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ATVS Midseason Roundtable: Six Games Down, Six More to Go

Billy: Well, football season is half over (sad-face), and LSU is 6-0. An offensive hodge-podge seems to be coming together in the form of a two-quarterback system, and now the Tigers finally get a lay-up this week against McNeese State. So what are you hoping to see?



Would you like a cupcake? Why thank you, that's a nice change of pace.


Poseur: A boring football game. It seems like every game has been an adventure, so I just want a nice, dull ass-kicking that no one has any real comments on. 

Paul: Is there any way we can get McNeese to maybe simulate the mobility of Cameron Newton for us? It'd be nice to have that look in this glorified scrimmage. There are actually a few things I'd like to see.

1) An impetus on developing a second rusher. Rest Ridley up. We're gonna need his legs next week. Give Ford lots of reps and see what you've got there. We need that change of pace guy from the running back position.
2) Would like to see an emphasis on getting Shep the ball more effectively. His role in this offense has dwindled recently (thanks in part to his shaky hands). But he's still an explosive playmaker that can take any play to the house. We need that dynamic.
3) Eliminate all penalties and costly mental mistakes.

Poseur: Oh, sure.  Be all serious. 

 I think the big idea is just to play a full 60 minutes of football with no mental mistakes. This team has made a habit of making things more difficult on itself. They let UNC and Florida up off the mat from double-digit deficits. They never put away WVU. They just played a listless first half against State and Vandy. This team just needs to focus on playing a full 60 minutes and not beat themselves.

I'd like to see the team focus on execution. How about we have a game with no pre-snap penalties on the offense? How about a game without an interception? Or even the defense can have a game in which they don't give up one inexplicably long, sustained drive? McNeese is a chance to do the little things right.  That is the thing holding the team back.

However, the team has improved almost every week. So there's no reason to think they cannot improve these little things.  After all, they are little things. 

Billy: McNeese State is an FCS team. LSU is a top-10 team. I'd like to see the top-10 team beat the FCS team the way it's supposed to.

So yeah, Poseur's right and that's probably not so exciting.

But in analysis mode, I'd like to see things like the turnovers and penalties tightened up. As much as you hate to say "treat this like a scrimmage," you'd like to see them continue to develop the passing game and see if there can be some kind of equilibrium to the quarterback rotation. Flexibility remains the key, but that also means getting out of the one series/one series rotation if Lee continues to play this well. Continue to work on the run game, but give Ridley the rest he needs. And special teams. It would be great to see another dominant special teams performance after a couple of hiccups the last two weeks.

PodKatt: Rest and relaxation. Sit Ridley early, even the QB's after the third. (Finally some playing time for Sal Aunese's kid) Maybe let Helton practice that toss again in case we need it later. 

What I really want is mistake free football, and of course no injuries. This season has a whole new meaning now. Thankfully we get a few evenly spaced breaks from here on out. We have to use the time productively.

Billy: So does Jarrett Lee need to move into the starting quarterback role, or should the offense stick with him in this sort of modified sixth-man role?

PodKatt: I think it's fine as it is now,possibly with just a nudge more towards Lee. What we are doing now is mostly working, so why try to fix it. I can agree with naming him the starter, but until one of them gets hurt, it's largely symbolic as it is right now.

Paul: I know we've been comfortable with Lee here, saying we like him in that sorta 6th man role, but I think after his sensational performance (last week he played pretty well, this week he kicked ass), he deserves to start. He deserves to get the bulk of the snaps. JJ should still play and be a threat both running and throwing. But the offense averaged 10.29 yards per play with Lee in the game. It was 4.6 with JJ at the helm. And Florida's offense may be young, but they are talented and have been very good thus far. And we marched it up and down on them all night long. I'd like to see Lee take the starter's reigns with a nice dose of JJ from here on out.

Poseur: Lee needs to be the starter sooner rather than later. He's been a very good quarterback in his part-time duty over the past two games. But that does not mean I advocate benching Jefferswag entirely. He has absolutely risen from the dead and become a downright competent quarterback in this system as well. While Lee should see the majority of snaps, the coaches have done a terrific job of easing Lee in while protecting Jefferson's fragile psyche and even getting him to play better. Jefferson hasn't responded well to pressure before, but he seems to have taken to the two-quarterback system, whether he likes it or not.

I think we're all still a little afraid of Lee as a full-time starter, as if we're waiting for the interception machine to rise from the dead. I think he's a different, more confident quarterback now. But the two QB system exists not just for Lee's benefit, but Jefferson's.  I'd like to see something closer to a 75/25 split of the snaps in Lee's favor. Keep Jefferson involved, especially in case Lee gets hurt, but slowly start turning the keys over to Lee. If nothing else, Tolliver and Peterson play much better with Lee in the game.

Billy: For the time being, I feel like the actual "starter" title is kind of irrelevant. If he's coming out within a series or two, it doesn't really matter. But I agree, it's time to let both players string a few series together, at least for this week against a team like McNeese, and see how it works going forward.

Right now, ironically, the biggest benefit I see to playing both guys is psychological. Usually with 2-QB rotations, both guys struggle to find a rhythm and wind up pressing to avoid any mistake, for fear of benching. Here, the opposite is happening -- both Jefferson and Lee are staying relatively dialed-in, loose and confident. Maybe it's knowing that even if they mess up they'll still get back in after another series. Maybe it's getting a different vantage point on the game from the sidelines. Maybe its the endorsement of teammates, or maybe its just maturity. But, I don't think the pluses of that confidence can be overstated. A big part of both players' struggles in the past has had to do with a lack of confidence.

Most importantly, it's important to stay flexible. Maintaining that rhythm, while keeping both players in the right state of mind, should be the priority. It will ensure that those two heads remain better than one.

Paul: I agree, the 2-QB thing has had the opposite effect of what I've seen play out in dozens of instances. Which is truly strange. Also, is Jarrett Lee a completely different player? The guy I remember in 2008 was erratic and turnover prone. Suddenly he's taking care of the football and doesn't seem to need 10-15 snaps to get into a groove as a passer. He used to be a rhythm passer. Now he comes in and he's just flinging it around at will. It's been impressive to see.

I think with a highly performing JJ our offense would perform at it's highest level, however, I'm not sure we're ever going to see him develop into a skilled enough passer for that. Lee is proving adept at not only energizing this passing game, but providing some emotional fire to this offense. He's thriving right now. I feared after the Tennessee game that the run game may not be as effective with Lee at the helm, but this game the run game performed better with him in there. He needs to see the bulk of the snaps. JJ doesn't need to be phased out, by any means. And I think the two-QB dynamic is particularly frustrating for defensive coordinators (these guys present two entirely different dynamics). But how long can we ride that dynamic? What happens when the offense completely sputters? Who do you count on then?

Billy: Which is why I think it's really important that the coaching staff not get so enamored with this passing success that they forget what this team still does best. Run the effin' football. Everything else can work off of that.

And I think that regardless of which way the rotation starts to move forward, it's important that both quarterbacks remain viable options. Both based on the history of the players, and as an injury contingency.

Billy: I think we can all agree that offensive improvement will be key down the stretch. What else, besides continued quarterback development, needs to happen for this offense to keep moving forward?

Paul: I still feel like we desperately need a back to complement Ridley. Just like the memory of Jarrett Lee throwing pick sixes in 2008 lingers in my brain, so too does Charles Scott struggling to pick up yards over the final six games. Chuck ran himself dead. Now, I think Ridley is a better athlete, who is in better shape to endure a season's load of carries, but can he keep taking this bruising every week (he's not exactly one to shy away from contact). Looking at the candidates, I think Ford is the best pure complement, due to his ability to get the ball outside.

Russell Shepard needs to be re-instituted as a weapon in this offense. It's nice to have him as a decoy that defenses have to honor (and that works to some extent), but we need him to be a playmaker too. I'm not sure what all this entails, and I felt we tried to force feed him the ball a bit much early in the season, but it would be nice to see an uptick in his production. Those little bubble screens are good plays for him.

Getting Mitch Joseph back will be a help too. Mitch was really playing well when he went down with injury. This guy is a tremendous blocker for us, and I think it will only help our overall offensive production.

Billy: I definitely agree on Shepard. No slot receiver in this offense is going to get the ball as much as often as you would like to see for a talent like him. At best, he maybe catches 3-5 passes. So he has to be involved in your running game as well. Plus that gives you added flexibility to use him as a decoy, which adds even more value.

I'll be interested to see how Ford and Ware develop going forward. Ford finally flashed the ability we all know he has on that 24-yard run last week, and Ware is showing some interesting versatility as a receiver. But no matter how much the passing game improves in these final six games, this team can't lose sight of the run game. Establishing the run and forcing defenses to honor it is the best way to maximize the effectiveness of the quarterbacks

Poseur: I agree with everything said about the run game, particularly finding somebody to take the pressure of Ridley. It doesn't even have to be one guy, I'm perfectly fine if it ends up being a rotation of Murphy, Ford and Ware. I'm taking the stance that if it works, it works. 

 But the one thing I want to see is actually something I touched on in the Game Thread. I'm sick of this offense forcing the ball to people to make sure everybody gets their touches or that there is proper balance. This means that if Russell Shepard is having a bad game, we shouldn't be forcing the ball to him just to make sure he gets his touches. We need a lot less advocating for INSERT PLAYER HERE and more advocating for the offense to function, period. 

Simply put, this offense needs to work. I don't care how. Just make it work. 

PodKatt: I'm with Poseur on not trying to force things too much. With somebody new having the drops seemingly each week, I think it's important we stay flexible in our game-plans. We have done this already to some extent, the best example being last week when we stuck with TT's hot hands.

In a perfect world, all of our star receivers would get get an even and plentiful amount of carries, but it's just not going to happen this year. Thankfully, they all seem to realize this and I doubt it will be much of an issue going forward. They'll all just have to make the most of their opportunities, i.e. stop the drops.

And ditto on finding a steady 2nd rusher. I can hope all I want, but Ridley is going to get hurt at some point, and having a proven understudy is going to make all the difference in the world going down the stretch.