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LSU 44, Eastern Michigan 22: Viewer's Guide to the Replay

A sub-par effort wastes an opportunity.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was frustrating. What started out as a very promising opportunity to tighten up on the Tigers' game after a few possessions turned into an ugly slugfest for LSU. Ugly second and third quarters allowed the Eagles to hang around, and while LSU put things away in the fourth quarter it felt more annoying than anything.

LSU managed to nearly double EMU's yardage, averaged 7.5 yards per play to the Eagles' 4.5 and won the turnover margin 3-1, and still allowed 22 points, completed just 4 passes in 15 attempts and was 1-for-6 on third down. The box score for this game reads really weird.

Anyway, on to the observations:

  • I don't think there's any doubt that the program approached this play with something of a scrimmage mentality. The play-calling in the first half screamed "HEY LETS WORK ON THE PASSING GAME!" And in the coaches' defense, EMU kept 8-9 men within 10-12 yards of the line of scrimmage, and was daring LSU to throw it early on.

  • And for about two possessions, it worked. LSU's first pass play was a play-action bootleg and Harris found Malachi Dupre on a crossing route. A couple of runs and a nice yards-after-catch play by Travin Dural on a comeback route, eight plays, 73 yards, seven points.

  • Possession No. 2 got a little rougher, as Dural dropped a potential score on a post route, and Tyron Johnson likewise dropped a slant on a well set up playfake out of the shotgun. But Harris made a nice play on a zone read and LSU had a 14-0 lead. But after that it got rough.

  • Brandon Harris hit on four of his first seven throws and then went 0-for on his next EIGHT. Overall, I tracked six drops or miss-played balls by receivers, but there was plenty of blame to go around in terms of hits passing game being out of synch:

    • Harris kind of reminded me of Zach Mettenberger circa 2012, in that he looked like he was maybe gripping the ball a little too tight and pressing to make the perfect throw. His timing was slightly off on a deep post thrown go Dural early on, allowing a DB to close on the ball, and he underthrew one to John Diarse later in the game, although both drew DPI penalties. In both cases, if he leads his man up the field it's a likely touchdown. There was also a missed attempt to hit Johnson on a back-shoulder throw in the second half that was too far inside, allowing the DB to break it up.

    • Still, Harris doesn't make a ton of egregious errors. His pocket presence is solid and he doesn't put many passes up for grabs. His first interception of the season wasn't really his fault, as he took a shot on the play that tipped the ball in the air for a defender to grab. His day wasn't great by any stretch, but it looked a little better on review.

    • His biggest mistake was the wide open touchdown throw to Leonard Fournette that he missed in the second quarter. Harris locked on to Dupre on a corner route from the jump with a blitz and man-to-man coverage. If he would have hitched up, Fournette was all alone inside the five and would have walked in. Led to LSU settling for a field goal.

    • That said, when he did lay it out for his guys they weren't exactly helping out. Dural had a pair of drops, with the second done particularly egregious. He was wide open on a curl route down the field and lost his concentration trying to run with the ball before he had it. Dural and Dupre also each had catchable balls they just misplayed in the air. Dupre couldn't track a jump ball throw on a nifty play where Harris pump-faked the bubble screen underneath while Dupre faked his block and went down field. Dural later cut a route short trying to post up the defensive back, while Harris threw the ball a couple yards farther into the endzone.

  • In a lot of ways the issues remind me a little of the Tiger defensive backs early on last season -- just off on a lot of 50/50 plays resulting in big mistakes for the whole defense. The good news is that evened out as the season continued. Will that for this bunch? Time will tell. But they're capable of playing better than this. Honestly, we've seen better play than we saw on Saturday already this year.

  • The receiver rotation was steady in this one, with Johnson, Diarse and Trey Quinn all getting a lot of snaps. I wouldn't be surprised if a shakeup continues until somebody starts producing steadily.

  • The biggest compliment I can give to No. 7 is that he makes a nice run completely mundane. Plays that I thought went almost nowhere at the time picked 5 or 6 yards on the rewatch, sometimes even picking up first-down yardage. We're so trained to expect the big play from Fournette that we actually miss it when he just makes a regular one.

  • It should be absolutely no surprise that with the passing game misfiring, LSU just brought out the big gun in the second half. Especially when the first play from scrimmage is a 75-yard touchdown. LSU ran a wide zone play with a toss -- giving Fournette an extra step to read his blocks. Colin Jeter and Jerald Hawkins set the edge beautifully and gave Fournette the corner and from there he just cut through a little traffic and accelerated. There was nothing Eastern Michigan could do.

    The best thing about the play is how inevitable it seemed.

  • Uncharacteristically rough day for Hawkins, who gave up both of LSU's sacks with one ending a drive and the other leading to a turnover and an easy scoring opportunity for the visitors. On the first sack, EMU's Clay Dawson just beat Hawkins off the snap, and while Hawkins was able to keep Dawson wide, he never got a good punch on him, so when Harris tried to break containment it was an easy play. On sack two, the outside linebacker bluffed a wide blitz, freezing Hawkins flat-footed. From there a slanting defensive end caught him with a bull-rush, took him off his feet and had an easy shot on the QB.

  • Maybe it's just me, but is anybody else glad that Harris got that first turnover of the year out of the way versus a team like EMU?

  • Another play worth noting, only because we talked about it some last week: one of Harris' completions was a shovel pass to Derrius Guice on a jet sweep play. LSU lined up in an empty set, brought Guice across the formation and made the quick pitch for a six-yard gain.

  • Would it have been nice to get Fournette out of this game with less carries? Yes. But the way the rest of the offense was operating, I'm not sure it was possible. But his load is going to have to be lightened at some point.

  • Defense is an area that I expected to look much worse than it did, largely because the starting 11 handled EMU pretty well. It was when backups rolled in that the Eagles were able to string some plays together. And of the Eagles' three scoring drives, one took all of three yards and the other two were set up by strong returns (we'll get to special teams).

  • In particular, LSU just looked like a different defense when Kendell Beckwith was off the field. EMU really threw it all out there in terms of misdirection and gadget-type plays, and some 101 yards were a direct result of backup linebacker Duke Riley either misreading something or getting blocked out of a play:

    • On EMU's third possession, Riley and Lamar Louis were blocked out of three runs that gained 25 yards. The defense stiffened when Beckwith and Debo Jones rotated back in, and LSU eventually forced an interception.

    • In the second half, Riley released Sam Browning to try and close on the quarterback on the scramble, resulting in a 30-yard completion. Brogan Roback (quarterback or Game of Thrones character?) was avoiding a pass-rush, but there was enough pursuit that Riley didn't need to try and break to the passer like that.

    • EMU's final scoring drive featured a pair of rollout plays where Roback threw a backside screen, and on both plays Riley mirrored the QB and allowed a back to sneak out the backside. With single-high safety coverage Riley was either matched up on those players man to man or had backside curl/flat zone responsibilities.

  • So while I hate to single out one guy, that's about 101 yards of offense in six plays. Duke may want to just burn the tape of this one.

  • On the plus side, I think this defensive line is starting to come together a little. Tashawn Bower dressed but didn't play, and defensive end depth held up pretty well. Lewis Neal is an all-out effort guy on every snap and picked up a pair of sacks, and Arden Key has become enough of a concern that defenses are giving tackles help. And when they don't, the tackles are getting away with a lot of holding on No. 49. Sione Teuhema also had one of his most complete games as a Tiger with 7 tackles and a tackle for loss. He's also one of the few special teamers giving his best effort.

  • The pick-six play by Debo was beautiful. Key stunted hard inside and had a clear path to the QB, who just gave the ball a side-armed heave to try and avoid the sack. Jones was in tight coverage on the tight end in the flat and was in perfect position to undercut the receiver and take the ball to the endzone.

  • Likewise, Kevin Toliver as perfect on his interception. I don't think Roback had tested him all game to that point, either.

  • Overall LSU played mostly cover-one with man coverage and a sprinkling of two-deep zone on third down. And with that they were able to generate a season-high 8 tackles for loss, plus the three interceptions. If you can put up those numbers and hold a team to just 4.5 yards per play and still have it feel like an imperfect day, that's still pretty good.

  • And now the special teams: LSU has to find 10 players that WANT to play good football on kickoff coverage. Too many players (Guice in particular did this a few times) are running down field and losing their coverage lanes trying to run around blocks, instead of engaging the return team and helping create pursuit opportunities for their teammates. It looks like a group of guys trying so hard to make the play themselves that they're not playing as a team.

  • If you wanted to find a silver lining to that unit, it's that the kicking itself improved. Trent Domingue made all three of his attempts, including a 45-yarder. On kickoffs, he did have one bad line drive and one kick out of bounds, but otherwise did his job in terms of pinning the returner to the sideline. Cameron Gamble did well in the second half as well, getting some very nice hangtime, even if his teammates didn't take advantage.

  • Jamie Keehn also had his best day of the year, with a 44.5-yard average, a punt downed inside the 20 and none returned. Punting all of two times probably helped.

  • Formation count: the run-heavy second half, particularly the 14-play final drive, led to the I-formation dominating with 33 plays out of 21 personnel. One back looks came in second with 14 plays out of 11 personnel. LSU lined up in a 22 look 12 times, and even used a 20 look (two backs and three receivers) twice. A pair of goal-line looks and one play in the 12 personnel grouping rounded things out.

The good and the bad of this one is that all of these problems are still fixable, and we've seen this team throw the ball better than it has today, even in limited capacity. But if LSU can't find a way to raise its intensity level more consistently, they're going to be in trouble next weekend in South Carolina.