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Not Quite Initial Impressions: LSU v Tennessee

Well, um, yeah.

True story: when LSU got the ball back, down 4 and ready to start what would turn out to be the game-winning drive, Mrs. Poseur turned to me and actually tempted fate by saying, "well, at least people can't blame Les Miles for this one."

I think that's a good point of perspective before we talk about the final minute of the game, which might have been the craziest LSU game I've ever seen, and let's face it, there's some stiff competition recently.  Les Miles actually was doing a very good job for 59 minutes.  For all of you yardage zealots out there, LSU outgained Tennessee 434 to 217.  So, honestly, if you've been one of those people talking about how lucky LSU has been based on yardage stats and now you're claiming LSU was lucky in this game: shut the fuck up.  By your stated argument, LSU was unlucky to even be in a close game, much less trailing.   

OK, about the last minute.  It was about as awful as one can imagine.  Les Miles' clock management decisions appear to have not improved one bit.  Even before the final sequence, Jarrett Lee wasted the team's final timeout AFTER HE HAD ALREADY TAKEN A DELAY OF GAME PENALTY.  I mean, my God. WTF?  It's important to remember that LSU's goal line difficulties were caused by wasting a timeout when the clock was stopped.   

Honestly, I liked the first play.  Lee called a play action, Tennessee wasn't fooled, so Lee threw it out of the back of the end zone.  It stopped the clock, allowed LSU to huddle up and draw up any play in the playbook, and only cost us a down.  Then, the insanity started.

The Crowton/Miles brain trust decided this was the perfect time to take Lee out and put Jordan Jefferson in. OK, I understand putting Jefferson as the "running QB", but Lee was moving the ball down the field and actually making good decisions (timeout aside).  And while Lee isn't a gifted runner, he can QB sneak it two yards.  We'll call this Mistake #1. 

Also, bringing out the running QB sort of tipped our hand.  Gee, I wonder what play we're gonna run?  Back to one of my earlier comments, if I know, the opposing teams knows.  Tennessee strung out and easily stopped the QB draw.  Now, calling a run play in and of itself wasn't a bad idea.  There were 30 seconds left.  The problem was twofold: ONE, Planting a sign that essentially said "WE ARE THE RUNNING THE BALL" and TWO, Not having a second play called if the run failed to score.  We'll call those Mistake #2 and #3. 

Had LSU just gotten up after second down and run their next play, or even spiked the ball, none of these goal line mistakes would have mattered.  the mismanagement would have been irritating, but not the difference.  Then came Mistake #4, the coup de grace.  Someone decided it would be a good idea to change personnel.  Confusion reigned, there was no sense of urgency, and we were eventually bailed out by even greater confusion on the Vols sideline.  So, thanks for that. 

It was a mistake-filled comedy of errors that by all rights should have cost LSU the game.  Luckily, the Vols were even more confused and put 13 men on the field.  Stevan Ridley then came out and won the game because, well, he's a total bad ass and Ray Lewis himself wouldn't have kept Ridley out of the end zone on that play.  But, let's be honest, there was no excuse for that final minute. None.  It was embarrassing and just mistake after mistake. 

But, after the break, let's look at the good things in this game, which were most of the other other 59 minutes.  I feel like we're all complaining about the lousy dessert, when the meal was pretty darn good.

First and foremost, this team has heart.  I'm a stats guy, and I'm supposed to derisively snort when people bring up heart and especially intangibles.  But this team made big play after big play on the final drive, including a fourth and forever.  Everybody stepped up and even more, it seemed almost everyone wanted the ball.  Terrance Tolliver played like a senior on that last drive, making two of the biggest catches of his career. 

But even before the final drive, this team turned the ball over four times in the game.  Know how many points Tennessee scored off of LSU turnovers?  Zero.  The team responded every time the ball rang.  You can question a lot of things about this team, but you can't question its heart. 

Secondly, Miles did a great job, yes a great job, handing this team over to Lee without destroying Jefferson.  Make no mistake, this was a benching that wasn't meant to feel like a benching.  Jefferson is now our, and I know this is the incorrect usage of the term, our wildcat QB.  Jefferson will come in for obvious running situations, and Lee is our "passing QB".  But Miles deserves a lot of credit for easing Lee into the game while still protecting Jefferson's fragile ego.  Hey, you aren't the starter anymore, but you're still a valuable part of the team.

Take away Jefferson's 83 yard TD run on the first play of the game, JJ posted an ATVSQBPI of -1.21.  That is not a misprint.  Lee had a 5.31, which isn't great, but it's not bad.  And it's better than anything Jefferson has done since the UNC game.  Lee came into the game, gave the team a spark, and drove the team down the field for the game winning TD.

Yes, he had some rough moments.  He's not perfect.  His throw off his back foot was cringe inducing.  I thought the grounding call was poor, as Randle was in the area, but it is what it is.  He did deserve the illegal forward pass penalty, but it was on third and forever, so it was essentially meaningless.  Lee wasn't a savior, but he looked like a competent quarterback.

Paul's been complaining about the team's identity, but the team seemed to find themselves against Tennessee.  Robbed of big special teams play and the wonderful field position gifted by the defense, the offense actually showed up and pulled it's own weight.  Yes, they turned the ball over a ton, but they moved the ball.  And half of those turnovers were from Jefferson, who likely has lost his job. 

Lost in the bizarre final minute was the rest of the game.  The defense is still awesome.  And, the offense finally showed up.  The team showed it can score when Peterson gets bottled up.  And, maybe, just maybe, this team found its quarterback and its identity.  This was the best offensive performance of the season, and while the team needed a gift from the gods to win on Saturday, it bodes well going forward. 

Miles deserves a lot of criticism for the final minute of this game.  It was undeniably awful.  However, Mrs. Poseur was right, he was doing a good job for 59 minutes.  Tiger fans have been saying for the entire season, "if we only had a decent offense..."  Well, Tiger fans, it appears we may have one.  We'll find out next week.