What does it say about LSU, that when covering a 34-point spread, there's still a healthy amount to talk about. And that none of the problems that we saw on Saturday involved the passing game?
- There aren't enough superlatives for the way Zach Mettenberger and the Tiger passing game executed on Saturday night. It was the best day we've seen out of this passing game since Jamarcus Russell was in town. Mettenberger was effortless in the pocket, making difficult throws look easy on a consistent basis and setting a school record with five touchdowns. The gameplan was relatively vanilla and seemed more focused on the running game. Execution through the air was so flawless that there wasn't much more needed.
- Holy crap was Mettenbeger's second touchdown pass a thing of beauty. An absolute laser beam right over the defense and plucked right out of the air by Odell Beckham Jr.. You could see Mettenberger checking through some plays more than a couple of times when he saw single coverage outside.
- For more on the passing game, allow me to take you to the 36 chambers of death...
- ODB was the Osiris of this receiving corps on the night. That was the best single game any LSU receiver not named Josh Reed has had in this era of LSU football. You saw the explosive speed, the quickness after the catch and the strong hands all on display. The key going forward is to maintain that concentration. Beckham has some huge hands and really does snatch the ball out of the air, and if he can do that on a consistent basis he will be difficult for every defense to handle.
- The missed kick -- more on coaching in a minute, but you could completely tell UAB's kick team had never practiced having a miss returned (and to be fair, why would they? I mean how often does that EVER happen?). When ODB left the endzone, he went to his right immediately and the ENTIRE kick team all took a dead bee-line straight for him. He cut to his left a good 20-30 yards before any defender was even close and you could immediately see that he'd have a pretty good shot at a score. It really was a great lesson in the importance of holding coverage lanes.
- One drop for Jarvis Landry, but still some remarkable consistency, and another highlight catch in the endzone.
- And yet...the running game was still unimpressive. This makes two weeks in a row that LSU just hasn't really been able to consistently push an opponent around, and that's one thing against TCU. UAB was a team the Tigers should have been able to push around much more consistently. I'll be interested to see how the success rates turn out for this game, because a few nice runs really overshadowed a lack of down-in and down-out success.
- What's disturbing about that is that LSU stayed in 21 and 22 personnel for most of the night and really seemed committed to the running game. A number of the passes appeared to be checks ta the line of scrimmage. You could see there was a definite effort to focus on the interior game, as playcalling was relatively vanilla.
- That said, 152 yards and 4.5 to carry are not so bad as to think this aspect can't improve as the year goes on. But the defenses are going to get tougher as well.
- And while the line isn't exactly getting great push up front, Mettenberger had time to make himself a sandwich on some of those pass plays.
- On to the defense. Look, this game was 28-0 before UAB could even break the 10-yard mark in total offense, so concentration was clearly a factor in some way. But that doesn't change the fact that LSU's back seven really struggled. The defensive line was relatively active and got its share of pressure without much blitzing, but the linebackers and defensive backs consistently struggled to come off blocks, take proper angles and tackle. The crazy thing is that once things should have become one-dimensional for UAB the Blazers kept running the ball and still had a moderate level of success. Of the 177 yards that UAB gained in the second quarter, 63 came on the ground. And even in the second half, with the game clearly out of reach, the Blazers kept using draws and sweeps to avoid the Tiger d-line and attack the linebackers.
- D.J. Welter is going to be the fans' goat for a lot of the linebacker struggles. Make no mistake, he was pretty brutal out there. But nobody else was much better. Lamin Barrow, Lamar Louis, Tahj Jones, Kendell Beckwith and Kwon Alexander all struggled at times. Struggling to come off blocks and make tackles versus the run and generally looking lost in the passing game. Louis and Barrow managed to make 7 tackles each in pursuit, but it was a lot of downfield tackles after giving up yardage via run or pass. Look for this lineup to shuffle some the next few weeks. They have got to be ready for Todd Gurley on Sept. 28.
- They didn't get much help from the safeties. Craig Loston was caught flat-footed on a couple of runs early before going to the sideline with an injury (allegedly not serious) -- something that tends to happen to him too often. Even last year. Ronald Martin was particularly bad as well, and missed a couple of one-on-one tackles.
- Jalen Mills gave up a couple of chippy completions, and while he was burned on the long touchdown to Jamarcus Nelson, a lot of that had to do with a really good throw from Austin Brown.
- Despite these problems, it's worth noting that UAB only converted 5-16 third downs, an improvement over TCU's 7-13.
- On a coaching note, how did Garrick McGee look his players in the eyes at halftime? I know that realistically, you have to save your team a bit for your conference games and LSU had a very big lead. But you've managed to score 14 points relatively quickly in the second quarter and your team's now inside the 10. To me, kicking that field goal was a clear sign of surrender. You know you can't win, so let's just take something that makes it respectable. Have some guts and go for the touchdown man. UAB could've made this game 35-21 at the half.
- Poor Dwayne Thomas probably dropped the easiest interception he's ever going to get in the first quarter. Poor freshmen almost looked stunned that the ball was literally thrown right at him.
- Methinks Quentin Thomas learned a bit from his failed fumble recovery in the first game, yes?
- More freshmen on the field: Tre'davious White was relatively solid in his first significant action at corner; Jeryl Brazil with a couple of carries at running back -- hopefully there will be some more wrinkles there so the plays are a little less telegraphed; Lewis Neal and Tashawn Bower with some garbage-time snaps on the d-line; Anthony Jennings with a couple of plays and a completion to Quantavius Leslie; and in a surprise, Rashard Robinson with some fourth-quarter snaps despite just about two weeks of practice. You have to think he's a guy the staff wants to use a lot this season if he's out there now.
- Anybody else really excited to see Penn Wagers out there? Should mean we don't see him again for a while, right?
Overall, the takeaways are positive. LSU improved in some ways but is far from a finished product -- which is exactly what you'd expect two weeks in. The more important thing is that the Tigers dispatched UAB in a fairly order and dispassionate manner, and did it with no significant injuries.
The passing game is clearly ahead of schedule, but the running game and defense aren't where they need to be yet. The former is a surprise but the latter was somewhat expected, although most of us figured the linebackers would do much better while the line and secondary took time to gel. There's another non-conference cupcake coming to town next weekend before conference play, which means there's one last chance to work on the rough spots before the bright lights really come on.