LSU 37, TCU 27: Viewer's Guide to the Sunday Replay

This guy might just be on the cusp of something. - Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Every detail wasn’t pretty, but the big picture might be beautiful.

Like I said, we're used to odd openers here in the Les Miles, era, and 2013 did not disappoint. The Tigers de-horned the Frogs, 37-27, in a fashion that was beautiful and calculated, yet still very sloppy at times. In some ways, this one reminded me of LSU's 2010 opener with North Carolina. It all looked set for the Tigers to blow past TCU, only to things get nip-and-tuck due to some miscues. The key difference, and, in my opinion, the biggest takeaway from this game, was the close. In 2010, LSU had to hold on by their pinky fingers with a last-second goal-line stand. This time, the team dusted itself off and made the plays, tacking a much-needed extra touchdown, getting a big defensive stop and then grinding the last few first downs needed to close. All-in-all, it makes for an impressive win against a ranked opponent that may very well wind up the best team in the Big 12 this season.

Lots to like, lots to work on, and how the latter happens next week against UAB will be incredibly interesting to watch.

  • Of course we start with the headliner, Zach Mettenberger. When I saw that at the half he was 10-22, it felt like a typo, because he played much, much better than those numbers would indicate. The biggest and most important thing I can point to is how comfortable, confident and command he appeared. Never seemed rushed, even in third-and-long situations and under duress. He made good decisions, extended plays when necessary and found his second and third options against a complex, well-coached coverage scheme. Passes came out on time and the balls were placed exceptionally well for the most part. The last two throws to ODB and Juice were great examples of "throwing the receiver open." The former was stuck right on Beckham's back shoulder against tight inside coverage, and Landry's right on his hip and away from the DB.
  • Mettenberger completed 6-10 passes in the second half and finished the day 8-14 on third down, all conversions. If there's one glaring stat that stands out though, it's 1-8 in the red zone. But more on that later.
  • The playcalling was near exactly what I hoped for and expected. Nothing was re-invented really, and it could still be quite predictable at times. But there was, without a doubt, a sense of confidence and a lack of panic. As reader MikedeTiger noted, things didn't look belabored or strained. There was a lot of first-down running, and when that didn't exactly work the offense still found ways to get into manageable third downs, and when that didn't work, nobody blinked.
  • One huge positive that will likely be overlooked, is that with the conventional power game not working out of the I-formation, Cameron still found a way to get the running game going out of spread formations and with some misdirection plays like delays, draws, counters and traps. LSU managed 89 yards in the first half despite the bread-and-butter plays of the offense being fairly ineffective. Some of that appeared to come from some outstanding checks at the line by Mettenberger.
  • If we're nitpicking, I'd like to see perhaps a little more diversity in the passing game, with some misdirection and more work in the screen game, but that can come with more reps. Likewise, I'd like to see a little more of the zone running in the under-center looks. LSU had some success getting TCU's front on skates out of the gun. I bet they could've out of some Ace looks as well. The run plays also leaned heavily to the left side. That's not unexpected, but early on it appeared as though there was more success to be found on the right.
  • I loved the way the Tiger offensive line closed out things in the fourth quarter, but they had a rough first three quarters, specifically in the interior. Elliot Porter really struggled with TCU's Chucky Hunter, who was likely playing with an extra chip on his shoulder. There's not a lot of shame in that, and Hunter is a slightly different matchup than a lot of the DTs LSU will see the season: a sawed-off fire hydrant that has some natural leverage due to his diminutive stature. Still, a number of those blown-up running plays were due to Porter, Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander getting pushed back, and that can't happen often. The long runs really skewed the running stats, to be honest.
  • Credit the TCU front for being incredibly active against the run and blitzing the gaps almost constantly, but LSU's edge blocking from the fullbacks and tight ends was spotty as well. Chalk some of that up to the athletes TCU has at their strong and weak safety positions, but J.C. Copeland, Connor Neighbors and Dillon Gordon are all capable of doing a better job. Getting to the second level is going to be key for this running game.
  • If you want to see a great example of said blocking, Terrence Magee's 52-yarder. Porter was absolutely torpedoed, but La'El Collins had this man five yards down the field and Kadron Boone was absolutely man-handling the cornerback, which allowed Magee to immediately bounce the play wide and turn on the jets. Not perfectly blocked, but those efforts in the right places, plus having a more creative back like Magee, allowed that play to be explosive.
  • Speaking of the backs, interesting to see the staff lean early on Blue and Magee, with very little out of Kenny Hilliard (Jeremy Hill was never playing in this game), possibly due to the struggles out of the I-formation that we say. Blue seemed out of sorts early on, not driving his feet or falling forward, breaking no tackles. That devastating fumble seemed to wake him up though, and we saw those things in the fourth quarter. That needs to be a growth spurt, a la Stevan Ridley's huge fumble in the fourth quarter of the aforementioned UNC game. Magee offers a really interesting counterpunch to the other backs. He's less of the classic one-cut slasher and more of a true I-back. Shifty feet and creative in space, with the speed and the hands to be a factor on third down and in the passing game.
  • Jarvis Landry had his best game in purple & gold by doing the things that we always talk about from him. Not the biggest, not the fastest, but manages to play like he's both. Juice consistently got open and made huge catches (four for 57 yards and a touchdown on third down) despite defensive backs all but slapping Kimura locks on him. The comfort and chemistry between him and Mettenberger is obvious, and something that could be a lot of fun to watch this season.
  • Still a couple of drops out of Odell Beckham Jr., but overall a damn good opener. He made big plays, including the huge 26-yarder on 3rd and five in the fourth quarter. You can see that he has big, strong mitts and he can really snatch the ball out of the air, but that makes it more frustrating when he lets one or two get away. Fun fact, per a media source: Saturday marked the first time LSU's had two receivers go over 100 yards in a game since 2001.
  • In other receiving notes, lots of DeSean Smith on the field, which was a pleasant surprise and might've been somewhat due to Travis Dickson's injury. He needs to do a better job of really getting his hands out and attacking the ball on that dig route that he nearly caught for six. Likewise, Travin Dural has to hold on to those tight throws as well, even with the DB's hand in there.
  • Speaking of the red zone issues, it's important to note that LSU was still 6-6 on their appearances. But when you're handed the ball at the 10 like the Tigers were in the first quarter, you really can't afford to not cash that in for six. In some ways, some it were just hiccups like Dural's drop or obvious DPI that the officials missed on Landry. Some it was the inability of LSU to just blow TCU off the ball in the tight space, something that I'm sure the staff really wanted to focus on in week one. Some if it was a quality opponent. Some of it was playcalling -- I hate hate HAAAATE play-action passes out of goal-line sets on second down after a failed run on first. Defenses are almost always looking for the pass more in that situation, rendering the play-action potentially useless. If you're going to try that play, do it on first down. However, the reason this is such a pet-peeve is that, frankly you see it waaaay more often than you should in college and pro ball. Even from really great offensive minds.
  • If you are reading this and are a football official, I hope you took good notes on how poorly managed this game was. It felt like the referees were trying to let both teams play early on only to really lose a sense of flow. TCU's defensive backs were consistently hanging on the receivers, and their offensive line tackled better than LSU's defense. LSU's DBs had a similar latitude and I'm going to assume the offensive line got away with a few things as well, but it was a case of being far too lenient. And that's before I even talk about the end-of-the-half sequence.
  • To recap THAT piece of chaotic glory: LSU calls a timeout with three seconds on the playclock. The playclock is never reset, resulting in a delay of game penalty when LSU comes back out to try one last pass play before the field goal. Later in the sequence, La'El Collins loses his helmet on the play. In the final minute of a half, this is supposed to result in an automatic 10 second run off, unless the play itself stops the clock (it did, an incomplete pass) or said helmet removal was done by an opponent (which also happened here). Why the head referee decided to talk out of his ass and immediately end the half, I have no idea. He should have, at the very least, known that the incomplete pass meant no run-off, and he damn well should have consulted his crew to see how the helmet came off. Luckily this didn't cost LSU the three points, but it damn well contributed to more chippiness out of the TCU sideline. I can understand that mistakes happen, but this demonstrates a lack of  situational knowledge and a level of haste that just wasn't necessary.
  • And of course, somehow, it's going to be chalked up to Les Miles' clock management, even though, if anything, he managed things masterfully. A called run ran the clock down to 15 seconds on second down, allowing LSU to use its final timeout. Had said clusterfuck not happened (along with a false start penalty), LSU would've had time to throw one last pass in the endzone and then kick a field goal while eating the final three minutes of the half.
  • Defense: if you take the macro view, LSU played a fairly solid game. TCU gained just 259 yards on the day, with only two drives of longer than 40 yards. In fact, if you take out the easy 7 the Frogs got as a result of Blue's fumble, the offense only scored 13 points. But digging deeper exposed a couple of problems: TCU converted 7 of 13 third-downs, and once Travone Boykin moved the offense to more of a spread-option style the LSU linebackers and safeties were pretty brutal.
  • Bad tackles and brutally bad angles, with the linebackers in particular consistently getting caught in the wash by backs and receivers on wide runs. D.J. Welter is going to draw a lot of the fan ire, but Lamin Barrow wasn't much better. See also, Craig Loston's awful tackling technique on B.J. Catalon's 26-yard touchdown run. In fact the DB tackling could've been better overall. A lot of thrown shoulders and dives at feet instead of wrapping up. Micah Eugene in particular was guilty of this at times, even when it worked.
  • Individual performances that stood out: both Jalens did a fantastic job in coverage, especially in press, man-to-man. Jalen Mills' interception was Patrick Peterson-esque, and he led LSU in tackles to boot. Jalen Collins got caught peaking at the ball a little early on the long completion he allowed to Josh Doctson, and allowed the receiver to get a step. Still, he really pushed the his man around, and helped hold LaDarius Brown, probably the most talented target on TCU, without a catch.
  • Up front, Jordan Allen gave TCU some real hell despite finishing with all of one tackle. If not for a couple of well-timed bear hugs from the left tackle he probably finishes with a couple of sacks. Danielle Hunter also came through in the fourth quarter with a couple of big plays, including a big forced fumble that should've been recovered. Ego Ferguson was incredibly disruptive as well, though he did commit a completely stupid roughing the passer penalty.
  • Lots of veterans in the rotation, with Quentin Thomas and Justin Maclin seeing a lot of snaps while Christian LaCouture and Tashawn Bower weren't seen as much. The line seemed to tire at times, so I'm sure there will be more rotation coming. Kendell Beckwith also saw the field some as a third-down rush end. Ricky Jefferson, oddly enough, was not seen.
  • And again, even with these defensive issues, the Tigers still held the Frogs to a crucial field goal when they appeared to have all of the momentum going, and then forced a three-and-out on the next drive.
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