Well, we knew it would be a strange scene, but I don't think anybody envisioned 624 yards of total offense, including 228 passing yards, as the Tigers took care of South Carolina in front of what was basically a very large spring game type of crowd in what was a home game for the visiting team.
Anyways, there's a lot to get to here as usual. A lot more good than bad, but still a lot of things that will have to improve to come together. With a huge game in the coming week, it's going to be interesting to see if this offense has turned a corner.
- Give Brandon Harris, the wide receivers and the offensive staff for refining last week's gameplan and refusing to shy away from this passing game. With South Carolina dedicating 8 players to the line of scrimmage LSU threw on four of the first six plays and distributed the ball to seven players. Playcalling did a fantastic job of keeping the defense off balance yet still playing towards the team's strength right out of the shoot with a waggle play to Fournette in the flat. Play-action, put Harris on the edge and got the ball into the hands of No. 7.
- Harris continues to look poised and in control and had career highs in completions, attempts and yards. He's not always finding the best outlet, but that will come with time, and it's improved even over this season. He also occasionally tries to do a little too much on read plays and keeps balls he should probably hand off. But most importantly, he's protecting the ball. Very few risky throws. The biggest thing is he never seems to panic, even on a busted play, such as the botched snap on a jet sweep in the third quarter.
- With Travin Dural in particular, you could almost feel the tension in the stadium break a bit on his first reception. And it was a nice catch he had to lunge out for a bit. Almost wonder if the little shot he got late from the SC defender maybe dialed him in a little bit.
- Dural and Malachi Dupre both sat for the first two plays behind Trey Quinn and John Diarse, but they came to work on Saturday. They weren't perfect, with a drop each, but effort and focus were dramatically better.
- Two creative, yet simple calls of note: on LSU's first touchdown they lined up in a version of the flexbone formation and ran a look out of the ol' belly option play. Darrel Williams was lined up at fullback, Leonard Fournette lined up on the wing and came in motion. Harris gave it to Williams, who plowed in for the score, while carrying out an option fake with Fournette. The motion froze South Carolina just enough with an overloaded offensive line with freshman Toby Weathersby in as an extra tackle.
Later in the second quarter, LSU ran a very clever swing pass/screen in which DeSean Smith lined up out wide then motioned in to crack down on the defensive end, while a slot receiver and fullback provided lead blocking for Fournette on the reception. Kind of similar to the ol' crack sweep toss play, only with a pass instead of a toss.
- South Carolina ran a ton of cover-2 man-under looks on passing downs, which Cam Cameron must have expected because he used a lot of the classic "Drive" shallow cross concept to attack it underneath.
- Back to the receivers -- Dupre seemed relieved to close out his own touchdown pass, and it really was a heckuva play on both the throw and catch. Textbook endzone fade, although Dupre stumbled slightly and was wearing the cornerback as a backpack. Harris dropped it in the bucket, and Dupre took the ball in over his shoulders effortlessly, despite the circumstances.
- After LSU took an intentional delay-of-game to try and create more room for a punt only to have South Carolina decline it, I'm pretty sure they went right back to that tactic in the second quarter, only they actually lined up and feigned going for it on 4th and 3 before the penalty. It worked, too.
- After the big interception (I'll get to defense in a bit), Harris started off a nice little two-minute drill that probably could have ended better. He absolutely gunned a screen pass to Fournette under some pressure and then another fantastic pass to Dupre down the seam to get the offense into the redzone. But then things got a little dicey. He was late on a corner route to Dupre that could have been intercepted, and on the final two plays held the ball a bit on passes that were "it's going to be there early or throw it away" type of plays. Granted, he avoided the sack and preserved the field goal, but with time ticking off your internal clock has to be in check to get the ball out. In particular on the last play he might have been able to come back to his left, but was a bit too locked in on his right.
- Formation count shifted heavily into the one-back sets after John David Moore's injury. LSU ran 40 plays out of the 11 personnel grouping, compared to 18 out of 22 personnel (a number that was extremely padded by the late fourth-quarter drives) and 17 out of 21 personnel. They ran three plays out of the 12 grouping and even worked in a true 4-WR look on two plays.
- The first half numbers showed South Carolina kind of bottling up Fournette a bit, but I wonder how much of that was padded by two plays in particular where he lost yardage. Bry'Kiethon Mouton was very inconsistent at fullback as Moore's sub, and Colin Jeter had a couple of missed blocks as well, particularly for a big loss on a pitch play. Overall, I'd be curious what his effectiveness rate was, because it felt like most of the short runs still kept the offense on schedule.
- I almost hate to say that the big run seems inevitable at some point, there it was on the second play of the third quarter. LSU ran delayed counter out of the shotgun, with Fournette stepping right before coming back left for the handoff. Jeter and William Clapp pulled and hit their marks perfectly, along with Jerald Hawkins sealing a linebacker. Fournette made one guy miss about seven yards downfield and then just turned on the speed. Truth to be known it looked like No. 1 for South Carolina had the angle and could have attempted the tackle, but maybe he didn't want to join the Tray Matthews All-Stars.
- And if his on-field greatness weren't enough, there was this:
Seriously y'all. We're watching somebody special. Enjoy every minute.
- After a slight ding, Fournette came out but by reports he could have returned, but he wasn't necessary mostly due to Derrius Guice rushing for a game-high 161 yards. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Guice is a different breed from what we're used to. He has a scat-back's feet and hips, plus a low center of gravity and remarkable balance. Just ping-pongs off guys and accelerates.
- On the tip-drill touchdown play, LSU was running Four Verticals, but DeSean Smith oddly drifted to the right in his route, kind of into the throwing lane for the outside route to Dural. I know Harris has said that the pass was intended for Smith, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was, in fact, meant for Dural. Still, credit Dural playing heads-up ball, staying with the play and making the catch. After that he was already behind the defense.
- Speaking of the defense, it was kind of a lukewarm effort. Not truly bad -- I mean South Carolina really only scored 17 on offense on 283 total yards. And that's with an average starting field position at the 35-yard line. Honestly just about all of the touchdowns scored in the last two games have come on short fields caused by either special teams or turnovers. But at the same time, with two big plays for touchdowns, including a coverage bust, there's still some issues here.
- Extremely bland gameplan from Kevin Steele, with mostly man-free coverage and some cover-two zone worked in. Mostly due to the misdirection-based running game of the Gamecocks, which was bottled up. LSU's going to be in good shape versus most teams that try to run wide I think. There wasn't much blitzing at all, which was probably out of a due to A) a desire to hold some things back and B) a focus on staying gap-sound and stringing plays out, which the defense largely did well. But that also led to tying a season low with just four tackles for loss.
- The outside corners, Tre'davious White and Kevin Toliver, are pretty solid. But Dwayne Thomas is really struggling at nickelback right now, especially down the field. South Carolina picked on him early and went down the field on their opening drive, although he did bat a pass down in the endzone. Thomas is a good blitzer and plays things well in front of him, but he struggles if he's isolated in man coverage. Going to be something to watch next week, because Florida will definitely try to get Demarcus Robinson matched up on him.
- Rickey Jefferson gets partial credit on John Battle's interception, recognizing the route concept in front of him, reading the quarterback and making a great break on the South Carolina receiver and getting a hand on the ball cleanly, without interference. From there, Battle made a great diving catch.
- But Jefferson was also victimized on Pharoh Cooper's 43-yard touchdown. LSU checked to man-free across the board, Jefferson missed his jam on Cooper and was beat inside. From there it was an easy pitch and catch. Jamal Adams took a poor angle and Cooper made a play.
- The other touchdown to Jerrell Adams was a bust on Kendell Beckwith in cover-two, failing to get deep in the seam as Adams went downfield and split the two safeties. Beckwith's been a great downhill player, and in short area he can make some plays in coverage -- he broke up a very nice shallow cross to Cooper in the first half. But he seems a little slow when he's asked to really get down the field.
- As for special teams, nothing I can say can really speak louder than the sarcastic standing ovation the stadium gave to LSU's kickoff team after a successful kick and tackle for a short return in the fourth quarter. Things got so bad Miles had the team start squibbing to avoid any possible return, because at least then they'd be inside of the 35.
- I'm not even sure what answers to offer besides bringing back "Bitch I'm From Louisiana" over the PA before kickoffs. They've changed up lineups, personnel, positions and there have been problems no matter what. Wind was something of an issue on Saturday, but they're just going to have to start kicking it out of the endzone.
- On SC's return score, Debo Jones and (I believe) Guice both drifted much too far inside of their lanes and just gave the Gamecocks a HUGE alley. The players that were left were outnumbered by blockers. Just too easy.
- Honestly, kickoff coverage is about 95 percent attitude, and if LSU can't find some of it somewhere, there are still some very dangerous return men on this schedule.
- The one positive you could probably take from this game is that Jamie Keehn was a little more consistent, and while none of his punts were downed inside the 20, some caught poor bounces and another was a high-difficulty kick from a short distance. But I wouldn't send anybody down under a postcard over it.
- One final note to keep some perspective. This is the same South Carolina team that allowed Greyson Lambert to complete 24-out-of-25 of his passes. The Tigers are going to be in for a step up in competition this week with Florida, but with an undefeated, top-10 opponent coming in at night, it should be a special atmosphere.