Apologies for the lateness of this. After a loss like that, New Year's festivities become the best way to forget about the game, which turns into a rough morning and a craving for lunch. And here we are.
Don't get me wrong, I love writing about football. I'd love to be able to do it full-time and on my own terms. But man, it is not fun writing about a loss like this. Just frustrating. This game was there for LSU to take. When Jeremy Hill went 57 yards for that touchdown in the third quarter, I fully expected LSU to take over and close the game out. Hell, when LSU recovered that short kick at the end, I thought "surely, Hill's going to run this ball three times and close this out."
When LSU went three and out on three passes, I thought "well, I suppose that wasn't the worst case scenario, they could've thrown a pick-six or something," but in hindsight, that might have actually worked out better. Instead, a very, very good quarterback got the ball back with more than enough time to get his team in field goal range, and all three timeouts at his disposal.
It would be easy to pin that drive on the Tiger defense failing in another late-game situation. But it shouldn't have come to that. It shouldn't have come to Clemson's offense getting a chance to rack up 100 plays to LSU's 48. Hill had been unstoppable all game. He was averaging 10 yards per carry and his 124 yards were more than half of LSU's total offensive yardage. And he didn't touch the ball once, in the entire fourth quarter.
I take up for Greg Studrawa a lot. For one, he's not just a good offensive line coach, he's a great one, and he'll never get his due on that front from his detractors. The job he did this season turning an all-freshmen right side into a damn-near dominant road-grading unit deserves more praise than it's gotten. But last night's playcalling was completely inexcusable. Eight three-and-out drives. NINETEEN called runs with a running back as hot as any has been this season. It felt a lot like the Florida game this season, where the offense just seemed completely unaware of what was and wasn't working, and just kept heaving shit at the wall. Meanwhile, the defense, which still forced six punts despite giving up those long offensive drives and too many third-and-longs, withered on the vine and eventually could no longer keep up.
During pre-game, there was a radio report that the LSU staff didn't take too kindly to Clemson DC Brent Venables joking about how "a dive is considered a trick play for LSU." Well they sure showed him, huh? The offense damn sure wasn't conservative and it damn sure wasn't predictable. It was simply moronic. First-down passes that became six- and eight-yard losses while Vadal Alexander got worked over by Malliciah Goodman. It's not even that the passing game struggled -- Zach Mettenberger threw some of his best passes of the season Monday night. But it was clear what the offense's best play was. The inside zone to Jeremy Hill, and it was probably called fewer than 10 times. That's a failure for the offensive coordinator, the head coach and any other members of the staff that didn't point it out. If Hill carries the football 20 times instead of 12, LSU not on wins, but they probably do it comfortably. Instead, we'll have to fight through this negative fog all offseason.
Truthfully, I doubt there will be any coaching changes. There are still some dominos to fall in the coaching market, so never say never, but it seems very unlikely that Studrawa is going anywhere. Truthfully, I'd hate to lose him as an offensive line coach, but the fact remains that there's simply no excuse for the Tiger offense to be this dysfunctional. Les Miles is too good of a coach to let this mistake repeat itself. It's not about conservatism, and it's not about run-pass balance. It's about a common sense approach to using the talent you have. Quarterback isn't the problem anymore.
Overall, this is a team that still has a lot of growing up to do. The younger players on this team need to learn how to finish games, and what it takes to win play-in and play-out. And with a ton of very good defensive playmakers possibly leaving for the NFL draft, the team's only getting younger. Now, they'll have to also face an offseason full of questions and a lot of angst.
Happy New Year.