Before I get into the miasma, let's acknowledge some things out of the gate.
1) Auburn clearly outplayed us.
I've watched the game probably two or three times now. Cam Newton was far and away the best player on the field Saturday and it wasn't particularly close. Nick Fairley may have been 2nd best. They dominated our defensive line. They crushed our offensive line. Auburn played better. End of story.
2) The defensive scheme wasn't dreadful.
I've seen some critique Chavis for installing a "poor scheme." As Billy wrote, Auburn is very difficult to defend. Take some time to read about the spread option and you'll see that there's no definitive "scheme" to doing it. The best approach is just to play sound defense: run, fill, tackle. The basics. We didn't do the basics. On only one play all day did I feel like we weren't in position to make a play... we ran a man coverage scheme on 2nd and 8. We guessed. They guessed. They guessed right and hit us with a draw that went for 29 yards and no one was in sight until 15 yards down the field.
3) The offense was better with JJ at the helm.
Basically, if you take all the arguments message boards have used to cite why Lee should start and flipped them around, they supported JJ this week. I'm not saying he played great... maybe not even well... but the offense was surely better under his control. The gameplan itself wasn't bad either. However, some of the play calling decisions were... questionable... at best.
All that being said, let's jump in and see if I can try and put a finger on a difficult game. All in all, if Patrick Peterson is Zod, Cameron Newton must be this guy:
Animated Drive Chart brought to you by Gameday Depot.
It's tough to balance how to write about losses. Personally, I hate when a fan base derides the winning team by taking full credit for a loss. Sometimes, you just get out played. Saturday, we got outplayed. Auburn was just better. They tackled better. They ran better. They threw better. The only thing they didn't do better was kick (we have two bad ass punters and a bad ass FG kicker).
That being said, this is an LSU blog, and no one wants to read 1,500 words of drivel about how amazing Auburn was (here is my semi-bold, maybe not so bold, prediction: If Auburn doesn't have a let down game, they won't be beat). So let's get into how LSU actually played.
Offensively it started out not so bad. We actually took it straight to their supposedly stout run defense in the first half, and racked up over 160 yards (yeah, not amazing, but not exactly the death trap people portray it to be). We experienced a load of success with Jefferson on roll outs, read options, and midline veer runs. Yet, we killed the first drive when we decided after crossing the 50 that we should make JJ throw from the pocket. The results were disastrous. One horribly thrown ball was nearly picked and a second, slightly less horrible, but still horrible nonetheless, throw bounced off Randle's hands for our only turnover of the game. JJ's propensity for turnovers this year is remarkably troubling. Even more troubling were his misreads on the midline veer, not knowing when to give and when to keep.
2nd drive, we saw the same pattern. Run it right at them with tremendous success. And then... make JJ throw from the pocket. Drive stalls and we get a field goal.
Lee's first drive was nothing to call home about either. It started out okay enough, even if his throws weren't terribly accurate (complete, but not accurate... I expect this from JJ, not Lee). He misread a zone read play with Murphy. On 2nd and 11, with no pressure to speak of, Lee abandoned the pocket and rolled right... he then threw back across his body to DLO on a pass that should have been caught but wasn't well thrown. Incomplete. Next play, sack. Why does he bail like that? It wasn't even a pocket really... so much as a wall. If he had slide stepped right and up, he would have had all day to throw and maybe find a guy downfield. Instead he rolled out, which is not where he's at his best. On a previous completion to Toliver he threw off his back foot and the ball sailed high and TT came down with it. Pressure was coming, but it was nothing a slide step right and up wouldn't have gotten away from. If he does that, he can step in and deliver a good ball. This is my biggest complaint/frustration with Lee.
And then... the 2nd half started. The offensive line melted down. Fairley brought his lunch pail on Saturday. Hard to play offense when Auburn is basically setting up in your backfield. Fairley had some not too flattering remarks about our team following the game. But I won't do him the justice of linking, bastard (BTW, screw that guy for getting two cheapies on JJ and no calls. Bad officiating). It's really hard to say what the gameplan was in the 2nd half. When you have back-to-back-to-back three and outs, it's impossible to determine anything. Our first drive was killed by a low snap/fumble by JJ. Another drive was killed by a Lee fumbled snap. Agonizing to watch.
When you throw in Terrance Toliver's poor day (dropped a sure TD from JJ), dropped a sure 1st down on the final drive... a lack of touches for our offenses best player... and our regular absymal QB play you have the makings of one spectacular offensive meltdown. It was ugly, folks. Not a lot of good to talk about.
Defensively, like I said above, I think the scheme was sound. You can certainly argue for a different approach. I've seen some suggest "stacking the box" against this offense. You just can't do that. If anyone can find tape of people stacking the box against a 4 WR, single back look, I'll gladly eat crow.
Nevis was handled for most of the day, and he is the one who makes our defense go up front. They double, even triple teamed him. When he was able to get through, he typically missed. Our ends played undisciplined most of the day. Playing a team like Auburn that reads off the end all day means you need your ends to step up and make big plays. A player like Sam Montgomery could have changed the landscape of this game for us. Unfortunate Sam couldn't play. Newton gave and took reading the ends all day long and the bulk of their big plays came off inverted veer runs. We didn't always play it poorly, but we rarely played it great and typically didn't tackle well.We just sorta looked like we were on our heels all game.
The 4th and 6 was just a disastrous job by our coaches. I'd even rank it worse than either the Ole Miss or Tennessee game because WE CAME OUT OF A TIMEOUT. At least in those games time was pressing down on us and the pressure to do something fast was there. Here we had plenty of time to get the play we liked, the personnel we wanted and everything... and we did none of it. I'm not sure where the breakdown of communication is coming... but it has to be fixed immediately.
Overall though, I find most fault with the players, not the coaches. I don't think the offensive plan was brilliant, but it wasn't dreadful. Defensively, we just didn't execute. Special Teams were executed brilliantly. Bad line play likely cost us this game. I think Gary Danielson is generally pretty fair (even if Verne Lundquist is obnoxious as all hell), and if you re-listen to the commentary throughout the game he seemed very much to believe it had less to do with LSU's poor scheme than Auburn's great talent/play. He commended our defense routinely for the job they did the first three quarters, repeatedly comparing it to how Auburn put up 65 the previous week.
All that being said, if we tackle on Auburn's two big plays, we may win this game despite it all.
JJ: Costly turnover cost us 7 points at the beginning. Misread option plays a few times. Did some solid work with North/South running. Made a couple of great throws on the drive to close out the first half. Made a nice throw to get LSU into a manageable 3rd down try in the 2nd half. Seems to do better when he doesn't have to go through a progression. Did a good job of breaking the pocket and making Auburn pay with his feet. Looked lost at times... blowing a timeout due to confusion on the 1st drive and then nearly blowing the game-tying drive on the third down play which he scored.
Lee: Never looked right. Throws were consistently off. Bailed on plays too early or held on too long. Made bad zone reads to get Murphy stuff and Ford killed. Fumbled a snap. He looked hesitant and "guessy" all day. Had a chance to hit a big play if he steps into throw and lays it out there for Randle... instead throws it falling backward and it's nearly picked. I've remarked several times, but I don't think Lee should have gotten back into the game in the second half. I don't know the severity of his injury, but it was obvious he just wasn't with it, and with the way their DL handled our OL... we needed JJ's mobility to make plays out of things that weren't there.
Ridley: Had a few nice runs. Completely whiffed on a block on the first TD that nearly resulted in a half-ending tackle, but JJ broke free. Misused when asked to run wide toss plays. Get Ridley North/South... he doesn't have that outside burst. Let Ford/Shep handle those duties.
Ford: Nothing really.
Murph: Delivered one hell of a block on the sweep play to Shep. Wish we had a GIF of it. It was awesome.
Ware: Threw the TD to Randle on the trick play. Play was pretty well executed. The ball was underthrown, but Randle made a terrific play and just took it the rest of the way. Otherwise, quiet.
Stampley: Had a few tremendous blocks, on in particular freed Ridley up for an early 3rd down conversion. Just completely annihilated a LB on a kick out. Nothing else of note good or bad.
Toliver: Poor game. Drops. Confusion on the 4th and 6 disaster. Made a couple nice third down conversions, but generally, he's seen much better days.
Randle: Good game. Missed a block on a bubble screen to Shep that got shut down. Made a great catch on the HB Pass. Made a nice play to break up a poor deep throw from Lee.
Shep: Total mental lapse not being on the field for that last play, which was apparently a designed slant throw to him (he ran a go route). Otherwise, he played pretty well. He's eliminated the drops, so give him credit where credit is due. Shep can only do what he's asked. There were more than a few occasions where he should have been given the ball to carry but JJ kept. Miles and Crowton obviously believe Shep can only run on the perimeter, and I think that's unfortunate. Seeing him take a direct snap for even an off tackle run would be nice. He's tough. I've seen him take hits and not go down... he runs a lot harder than you might suspect.
DLO: Dropped what would have been a 1st down from Lee. Made a nice grab on a low, outside throw from JJ. His only catch of the day. JJ tried to get one near him deep once but it was batted away.
Clement/Joseph: Didn't see them too much. We didn't really give many power looks... we stayed spread out most of the day.
Barksdale: He handled his business, but I didn't notice anything particularly brilliant about his play.
Josh D: Boy, Josh has had better days. Fairley kind of wore him raw. I'm not sure I ever saw him get a "great" block all game.
PJ: Low snap to JJ should have been fielded, but needs to be snapped better. He did okay out there. Completely whiffed once (with Josh D) on an attempted double team of Fairley and JJ got killed. He cleared out the other DTs pretty well from what I saw.
T-Bob: Up and down game. Believe it or not, T-Bob threw some tremendous blocks out there. He hammered Fairley a couple times, but when an OL wins the impact isn't usually as big as when the DL wins. He absolutely obliterated Fairley on an option run in the 1st half, though. However, he also took it on the chin from Fairley on a few occasions. T-Bob has been criticized for a lack of strength, but from what I could tell, Fairley beat him with quickness.
Hurst: Only play I noticed him doing anything good or bad was an early run where he didn't get a good reach block on a sweep play and that allowed the DE to string the play out for another defender. He handled his business otherwise.
Nevis: Well, the Nevis we've come to expect in recent weeks was completely absent. Auburn just handled him all day. Not much else you could say. He still played with a load of effort. He even got around on a stunt to force a Cam Newton early throw. For the most part, he ended up on the ground or stalemated at the LOS.
Pep: Not much working. He had a chance on Newton in the backfield once... but let's be honest, how often is that going to happen?
Brockers: The more I see of this cat, the more I like. He played a good bit in the 2nd half, and his ability to anchor in the middle really gave the Auburn offense some issues. He could just swallow two blockers and stalemate them. Brockers is a big, strong dude. He should be starting, but I understand they like Pep as a leader out there. He's just an ox in the middle of the field. He also delivered the best hit on Cam Newton all day as Newton was going down and Brockers jumped in to finish him off after a short run.
Downs: Played some, but the results weren't good. This guy was very good late last year as a penetrator. He seems lost in the shuffle now.
Mingo: I think the idea of starting Mingo was better than the actuality. Ideally, he gives you that speed to close down on plays and chase things down. Unfortunately, as fast as he is, he's no match for Newton or their backs. Mingo flashed his athleticism a ton, but he's just not a disciplined enough defender at this stage of the game for this type of an offense. He also got swallowed up when they would block right at him. Finished with two tackles and credited with a QBH. Missed the sack on Newton by trying to tackle high... he goes for the legs and he gets his sack.
Edwards: He's our most disciplined run defending end and it showed Saturday. He played their veer play well and seemed to slow down the Auburn offense a little. That play is so hard to defend, and I'm still not sure what the best approach to teaching your ends on it is.
Adams: Had two chances to sack Newton and didn't make good on either (though he did enough the 2nd time for it to end up a gang sack). He seemed to alternate between crashing hard and playing contain on the veer and a couple of times did a nice job of flushing it back to the middle where all the defenders were. Okay game, but he didn't look as disciplined as Edwards.
Ag: Hardly saw him on the field.
Baker: He was probably our best defensive player on Saturday. Forced the fumble on Fannin on a marvelous play where he shucked a blocker and reached out and stripped it. Finished with 12 tackles, including bringing down Newton a handful of times. This may not be a popular statement, but Ryan Baker is probably the best LB on this team. No offense to KShepp, but his inability to get off blocks is somewhat of a liability to this defense.
KShepp: Okay game. Wasn't really an impact player. Got to Newton to finish off the lone sack. Saw him getting blocked up by WRs. I've expressed my concern with him getting off of blocks. Struggling against an OL is one thing (that's hard), but there's no reason a 6'3, 240 LB shouldn't be able to shuck a WR, and he struggled with it all day against Auburn. Did make a very nice tackle on Dyer. It's just frustrating to watch, because if he gets free, he can make plays, but he doesn't do much for us if he's blocked up.
Francois: Got beat to the edge once. Didn't play too much due to us playing mostly nickel all day. Credited with four tackles... I don't remember a single one of them.
Zod: Another day at the office. Missed a tackle on Dyer... I think he underestimated the kid's strength. No one throws at him anymore... too much risk. They tried once, into double coverage and it was knocked away by Taylor. Did work on returns to set us up with good field position all day. All for naught.
Mo: One of the few guys who actually tried to tackle Newton right and the 6'0, 177 pound corner brought him down twice, alone. God blocked up on the 70-yard TD run that sealed it for Auburn. He's got to get stronger and come off those blocks.
Brooks: Didn't do much defensively, but his superb STs play gets him a helmet sticker.
Mathieu: Got isolated on Darvin Adams in the slot and did a pretty great job with him in one on one coverage. He as in the hip pocket. If the throw was better, Adams probably would have had a TD, but it wasn't bad coverage at all. Made a great play blowing Kodi Burns up and throwing him back for a loss. Finished with 5 tackles.
BT15: Some question why we play him 10-15 yards deep. His speed allows us to. Taylor can sit back at that depth, which gives us cushion in pass defense and he has the speed to come crashing down hill and shore up the run game. He made an excellent play in deep coverage knocking away a pass. Took a bad angle and whiffed on the 70-yard TD run... costly. Saw him crash hard on more than a few plays and make nice stops.
Hatcher: Eeek. He made one outstanding tackle on Michael Dyer. Otherwise, he looked lost all day. He slipped and fell down on Dyer's 29 yard run when we had them at 2nd and 16. If he makes that tackle, that has a great chance for a 3 and out. Instead, Newton ran the ball 49 yards for six just a couple plays later. He HAS to keep his feet there. Got burned early walking up to bolster in run support... Dyer ripped one down the sidelines and got by him. Not a great day. Got destroyed by their FB on one run play.
Loston: Played a bit for Hatcher... didn't notice anything spectacular. Made a couple of nice stops.