What? Did you really think it'd be pretty?
LSU closes out the regular season 8-4 and 4-4 in SEC play with a 23-17 win over Texas A&M. It was somewhat reminiscent of the Ole Miss game, because despite things coming down to the final drive, the Tigers should have taken care of this game in much easier fashion, pushing around a softer opponent but missing out on at least 6 more points on mistakes.
This game played out almost exactly as I expected, and came down to making the right plays at the right times, but don't let anybody tell you LSU didn't deserve this. Four hundred and ninety-one yards of total offense, 384 of it on the ground. The 6.3 yards per play average was LSU's highest since the Kentucky game, and the 25 first downs were the highest since the New Mexico State game.
Now LSU awaits the results of this weekend, conference championship weekend, and a bowl destination. Best guess: anywhere out of Jacksonville, Houston, Nashville, Memphis or Charlotte. Preference? Whichever game gives us the best matchup. Beyond that, it's all window dressing. If you're thinking of making the trip, I recommend pulling for whichever destination you find the most fun or the most doable.
On to the bullet points:
- Let's start with the offense, and give Cam Cameron some credit for finally adding a simple twist to the gameplan with the heavy use of the jet-sweep to Travin Dural. It's a relatively simple adjustment that was probably added over the bye week (and you could see the timing was slightly off a couple of times, usually when Dural was just carrying out the sweep motion), and exactly the kind of tweak I've been screaming for to be added to this unit this season to help diversify things and help put the quarterback in a better position.
The sweep look worked for a couple of reasons: 1) it was a great matchup play for the Aggie defense, which has been really vulnerable to misdirection -- think about a linebacker having to glance at the man in motion for that extra half a second before a lineman blocks down or Leonard Fournette comes barreling into him; 2) it also pairs well with zone-blocking, which has been particularly effective against the Aggie front; 3) it puts more of the fulcrum of the rushing attack on LSU's best two offensive linemen (La'el Collins and Jerald Hawkins) and away from the injured interior; 4) it gets another playmaker involved in Dural, who has kind of gone by the wayside as the passing game struggled; and 5) it's an easy constraint to work off of in a variety of ways, be it with straight handoffs to the deep back or play-action combinations that LSU tried a couple of times, albeit with minimal success (although DeSean Smith should have drawn a holding call on a wheel route off of the action).
- It's nitpicking, but I would have liked to see LSU move more towards the power looks as the game went on to try and wear A&M down a bit, and use that to re-open the edge in the second half, like for plays like the speed option.
- I would describe Jennings' performance as uneven. It was more on the positive side of uneven, kind of like his game against Kentucky, but let's not put too much lipstick on a 12/21, 107-yard day with one touchdown and a pick.
- That said, the interception blame goes squarely on Dural. It's a short-drop slant, on a play like that the quarterback is throwing to a spot, and it's the receiver's job to "win inside" against the DB and get there. Dural simply fails -- that's been a big problem for him and the other receives this season against press coverage. He lets A&M's Davante Harris get his hands on him first, then leans a little too far outside, giving Harris the inside leverage when it's time to try and make the slant. Harris has position, the ball's exactly where it's supposed to be: at eye level. But it's at the wrong guy's eye level. Jennings had a couple of bad balls on the night -- on his very next pass he completely missed Connor Neighbors on a flat route -- but the interception isn't on him.
- Give Jennings credit for also running very hard. Fearlessly even. He was lowering his shoulder, using a stiff arm, driving his feet through tackles. On the second half I thought he got a little keep-happy on those zone reads, but give him credit for making some really nice runs.
- LSU went back to using a fullback/tight end on an arc-block on some of those zone-read looks. It had worked a bit against Ole Miss, but we haven't seen it in a while.
- The La'el Collins/Myles Garrett battle more than met the hype. The freshman scored a big point early, beating Collins to the corner for a sack-fumble that turned into a re-do thanks to an inadvertent whistle (at least the referees recognized the mistake), but the vet did what veteran offensive linemen do against an active pass rusher from then on. He wore Garrett out in the running game, blowing him off the ball, getting a good punch in and driving him. The personal foul call was largely a case of bad timing, but if you talk to an NFL line coach, that's exactly what they'd tell you to do. You get that guy on the ground, you fall on him. Wear him out, frustrate him, and maybe he won't be thinking straight in those pass-rush situations.
- LSU's zone-read heavy gameplan also frustrated him by putting him in a lot of conflicts. He'll learn to handle that better though.
- All that said, Garrett's going to be hell to deal with these next two years. And yes it will only be two years because that dude is a future pro.
- My God. A freshman.
- The subtle thing about Fournette's big run is you could almost see him building to it. He picked and he picked, and on the play before he was just about to break loose and went down. And then LSU runs zone left. The left side of the line just completely puts the defense on skates, Neighbors chips the backside defensive end and there's just a massive hole. One trucked safety later, seven has six.
- Other notes from the big run: John Diarse with a very key block down the field on Deshazior Everett, while Ethan Pocic essentially controlled two defenders at the line of scrimmage.
- Pocic, overall, was damn good at center, particularly at getting to the next level. He's always at his best on the zone plays in this offense.
- On the defensive side of the ball, John Chavis showed the real reason his defenses have had so much success against the spread: talent. LSU stayed almost exclusively in a basic nickel package and in the process managed to still matchup against the Aggies versus both the run and pass. Granted, it helps that A&M is so intent on spreading the ball horizontally with screens and swing passes, but Chavis put a lot of pressure on his safeties and linebackers and they all repaid that faith.
- Kendell Beckwith and Kwon Alexander's impact went well beyond their 14 combined tackles and a sack. The two were asked to run sideline to sideline and did a fantastic job. Jamal Adams was also flying up the field in run support.
- Of course, Tre'davious White, Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills' work handling the Aggie receivers down the field also helped. Allen was forced to check the ball down a lot early on, and never really got comfortable.
- Give the Aggie offense credit for just executing on their first touchdown. It's a straight power-O play. The fullback, big Ben Compton, a converted center, seals Danielle Hunter well, the backside guard pulls around and takes out Kwon Alexander and creates a nice hole for Trey Williams, the Aggies fastest back. Ronald Martin got a little too flat coming up in run support and lost the angle, and Williams had plenty of room.
- Eight total tackles for loss on the night for the Tigers, and another great night for Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter, who continue to do just about everything well as a defensive end except rush the passer. Which is just so atypical it kind of boggles the mind. Tashawn Bower was incredibly active as well. Probably his best game as a Tiger.
- Not going to lie to y'all...when I saw Diarse break wide open on LSU's second touchdown, all I could think was "oh my God he's too open and going to drop it."
- Nice play by Jennings to come off his primary, a fade to Malachi Dupre, and recognize that the backside slant/wheel pick concept had worked perfectly.
- On the final sequence of the first half: I'm fine with Miles' call to settle for the field goal there, all things considered. Yeah, there was 12 seconds left, but with no timeouts, anything short of the endzone takes away the chance at points, because there's no way you're lining up a field goal in under 10 seconds. And it's a possession that's an absolute GIFT. Does it show a lack of trust in the quarterback? Yes it does. But if you want to see an example justifying, just look at LSU's final sequence before its last field goal: Jennings doesn't read a blitz properly and takes a bad sack in the red zone. Take the gift three that was handed to you and get into halftime with another possession coming to start the third.
- A very big reason for Speedy Noil's first positive big play of the night: a very high, very short kickoff from Cameron Gamble. I guess nobody could do much of anything right there, save for Trent Domingue?
- Delahoussaye. Dude. We know you're better than this. Just get out there over the next month and find your form again. You can't be missing the short ones, even if you still make the long ones.
- Arguably the turning point of the game back to the Aggies was on LSU's first possession of the first quarter. Jennings hits Dupre for the biggest pass play of the night, and then a false start and a particularly ticky-tack hold on La'el Collins put the offense in a second-and-21 hole. Then Jennings makes a bad read on a zone-read, Dural makes a bad block on Everett, and then it's third and 20. Which Jennings very nearly makes worse before finally throwing the ball away. Followed by a 39-yard shank from Domingue. A touchdown there probably puts the game away, but even a field goal ratchets up the tension a bit. The lack of points completely gave the Aggies life and they quickly went to work.
- On said third-and-20 pass: it was vertical pass concept, but somehow none of LSU's receivers even tried to work their way back to Jennings when he broke the pocket. Yeah, it's a long-yardage situation and you hate to be short of the sticks, but you still have to help your quarterback out and try to preserve field position. Those are the kind of little things that hopefully improve this offseason.
- On Noil's long touchdown: great play by the freshman, but c'mon White. You gotta get up and try to play on that ball. Barely cleared a mop bucket.
- LSU's final offensive sequence: Tigers go with an unbalanced line and a zone-toss to Fournette and it works beautifully. Hawkins seals the edge, Collins clears a nice big hole and Neighbors (who might have played his best game of the season) creases the safety for a nice big alley for No. 7. But on the next play you could see him pop up a little gingerly and come off the field. I get a lot of the criticism for Fournette's lack of touches at times, but in this particular spot, the coaches did the best they could. I'm told he was also battling a minor back injury.
Besides, Terrence Magee had been running pretty damn well and immediately picked up the first down on the next play. From there, the Aggie front managed to get enough push against the Tiger o-line to stone two straight runs, including the same unbalanced look with another zone-toss. But on third down, Cam got a little cute with the empty set and a straight pass. Another attempt to get to the edge with a jet play or maybe even an option would have been safer while still giving the offense a good chance at the line to gain.
- That said, Jennings was dreadful on the play. Five man protection, Aggies have six guys on the line -- QB is responsible for the sixth rusher if he comes and that ball has to come out. Luckily, Delahoussaye made the field goal.
- On to the ending sequence: Poseur said it best -- Allen is pretty clearly taking a shot because he thinks he has the defense offsides. I would like to see a more perpendicular camera angle that confirms that Sione Teuhema was truly in the neutral zone. But again, if the shoe were on the other foot, we'd all be enraged. Between that, the bum DPI call to break the Aggies' scoring drought and a couple other plays, nice night for the zebras.
- On the pick itself, Jalen Mills managed to get his hands between the receiver and the ball in a scrum, and it kind of rolled into Jalen Collins' hands.
- All-in-all, it's still a great win, and one that everybody needed, whether they believe it or not. It's a nice way to send out the seniors, a fourth-consecutive win over a major recruiting rival, assurance of staying out of the West cellar in the division's most crowded year ever, and a set up for a better bowl slot. Now we play the waiting game.