So we’re a week late on this because well…life and stuff. But I did manage to rewatch LSU’s absolutely dominant defensive performance against the Louisville Cardinal and if possible, the defense actually looked better the second time around.
Before we even get to my film notes, let’s just review a couple of nuggets from the box score on just how badly Dave Aranda’s defense smoked Bobby Petrino’s offense:
- LSU had 10 tackles for loss – a figure is just one short of the number of tackles for loss the Cardinals had allowed in their three other losses combined (11).
- The Tigers sacked Jackson eight times, or on 15 percent of his total plays (53 combined runs and passes).
- Louisville was forced to punt eight times, a season high, AND;
- Converted just 11.7 percent of their third-down situations – not only a season low, but less than half of the previous low (25 percent versus Virginia).
It goes without saying that Aranda did a fantastic job of scouting, both of how his own players matched up with the Cards, but also what to expect out of the offense. In a lot of ways, the performance was somewhat reminiscent of what Bama did to the Tigers back in November, in that there just weren’t a ton of answers for Louisville. They could have tried doing some different things, but that likely just fails a different way.
As for the LSU offense…well…let’s just get to the tape:
- Performance to forget from both the LSU offensive line and Danny Etling, who was just off for most of this game, and never really seemed to have his footing to him on his throws, even when not pressured. As we’ll detail, the major difference was a couple of ridiculous catches in the second quarter that converted a couple of third downs.
- So what was working so well for the defense? For starters, the pass-rush was exceptionally disciplined, almost never getting beyond Lamar Jackson and giving him a running lane. Meanwhile, the back-seven flooded the zone, not only preventing Jackson from getting to the edge if he got outside, but also inhaling any short throws and crossing patterns.
- We saw that right away on UL’s opening third down, where Aranda brought pressure through the A-gap, but still had two defenders outside to cover a quick swing pass — which Jackson threw poorly anyway. A play that looked exceptionally well-scouted.
- Still, Jackson and Petrino managed to make a play on the next possession, catching Jamal Adams in a man-to-man mismatch against a wide receiver for a 53-yard gain. Held to a field goal, though. Davon Godchaux rolled through a block to stuff Jackson on a QB run, followed by LSU having tight coverage on a rollout play, and then Donte Jackson breaking up a quick slant throw.
- On the Cardinals next possession, Devin White picked up the first actual sack of the day, timing the snap well and slicing right through UL right guard Kiola Mahoni (a frequent target) and closing on Jackson, holding on despite a stiff-arm attempt from the Heisman winner.
- To this point, LSU’s offense had failed to find much room for the running game, but credit Steve Ensminger for adjusting to this point with a couple of clever plays on the Tigers’ first scoring drive — including a few that look familiar as we study Matt Canada. Among other plays, Travin Dural motioned from a trips formation into the backfield as a fullback, then went out into the flat, while Derrius Guice caught a short screen pass to the other side of the field to get LSU inside the 10.
- The first touchdown of the day was a pretty simple Spider-2 Y-Banana pass play, but Louisville completely overplayed the flat route, creating an easy throw to Colin Jeter for six. Yes, he threw the Venus.
- Next possession, LSU gets another three-and-out, and the third-down play shows just how much the Tigers were in Louisville’s head.
- The Tigers flash their “mug” front with all three interior offensive linemen covered, and then right before the snap, Tashawn Bower (who had his best game of the year in his final one for the Tigers) moves from a three- to a two-point stance, while Donnie Alexander flips over to the offensive left B gap. The center is so confused, that when Lewis Neal moves over into Bower’s position he’s able to crash right through the A-gap while Duke Riley loops out wide against the tackle. Neal is right on Jackson and pushes him wide, but there’s speed on the edge with Riley, and Bower has dropped right into the throwing lane, and comes up to make sure Jackson goes out of bounds short of the sticks.
- We’d discussed the Cardinals’ struggles on third-and-long in previewing this game, and sure enough that’s really where the Tigers won this one on defense. Louisville’s average yardage to gain on third down was 7.7 on the day, and the Tigers sacked Jackson twice in six third downs that were of a shorter length.
- Of course, LSU’s average distance was 7.8, which probably explains a lot of the offense’s struggles. Although it all went right on the Tigers’ next possession, thanks to three fantastic catches by Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark, all on third down. Dupre climbed a ladder to catch an out on the Tigers’ first third down of the day, then converted the next one on that ridiculous one-handed catch on a crossing route. Chark managed a fantastic diving catch on a bomb to get the Tigers on the goal-line.
- Touchdown came on another nifty red-zone pass play: LSU split DeSean Smith out wide, then motioned J.D. Moore out to the other side of the formation, effectively creating a one-back set, before executing a standard play-action waggle pass from Etling to Guice for the score.
- To this point, LSU had a 14-3 lead halfway through the second quarter, and Louisville had completed all of one pass on the day. The Tigers seemed poised to break this game open, but didn’t manage it despite getting quite a few chances.
- A couple of sacks and other negative plays — including a fantastic pursuit tackle by Jamal Adams on a zone-read play — helped to flip the field, and one completion was just enough for the Tigers to pin the Cardinals inside their own 10 in the half’s closing minutes.
- On first down, Jackson nearly throws an interception to Godchaux that would have been an easy score. The Cardinals tried to run a staggered pair of tunnel screens to either side of the field and LSU’s front had each read perfectly. Jackson threw right into Godchaux’s hands but he couldn’t hold on. Jackson nearly threw it away to Tre’davious White on the next play too, and then the safety:
- Just a four-man rush, but a beautiful slant from the nose takes up both the right guard and the center. The right tackle is outnumbered, and Riley has a clean lane right to Jackson, who is forced to try and escape right into Key’s speed rush. The play had started with an overload front to the field, but that side dropped while the defense slanted in from the other side. Exactly the kind of disguised defense we’ve come to expect out of Aranda.
- Ugly sequence on the next possession though. First, Guice misplays a short kick following the safety, putting the Tigers in terrible field position. And on the first play, Etling escapes a blitz and tries to throw the ball away, but short arms it and allows a Louisville defender to get the pick. Ed Orgeron looked like he was trying to scan Etling’s brain with laser eyes as he came to the sideline. Can’t say I blame him, because seriously…you threw an interception trying to get the ball out of bounds. Although Jalen Hurts very nearly did the same thing that afternoon against Washington.
- Although the defense still held the Cardinals to a field goal, and very nearly sacked Jackson and took them out of range.
- The second half was more of the same, with both defensive fronts winning the line of scrimmage, save for one perfectly-executed run:
- And it’s a run we should prepare to see a lot of next year in the Matt Canada offense. LSU fakes the jet sweep with Chark, on a power run with Will Clapp pulling around to lead Guice. The fake does its job and occupies two defenders, while the entire right side of LSU’s offensive line is perfect. Toby Weathersby and Josh Boutte block down perfectly, and Clapp’s pull creates a huge hole. Guice slips through one tackle about eight yards down the field, breaks to the sideline, slips one more ankle tackle and is off to the races.
LSU would peter out save for a couple of field goals, but with the defense firmly in command Louisville rarely threatened. The Tigers got some fantastic games out of some players that are definitely departing — Bower, Godchaux, Adams, White and Dwayne Thomas — plus a career game out of one that coul be leaving in Dupre, with seven catches for 139 yards.
Overall, all it probably means for 2017 is that LSU’s defense will be nasty yet again, but we knew that already. And Guice could become one of the sport’s superstars in Canada’s offense. But we knew those things before kickoff anyway.
Still, the 2016 Tigers were an up-and-down team that showed tremendous potential that wasn’t totally realized, costing one coach his job and helping another to get it. It’s a memorable season by any stretch, but now it’s time to move on to something new in the Coach O Era.
If there’s one thing that seems a sure bet, it’s that the next journey will still be interesting.