It was a weird, wet night in front of a sparse crowd in Tiger Stadium, but LSU was able to focus through distractions and some early rough play and take care of business against a good Western Kentucky team.
I expected some degree of sloppiness in this one, but was pleasantly surprised with a cover against maybe the best offense the Tigers will face the rest of the year. This game had a really odd rhythm to it, with pockets of inactivity and tough sledding with bursts of big plays by both teams intermittently. The first half kind of flew by, while the second seemed to drag forever. Ultimately LSU had more big plays, while the defense came up with some timely stops and really forced Brandon Doughty and the Hilltoppers out of their comfort zone.
And now, again, we have two weeks of hype to build up to a showdown with Alabama. Gosh, I wonder what we'll talk about?
On to the rewatch:
- Very workman like performance overall here. A few players standout but a lot of guys were just very steady. Moving the chains, keeping things going, making tackles, etc... It should come as no surprise that Leonard Fournette exemplified that with his 26-carry, 150-yard night. There weren't many long runs, but the 5-6 yard plays came at a remarkably consistent clip. And when we can call a 150-yard game "blue collar," we're talking about a special player.
- You almost got a sense that the 55-yard touchdown to Malachi Dupre almost made Cam Cameron think "okay, that's in the back pocket let's just keep it simple and grind it out from here." Because after that first drive LSU became incredibly vanilla and heavy on the 22/21 set. Whereas after halftime, LSU spread the field much more. WKU's gameplan was to keep the line of scrimmage VERY crowded, with the linebackers barely even standing out of their gaps.
- Formation count certainly reflected this: 11 personnel led the evening with 19 total plays, but 15 of those came in the second half. LSU ran 15 and 16 plays out of 22/21 sets, but 10 each in the first half -- and the final scoring drive featured 5 straight I-formation/two-tight sets. So there was a definite strategic shift in that third quarter. LSU also ran another 3 plays out of the 12 grouping, 1 out of the 20 set (2 backs/0 TE/3 WRs) and 1 goal-line set.
- On the 55-yard strike to Dupre: classic play-action with a post/dig combo. Safety came up on Travin Dural's crossing route and Dupre was wide open.
What's interesting about this play is something we haven't seen yet -- the running back releases out of the backfield and was completely unguarded. Watch for a potential wheel route play out of that look at a later date maybe.
- Another strong showing for Travin Dural. Yeah 5 catches for 132 yards featured a lot of big plays, but aside from the long catch and run before the half and the touchdown, he was moving the chains with crisp routes and on-time throws.
- Said 67-yard play was very well done: Harris bootlegged off play-action in the endzone (again, LSU will throw the ball backed in their own endzone, I think it's safe to say they trust Brandon Harris) while Dural ran a quick curl. Throw was slightly low, but on time and Dural made a nice spin off of the catch and got in the open field. He was ran down from behind but per Les Miles he was playing slightly gimpy.
- You hate to complain about a career-high passing day for Harris, but he could have done a few little things better. He missed on some of his easier throws on the night into the flats, and he could have possibly had another touchdown or two had he looked off the safety on some deep plays instead of forcing it to Dural. On one play he had Colin Jeter with good position on the seam route, Tyron Johnson on another. There was also the busted play that helped set up the third-and-long bomb to Johnson where he turned the wrong way on a handoff, and a midline read play where he made a really poor decision to keep the ball and was tackled for a big loss. Little things in a game like this, but those little things are going to loom large in 12 days.
- Likewise, Derrius Guice also dropped an easy screen pass and a pitch in the second half.
- The 61-yard bomb to Johnson: it looks for a second like the rush is about to get to Harris -- William Clapp was beat on the play but Fournette stepped up with a timely block to stabilize the pocket. Harris had started to break contain but very smartly reset himself and spotted the one-on-one to Johnson on the backside. The safety had been pulled inside on a seam route to Jeter, and by Harris' motion towards the right a little. From there it was just a great basketball play from Johnson. He high-pointed the ball and was all alone when he came down. LSU's going to need to make plays like that.
- I wonder if maybe the sloppy field affected the offensive line a little. Clapp and Maea Teuhema struggled to get to the second level a little early on, and that helped WKU swarm Fournette in the first half. Once LSU spread the field a little more they created some additional room and the line started to hit their marks better.
- Guice's 47-yard touchdown as a great example. Off-tackle zone play to the left, but Toby Weathersby (he's improving by the week) and Foster Moreau fired out to the second level, Ethan Pocic used the nose tackle's slant to pin him down and Vadal Alexander made a legal cut block to create a big lane on the backside. Easy cut for Guice, and from there he just had to turn on the jets.
- The defense had its issues, but it ultimately held Doughty to his season-low average yards per attempt by a significant margin: 5.3 was nearly two yards lower than his previous low (7.0) and almost half of his season average. His completion rate was 15 points off his average on a season-high in pass attempts as well (61 - previous high of 46). That's pretty much the definition of forcing a good player into inefficiency by over-extending himself. His 118.37 rating was his lowest of the year by 14 points.
- The gameplan was, as I suspected, functionally bland. LSU used a lot of cover-two shell with man coverage underneath and forced Doughty to throw into traffic with hands in his face. You saw a lot of timing passes that were just a bit off for the receiver, as well as some awkward angles due to LSU's defensive line getting hands in the air.
- Still, Jeff Brohm had some very smart adjustments. In the second half the Hilltoppers started running more shallow crosses and clearouts versus man-to-man, and they countered the delayed pressure LSU brought early on with some quick screens into the flats. Both of the first two touchdowns were very well-designed plays as well -- a clever shovel pass underneath a rollout, and a play-action jet sweep with a wheel route from the sweep-action lead-blocker underneath a pair of vertical routes on the play-side.
- As for how LSU busted coverage on that 39-yard touchdown to Antwane Grant, I'm not 100 percent sure, but I believe Ed Paris or John Battle were the guilty party, not Rickey Jefferson.
Pre-snap, Jefferson is aligned over the outside receiver, while Paris has outside leverage. But on the snap, Jefferson took the running back, the "lead blocker" on the sweep motion, passing off the receiver to the deep safety, Battle, who had come in motion over the top with the motion man.
But the result is Jefferson and Paris both double-teaming the back, while Battle rolls up to cover the sweep man. Now, I can't say for sure without knowing the call (and I'll update if I find out), but in that set Paris should have the outside man on the line if he releases deep. He's the only one who really looks out of place on the play. It makes sense for Jefferson to have the lead player, and for Battle to have the sweep man after tracking him across the formation.
- Paris appeared to make a similar mistake on a later third-down conversion: with WKU in a two-tight I-formation with an H-back aligned on the TE's hip, Paris tracks a fullback into the flat while the tight end gets behind him for an easy reception. You could see Louis looking at Paris as though he was the one out of place there, and again, him having the outside man on the line makes more sense than having an H-back in the flat on that play.
Again, this is just an educated guess, but it would make sense for the corner to have the end man on the line of scrimmage, not in the backfield.
- Overall, it was a rough day for Paris. He really struggled getting in and out of his breaks in man coverage, and he also drew the holding penalty that negated Donte Jackson's scoop-and-score.
- Jefferson, however, did have one of the worst tackle attempts I've ever seen on D'Andre Ferby's 35-yard run. Although the tight end also had Tashawn Bower in a textbook bear-hug to allow Ferby to get to the edge. Still, Jefferson just ole'd Ferby right by.
- Western Kentucky's other touchdown also featured a miscommunication caused by motion. Taywan Taylor motioned in from his WR spot to the offensive backfield, and Kevin Toliver followed him and stacked up in a safety position. You could see Corey Thompson (who saw his first extended action of the season) make a motion to him like "hey, stay wide, I have deep middle," but Toliver clearly didn't get it and Taylor was wide open on the wheel route.
These things are fixable with young guys, but make no mistake -- Lane Kiffin is going to use these types of motions. So will Arkansas OC Dan Enos.
- Christian LaCouture missed the start with a foot injury, but Greg Gilmore played very well in his stead, hustling up and down the line of scrimmage. Didn't really show up in the stat sheet, but then neither does LaCouture, who mostly just one-gaps the center (and does it well).
- Jamal Adams had one of his best stat lines with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception, but believe it or not he could have been better. He has a tendency to get caught looking in the backfield a little when he's in zone coverage, particularly when he's in the "robber" position over the middle.
- Hate that Jackson's play was overturned by something of a tacky hold. He came wide, avoided a block well and went straight for the ball. If he can start to clean up his coverage a little more he could become a real weapon down the stretch.
- Jackson might have gotten some more punts to return had special teams maybe gone for the block a few more times. WKU's Jake Collins was buying his coverage 2-3 extra seconds with very slow rugby kicks. The lack of a rush allowed for that.
- The onside kick was just egregiously bad. Lazy technique by the front line. Overall, kickoff team was slightly better in terms of lane integrity. When WKU was able to get something of a return it was usually because of a missed tackle, versus a wide-open lane. Punt team also rebounded well from the embarrassment against Florida.
- Still, there's a lot to clean up there. Luckily, Alabama's special teams aren't much better.