Somehow felt appropriate.
Anyways, I debated not recapping this game at all, as it just feels like so much else has happened since this game ended just two days ago. But an informal twitter poll still showed some interest, so I'll throw my two cents in an abbreviated fashion, along with some notes on the team going forward and the defensive coordinator hunt.
The fallout discussion of this game reminds me a lot of the LSU-Ole Miss game in 2013. If you were of the mindset that defense was terrible and responsible for everything that went wrong, you saw 500 yards of offense given up and a last-minute scoring drive and blamed them. Meanwhile, the offense turned the ball over three times and was shut out for a full half on the road -- a tough formula for winning against anybody regardless of how good your defense is.
Tuesday afternoon, LSU surrendered 263 yards rushing to a team that was averaging 130 against power-five opponents. Sure, the Tiger offense couldn't answer the bell when they needed to, but how often is giving up that kind of yardage ever a good place to be in?
At the end of the day, your team is what it is. If you're unbalanced on one side of the ball, the good side can't have an off night. If you're a high-powered offensive team that can't stop people, guess what happens when you stop scoring points in bunches? The same thing that happens when you're a defense-first team with a bad offense that suddenly starts letting the other team go up and down the field.
On to the bullets:
- Let's make something clear here: this wasn't the Arkansas game where LSU's offense stayed stuck in the mud forcing the defense out again and again. Notre Dame's first possession of this game took up most of the first quarter, lasted 15 plays and featured three third-down conversions and a fourth-and-nine pickup. The Irish took it to LSU up front from the jump at the line of scrimmage and pushed the Tigers around. They also answered every Tiger touchdown with one of their own.
- At the end of the day, the Irish imposed their will and made this game play out exactly the way they needed it to. With their offense ON THE FIELD more than anything, to the tune of 77 plays and 37 minutes of possession. LSU averaged 8.4 yards per play on offense -- their highest average of the season. But Notre Dame forced LSU's offense into a very small margin for error, and at the end of the day an offense that isn't very good can't be counted on like that.
- Still, if we're all being honest, if I would have told you that LSU would gain 436 yards and score 28 points, you'd believe that was more than enough to win the game. The blocked field goal and the screwup on the fake proved to be the margin.
- As for the fake field goal...definitely a gutsy call by Les. Not sure I agree with it, but well...it worked. Or it should have. Notre Dame was completely unaware, the play was blocked well. Brad Kragthorpe had an alley and should have gotten in easily but seemed to stumble and make the play look closer than it was. Still...
There's the ball clearly over the plain with Kragthorpe's knee visibly off the ground. If instant replay isn't designed to get these kind of plays right, why the hell do we even have it?
- And that missed kick...holy hell did Trent Domingue worm-burn that sucker. It reminded me of the time I tried to kick on a setup at the Disney Wide World of Sports with a fake offensive/defensive line in front of the tee. Boomed the ball right into a "lineman's" helmet. Domingue had won the job from Colby Delahoussaye in practice, but given that all of Delahoussaye's misses have mostly been short, he might have been the better option there. Or going for it, as it was only fourth and two.
- Notre Dame also beat LSU with its own gameplan, heavily reliant on the jet-sweep motion. Early in the first half Kendell Beckwith struggled biting on the motion while Malik Zaire would just keep the ball against the grain. In the second half he was a bit lulled to sleep on staying home and boom, they pop C.J. Prosise for a 50-yard touchdown.
- Likewise, the Irish offense found ways to take Kwon Alexander out of plays through formation manipulation with their tight end, drawing him away from the running play, or into position to be blocked quickly. Alexander's strength is in pursuit, but if you're fine with short gains, moving him away from the run and pounding out a three-to-four-yard dive is a sound strategy.
- Leonard Fournette: WOW. 264 yards on just 13 touches. Clearly he should have touched it more, but when you only run 52 plays of offense that makes it more difficult. He also appeared to cramp up somewhat in the fourth quarter.
- His 89-yard touchdown was a Jeremy Hill Special: LSU's trademarked inside zone toss. La'El Collins and Vadal Alexander open up a nice crease (Alexander in particular pushes his guy a good 6-7 yards down field) and Connor Neighbors gets a seal. Fournette slips a DB at about nine yards and just turns on the jets. You can even catch him using the view screen to avoid the pursuit down the field. In a lot of ways that run was the kind of statement play we've been waiting to see out of No. 7 all year.
- On the 100-yard kickoff return it was actually D.J. Welter with the key block that put him one-on-one with the kicker. Boom. Off to the races. Really the play was well blocked across the sidelines.
- Anthony Jennings posted his highest efficiency rating since the Wisconsin opener, which is really a testament to the power of throwing a 75-yard touchdown. That was a great play-call that was well-executed, but it doesn't make up for another uneven day. Jennings still commands the huddle relatively well (notice the lack of play timing issues in this game as well), but he simply can't hit the passes consistently. His decision-making isn't horrible, but he did make a crucial mistake in the redzone at the end of the half in taking a sack on first down. Nobody was open early on, that ball needed to sail out of the endzone. The pocket was a little tight, but Jennings shouldn't have pulled the ball down (on second down, a speed option instead of a straight QB run would have probably worked better).
After the game Miles, in a move that surprises no one and won't mean much to many, announced that the QB job will be open through the spring. I know this much -- for better or worse, rightly or wrongly, after the Auburn game the LSU coaching staff did not trust Brandon Harris to run even the limited gameplan that we saw most of the time. Opinions on that will vary, but the thought process in the Football Ops building was "yes, this can get worse."
With the decision not to pursue Chad Kelly, Miles and Cam Cameron have cemented their fates to either Harris stepping up and taking the job or Jennings rising to the occasion, improving and keeping it. There's no concern on Harris transferring, as he's been trusted to host a number of high-profile recruits since the season ended. We'll see how things play out there and this is far from the last time we'll discuss this in the next few months.
On the NFL departures front, it didn't take long for Kwon Alexander to make his decision. Likewise, Jalen Collins has announced his intentions to leave as well. Reportedly, from the previous link, Jalen Mills is leaning towards going pro as well, and I'm told Danielle Hunter is likely gone as well. In a piece of good news, I've also heard that both Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander are leaning towards returning. But as always, nothing is set in stone until the Jan. 15 deadline passes.
On the defensive coordinator front, here's what I know about the Chavis situation:
- As of last week, Chavis had told his assistants, including Brick Haley and Corey Raymond, to sign their offered contract extensions, and that he was planning on signing his as well.
- The infamous "null and void" clause: all LSU assistants were alerted that this was being applied to their deals. Yes, all of them, including Cam Cameron. The reasoning behind the move was to avoid the situation that Tennessee has found itself in, paying out contracts to multiple coaches from the staffs of Phil Fulmer, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley while having to bring in another one for Butch Jones. If it isn't already common place at most athletic departments, it likely will become so. Chavis didn't like how the clause was presented to him, and became increasingly frustrated as he discussed it with Miles.
- From there, Kevin Sumlin swooped in. Chavis made his decision the day before the game, and players were aware by kickoff. After the game, Miles sat down with Chavis and offered to match A&M's salary offer for at least next season, per Ross Dellenger of the Advocate (the total value of Chavis' A&M deal averages to $1.67 mill, but it pays out 1.5 in year one). I don't know if the clause tying the contract to Miles was deemed negotiable or not, but I do know that Miles wanted The Chief to stay. I have a hard time believing either side considered the clause a deal-breaker. In the end, Chavis seemed to lack trust in LSU, who has made him one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the country, to take care of him.
- If reports are indeed true that Chavis signed his deal on Jan. 31, he would be liable for a $400,000 buyout fee. Per Scott Rabalais, LSU apparently intends on pursuing the money. I'm told there may have also been some clauses violated as well. Sometimes these situations become bad PR for the plaintiff university, so it will be curious to see how far this goes.
On the topic of replacing Chavis:
- Latest news on Thursday is that D.J. Durkin has joined Jim Harbaugh's Michigan staff. Greg Mattison has also been reported as staying on staff, which I was told would be his preference. News also broke via twitter that Gene Chizik will be accepting the defensive coordinator job at North Carolina, so you can take those three names off the list I posted on Wednesday.
- Miles tends to keep a type circle on these things, so look for Frank Wilson and other staff members to have input, as well as his agent George Bass. So far, speculation has centered on Clancy Pendergast, Ed Orgeron, Kevin Steele, Manny Diaz, Brent Venables and Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
- Per FBScoop, Venables signed an extension with Clemson shortly before their bowl game. Whether it completely removes his name from consideration or not depends on the terms, but he reportedly turned down the Aggies a few weeks back, so it's hard to imagine he's willing to take another lateral move.
- Shoop is an interesting name. He served as James Franklin's defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt and put up some respectable units before leading one of the best in the country this year up at Happy Valley. Whether he'd be willing to take the same job to come south is a question mark, but I would think given their struggles, Penn State might have a tough time matching money.
- Pendergast was reportedly approached fairly quickly. He has some history with Miles from a mutual stint with the Dallas Cowboys, and is currently available taking a year off following his departure from USC. The numbers on his Cal and USC defenses were not stellar, but he has reputation is top shelf, particularly in terms of dealing with hurry up, no-huddle offenses. He's reportedly spent his year off consulting with NFL teams on dealing with Chip Kelly. The NFL may be the biggest impediment at the moment, especially if he prefers the pro coaching lifestyle without the grind of recruiting.
- When it comes to BeBe Orgeron, there are a number of variables. For one, he and Miles don't have the best relationship. Although Wilson, Bradley Dale Peveto, Steve Ensminger and other staff members are all close with Orgeron, and would likely help mend fences there. The biggest one is LSU's current defensive line coach Brick Haley. I'm told that Haley was particularly thrown for a loop by Chavis' move, as he'd been assured Chief was staying and signed his extension. As of yesterday, he would prefer to stay in Baton Rouge. As I've said before, BeBe isn't interested in coaching any position but the defensive line, so if he's coming to LSU that's going to be a part of it. I'm also told that Haley would be willing to maybe shift positions to linebackers (which he has coached before at Houston, Clemson and Georgia Tech) if need be. As for the coordinator spot, Orgeron may want the title, but he's never called plays for a defense before, and those duties could also shift to Haley as well. He's long been Chavis' No. 2 man amongst the staff, and very active in gameplanning. It wouldn't be as crazy of a move as it seems. There's been a lot of talk of a Pendergast/Orgeron combo, but for that to happen Haley would have to move on. That could happen if Chavis tries to bring him to A&M, who could certainly afford the buyout. There's also the still-open coordinator position at Mississippi State as well, where Haley has coached before under Sylvester Croom.
I feel for Haley, who's been a productive recruiter and a very good coach here. He seems caught in the crosshairs and betrayed by a man who coached him in college and has been a huge influence on his career to date in Chavis. Brick will land on his feet if he leaves LSU, and have plenty of options, including going back to the NFL. I just hate that it could happen because of other people's decisions and through no fault of his own.
To date, Haley has been the main reason the Chavis departure hasn't been a killer in recruiting, as most of the players Chavis was involved with have publicly mentioned Haley as still keeping the Tigers in the hunt. I'll say this -- a recruiting staff that could feature Wilson, Haley AND Orgeron would be one of the best in college football. But at the same time, having a coordinator like Pendergast could potentially be an upgrade as well.
The recruiting dead period will last until Jan. 15, so that's likely the drop-dead date LSU will want somebody in place by. But if there's one thing we know about coaching hires, it's that they move quickly in terms of decisions and changes. There could still be other names we haven't even heard yet linked to this job. Hold on tight y'all. It's never boring.