Well, this one played out along the lines that I expected. Wild shootout, two quarterbacks doing their jobs about as well as you could expect and two defenses that just aren't good enough to stop offenses this good. But in the end, it was the Bulldog front that did just enough. I had hoped it would be the other way around.
Overall, home-field advantage was huge for the Bulldogs. Georgia either had the lead or the tie for about 55 minutes of the game, and held the momentum for nearly all of it. There will be a ton of ink spilled (pixels colored?) focused mostly on LSU's defense and the near 500 yards and 7.1 yards per play they allowed. And make no mistake, the defense has plenty of issues that we'll cover. But this one goes on the whole team. Even when the defense made a stand (and Georgia was just 4-11 on third downs), the offense either couldn't come through with the needed touchdown, or turned the ball over on a muffed punt. Whether it's a nip-and-tuck defensive struggle or a back-and-forth offensive track meet, when you have a chance to seize momentum, you have to act.
- I'm just going to dive right in with the bad first, before I get into the damn strong game that Zach Mettenberger played. Poseur said it and I agree -- LSU lost this game at the line of scrimmage. The secondary and linebackers played like do-do, but Aaron Murray was rarely made uncomfortable by the pass-rush, and Georgia's backs consistently broke containment on their bigger runs. Defensive ends are getting engulfed at the point of attack and linebackers simply can't shed and keep a play in front of them. Likewise, Georgia's front was consistently making LSU go backwards, even on the running plays that gained yards. The Bulldogs were the more physical team, the one delivering the blow on nearly every snap.
- On to the ugly: the middle of LSU's back seven is, essentially, a void right now, safeties and linebackers. Name it, and they did it poorly on Saturday: diagnose, attack, cover, and most disturbingly, communicate. It's one thing for young guys without a lot of on-field time like Tre'Davious White, Dwayne Thomas or Corey Thompson to struggle with assignments. But Craig Loston, Ronald Martin, Jalen Mills, Jalen Collins and Micah Eugene should not be staring at each other and shrugging their shoulders. Maybe the crowd noise was a factor in making some calls on Saturday, but missed assignments have been too big of a problem at times this season.
- Cornerbacks passing receivers off to safeties that weren't home, and safeties that all too often were manipulated by Murray's eyes on the receiver. Case-and-point was the 21-yard touchdown to Michael Bennett on 3rd and 11.The defense was pretty clearly in a cover-two zone, but with three receivers on one side and them all releasing deep, the secondary is most likely checking to a quarters look. It looked like everybody knew their job on that play except Micah Eugene. Bennett got behind him, Martin was held closer to the middle of the field by Justin Scott-Wesley, easy touchdown.
- You could see early that Chavis was respecting Georgia deep, with the DBs giving a lot of cushion at the line of scrimmage. Thing is, that stopped quickly when Murray ate it up on short throws. It just didn't matter.
- Georgia made most of their yardage inside. Mills and White had their moments as corners, though Jalen Collins is just not getting the job done when he's one-on-one with a guy deep. White did get burned by Chris Conley for a 33-yarder, but give Murray credit for a great throw with White right in Conley's hip pocket.
- At linebacker, D.J. Welter is the fan's whipping boy right now because he's the undersized, white overachiever, but his senior teammate Lamin Barrow is as bad, if not worse right now. Neither seem to recognize what they're seeing quickly. Welter will at least get in the right position when he can, but Barrow looks lost out there. Alexander is the only really explosive linebacker getting on the field right now, but he still looks unsure of himself and can get caught over-pursuing. Lamar Louis is just too small, and gets overwhelmed at the point of attack.
- I'm not sure what the solution is here -- it's not like you can bench everybody. But Chavis and his staff will have to find some kind of lineup that works for him, and do it quick, because there's no bye week until November. Any freshmen that has a chance of contributing is going to have to get on the field and quickly, including Ricky Jefferson and Kendell Beckwith. That also goes for the freshmen defensive linemen.
- Up front, the defensive line looked a lot more like we expected it to early in the season. Thin and lacking a proven playmaker. The ends can't shed, contain and close to the quarterbacks, to the point that Freak Johnson and Ego Ferguson are sometimes getting double-teamed at the same time. That's right -- on some plays Georgia left an end unblocked and just used a back. There isn't a Sam Montgomery or a Barkevious Mingo coming through that door.
- But look, Georgia deserves a LOT of credit here. That's one of the 10 best offenses in the country, led by a quarterback that's probably going to finish his career with the most touchdown passes in SEC history. If you thought LSU was going to go in there and shut them down, well you had an unreasonable expectation. Georgia's going to score a lot of points in every game they play in. The question for LSU is finding a level for this defense in between what we saw on Saturday and the kind of units we're used to watching. But remember, LSU allowed 400 yards rushing to Cam Newton in 2010 and still finished with top-15 defense.
- On to the offense. I hope every damn member of that program gave Zach Mettenberger a hug after that game, because he played one of the best games I've ever seen from an LSU quarterback. Great throw after great throw. Bullet after bullet. He wasn't just Murray's equal, he played like one of the best quarterbacks in the country on Saturday. If the passes weren't enough, he also spent so much time at the line of scrimmage checking through plays, and kept picking himself up despite getting knocked down several times. Despite the big hits, he consistently keeps his poise in the pocket. I can't think of a time that he ever looked rattled, until after the game, when the emotion on his face was beyond obvious.
- Choose your favorite throw: 3rd-and-22 to Odell Beckham Jr., 3rd-and-10 to Jarvis Landry or the 39-yard touchdown to Juice. 23-37 for 372 yards. The challenge for him now is going to be to forget about it, and move on. Because the load this offense is going to have to carry is only going to get heavier.
- Side note: How about those option pitches? It is decidedly not something LSU wants to use often at all, but a big reason why I've consistently praised the speed option, in spite of the catcalls, is that when it's well-timed and properly executed it's an easy way to put the ball on the perimeter to a speedy running back. The defensive end will almost always get sucked in because he hasn't seen the play all day (and in this case, there was no indication from film study that he'd see it at all) and then it's an easy pitch. Most of the time, the quarterback shouldn't even take a hit, because it'll be a 1-2-pitch type of play.
That said, I wouldn't call it again for a couple of games.
- However much money Mettenberger made for himself on Saturday in the eyes of NFL scouts, Landry damn near equaled it with his 10-catch day. Despite an incredibly physical Georgia secondary, Landry kept fighting, kept getting open and kept catching the ball. 10 catches for 156 yards.
- It was kind of the best and worst of times for ODB. Six catches for 118 yards, but the muffed punt just screamed 2012. A lack of concentration due the pressing to make the big play. The fact that he very nearly broke two kickoff returns was likely a factor there. It's enough to make you wonder if something in the return game should be taken off of his plate? Georgia is a team that has made a big special-team blunder in almost every game this year. But on Saturday, LSU was the team that made that mistake.
- Speaking of special teams, hats off to Colby Delahoussaye for two huge field goals of 39 and 49 yards. If you would have told me coming into this one that LSU would attempt two long field goals and made them both, I might not have believed you. It looks like LSU just might have themselves a kicker, and that was something we weren't sure about coming in to this season. Jamie Keehn did a fine job on punts as well, when asked. James Hairston struggled a bit on kickoffs, but weather conditions were likely a factor there. Either way, his coverage teams did their job.
- Good and bad for the offensive line. The interior really struggled early. Elliot Porter has had really tough games when facing a heads-up nose tackle, but he seemed to break through last week against Auburn, which tried a similar tactic. Garrison Smith consistently pushed him back. Meanwhile, Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander were taken advantage of at times by Georgia's looping blitzes and line stunts. If there's a silver lining, it's that in the second half this group did a much better job in the running game and LSU was able to get a more consistent push.
- Credit Jeremy Hill for 90 very tough yards, consistently breaking tackles and falling forward. He was never able to break the big runs we've become accustomed to, but he did his job. How about Kenny Hilliard showing some signs of life as well? It'd be really nice if he could give this offense another sledge-hammer. The ol' toss-power play made a comeback on his two-yard touchdown run.
- Don't lie, how many of you cheered on Hill's touchdown run before immediately thinking "Shit...scored too quickly" ?
- It's really hard to say much about the playcalling. For one, Mettenberger spent so much time at the line of scrimmage checking, that there's no way of even knowing what was the original call versus the audible. It would have been nice to see some screen game, especially with the Bulldogs running so many overload blitzes.
- But if I have one quibble, it's with the final two plays. On third-and-10 when you know you still have fourth, Cameron and Mettenberger should've have been afraid of a shorter throw. If you're playing for four, you should, at minimum, make sure the fourth is at least manageable. But the way Mettenberger had been playing, it's hard to really blame the coaches for rolling the dice.
- Officials really let both teams play, with very few flags. Although that contributed to some chippy-ness at times. If I have one complaint, it's the overlooked facemask on Beckham. Okay, so you want to let them play, but that was a much worse foul than the roughing-the-passer call Georgia got. That said, Rasco had less than no reason to touch Murray on that play. He barely touched the guy, but he shouldn't have even risked it.
- Everybody's going to spend the rest of this week overanalyzing everything in this one to death. Meanwhile, Mississippi State is coming off a bye week. That's a program that is desperate for a statement win against a good team, and LSU had better be ready this weekend. Division and conference titles, at a minimum, are still in play here. Time to move on. How the Tigers get past this heartbreak will tell the tale of 2013.