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ATVS Roundtable: Week Five

**Things ran a bit long, but I think we can all agree there's a bit to talk about this week, no?**


Billy: Well gentlemen, was this rock bottom for Jordan Jefferson? Where does the offense go from here?






Paul: This is probable rock bottom for Jordan Jefferson. I can't imagine it being any worse, right? What's most unfortunate is that if it's not one thing, it's another for this offense. How does the landscape of this game shift if Toliver catches that first ball that ends up a pick? The offense was rolling at that point... JJ takes us down and scores on our first possession... you have to believe his confidence is looking up.

What I see in JJ is a kid who has lost his confidence. He's got the physical ability. He's played with success before. If you look back at 2008 highlights, you'll see a different QB. You'll see a kid who is just out there playing, fling it around, trying his best to make plays. Now he's indecisive. His shoulders slump on bad plays. He looks dejected on the sidelines. I even read one person (though didn't see it myself) say that they could see him mouth... "Why are they booing me?" I'm not sure I want to trot any player at any position out there that lacks confidence, particularly a QB.

Where do we go? Well, the easiest answer is to Lee, but I don't think that will solve anything (and I think people will figure that out really quickly). Lee is a different type of QB with a strong arm and lightning release. But he's prone to bad decisions that we've seen him make as recent as the Spring Game and as recent in real time against powerhouse La. Tech last year. People seem to have retrograde amnesia about the type of player he is the way they are clamoring for him now.

But as I said on Saturday night/Sunday morning - I don't blame Lee. I don't blame JJ. They haven't been properly taught how to play the position. It's akin to someone hiring me to repair their computer. I can probably run a couple of basic checks that the slightly above average user could manipulate. But for anything requiring any sort of extensive work and the person would be shit out of luck. Why? Not because I'm a moron (okay, debatable) and have never used a computer but because I haven't been properly taught how to handle such problems. This isn't high school. You can't win by being the biggest and the strongest. And at some point along the way both of these guys, who came in with a respectable talent level (both top 10, 4 star QBs) have completely regressed to the point of looking completely incapable.

Poseur: A lot of good points, Paul.

 First, if that's not rock bottom, it's hard to imagine what is. This game, in many ways, was even worse than Vanderbilt for JJ. The worst thing is that you are right, JJ looked poised and confident in that first possession. Then he throws a pick off of Toliver's hands and it just went to total shit. It was like he was putting on the facade of confidence, but he showed his true face at the first moment of adversity. It was a painfully depressing performance.

And I do think it comes down to confidence. I think you can read a lot of Miles/Crowton's moves in this context. JJ gives away his fragile psyche in his non-verbal cues and in his interviews (Seriously, when was the last time a player essentially pleaded with the fan base to be patient with him?  And then have that response be more booing?). The MSU game-plan was to protect JJ and rebuild his confidence. Keeping Lee on the bench is about JJ's confidence, because if he gets benched, that's it. I don't think the kid will ever recover, and more importantly, I think Miles and Crowton believe this. Going to Lee is a move that is a last resort because you won't be able to go back to JJ, and he is 4-0. Which explains why they are so cautious on pulling the trigger.

That said, it's time. JJ's confidence IS shot. Pulling him can't make it work. Playing Lee might even create a spark on the team, if just because it's the New Toy Syndrome. Lee's psyche is also a subject of much scrutiny as well. And how will he react to playing without a net? The coaches are treading very cautiously. 

PodKatt: It could only have been worse if he threw a pick-6. I was hoping for the kid, I really was. But everything just went wrong for him this week. the drops, the horrible play calling, his overthrowing. It just wasn't going to be his night.

Can he recover? Maybe. At this point I'd like to think switching to Lee could fix some of our offensive woes, but will it really? I have no reason to believe the play calling will get better with Lee in. You know, UCLA showed this weekend what can happen when an OC recognizes his teams strengths and plays to them, rather than try to force something that isn't there. Why can't we do that? WHY IN THE WORLD DO WE KEEP RUNNING THAT OPTION!? (/punches Jrlz's door)

Point is, when Lee goes in and doesn't light the world on fire (again, I am hoping he does) where will the mob turn it's ire to? Crowton for the play calling, Miles for not firing Crowton last year, and Gonzales for not doing whatever it is he is supposed to be doing (in the words of a commenter, this is the worst co-ordinated passing game I've ever seen.) And at that point, I'll be ready for anything. Wing-T or direct snaps to Zod or Russell Shepard? Why not, what could it hurt?

Billy: I think that's what scares me. Because I'm not sure this was rock bottom. I can envision the scenario, though I'm not sure I even want to spell it out right now.

The one thing that we're all agreeing on right now, is that the play calling is doing nobody any favors. And that's even more frustrating. Clearly the gameplan against Mississippi State was designed to manage Jefferson and boost his confidence. And I think it was working. But for a reason that couldn't make sense to me even if Crowton tried to explain, they went away from it last week. In the face of a run game that rated effective on 63-percent of carries, there was no reason to let Jefferson throw the ball 22 times. That doesn't excuse his ineffectiveness, but it just goes back to what I said Sunday about forcing a round peg into a square hole. Jefferson's not playing bad, it's compounded by ineffective play calling, and yeah, and then you have the Humanoids booing, just in case Jefferson was trying to shrug any of those problems off.

And that lack of confidence is why Lee has to get in this week. Nobody can know for sure if Lee is an upgrade or not (and I'm not getting into the "can't get worse" debate - you're going to have to trust me that it can), but it'd be better to find out at home than on the road at Florida or Auburn. But I'm with Poseur on the consequences. Jefferson needs to get another start, if only because completely yanking him from the lineup now would be a point of no return. If he has any confidence left, that would probably shatter it, and then you're sinking or swimming with Lee, and I don't think anybody wants to put that kind of pressure on the kid. But he still has to get in. Even if Jefferson starts out 10 for 10 for 150 yards and two touchdowns, Lee has to get in. You can balance getting both guys playing time, and you can bridge that towards one or the other cementing himself as the guy.  A rotation can work, if it's executed right, with the two might be able to calm each other down when the game gets hectic. But it'll have to be managed correctly.

But regardless of who is under center, somebody on this coaching staff has to commit this offense to the run game -- and I mean truly commit -- before the passing game will ever take off.

Billy: I think we all agree there's more to this offense's struggles than just the quarterback. So what else needs to happen?

Poseur: Well, the impact of the quarterback can't be understated. It's hard to game plan around a QB this ineffective. We're nearing on "other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" level of analysis.  

Obviously, the team needs to run the ball more. We've beat the drum on here, but I'd also like to see less designed quarterback runs and more runs to our running backs and Shep. Alfred Blue has done very little to impress me, and he's fumbled a lot, so I see no reason why Michael Ford is not getting at least some carries. I understand Ridley can't carry it on every play, but we have a lot of running backs to ease the workload. Use them.

Oh, and it would be nice if our receivers stopped dropping so many passes. Tolliver especially, who used to be a lot more sure-handed.  

Paul: Receivers gotta hit the jugs machine hard. Careless drops are killing me.

I second Poseur, Blue needs to ride the pine. Beyond the obvious fumbles, he sticks out like a sore thumb on blitz protection because he's done so miserably at it. I know Ware is dinged, but let's see Ford. I don't see how he can be any worse than Blue.

But more than any of that, the offense needs to be completely retooled. I just re-watched the game and for the 4th game in a row it became completely apparent that the zone running scheme is perfectly capable. We've run that now on 4 different teams with tremendous success. Make that your base. I don't care if it's predictable. I don't care if people think "a better defense will stop it." Prove it. Show me a defense will stop it before we just go on believing that. Look this defense is good enough that we aren't going to yield many points... 2 scores at most. They are going to put us in great field position. You don't have to be dynamite to score the football. Run the fuck out of the ball because what's a 1 yarder in the 1st quarter is a 5 yarder in the 4th quarter. After rewatching, I see that we tried to do some play-action passing, and JJ failed miserably at it. So maybe that's not a solution. And maybe that is why we should go to Lee (if you remember from 2008, play-action was one of Lee's strong suits).

In summary: dedicate to the run, and mind your details. Do the simple stuff right.

PodKatt: For one, these drops have got to be stopped. For JJ or JL to get into a rhythm and get confident, we are going to have to make sure every opportunity is taken advantage of. The WRs have in the past weeks owned up to the fact that the aren't exactly helping JJ look good out there, which is great. But it's about time we start actually catching the ball.

Agree on Blue, too many weapons for us to take a risk right now. He wants to earn our trust back? Fine, he can do it against McNeese or ULM in a few weeks.

Billy: Clearly we're all in agreement on the run game. And here's the thing -- it doesn't have to be boring. You don't have to go far to find teams that incorporate creative approaches to the running game. Hell, look at how West Virginia constantly kept Noel Devine and Jock Sanders involved in their run game through motion plays and fakes. Watch the way the Saints will construct a running game through formation and use of space. If you put Russell Shepard in motion behind some of these inside zone plays, linebackers and safeties would absolutely have to honor it. Can anybody tell me the last time Jefferson bootlegged off of a hand off? That's a little detail that is particularly frustrating when you have a mobile quarterback, because it's just another way to keep a defense honest.

You can use backs in different combination, such as Ridley and Ware in the fullback spot, or Shepard in the tailback spot in the I (not for the inside runs of course, but for the zone tosses and counters). I even think Blue can still have a role in this offense as an outside runner/all-purpose back. But he's definitely not giving you anything between the tackles, and he's a liability as a blocker right now. Somebody else needs to get some of those inside carries now, whether it's Ford or Ware (when healthy), if for no other reason than to spell Ridley. And this is nothing to speak of the Wildcat or other direct snap plays -- and there are at least two players on this roster that can run those besides Jefferson.

All of these things can help the passing game as well by keeping the quarterback in favorable down and distance, and just by making sure that defenses always have to account for it. Watch Alabama -- a major reason they're throwing the deep ball so well is because teams are almost always playing man coverage in order to account for the running game. And at this point, I don't think anybody would argue that anything that simplifies defenses for LSU's quarterbacks is a good thing.

That said, the receiver corps needs to step up as well. Jefferson might have thrown three to four good passes on Saturday, and two were dropped with one tipped into an interception by Terrance Toliver. That's simply unacceptable. But at the same time, that statement also makes you wonder if Lee would throw the better ball.

So do these struggles have any of you worried about Tennessee this week?

Paul: I watched Tennessee play against Florida and against Oregon. They are a pretty well coached bunch and I have a ton of respect for OC Jim Chaney. But in both games, after putting up solid 1st halves, they struggled to finish. Why? They just don't have the depth. Their defense wears down and the offenses then hit big plays on them.

Now, we've had our fair share of troubles getting established on offense. To me, this is a perfect week to exercise the ground and pound, wear them down strategy (I don't care if UAB threw for 400 yards on them). Just keep coming after them with the run game and by the 3rd and 4th quarter, those runs are going to turn into big gainers.

Secondly, in both the Florida and Oregon games, they had a tendency to beat themselves. Simms shows flashes and then follows it up with a boneheaded throw. I would not be surprised at all if we had a pick 6 this game. Chavis preys on QBs prone to mistakes (one reason I have confidence we can beat Arkansas), and Simms has shown a propensity for making mistakes. That being said, he's a competitor and he won't fold... he'll keep fighting, but I think the fact that there is a huge talent discrepancy and their tendency to make mistakes as well as this being a home game (Tennessee has yet to travel, as well) all bode extremely well in our favor.

Poseur: I always worry about Tennessee. Down year or not, UT has consistently beaten LSU throughout its history, to the tune of 20-7-3. I know history doesn't suit up and play a position, but LSU has a worse winning percentage all-time against Tennessee than against Alabama. Let's not pretend that this has been an even series, historically. We don't play often, but when we do, the Vols usually win. 

 Also, Tennessee has played teams tough in the first half and then fallen apart in the second.  LSU has usually dominated the first half and then putzed about in the second half. I'm not encouraged by those trends. Tennessee is a talented team that simply lacks depth. LSU needs to figure out a way to exploit that depth. I'm honestly more worried about this game than any previous game on our schedule.

I'm also worried that Miles and Crowton will continue to ignore the running game in this quixotic quest to establish a downfield passing game. I think it's time to cut bait with Jefferson (though I'd love to be wrong), and the coaches don't seem ready to do that. 

Billy: Until I see this offense hit the field determined to smack somebody in the mouth, I'm going to be worried. Like Poseur said, the Vols are, if nothing else, a team that will come out and compete. Let them hang around, and the negativity pulsing through that stadium will flow hard and fast and the offense will either start pressing, or completely lose confidence. And then UT has all the momentum. And that's not a good scenario.

But Tennessee's o-line is pretty weak right now and their special teams are really struggling, so the defense and our dear General Zod should have an opportunity to help the team get out in front again. That should at least give the offense a good opportunity to get the job done. The question is how Crowton and Miles handle it. You can let this team do what it does best (run the motherfucking football) and use that as the means to develop the passing game (around both quarterbacks), or continue to try and pound the round peg into the square hole. What they will do is anybody's guess...

PodKatt: I'm worried only in that I expect this weekend to be the same as the last few. I don't think we will really do anything on O to change or fix our problems, but because of UT's own problems we win by a TD, maybe 10 points. They'll hang around much longer than they should, but thanks to Zod and the rest, it's never really in doubt. 

I want us to be as dominate as it seems we can be in this game, I just don't see it happening. We will exit the weekend again without any sort of idea as to what this offense could be if we played to our strengths, and I'll spend the next 7 days in a nervous fit over Florida.