Me, before the game:
I'm not looking for a perfect game by any stretch. Certainly not some sort of 500-yard, 50-point output like the Tigers put on UAB in last season's home-opener following a shaky game with TCU. But improvement, and a focused, determined offense.
Honestly, that was as thorough and as perfect of a beating as anybody could have realistically hoped for. And yeah, Sam Houston State is an FCS program and LSU was supposed to do this. But getting an A in an easy course still counts towards your GPA. The most exciting thing, at least to me, is that every player on this team kept competing as they had their opportunity to get in the game.
- Perusing the box score before we rewatch...Sam Houston came into this game running more than 90 plays a game. LSU held them to just 64 with about 25 minutes of possession. The Tigers won the yards-per-play battle 7.7 to 3.2, converted 66 percent on third down (8-12) and held the Bearkats to 3-of-14 on that down, plus 0-2 on fourth-down attempts.
- First shut-out pitched by the Tiger defense since a November matchup with ULM in 2010.
- SEVENTEEN members of the LSU freshman class of 2014 saw the field on Saturday. At one point in the fourth quarter the Tigers played an all-frosh defensive backfield with Devin Voorhies and Russell Gage joining Ed Paris and Jamal Adams.
- Les talked about starting fast in the pregame, and it certainly carried through on offense. But the defense looked like they took a few plays to get their feet under them. Kwon Alexander in particular got shook by a Bearkat runner within the first few plays. Nothing big, obviously, but Sam Houston got some push an was just picking up some steady yardage with some zone-read and option looks. And then they got a little too greedy with that flea flicker play that fooled nobody.
- Thomas made a heck of a read from his dime back position and motored deep with the only two receivers that SHSU sent deep on the play. From there it was just a matter of settling under the ball.
- And then came the longest pass play in LSU history: Jennings to Dural, 94 yards. Perfect play design for the defense. The Bearkats had eight up near the line and LSU ran play-action, isolating the two tight ends and Dural on the corner and two safeties. Dural just ran right by his guy, Jennings dropped the ball in a basket and boom. Just pure speed.
- Danielle Hunter with his best play of this young season on the very next play: he timed the snap perfectly and just sprinted right into the backfield to stuff a run right at the handoff. What's more, is you could see that it kind of spooked the Bearkats and took any fight out of them. "Oh crap, these guys are that quick?" Hunter finished with the team lead in tackles, and also helped create an easy touchdown via funneling Jared Johnson to D.J. Welter, who forced a fumble on the SHSU goal line.
- Hunter's going to be a nightmare for the spread teams on this schedule to handle. He's active as hell and really pursues the ball. Teams are going to try to read him a lot, I'd wager, but he's still explosive enough to make the play. I still have my questions on how he'll hold up against power teams though.
- I do love that Cam Cameron immediately looked to re-establish LSU's power and zone running game on the next drive. Spreading the field is going to be big for this team, but so will the two-back look.
- Another personnel look that was VERY interesting -- a couple of I-back looks with the fullback dotting the eye and the tailback in the upback spot. LSU went to this look a few plays in to the next drive and ran a couple play-action passes off of it, including Dural's second touchdown. I'm interested in the mindset here, because you would think if a defense s sees Kenny Hilliard offset and Connor Neighbors in the deep set, they're going to know something's up.
- All four tailbacks took some snaps in the fullback spot, which I'm a huge mark for. I love creating a true two-back look in the backfield. There's so much you can do with that in both the run and passing game, especially if you trust the backs to catch and block.
- Very rough job by Ronald Martin on SHSU's one big pass play in the first quarter. Fails to get a good jam in man coverage, gets shook on the route and then misses the tackle TWICE.
- Leonard Fournette's 40-yard run. Zone stretch left, and the defensive end does a real good job of going low on La'el Collins and torpedoing him, setting the edge for the Bearkats to the play side. But the line and linebackers overflow and lose their backside gaps, creating a classic cut from the back. From there it was all Fournette's vision and talent. Great vision on the touchdown, which featured another back-door cut.
- As for the Heisman pose, the only thing dumber than him doing it is over-reacting to it. Fournette probably regretted it almost as soon as he hit the sideline, regardless of the talking to he got from Les Miles, and I doubt we'll ever see it again. There's nothing wrong with being excited about scoring your first career touchdown kid. Just keep in mind that there's a long way to go and you're just playing Sam Houston.
That said, it's over and done with, so let's move on, k? It didn't even stop Fournette from coming out on the very next drive.
- In general, Fournette progressed well this week and finished with a team-leading 92 yards. His patience and vision in particular were much better. One area where he's also a real nice asset is in the passing game, both as a blocker and a receiver. His catch at the end of the first quarter was very athletic, and he likely knew he was about to take a lick as he turned his back to the closing safety. Now, if LSU can just figure out that screen game...
- But on those inverted-veer-read stretch plays, the receivers and tight ends will have to start doing a little better job of setting the edge for No. 7. SHSU was able to push him to the sidelines too often.
- Once LSU got to 20, you saw the rotation really start. Deion Jones had already replaced Alexander on defense -- he came out with a stinger -- and Frank Herron, Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark all started rotating in on the defensive line. By the end of the night every scholarship defensive tackle played.
- Solid, consistent night for the offensive line. They had a smaller front and they did exactly what they should have done to it. 334 yards on the ground on the night. Broken tackles created most of the really big plays, but the holes and push were consistent.
- Ethan Pocic suffered an ankle injury that looked a bit hardcore at the time, but he managed to walk off mostly on his own power, so hopefully it's nothing long term. There's just not much reason to risk sending a guy like him back in against an FCS school. Ditto Alexander and Connor Neighbors, who mentioned a bone bruise after the game.
- QB play: the best compliment I can give Anthony Jennings is that he just looked confident and under control on the night. In most situations he seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do and simply pulled the trigger, and that's all we really can ask. There weren't any iffy decisions really. He threw a couple up to Dural in single coverage when he might have had an easier throw underneath, but they were all low-risk situations, so I don't mind taking a shot to a guy that has shown he can go up and make the catch, within reason. And by and large Jennings made good decisions as a runner, though if I had to ask I would suggest that so long as he has the first down he be a little more willing to slide.
- 7-13 completions might be a little underwhelming as completion percentages go, but Jennings started out 6-9 with 181 yards and three touchdowns. By the time he and Brandon Harris started rotating, the game was non-competitive.
- As for Brandon Harris, the arm strength definitely jumps out at you. He snapped off a couple of nice comeback throws off of play-action in the second half. That's a route that Jennings doesn't throw quite as well. His touchdown run was fantastic as well. He made the right read on a zone play and kept his feet moving (with the ball secure) in traffic. Once he squeaked out of the tackle attempt he was able to accelerate and follow a nice block downfield from John Diarse.
- One more note on Dural: to date every single catch in his LSU career has resulted in a first down or a touchdown. And don't underestimate the effect seeing Dural catch all these bombs will have on future opponents. They'll likely now view him as a deep threat they have to make sure they bracket. That'll only help create better matchups for other receivers and for the Tiger running game.
- Very emblematic play of the defense on the evening. Late in the third, with a 42 point lead, SHSU was able to pop a bubble screen for a nice play. From my seats it almost looked like a potential touchdown, but Rashard Robinson did a fantastic job of running the play down. What's more, he got off a block to the playside, then, as Yedidiah Louis cut back across the field Robinson basically outran the entire mass of blockers and defenders to get the proper angle and cut off Louis around the 15-yard line. Robinson showed some amazing speed to close on the ball from a good 30-plus yards away.
- That play helped to set up Ricky Jefferson's incredibly athletic interception. From a goal-line safety spot, Jefferson does a great job of not biting on play-action, especially with SHSU running some orbit motion window-dressing in the backfield. From there he had the coordination to get up and still come back with the ball even as the quarterback was just a few yards away.
- The final touchdown of the night was the Harris-to-Dupre connection that we've all been waiting for. As the Tigers closed in on the goal line on that drive I just kept hoping "please. Just one fade route." The defense was completely sold out on the run, so Dupre had an easy one-on-one matchup. The pass came right towards my seats, and at first I thought the throw was a little too long but Dupre did a fantastic job of getting to the ball for the diving catch.
- Final notes and curiosities: Trent Domingue did a fine job on kickoffs, though I must admit I was surprised to see him rotating in with Cameron Gamble...DeSean Smith barely got in the game until the fourth quarter or so, but Colin Jeter played early and often...Sione Teuhema flashed some nice speed late on two fourth-quarter sacks...just flew off the edge...Darrel Williams with 14 nice carries...he doesn't have Fournette's burst but he really runs hard.
So with the first shutout since the last time LSU played ULM, think the defense can make it two in a row?