Well, it could be said LSU has finally had a statement game. Is everything hunky-dory? Is this team ready for the closing stretch?
I've kind of made a theme of my writing to this point in the season that this is not a great team, but it's the sort of team that could BECOME great if it improves. The weapons are there. Brandon Lafell and Terrance Toliver are as good a 1-2 combination at wide receiver as there is in the conference. Charles Scott has shown he can be a great power back if given the holes. Keiland Williams makes plays from time to time. Richard Dickson is steady as they come. Reuben Randle and Russell Shepard have the potential to be game breakers, as we saw from both of them last night. The defense has been rock-solid in every game except the Washington game.
The problems have always been Jordan Jefferson not being a polished enough quarterbacks (holding the ball too long, dropping back too far, not stepping up into the pocket, etc.) and a suspect offensive line that has not been able to open holes for the running game. Well last night Jefferson appeared to take a big step up. I think "great" would be a hyperbolic description, but I have no problem with "very good." He still took a couple sacks and got a grounding penalty (essentially another sack), but he didn't retreat from the pocket. He ran well when given the chance. He made some nice throws, both short and long. His stats were good, and would have been better if not for a couple of drops. Even some of the incompletions were thrown well, such as the pass to Toliver on 3rd and 22 that the defender broke up at the last moment. That was a good throw, just a better play by the defender.
If Jefferson's game last night signals a marked, sustainable improvement in his play that will continue into the remainder of the season, we will be a good football team. Now if the offensive line can start opening some holes for the runners, we will be very difficult for anyone to beat. We've beaten this particular drum before, but we still control our destiny in the SEC. We even control our destiny for the national championship. And while we have reason to believe we are improving, Bama is looking beatable. They weren't looking beatable a couple weeks ago.
Last night was definitely an encouraging sign, but just like we don't want to get too down when the team is showing flaws, we don't want to get too up when the team looks good. We had a very good game, but now we need to sustain it and build upon it.
This is part of why I don't always buy into the notion that certain games become "season-in-the-balance" situations -- remember when the Georgia game was going to be do-or-die a month ago? Two weeks later it was as if that win had never happened.
LSU played one of its best games of the season, no doubt, but that improvement HAS to continue for this week to have really been meaningful. On the one hand, execution absolutely improved, and there were some changes -- such as getting Russell Shepard much more involved and giving him some of Trindon Holiday's touches. But (and I'd like to watch the game again to study this a little more) I'm still not sure Gary Crowton's play-calling is doing Jordan Jefferson any favors. This team still doesn't have a lot of commitment to the run, and while I'm not sure this team is ready to become a 250-yards-per game behemoth, it's more effective then it's getting credit for right now. Learn to lean on the I-formation a little more, not just for the power running game, but also that Jefferson is throwing out of some other formation besides the shotgun. Predictability may not kill this offense against Auburn, but I'm not so sure against Alabama and Ole Miss.
But give the coaches and players a lot of credit for improved execution. The zone-blocking out of the spread is getting better, but those runs work better with Keiland Williams and Shepard then Charles Scott. The option remains a disaster -- Jefferson just isn't an option quarterback. He has a lot of skills, but running the option just isn't one of them. The defense took it to Chris Todd and Auburn, and John Chavis is earning his salary for his linebacker coaching alone. Harry Coleman, Kelvin Sheppard and Perry Riley may be the three most improved players on this team. And, once again, an opponent refused to put the ball anywhere near Patrick Peterson. It's getting to the point where I can't wait to see the next QB dumb enough to test him.
LSU is 4-1 in league play now, meaning they're going to at least finish .500 in conference, and (baring a total disaster) probably at least 9-3 in the regular season. That represents improvement on last season. The question now becomes whether that improvement continues.
I think we've all been sounding the same horn - this team needs to improve if it is to win the SEC, but we're happy this team is still in position to win the SEC. We've tried to balance criticism without some of the relentless negativity that has infected both the fanbase and the LSU media.
So what is the big story on the message boards and newspapers? LSU's offense finally showing some of that potential? The defense becoming one of the best units in the country? Thoroughly destroying a hated rival?
Nope. The overarching theme was that our fans suck for not being loud enough and not staying to the end. It's like we're scraping the bottom of the barrel for stuff to complain about. Just stop it, people. If you look for negativity, chances are real good you will find it. We don't have to be Little Mary Sunshine, but come on. This was a good win.
But the key is that this is an improvement, not an arrival. LSU still needs to improve to beat Bama and win the SEC. If this game is an aberration, then it doesn't mean much at all. If it is a springboard to a more potent offense in the second half of the season, then it is a huge game. We'll know if this was a big game only in retrospect. We did know a loss would be crippling, but a win in this fashion just tantalizes us with the team's potential.
In two weeks, we find out if potential is realized or if it just stays potential.
Touching on Poseur's comments about the fans. A significant group of LSU fans seem to, for whatever reason, be split into two camps. One camp thinks things are great. The other thinks things are great and success is an illusion soon to be shattered. The problem is that whenever ANYTHING happens, one side sees it as a victory for its viewpoint and attacks the other side. Whenever the opposite thing happens, the opposite side uses it as an excuse to attack the first side.
I think everyone here at ATVS takes a more cautious approach. Things are never as bad as they seem if you're just looking at the negative. Things are never as good as they seem if you just look at the positives. Taking this game, for example, some people took the Auburn game as an excuse to "call out" the more pessimistic fans for, for example, calling for Jordan Jefferson to be benched, criticizing Les Miles or Gary Crowton, etc. Before that, the Florida game was a reason for people to call out others for being "blind to the problems." We here (and I hope ours is more of a majority view) love the win and think we played great, but as you guys have pointed out, we need to show it's a leap forward rather than just the team playing at the highest level of its normal variance.
I would want to just tell everyone to chill out a little bit. Not much, mind you, because college sports are supposed to be highly emotionally charged, and you have to take the bad with the good when it comes to being highly emotionally charged. Every team has its strengths. Every team has its weaknesses. There's not one team in the country that looks flawless. Bama sure looked flawless for a little while, but then their quarterback went cold and now they can't score touchdowns. Tennessee, who lost to the Auburn team we just throttled, nearly beat them.
So let's give credit where it's due, and point out the flaws where we see them. There's nothing wrong with criticizing, but it has to be tempered with the acknowledgement that weakness could become strengths. Strengths could become weaknesses. The flaws this team showed early in the season don't mean we're doomed to lose multiple games in the second half. Then again, there's no guarantee we won't. Lay off each other because no one knows for sure what will happen.
What would you like to see this Saturday versus Tulane?
A win. That's it.
I don't need to see fireworks and I don't need to see new wrinkles. I just want a quiet and uneventful win that serves as a nice appetizer for Bama.
It sure would be great to see LSU pound the living hell out of a school like Tulane the way they're supposed to. We've seen some comfortable wins this year against teams everybody knew weren't that good, but not that pillar-to-post, get-the-number-two's-in-the-second-half-type of butt-kicking. It'd also be nice to see Crowton just try to line up and grind another team beneath Charles Scott's hooves. LSU's inside running game has slowly been improving, and if there was more of a commitment to that instead of the totally ineffective option game, I think it would help make this offense more dangerous.
Other than that, I'm with Poseur. Victory, continued improvement and no injuries.