Maybe it's just the extra pub from Dandy Don graciously linking the game preview on Friday, but it almost feels like a lot of the words were taken to heart on Saturday (/pats self on back).
This game played out nearly exactly as I imagined it would have to for LSU to pull out the victory: run the football on offense; win the line of scrimmage on defense; manage mistakes and force them out of South Carolina; and force the Gamecock offense to make plays in the passing game from the pocket.
And I can't say enough about how proud I am of this team for gutting their way through that game. Right now every week is a one-game season for this team, while the younger players to gel and for the injured veterans to heal up.
- We'll start with the offensive line, a MASH unit of injured veterans with two second-year players and another that was playing high school ball last year. Credit the coaching staff for giving them quite a lot of help, which we'll discuss later, but these guys absolutely grinded this game out with a gutsy performance. It feels like bringing Josh Dworaczyk back to the starting lineup provided a spark, and the communication issues on the left side of the line were dramatically improved. I feel like there could be some correlation there. P.J. Lonergan, almost assuredly playing below 100-percent, pushed his way through this game with maybe his best performance of the season, and Vadal Alexander did a strong job of getting push in the running game. If I could lodge one complaint, it could be to cut out the ridiculous false-start penalties, which with this offense still struggling at times, can be drive-killers (although to be fair, a number of those came from tight ends).
- Saturday night was a testament to the fact that good playcalling isn't always about taking risks or trying to dial up the "perfect play." Or that creativity is about a revolutionary route combination or never-before-seen gadget play. It's about finding the best way to fit the strengths of your team to an opponent's weaknesses. LSU took this offense back to the Stone Age with a crushing running game, and used a variety of tactics to limit the impact of Sakerlina's fantastic defensive ends. Screens, inside running, misdirection and some dedicated protection schemes, especially involving the tight ends. On some of the passing plays, the tight ends were covered and ineligible to run a route even, and while that's restrictive, right now it's necessary.
- Because Zach Mettenberger continues to regress. There's no two-ways to put it, he struggled Saturday night and never really looked comfortable despite some of the best protection he's had this season. He missed Jarvis Landry on a corner route that could've set up a first-and-goal at the one right before Drew Alleman's missed field goal, and then badly air-mailed a fade route to
Dillon GordonNic Jacobs. Not that the play was a guaranteed touchdown anyway, but the throw was nowhere near anybody. Likewise, his interception was on a slant that was lead too far in front of the receiver, and the lone sack was held on to a beat too long. I don't know if it's a confidence problem or what, but at the rate he's going the playcalling is only going to dial back from the pass further at this rate. His mechanics and body language just don't seem to be dialed in, despite some early throws that should have put him in rhythm. That said, he's not afraid to take a lick, and did on one of those first-quarter screens.
- Speaking of those screens, loved the use of them early, and that's probably a play that should continue to get of use due to the fact that the top three backs on this team all catch the ball well. Note for the future: Terrance Magee saw a lot of time in the slot this weekend, and it might be a good idea to get him involved in the bubble-screen game.
- Give the wideouts a lot of credit for, by and large, improving on the dropped passes with the notable exception of Odell Beckham Jr.'s third-and-long duff. Granted the throw was much higher than it needed to be, but it still hit him in the hands. At the same time, what does it say about this position that for an endzone fade, LSU has to put in a
fourth-stringsecond-string tight end?
- It was very exciting to see Jeremy Hill step up on a night where Spencer Ware appeared to be slowed with injuries slightly, and Kenny Hilliard struggling. He gives this offense size with big-play speed, and he's picked up the offense very well with regards to passing-game responsibilities. A very natural runner, on a team of talented backs.
- Hilliard, at times, seemed to be pressing a bit and it cost him on a couple of plays where he tried to maybe cut back around when he was hemmed up and lost yardage in the process. This just isn't an offense that can afford those type of negative plays. Though history tells us he'll have his chances to redeem himself.
- I'm a fan of the Ware-at-quarterback wrinkle, especially in short-yardage sneak plays. Eventually, you can set that up for him to throw a quick pitch-out when the whole defense is pinching inside. And of course, it would be very nice to see some Wildcat sets, especially in the red zone.
- Great night from the defensive line, who, in addition to getting a good up-field push, stayed in their lanes and never really let Connor Shaw break containment to make many plays. It probably shouldn't have been a big shock that Sonic Sam Montgomery showed up big versus his home-state team. His two sacks each had great timing as well.
- Eric Reid redeemed himself well with his big interception and return (I have to admit, as he cut that return left all I could think was "please don't fumble, please don't fumble"), but had been very rough on the drive before. He was broken down one-on-one by Ace Sanders' 50-yard return, and completely whiffed on Marcus Lattimore's touchdown run with a chance to stop that play in the backfield. He needs to continue to improve that consistency, because this secondary needs somebody they can count on to make big plays.
- The great linebacker play continued, this time with the spotlight on Lamin Barrow, who had the best game of his career with 12 tackles and a tackle for loss. With the Gamecocks running so many zone plays out of the gun, Barrow did a great job of making the tackle at the point of attack while the defensive line set the edge.
- The defensive line performance looks much more impressive when you notice that they probably should've drawn another 30 yards or so in holding penalties. In general, this ref crew had a rough night, struggling to keep the game in any sort of flow and helping the Gamecocks get back in the game with that atrocious unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I will grant this: there was no reason for Craig Loston to even make the move on that wide receiver, who was clearly out of bounds with the ball nowhere near him. But the fact remains, he didn't hit the guy. And if SEC referees have been instructed to start judging intent, well, that's a pretty damn scary proposition, if you ask me.
- Last but not least, I would be remiss to not praise one of the best LSU crowds I've been a part of in the last few seasons. Tiger fans stayed loud and stayed in their seats for that entire game, with only one round of boos that I can remember, on a third-and-long running play. The frustration with the offense was evident at times, and that much is understandable. But LSU fans were there to lift up their team when they needed it, and loud when South Carolina had the ball, and that makes me damn proud.