It's nice to play someone with a pulse again. But of course, Auburn seemed to be on life support for the entire 1st half. I will give credit where it's due in that Malzahn didn't let this one get away from his troops, rallied them to continue playing hard despite the early deficit. While Auburn was never truly in this one, it's definitely a game they can walk away from as a building block.
Coming off his dazzling performance against Mississippi State, Nick Marshall really struggled against LSU. The elements certainly affected his play. To me, it was obvious that his smaller hands couldn't handle the rain. His passing stats were putrid through the 1st half, but once the rain seceded, he seemed to be able to throw the ball more effectively. Early on he was missing guys high, throwing behind them and just generally illustrating zero grasp of the passing game. You'd have thought he was a running back forced into QB duties. It didn't really help that Greg Robinson was manhandled most of the evening. Though, I must say, if I were a betting man, I'd double down on Tre Mason. Kid can really play. He was quick, scrappy and effective all night long, no matter what defensive personnel Chavis trotted out there.
Overall, just a sloppy, ugly game that LSU won going away. It's a little frustrating we've yet to truly be challenged (outside of maybe a few minutes against TCU) before heading into a marquee match-up with Georgia. A few columnists have declared that we lack a killer instinct. I think it's a fair argument, though when you are winning a game by three TDs from early on, I think people's expectations tend to fly out the window. A three TD lead is absolute beat-down land. Factor in that it's an SEC opponent and it's just an out-and-out romping. But when that lead never grows, analysts, fans and the like grow restless and suddenly the team is branded as lacking a killer instinct. I could still go either way on this. There's something to be said for burying an opponent early, but LSU does need to be careful not to pull off the gas against the likes of Georgia and Alabama, because they are very capable of overcoming a 21-point lead, while a team like Auburn, as presently comprised, is not.
It was the Jeremy Hill show out the gate and the Sophomore put up the best game of his career. A couple of weeks again I made the case that the presence of Hill alone would jump start this offensive line. I felt that was certainly the case against Kent State, but the hogmollies came to play against Auburn. Elliott Porter, in particular, had the most impressive game of his career. Running lanes were open all night, no matter the RB, but Hill, of course, maximized them, knocking out big play after big play. When this LSU offense can run the ball so effectively, god have mercy on the souls of its victims. Seriously, Mettenberger is too good to be paired with a running game like that. We have a two-way offense, folks.
I don't like to get into the business of being overly critique-y, especially after a 456-yard, 35-point performance, but there were some miscues. Way too many false starts, with Jerald Hawkins leading the charge. Those things can be ironed out with a good week of practice, but more disconcerting is how the offense went to the snooze button after securing a 21-point lead. Everything just went into a standstill. I get that it's probably hard to be motivated with a 21-point lead, in a nasty driving rain, but after 4 successful drives (though one ending in a fumble loss) and 21 points, the LSU offense went 12 plays for 20 yards to close the half, then succinctly opened the 2nd half with an interception. The interception seemed to be the wake-up call, but you hate seeing the lapse in concentration.
The other revelation of the evening is how vanilla LSU continues to be. We're winning on execution, not innovation, and that's a beautiful thing. Auburn needed to play a perfect game to beat us. They needed a few tricks to bounce their way, a few gadget schemes to break open. Some of that happened and they still lost by 2 TDs. Meanwhile, though we ran a fake FG, we stuck to 21/22 personnel almost exclusively, ran the same zone lead play and trap play over and over again and still posted 450+ yards of offense. If there's one aspect to Cam Cameron that hasn't been celebrated yet, it's that, unlike the Studrawa and Crowton eras, if something is working, Cam is more than happy to just keep on doing it. He doesn't feel compelled to be cute for variation's sake.
22 personnel may truly be our best grouping. When Stokes/Gordon checked into the game with Copeland/Hill in the backfield, it was almost assured to be a gashing run. Blackledge made mention of the fact that both of our top two WRs are so good, that we can stick to this personnel grouping and still make hay in the passing game. That's a dangerous situation for our opponents. There's some concern that we don't have a legitimate 3rd receiving option, but I'm failing to see the worries. If our passing game had stalled, sure, but our top two guys are winning week after week, adding more weapons is a luxury, not a necessity.
Finally, I wanted to call attention to the fact that LSU was called for two ticky-tacky penalties, neither of which I thought were good calls. Firstly, the hold on Boone was a joke. I bet Adam Henry gave him a good pat on the butt and told him good work for his superb blocking on that screen to Landry that should have been a TD. That's exactly how you do it. Secondly, Beckham got called for a PI late that I thought was pretty weak. True, he did have his arm extended, but it was hardly a "push" and you could tell since the defender's momentum wasn't hardly stunted.
Mett: Played every snap. Would have been nice to see Jennings, and I've held out hope there is a package there, but I'm guessing that's window dressing and just something for opponents to potentially consider. Mett is just playing too damn good to tinker right now. He did throw his first interception of the night, but it wasn't a bad decision, just a bad throw. Those happen. If that ball is out in front of Beckham, it's a nice pitch and catch. Further, that's a throw we see Mettenberger make exceedingly well, so I'm not concerned. His best play of the night may have been a designed roll out to his left where he squared his shoulders and threw a dart to Beckham for a 1st down. Great throw, great catch. Did miss Beckham on a slant that would have been a 1st down with a good throw. Otherwise, maintained his efficient dissection of another opponent. Finished 14/22 for 229, 1 TD, 1 INT.
Hill: Stunning performance. Probably could have rushed for three bills if we wanted him to. He finished with only 7.3 YPC, which is really just a byproduct of him being in the game late trying to salt the clock away. Longest run of his career (54), another three 3 TDs and most total yardage 183. Young man can play a bit. Finished 25 for 183 and 3 TDs.
Blue: Didn't see any run until very late in the game. He did run hard when his number was called. Looked stronger/more aggressive than his previous games. They mentioned a change in knee braces... hopefully he's gaining his confidence back.
Hilliard: He was the first back off the bench this game, but didn't do anything to inspire. Did hit a nice cut back lane on a zone play. Finished 4 for 12 yards.
Magee: Rough night. Got some run early, and continues to be the main go-to back in Shotgun, single back sets, but didn't stand out. His fumble killed a deep drive and kept three points off the board. Gotta hang on to the ball. Halfway surprised he got back in, considering Miles general no tolerance policy on fumbles. Finished 3 for 9 yards.
Copeland: His best game of the season. J.C. was a menace to the Auburn Linebacker society all night long. Particularly effective on the zone lead play. He did miss two blocks on this play, however. Twice he by passed a LB to get to a S. Not sure if he was anticipating Hill breaking that tackle or just didn't see the guy, but both times the guy made the tackle. Both times, if he makes that block, Hill would have been scampering for double-digits. "Copeland smokes a LB" appeared regularly in my notes. Finished 1 carry for 1 yard with a TD and 1 catch for 7 yards.
OBJ: Dropped the first ball thrown his way. Beautiful out and up route and he cleanly burned the corner. Mett threw it perfectly but OBJ just couldn't hang on. Auburn routinely tried their hand at one-on-one coverage with him, opting to stack 8-9 in the box, wish we had taken more chances there. Still running that comeback route like clockwork. We tried a back shoulder ball to him in the end zone. Well thrown, but AUB CB White made a nice play to knock it away. CB was watching Beckham, not the ball, so OBJ needs to time this perfectly so CB has no time to react... instead he jumped a little early. Took a deep shot to him late, and he was called for PI. Didn't agree with that penalty, but love the aggressive play call. Finished 5 catches for 59 yards.
Juice: Super impressed with his open field work. He doesn't have the moves of OBJ, but he's tenacious and gets up field in a hurry. Absolute money on short slants. Beat Therezie badly on a quick outside move and swim to get back inside to get position. Run a stutter step route with a sexy back shoulder throw from Mett... snagged it. Great work. Drew double coverage when working in the slot. Made a heroic effort when he was tackled in the redzone and was clearly down. I didn't care; I'd watch that play over and over. Such a passionate, hard-nosed player that will be a Tiger legend. Finally got his TD on a nice crossing route where he settled into the hole in the zone, then made a nice run to the endzone before diving to score. Finished 7 catches for 118 yards and 1 TD.
Boone: No catches, but he may be our best blocker. Was the go-to third man in 3WR sets. We love throwing short screens to his side. Great effort as a blocker. Had one ball thrown his way on a screen, but Mett threw it high and he couldn't come down with it.
Dural: Played one snap while Beckham took a play off due to injury. His opportunity may be fizzling...
Gordon: Still the primary TE and while he's not much of a threat in the passing game, he's basically a third OT in the game. Just a bear in the running game.
Stokes: He's like the mini-me of Gordon. Our primary second TE in 2TE sets. Delivered a beautiful seal block on Hill's 3rd TD run. Play was not well blocked up the middle, but Hill bounced it and Stokes' seal allowed him to get the edge.
Dickson: Most he's played this season. Nice job as a blocker. On his long catch, there was really nothing to it. They gave him a free release off the line and let him get behind the LBs into the hole in the middle of the zone. Easy pitch and catch. Probably should have been a TD if Mett leads him with the throw. Oh well, we'll take 45 yards at a time to our 3rd or 4th receiving option.
Collins: Simply put, we love running behind he and Vadal. No real negative notes here. He pushed his guys around routinely.
Vadal: Getting better every week. We enjoy running the trap play behind him. Got blown up by Angelo Blackson on one play. Otherwise, spent his night bullying.
Porter: Super impressed with him. In the zone game he was super effective hooking his man and walling him off. Consistently got position all night long. Looked stronger than he has all year and arguably against his best competition.
Turner: Was dominant until going down. Looks like he's okay. Good to know.
Hawkins: Probably the shakiest of all OL all night. Struggled against Montravius Adams, who looks like he could be a special player. He yielded a sack, but kinda knocked off his block by Copeland. Had 2 false starts. Not his best game, but he wasn't dreadful either.
Washington: Filled in admirably when Turner went down. Got absolutely destroyed by Gabe Wright on one play and Montravius Adams on another. Still, nothing else so bad you notice, which is generally a good sign.
There's a lot of gnashing of teeth about a performance I considered to be wildly up and down, if not outright strange. Look, Auburn had 104 yards of offense at half time. Against a spread attack that operates quickly, our defense stood up and did the job well. The second half, obviously, was a different story. But as I watched, I didn't get the feeling they were clueless out there. Frankly, it seemed like a lack of effort. LSU didn't want to be there any more and was just waiting for the clock to expire. I'm not saying you throw a parade over this, but it's maybe not worth early male pattern baldness, either.
The LBs are still a work in progress. I don't see any reason Tahj Jones should play over Kwon Alexander any longer. Kwon is improving every week. The guy I came away most impressed with this game was Danielle Hunter. Hunter earned the start, my guess is largely because he's so athletic out there and can really play the zone read play well, which he did sensationally all night. Hunter came with a lot of hype and he's starting to look the part.
Speaking of the zone read, there was an obviously conscious decision made by Chavis to make Marshall give all night. You can quibble with the strategy, but my guess is Chavis thought the running would a) make Marshall more comfortable (which he wasn't all night) and b) allow Auburn to extend the pocket (which they didn't do all night). The result is that Tre Mason ate up huge chunks of yards, but LSU was willing to let Auburn slowly matriculate the field that way, rather that eating up big chunks of yardage on the edges. It's not fun to see them knife through the middle of the defense, but I think from a strategic perspective, it was the right decision. If only we had Kevin Minter...
The most surprising thing was probably the lack of rotation. We stuck with the starters almost exclusively and really stayed in base defense most of the night.
Hunter: Smart, physical, aggressive, hustler. All night long. Really loved the way he played. Got caught napping a couple times on the read option, which Marshall busted outside. Once, Hunter tracked him down from behind, for a 5-yard gain. Felt like he really manhandled Robinson all night. He reminds me a lot of Mingo athletically, but I think he's a touch more physical (and Mingo wasn't soft). He's going to be a weapon going forward. Chased down multiple play across the field and downfield.
Rasco: Played smart and disciplined. Thought he did a strong job as a pass rusher all night, without losing contain. His pressure forced the INT to Loston. Crushed Robinson on one rush. Thought he played really sound, discipline ball all night and hustled well.
Allen: He's not as strong at the point of attack as Rasco/Hunter. Might be a better pass rusher, though. Strong pressure and sniffed out a screen pass, forced Ricardo Louis to bubble a bit, while others cleaned up. Got a sack by pursuing relentlessly and not giving up on the play.
Neal: He played one snap late and got buried inside on AUB's last TD.
Freak: Spent a lot of the night double teamed. Had some strong moments of explosion. Didn't make any big plays, but his disruption set off a few chain of events to key stops. Tough play down near the GL where he beat his block and had Mason dead to rights, but Mason ran through his arm tackle for the score. He was pissed at himself.
Ego: Struggled some. Double teamed a lot, like Freak. Got an unsportsmanlike for blasting the LS. I can live with that. Did sniff out a draw play nicely and later got great pressure that lead to Allen's sack.
LaCouture: Was the only other DT to see snaps. Showed some nice effort. Played pretty strong at the point of attack. Had one nice penetration. Didn't see much else good or bad.
Barrow: We used our OLBs a lot to set the edge in the read/option game. Thought he did a good job being disciplined there. One play that is frustrating: he read a play perfectly and filled. Then missed the tackle. Got a stupid penalty for punching a defender in the face. Got a little nicked, but he's okay. Did get one big hit on Marshall late.
Welter: He reads the game well, but he doesn't trust his eyes. Almost plays too disciplined. Needs to be more aggressive. Did get Kiehl Frazier on a TFL. He got a few tackles, but like Billy said, he' gets caught letting people come to him, rather than attacking them.
Tahj: The one thing I liked was that he was a little more physical. He would take on blockers. Did make a really nice play on a short screen outside. He blitzed and tried to make a leaping deflection, taking himself out of the play. But he turned around and pursued and made the tackle. Otherwise, he didn't stand out. Seemed to get benched later in the game for Kwon.
Kwon: I didn't have too many negative notes. Early on he bit on a PA fake, which left a WR wide open, fortunately the throw was at his feet and incomplete. Undercut a slant route on a pump fake/end around play... nice coverage instincts. He's the go-to backer in Nickel/Dime. Love the speed and aggression that he plays with. On one play his speed allowed him to evade a blocker, but missed the tackle. His speed is a difference maker, but needs to play with a little more control. Late in the game he absolutely crushed Tre Mason, which probably has him questioning God still. I think he's growing more confident in what he sees and becoming more and more of a playmker.
Debo: Played some snaps when Barrow was out. Lost a man in coverage which lead to easy pitch and catch for Marshall.
Louis: Only played a few snaps but looked good. Wish he would get a bigger shot at MLB.
Mills: I've grown to really enjoy how Mills plays in run support. Which gives me this passing thought: Could we shift Dwayne Thomas to his corner spot and try Mills at FS? I think he could be the optimum type of player there. On one play he lined up in a safety-type position, crashed a run play hard and delivered a good blow to Mason. His coverage is good, his tackling is good, why not? On the deep play he yielded, his coverage wasn't bad. He could have been more physical at the line, but he's in the back pocket... really needed over the top help, which he didn't get from Micah Eugene. Got a nice pick late on a poorly under-thrown ball.
Tre: Kid keeps getting better. Quiet night on his side, sans the long pass. Remember what I said about Mills coverage not being bad but needing help over top... ditto here. Made some impressive plays. On one play he made an outstanding read, crashed and delivered a blow. He's fearless, though facing guys much larger. Should have had a pick six on a great, great break on the ball.
Thomas: Probably his best game as a Tiger. Just the nickel, but should see more snaps due to effectiveness. On an early pass he bodied up a receiver two inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. Stays in his pocket, gets physical with him and gets his hands up to disrupt the catch, despite having his back turned. Played the man well. Batted down two passes as a blitzer, despite being blocked up both times. Excellent timing and feel for the passing lanes. Could be big next week with a shorter QB in Murray. Lost contain on a read play.
J. Collins: Can he not see the field again, ever? Played one snap when Mills was dinged. Running play came at him, he pattycaked the OL, then half-heartedly dove for a tackle "attempt." Woof. There's a reason you are the bench. Differences are stark when you see the smaller Tre White be physical and aggressive.
Loston: Good to have poppa back. Got a pick, gift wrapped, but showed great athleticism as he ranged one direction, turned around and came all the way back. Thought he read most things well. Looked like he got lost in pass coverage. On one screen he crashed and hit ball carrier, but tried just to punch ball out. I'm ok with it, because Barrow and Hunter were right there to finish the tackle. Made a big hit on Mason.
Eugene: Well, that experiment should be over... Eugene is a nice player. A solid tackler and strong Dime back. But he shouldn't be a starting S for us. He just doesn't have it in the coverage game. I know there were just two mistakes, but to make the same mistake twice, on the same play... not good. He looked completely lost covering a deep half. We can't have that. Before either of those, AUB ran a PA pass off the zone read. We brought a corner blitz from Eugene's side, vacating a man for him to take. He's slow to react and Coates gets free for his first big gain.
Thompson: Fair caught Auburn's strange pooch KO coming out of the 1st half. Made a really nice, physical tackle on a zone read play. Really would like to see him starting across from Loston for a full game. Played S in the Dime, with Micah sliding down.
Keehn: Nice night. First punt was a poor snap, but he got it up and still got 39 yards. Put one on the 10, nice kick. Hammered a 53-yarder that was just beautiful. Banged another one at an angle and not returnable. 3 inside the 20, and while his average wasn't crazy, still good.
Hairston: Only one kick returned all night and that was a questionable call out of the EZ. Consistently nails them.
Delahoussaye: 5 XPs, nothing else to talk about.
OBJ: Kept in check as they kicked away from him. Only recorded 29 total return yards.
Fruge/Debo: Shout out to these two, who seemed to be special teams twin demons of the night, recording tackles together 3 times! Props to Fruge for his hustle on the fake FG as well. Plus his golden locks.