It's almost hard to believe that through everything swirling around the LSU football program over the last few days, there was still a game to be played.
And play they did. The Tigers fought through some early problems and mashed the Aggies in the fourth quarter to snap the three-game November skid.
Texas A&M remains winless against LSU since joining the SEC. Honestly, this game has always come down to one thing, and that's toughness on the line of scrimmage. And once again, LSU had it when it counted, and the Aggies did not.
The Tigers earned win No. 111 for Les Miles. They did not, as some thought, earn him his job back -- that decision had already been made. But Miles will be staying nonetheless. How LSU moves forward from the chaos of the last two weeks, and this slide from 7-0 to 8-3, remains to be seen. But for now, this staff will hit the recruiting trail and await its bowl future.
On to the game itself:
- I know some people didn't like LSU being so pass-happy early on, but I think Cam Cameron had the right idea in trying to get Harris into a rhythm while keeping the defense off balance. The Tigers threw in some run situations, got the coverages they wanted and had receivers open with relatively simple reads. Harris simply booted the passes.
- No. 6's regression in the last few weeks really has become frightening. I don't know if it's a confidence problem, mechanical, injury or what but he's really struggling with his accuracy. I charted six passes where Harris had an open receiver with a throw that I think we would all expect him to make, only to have him miss completely. A 13-of-21 performance is dramatically better than 7-of-21, and there could have been at least one more touchdown in there, and possibly more.
- It started early on, too, as Harris missed an open Dupre on a crossing route on third down because he fired the ball way too low and into the defensive line. He would also overthrow John Diarse on a go-route in the endzone, miss Dupre on a play-action post route that could have been a big play, and then miss Diarse again on a deep crossing route off of a flea-flicker that was WIDE open. And that's just in the first quarter or so.
- He also consistently makes bad decisions on zone-read plays. I'm a little curious as to how often he even has the option to keep it, at this point. He almost never does in situations where he could make some nice yardage if he did.
- Of course, there was also a pair of bad drops, one by Diarse on a slant and the other by Fournette on a waggle play in the flat.
- The Tigers appeared to steal a little from the Arkansas playbook, with a pair of end-arounds to Derrius Guice out of a bunch set with a fullback, tight end and Guice flanking a one-back set with Fournette. On the first play, Harris faked the deep handoff to Fournette and gave it to Guice with Bry'Keithon Mouton coming across the formation to act as a lead blocker. A&M wasn't fooled and strung the play out well.
- The second time LSU lined up in the set, all I could think was "oh God not that same play to Guice again," but they changed it up a bit. Foster Moreau motioned into the backfield as a fullback, and LSU faked the power-O give to Fournette before handing it to Guice. The defense was almost completely fooled and the two players that weren't were sealed off by Moreau and a pulling Will Clapp. From there, a quick cut from Guice froze a safety in the open field and he turned on the jets.
- One more reason that to doubt the Joe Schad "third quarter" story. Nobody had good thoughts about Les Miles in the third quarter until Guice hit that touchdown run.
- The possession that ended in Trent Domingue's 25-yard miss was frustrating, largely because of the way it ended, with LSU having substitution issues and trying to rush to the line for a hurry-up play on third and two. The attempted tempo change seemed to throw of the offensive line more than anything, and also badly telegraphed the play.
- Finally, in the fourth quarter, this team decided to break out the ol' pillow case full of doorknobs and just bash the Aggies into submission. Thirteen plays. 80 tough yards, with about the first half of them all straight inside-zone plays. Chavis had the Aggie defensive line slant inside, expecting power plays run at the three-tech defensive tackle. So when LSU ran zone, it created some huge cutback lanes on the back side, particularly on the first two plays of the drive. Colin Jeter was able to turn Myles Garrett out, Mouton hit his mark and Leonard Fournette had tons of open space.
- I feared the substitution foul that set up third-and-11 might be a drive killer, but Cam came back with a very smart call for Harris, that dovetailed well with John Chavis' man-blitz tendencies in those situations. A basic drive/scat combo, with Diarse running a shallow cross to open up the flat for Fournette. Diarse ran a nice pick on the play too, running headlong into the linebacker but getting his hands up to make it look incidental.
- Inside the 10, some smart clock management helped eat as much time as possible in case the third-and-5 run didn't work. And LSU came back with its best play, toss-power O. Jeter and Moreau crashed the defense hard inside, Mouton and Clapp hit their marks on the kick-out and the pull, and due to Jerald Hawkins missing a linebacker at the second level, there was one tackle for Fournette to break and get in.
- Formation count: three-wides led the day with 29 snaps, followed by 25 out of the fullback/tight end 21 set. And that number hit the 20s on that final scoring drive. LSU ran another four plays out of the 12 set, and three out of 22, along with a single goal-line set.
- On defense, LSU had its best game of the season by far. Season low in points, total yards and yards per play allowed, plus the lowest passer-rating allowed as well. Kevin Steele seemed to find his rhythm with some press-man coverage on early downs (which resulted in a couple of plays down the field in one-on-one situations) to set up zone coverage on third down. Kyle Allen took a little while to recognize what he was seeing, and LSU's pass-rush had one of its best games of the year.
- Best game of the year for Arden Key with 8 tackles and 1.5 sacks and three hurries. Dare I say, the game seemed to slow down for the freshman a bit. He was getting off the ball, and setting up the tackle wide to undercut, and really hustling when the Aggies ran away from him.
- LSU got a lot of quality snaps from Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore in this one as well -- Herron was all over the place with eight tackles. If Lewis Neal and Christian LaCouture both return and Ed Orgeron can close out this recruiting class the way we think, there might be a hell of a defensive line here next year.
- How satisfying was it to see Deion Jones come through with a huge game on senior day? He was constantly on the field in nickel and dime sets -- Kendell Beckwith had a bit of a reduced role, likely due to coverage concerns. 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss plus two very heads-up pass break ups. It's even more satisfying when you realize that John Chavis didn't actually want Jones as a linebacker in the class of 2012. Thought he was a better fit at safety. Frank Wilson had to lobby Miles to overrule Chief.
- Donte Jackson's been a bit slow to come around in coverage, but you saw his potential on his late, game-icing interception. It looked like Josh Reynolds had him beat down the field but he was able to make up some ground and use his long arms to get a hand on the ball cleanly and bat it to himself.
- Special teams...where was THAT kickoff coverage all year? Strong kicks and sure tackling when the Aggies brought it out. Lamar Louis did a good job of busting up some double-team blocks.
- It also helps when Guice can break SIX tackles on a 75-yard return. Still, another season passes and there has not been a kickoff return touchdown by the home team in Tiger Stadium. 33 years and counting, right Richard Condon?
In closing, there's still a long way to go and some wounds to heal. But this video right here? This is what it's all about and if it don't sock you right in the feels, there's a part of you missing.