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Penn State 19 - LSU 17: It Started Out Like the Florida Game, Ended Up Like the Ole Miss Game

Say goodbye to the 2009 season for LSU.  It is over, and I feel like it never really began. 

It just seems like this team never rounded into mid-season form.  It looked like we were playing the college equivalent of NFL preseason exhibition games all season.  By this I mean we seemed to be forever trying to figure out how to get lined up properly, how to get playcalls in, how to get the snap off, how to get our personnel to mesh, etc.

I hate to use this term pejoratively, but the 2009 LSU football team looked amateurish.  I don't mean this as a knock against the players, and in particular I do not mean it as a knock against the seniors.  If there is one man who looked nothing like an amateur all season, it was Brandon Lafell.  Yesterday he again did not look like an amateur, and he will make a fine pro.

Yesterday's game was a microcosm of the season.  The offense spent long stretches being completely ineffective.  At one point I commented that the LSU offensive yardage when Brandon Lafell made a great play was 54 yards, and when he did not make a great play, it was 15 yards.  That was 15 yards in about 15 plays.  The offensive line reverted back to its mid-season form of completely failing to open up holes for the running backs.  Jordan Jefferson's throws were not bad, but were just off-target enough to be difficult for receivers to handle on slick turf with a wet ball.  And when Jefferson delivered a long strike to Terrance Toliver and a second to Rueben Randle, they dropped sure touchdown passes.

An offense I was hoping would be able to show competence in something (anything) did nothing right in the first half.  Meanwhile the defense was doing pretty much the same thing it did all season:  allow several long drives that consume time but only end up with field goals, keeping the team in the game.  It was the Florida game all over again.

The second half was a different story.  After a couple of wasted possessions, including a nearly disastrous turnover that would have clinched the game for Penn State had they been able to convert it to a touchdown from the LSU 22 yard line (but were fortunately held to a field goal), the LSU offense suddenly came alive.  On two straight possessions, we scored touchdowns on impressive looking drives and took the lead 17-16.

Again, the defense gave up a long, time-consuming drive towards the end of the game, allowing Penn State to convert two 3rd downs of 3 and 4 yards and eating up about 6 minutes of the play clock, but again holding Penn State to a field goal.  But this time it was a field goal to take the lead, giving us less than a minute to get into field goal territory to try a game-winner.

Like I said, it became the Ole Miss game.  Our final possession started out promisingly, with Trindon Holliday giving us a nice return to the 41 yard line with 48 seconds remaining. Having used two timeouts to save time on Penn State's final possession, and having wasted a timeout to challenge Stevan Ridley's fumble that was obviously called correctly, we were left with no timeouts. Had we been able to use all 3 of our timeouts on Penn State's last possession, we would have had about 1:25 or so.  Still, 48 seconds is time enough for about 7 plays if you hurry.  With the extremely sloppy field conditions, I estimate we would have needed to get to about the 20 yard line to have a real shot at a field goal, meaning we needed to get about 40 yards. 

On the first play, Jefferson scrambled out of pressure and got 10 yards and out of bounds, taking off 9 seconds.  It took more time than we would have liked, but it was a positive result. 

Then the time-management issues reared their heads again as Jefferson was called upon to throw an inside slip-screen to Brandon Lafell.  This play had worked well twice earlier in the game, each time netting a nice gain.  This time, Lafell found the middle of the field very crowded and was tackled in-bounds after a 4 yard gain, not close to a 1st down needed to stop the clock, and he never had a prayer of getting out of bounds. Enough electrons have given their lives on the internet to describe the sheer folly of this play call, and there is no need to rehash it here.

From that point, the disaster continued as offensive guard Lyle Hitt was called for a personal foul while trying to get a Penn State player off the pile so the refs could get the ball reset and we could continue the game.  The clock was running, and the Penn State player had wisely decided to take his time clearing the pile so the refs could re-set.  After the penalty was stepped off, putting us right back where the drive started, the clock started running again and our players were not in position to run the next play.  Several more seconds ran off the clock while our players got into proper formation and Jefferson waited several more after that to call for the snap.  The slip-screen started with 39 seconds on the clock, and we did not get the next snap off until the clock read :08.  Thirty-one seconds had run.  Jefferson threw an incomplete pass and we were left with 2 seconds on the clock and time to run one more play, needing 60 yards to get to the end zone.  A desperation hook and ladder to Rueben Randle did not succeed and the game ended.  48 seconds, 4 plays.

And Russell Shepard does not appear in the box score.

So, that game had it all:  incompetent offense, incomprehensible play calling, problems getting a play into the game at a crucial time, formation issues, long drives by the opposing team, dynamic players resting on the bench, and no blocking.  There's your 2009 LSU football team in a nutshell.

The only things different were the shamefully bad field and the Big 10 opponent.

To be precise, the end of the game was actually fundamentally different from the Ole Miss game in the details.  Against Ole Miss, the end of the game was marred by a combination of abysmal execution by the execution (poor blocking on the screen to Ridley leading to a 10 yard loss and a poor decision by Jefferson to scramble rather than throw the ball away, leading to another 10 yard loss) combined with an inexplicable passage of time before calling our final timeout ended the game without us running all the plays we could have.  This time, it was purely bad coaching decisions that robbed us of opportunities at the end of the game.  Whoever decided to call an inside screen simply set our team up for disaster.  If the play had worked, it would have been fine, but unlike a play to the sidelines or a play down the field (which would result in a stopped clock if they are unsuccessful), an inside screen in that situation is a catastophe if it fails. 

But in the sense that both games were marred by coaches and players being unable to get out of each other's way and the game ending with us having wasted precious time on poor coaching decisions, it was similar to the Ole Miss game.