LSU took care of business versus New Mexico State, 63-7. The final non-conference tune-up game gave LSU a chance to work on a few things before hitting the meat of the schedule.
Some things worked, others didn't.
Brandon Harris would be on the positive side of that ledger. Anthony Jennings would be on the negative.
A 79-yard touchdown spoiled what would have been a nice defensive showing overall, but at least we saw LSU's offense show a little bit more diversity and evolve in some positive ways, albeit against a very physically over-matched opponent.
Anyway, on to the notes:
- Box score goals: in Friday's game preview I talked about some basics to look for. Yards per play of more than 6? Check (7.6). Completion percentage higher than 60? Check (70 percent). Third-down conversion rate north of 50? We'll call that a push at exactly 50 percent. LSU also went seven for seven on red-zone appearances. I wouldn't call five tackles-for-loss much stat-padding, but LSU did manage to force four turnovers. They just cancelled that out with four themselves.
- As for the game itself, let's just jump into the obvious pool. Harris has the obvious lead in LSU's quarterback competition right now. He took advantage of Jennings' horrendous start and led seven consecutive scoring drives. But honestly, Jennings was bad enough that I'm not even sure Harris had to play as well as he did to take this thing.
- Jennings just never looked comfortable out there. I HATE trying to judge player body language, but even that looked bad early on. Jennings just looks out-of-phase with his teammates. Passes are off on timing or location. There appear to me to be some communication issues on routes, but it also appears to be coming from both sides. Just as Dural failed to break on a comeback to result in Jennings' second pick, the quarterback himself was later corrected on the sideline by Brad Kragthorpe after he shorted Malachi Dupre on a curl by a couple of yards.
And what's more, Jennings seems to compound almost every single mistake himself and looks like he's pressing to make up for it. That almost never works and it's usually what turns a two-interception game into a four-pick one if you leave a QB in long enough.
- That first interception was particularly bad. There may have been a receiver bust, as it looked like both Dural and Dupre were running to the same area, but Jennings still didn't see the deep safety, put a ball up for grabs and overthrew it right to the defender.
- More than anything right now, Harris just looks looser and more confident in what he's doing. I suspect that his play-calls are slightly simpler and more focused on what he does well, but he's just doing everything well. He's stepping into the rush to deliver intermediate throws under pressure. Scrambling but keeping his eyes down field. He's getting the ball out quickly and his arm just opens up more of the field.
- So what's that mean going forward? It seems obvious to move Harris into the starting role right away, but don't be surprised if the coaching staff hesitates a little to give Harris that first full start next week. It's just easier bringing him off the bench, and it also allows you to hedge on taking him back out if he needs it. Of course, you have to balance that against the idea of Jennings digging too deep a hole to start out with.
And whether people want to hear it or not, there's still the balancing act of keeping both quarterbacks viable for the rest of the year. But only Miles, Cameron and the quarterbacks really know what course of action will serve best there.
- Overall, we did see the offense change up slightly. For one, the running game heavily shifted to an almost exclusively zone-based attack. Tracking personnel groupings through the first three quarters, LSU was lined up in 11 personnel -- 1 back, 1 tight end & 3 receivers -- more than any other grouping with 24 total snaps. The fourth quarter put the I-formation back in front overall, but LSU lined up in a 21 look just 22 times in the first three quarters, and in 22 personnel with two tight ends just four times.
- Using so much of the zone blocking allowed LSU to attack the edges of the defense more with bootlegs and some quick throws out of the shotgun. The perfect way to help a young quarterback wade into the offense. And Harris' arm makes some of the more difficult throws in those positions look easier.
- Harris' throw of the night was easily the 27-yard touchdown to Dupre. Harris broke the pocket and kept his eyes down field. Dupre broke to the sideline and Harris fired a perfect "my guy gets it or nobody gets it" pass. Dupre got those long arms out and brought it in.
- Zone plays seem to fit Leonard Fournette's skillset the best as well: his vision and ability to make quick, decisive cuts and accelerate. He made a couple of nice cutback plays on some over-pursuit in route to his first 100-yard game.
- On the "right idea, bad execution" front, I loved seeing the "diamond" formation with a power-zone read early on. Jennings read it perfectly up until the fumble.
- Defensively, you'd like to be proud of the fact that you held a team under four yards per play and under 25 percent on third downs, but that 79-yard touchdown run was exactly the kind of play LSU's going to see a LOT of next week in Auburn. The Aggies ran a basic zone-read play, LSU had stacked box and when D.J. Welter watched the quarterback run past him there was nobody between Andrew Allen and the endzone.
Take your pick -- Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant or Roc Thomas. LSU's going to see a lot of those types of plays next week.
- The gameplan was pretty simple on that side of the ball. LSU played a lot of single-high safety looks with off coverage, content to give up the short completion and make the tackle. There were a few Mustang looks in third-and-long situations, but overall you could tell John Chavis viewed the Aggies as a pretty one-dimensional threat, even with their one long run.
- Ronald Martin spent a lot of time in the box, manned up on New Mexico State's inside receivers and did a very good job of making quick tackles or breaking up the pass.
- Lots of playing time for Kendell Beckwith as well, who's clearly getting his opportunity to take Welter's job. One thing I notice that didn't change regardless of the linebackers -- when teams go to an empty set, if LSU's in the nickel those linebackers get spread out. Same look that Dak Prescott broke for a big play last week, NMSU just never took advantage of it. Auburn will probably take that look every time.
- Dwayne Thomas' injury did not look good. Made a cut and dropped, clutching his knee. Once he went out you saw LSU go to much more nickel sets, but they'll need somebody to take his spot in the Mustang package next week, especially in long-yardage situations. Jamal Adams might be the best option there.
- Nice heads-up play by Tre'davious White on the first-quarter interception. NMSU ran a "replace" concept outside, with the slot receiver looping outside of White's man and running up the sideline. White's man ran a curl route, but he did a good job of tracking the ball off the quarterback's hand and fielding it almost like a punt.
- That said, we do need to have a talk about the way White is fielding punts. It's one thing to take a risk trying to catch an interception -- the ball goes off your hands it's a dead ball when it hits the ground. However, if you're going to try and field punts on the bounce, you basically can't ever let that ball go between your legs, never mind standing inside your own five. White lucked out that the ball never touched him, but it feels like he's getting more and more reckless with how he's fielding these things. That can be a game-changer in a big road game like next week.