dillon commits something like 23 penalties for 245 yards, most of them of the unnecessary roughness variety. For East Dillon, it's a defining moment for their football team. It's not so much that Coach Taylor wanted his team to break the rules... it was about an attitude.
For LSU against Florida, I think we saw the same thing. The Florida game, for the past decade or so, has been one that defines season. Typically the team that wins that game is spurred on to a BCS appearance, while the loser slinks back to upper middle class SEC and a New Year's Day bowl. Last season, UF limited LSU to just six points. Not only their lowest output of the season, but their lone single-digit total. LSU managed just 200 yards, and if you watched, it was clear that UF soundly beat LSU up front. They were more physical. They were more aggressive. They were better. For Les Miles, this seemed to be a sore point. Losing is one thing, but losing that way? Not acceptable. Which is why I think you see Miles react so strongly in the post game press conference.
At the end of the game, and during an interview with Finebaum this week, Danielson mentioned how dangerous of team LSU may be, proving that they can win a slugfest, but open it up and air it out on you as well. For Danielson, that means Les believes he has a championship-caliber team. For me, this is Miles demanding the best from his team. No more sloppy defense. No more getting pushed around on the OL. You have the ability... now seize it. Against Florida, we did.
I've seen clamor about a "different gameplan" and all that. On the surface level, I get it. Mettenberger attempted just 17 passes, most of which weren't down field. We ran the ball 39 times. To some, we went "conservative." But again, I think this all comes back to attitude. This week was about challenging the team to do something they hadn't done against a formidable opponent in 2013: bully them. We've seen the ups and downs of the offensive line, but against Florida, the unit stood out fantastically. I saw aggression. I saw focus. I saw domination. This was a unit putting it all together, just in time for a stretch run. This run game was as good as it has been all season. Sure, there weren't any 50+ yard runs. Or even 40+ yard runs. But when LSU wanted 6, 7, 8, they got it. All afternoon long. That's bullying an opponent.
As for the passing game, it seemed to just be missing a beat all afternoon. The number don't look great, but there were two uncharacteristic drops by Landry and a two to three misses by Mettenberger that swing this from a ho-hum afternoon to a solid, if not outstanding day. These things happen... especially against the best defense we have, and maybe will, face all year. That said, while Florida's defense played well, I didn't feel particularly awe-inspired. We had open receivers and Mettenberger had time to throw. Something just wasn't clicking in that regard.
The lone sore spot may be that we have now turned it over for four consecutive games. Of course, one of those was a special teams fumble, and I'm not overly concerned, but still something worth noting. I don't think LSU is headed down a path of becoming a team that turns it over a ton, but it's something you'd like cleaned up against the Alabama's of this world, as they can cost you victory.
Mett: Ok game. As mentioned, the passing game seemed off. He missed Boone on an early throw that would have put us in great position. We wound up punting. On another play we had Gordon streaking down the middle of their defense wide open, but tossed to Landry for a modest gain. He underthrew a back shoulder throw to Beckham. He overthrew a fade to Landry in the end zone. It just seemed like one of those nights where things just weren't click. that said, Mett's off night didn't hurt the run game, and still resulted in 50%+ completion percentage and over 150 yards passing. These are the types of bad games we can live with. Finished 9/17, 152 yards, 0 TD.
Jennings: For those clamoring for him to see snaps, could he have seen anything more meaningful than this? In a tight, defense battle, Jennings was entrusted with 1) Running it in from the 1 (we've seen too many GL fumbles to believe this is a given) and 2) Running it out of the EZ when the offense is backed up. Talk about pressure situations. A fumble, a bad snap and this goes horribly awry. Jennings calmly did both, and got his first TD as a Tiger. We also tried some goofy double pass with him, which was fun, but sorta goofy to watch. UF defended it pretty well. Finished 2 carries for 4 yards and 1 TD.
Hill: This kid is something else, huh? He really doesn't even need great blocking... that's just a luxury. Hill so rarely loses yards, it's almost a foregone conclusion that giving him the ball will result in something positive. Against a defense that rarely gets gashed by the run, Hill could routinely been see dancing into the second level, making tacklers miss, bouncing off others and consistently falling forward. Late in the game, as LSU sought to ice it, he took a toss play outside and smartly slid down in bounds. He popped up and wound his arms in the "run the clock" motion. Smart, heady football. Just another outstanding game from Hill. Enjoy it, fellas, because we probably only get six more games of it. Finished 19 carries for 121, 1 catch for 30.
Hilliard: For the first time this season, we brought back the set with Hilliard at FB and another back dotting the I. I love this look and it seems like it creates natural mismatches each time we employ it. Hilliard is emerging as the no. 2 back on this team and that's great to see. I thought he looked better this game than he has all season. He showed vision that's previously been wanting. The end numbers weren't sexy, but he put together some tough carries to spell HIll here and there. Finished 6 for 28 yards.
Magee: I love that we're still finding interesting ways to use Magee, who is one of the more versatile backs we've seen in some time. This week we motioned him out wide and threw a back shoulder throw to him, which he perfectly executed and caught for a nice gain. He may not be a guy that we rely on down-in and down-out, but it's nice to see us put him in position to succeed. Finished 2 carries for 8 yards, 1 catch for 17 yards.
Blue: Got one carry with awful blocking that lost yards. The real sunshine was his play on consecutive punts early in the game. After being stalled on the 1st drive, Blue flew down the field and made an outstanding tackle. After penalty, we re-kicked and Blue, once again, made the tackle. Sensation ST effort from a guy who could have every right to think he's "better" than that.
Neighbors: Started. Seems to have taken the lion's share of work, though Copeland still gets in there quite a bit. Nothing really stood out.
Copeland: Got a TD on a 1-yard dive. Busted another dive for 10 yards, where he carried a guy 3-4 and ran through an arm tackle. Finished 5 carries for 20 yards and 1 TD.
Beckham: Quiet day. Biggest play came early on a comeback route, which he runs so well. Ball put on him and he caught and turned up field for a 25-yard gain. Tried to find him in the RZ, but Riggs mugged him for a PI. Converted a big 3rd and 17 running what looked like a skinny post. Nothing else of note. Finished 2 catches for 47 yards.
Landry: Up and down day. Made a big boy play early, going up and snatching the ball from the air against Hargreaves. Made a couple other catches, but also called for holding and had two drops. Finished 4 catches for 58 yards.
I'm going to mention them all collectively here, but their run blocking was superb all afternoon. At varying moments Gordon and Stokes were both mixing it up with UF. Attitude. Not sure I saw Travis Dickson out there for even a single play.
If there was one unit I was most concerned about heading into this game, it would be the OL. In previous weeks the group struggled to communicate. Further, their play seemed to fluctuate from drive to drive. Not this week. They stood up big time against a talented UF front seven. I remember no penalties from the group. I was particularly impressed with Vadal and Hawkins, who both had struggled the most in previous weeks. Both rebounded and exerted their will. LC, I always expect the most, and he did not disappoint. I don't have any bad notes on Trai, either. As for Porter, this guy just keep improving, huh? There were moments against UF where he literally threw his man on the ground. Loads different than the guy getting pushed around by TCU.
This was, absolutely, the best OL performance of the year. The big boys did work. Here is just one shining example:
If Soulja Boy wrote a rap about this play, he'd call it "Hats on Hats on Hats." No, I'm not better than that.
If you go back and listen, Gary Danielson used the word "challenged" a lot on Saturday. "I think Les Miles challenged his team." "John Chavis challenged Freak Johnson this week." And so on. Much like the pride we saw on offense, there seemed an effort to restore order on the defensive side. Apparently in pre-production meetings Miles or Chavis told CBS they felt like "we got back to playing LSU defense" in the second half of Mississippi State. These are encouraging things to hear, as it gives us an idea that the group is headed in the right direction... and not simply prospering by feasting on lesser opponents.
Quite clearly, this is LSU's finest defensive performance of the season. Florida managed just 240 total yards, couldn't put a touchdown on the board and didn't consistently move the ball around all day. For me, the primary difference in play started with the LSU defensive line. I'm not if there's a site that catalogs QB hurries in college football, but I'm fairly sure this would rank out as LSU's top performance of the season. What's encouraging is that Florida features a strong offensive line, one that had only yielded seven total sacks prior to our game.
My lone word of caution would be that, this is still a work in progress. We didn't turn into the '85 Bears, or even the '11 Tigers. For all the praise heaped on the Florida offense under the guidance of Tyler Murphy, they looked lost most of the afternoon. Murphy was under siege and while he never really "looked" rattled, he couldn't get anything going in the passing game, which allowed LSU to tee off on Florida's running game, which wasn't all that successful to begin with. The promise comes from the fact that LSU did with an opponent like this what they should: they smothered them.
Hunter: First of all, if any of you talented graphics people out there are reading, can you please build me a "Hunter is Coming" Game of Thrones meme series? Thanks.
Seven tackles, one TFL, two breakups. Every single week he's getting better and better and better. He'll remind people of Mingo due to his frame, and while I don't think he's quite as fast, he may ultimately become a better total package. Mingo was underrated at the point of attack throughout his career, but Hunter is just flat good at it. He doesn't get pushed around, and he plays with violent hands. On his TFL he fought across Humphries face, and buried Taylor with Ego. This guy is probably the best player on our defense right now.
Rasco: He was putting together a nice game (4 hurries, 4 tackles according to LSUSports.net), but he committed an unfathomably stupid penalty late in the game. It's not something that ultimately cost LSU, but still one of those moments that infuriates you. He did rebound on the next three plays, first cutting down a lead blocker, shrinking a hole, then in pursuit of UF's wayyyy tooo cute trick play and finally flying off the edge to get the initial pressure on Murphy to disrupt the 3rd and GL play. We need him to play with the fire he played on those three snaps.
Allen: Got nicked late, and I hope he's okay, because he's such a nice fastball to bring off the bench. I absolutely love the intensity and effort he plays with on the field. He's rarely in control, but you know when he's in the game, you'll get every drop. On Saturday I saw him chase down a play from the opposite side of the field, fly up the field for the initial pressure on the sack on Florida's next to last offensive play, both very good plays. On another play he crashed inside, which allowed Murphy to scramble outside and hit one of Florida's biggest passing gains of the day. You take the good with the bad, I guess.
Beckwith: Saw him play only one snap, and it was UF's last offensive snap. He got pressure, got the strip fumble. He seems to be a guy that has gotten lost in the shuffle after playing a lot early.
Bower: Saw him in early, but never really again.
Freak: He played like Brick Haley stuck "you're overrated" articles in his locker every day. Three tackles and a sack or nice, but he was a disruptive force far beyond that all afternoon. UF didn't have much of an answer for him, honestly. I thought this was his best game of the season, though it's frustrating that doesn't result in the gaudy stat lines we'd see from Glenn Dorsey. That's really just a reminder that there is only one Glenn Dorsey.
Ego: He too, played well. Rushed well at times, strong at the point of attack for most of the afternoon. Ego is a guy that can seem to lose focus in games, but when he's "on," he's a guy that chases down plays from the backside and can do some damage. Laid a monster hit on Mack Brown. Batted down a pass late.
LaCouture: Did a really nice job on a 3rd and short stop early. Later, absolutely blown off the ball by a double team. Rotated early and often in the game.
QT: Like what I saw from him. Good interior pass rush. Nearly had a sack, but Murphy able to stay up. Got a good rush later. Nothing else of note, really.
Barrow: Played as well as he has all season. Dropped a pick, maybe would have been a pick six. Made a nice one-on-one tackle outside. Best play came late. Read a run, knifed into the backfield, beats the lead blocker and stuffs Taylor for a loss. Tremendous job by him. Two weeks in a row that he's improved.
Welter: I thought he played okay. He seemed more aggressive this week. Attacked a FB on a lead play, stuffed up the running lanes on an early 3rd and short, did a good job sitting on an underneath route and coming up to make a tackle, took on a pulling OL with force. If he can play like this the rest of the way, he'll be a serviceable MLB.
Kwon: Still flies all over the field. Got a nice TFL on a misdirection toss that he diagnosed and crushed quickly. Finished with seven tackles, but seemed like he could have had 15, on ones he over ran or just missed. Love the speed and aggressiveness, but needs to play a little more under control.
Louis: Saw him out there a couple of times, but never really did anything noteworthy.
Debo: Kid is so damn fast. Brought him off the edge on a blitz and he nearly gets a sack on a PA pass, but Murphy is able to sneak away.
Mills: Continued to slot down to nickel in that package, but starter outside in base. He's such a tough, aggressive player. I love watching him in run support. Effective blitzer. Got the late sack on Murphy.
White: The passing game was so quiet, hard to know how well these guys played in coverage. He was beat on a play where Murphy over threw Dunbar to his right. Sat on a route in zone and should have had a pick, but he dropped it. Still loves coming up and making a tackle, which I think is the main reason he's earned the starting gig.
Robinson: Got blocked on a swing screen. Had really nice coverage to limit a pass to short yardage on a 3rd and 13. Really nothing else of note.
Loston: Thought he played pretty well. Didn't look banged up out there. Made a couple of nice tackles, and drove on an underneath pass route that wound up incomplete. Even if completed, wouldn't have gone for much. Looked to be more vocal out there than previous weeks. Danielson commented sometime late that against Georgia there were a lot of busts and today, no busts, on a play after Loston read and broke it up. Seems like we're making strides.
Thompson: Started opposite of Loston. Missed two tackles early on then stumbled in coverage on a ball completed underneath him. I didn't see anything dynamic from him, but he looked like a sound tackler. Clearly the staff knows what they are doing, but I thought Martin had made big strides in recent weeks and was coming on as a player. I guess they prefer Thompson's tackling.
Eugene: When they put him in the right spots, he excels. He's a great blitzer. Got a sack on a complete bust by UF OL. Nearly got another later, but Murphy escape and then the very next play he forced a quick throw from Murphy that was incomplete. UF had no real answer when we brought him outside.
Keehn: Shanked one, otherwise a solid day.
Dela: Keeps on nailing them.
Beckham: Quiet day returning. Only got two kicks back all game.
Side note, but am I the only one that is supremely enjoying the way our coverage team responds to, "Bitch, I'm from Louisiana" pumping through the stadium? I get the purist, only play the band folks, but that's kinda fun, right?