Follow up a historic loss with a historic win; sun rise/sun set, right?
Whether it will mean much for this program, or even this team in the long run, it’s good to go on the road and gut out a tough win over a ranked Florida team that was spoiling to embarrass LSU on Saturday. Florida smelled the proverbial blood in the water and bet big on this game, inviting a ton of prospects — including some LSU targets and commitments for the class of 2019 as well.
With the loss to Troy and the real or potential fallout dominating the weekly news cycle in Baton Rouge, Saturday felt like a breath of air for the Tigers. A chance to regain footing and continue to take some steps forward over the second half of this season.
So let’s review how the Tigers pulled this off.
- It should come as no surprise in a one-point game that the margins were incredibly tight here: LSU averaged 5.3 per play to Florida’s 5.6, with the Gators slightly edging the Tigers on success rate, 46 percent to 43. Florida even finished their drives slightly better at 5.67 points per trip inside the 40 to 4.25.
- So what was the big difference? LSU was able to convert four extra third downs — 6 of 14 versus 2 of 9 — and picked up three crucial big plays of 20-plus yards. Sometimes you just can’t beat timing.
- And, you know, kicking an extra point.
- I don’t know what more I can say about Devin White’s game in terms of superlatives, but you can see him announce himself on Florida’s first true running play of the game, when he just slices through to snuff out the play for no gain.
- Among the criticism of Jim McElwain in this game, the biggest key was just a lack of aggressiveness on offense. He probably should’ve gone for two or maybe even three fourth-and-short opportunities in this one, including on Florida’s first drive. Especially after burning a timeout trying to get LSU to jump.
- Loved Matt Canada’s early script on this drive, with lots of shifts and motions, unbalanced looks, a jet sweep, a shovel pass and a couple of other solid ideas that maybe didn’t quite work out, but had merit. Early, we see the textbook case of how the jet-sweep can work:
- LSU aligns with a tackle-over, unbalanced look into the boundary, and motions Tory Carter over at the F-back slot. Four linemen and Foster Moreau block left and take five defenders with them. K.J. Malone and Carter loop out and occupy the end and corner, and the outside linebacker is completely isolated, and in no position to defend Derrick Dillon coming right at full speed.
- Watch for Auburn to target Arden Key for a lot of traps, pulls and unblocked plays. Early on in this one, Key came close to batting down a screen but was a hair late, and later on he allowed a pulling guard to completely engulf him and lose contain on a run by Lamical Perine. I can’t say if it’s just conditioning or game reps, but he’s clearly not up to speed yet and don’t be surprised if Auburn tries to take advantage of that.
- Key did do a nice job of dropping into coverage on Florida’s second-quarter scoring opportunity on third down, and later force Felipe Franks to step up into a sack before the half.
- Conversely, watch for Grant Delpit over the coming weeks. He was doing a great job of crashing some running lanes early on, and nearly made a nice diving pick in the first half. If the game is slowing down, and he can start anticipating things, that could lead to some big plays.
- Another game, another targeting penalty, this time on offense, by Dillon.
- He’s not late on the hit, but he is high and there’s clear helmet-to-helmet contact. I have a number of issues with this officiating crew, but I think this is a good call. Dillon could have easily gone lower and achieved a similar effect on this block. And the reality is players just have to be aware that anything in the helmet area draws the risk of a flag.
- That said, credit Danny Etling for coming right back to Darrel Williams on another check-down to pick up the first. He’d later miss Williams on this drive on a wide-open wheel route from the F-back spot. No excuse, clean pocket, just missed. Here’s hoping that’s a play Canada comes back to later in the year though. That could also be a way to create some mismatches for Derrius Guice as well.
- Russell Gage, in addition to leading LSU in rushing, had a really well-rounded day on special teams as well, with a big tackle on Brandon Powell on one punt, and downing the final boot from Zach Von Rosenberg to pin Florida for their last possession. His hurdling skills finally paid off too on a nice pickup.
- Very interesting shift on that play: LSU started out in an I-formation with Williams in the up-back position and Drake Davis dotting the I, with Carter and Foster Moreau bunched into the boundary. From there they shifted into an Ace set with Williams in the backfield, Davis split wide into the boundary and Gage, Carter and Morea in a bunch set to the field. End-around, Carter gets a nice clearout block and an easy 10 yards for Gage. His hurdle picked up another five.
- Few plays later, Gage lines up in the F- position to the strong side of a tackle-over set, and runs for his first touchdown.
- Moreau helps to hold up a linebacker just a step, and then D.J. Chark blocks the corner into him while Gage loops wide with plenty of room. While LSU is still patchworking together freshmen up front, this kind of misdirection is going to be key to keep the running game working. To be honest, Canada should have maybe stuck with the jet a little more in the second half rather than moving more towards the interior running game.
- Etling’s final sequence to close out the first half really kind of colored a performance that, overall, should probably be remembered for his guts running overall. First...
- Guice motioned out of the backfield to create trips to the field, and Etling rushes through a “Spot” concept read and tries the flat pass to No. 5, which Duke Dawson nearly picks off. Had Etling waited just a beat, he could have had an easy completion to Stephen Sullivan right behind Dawson on the corner route. A first down, at minimum, and maybe even a chance for six.
- After officials missed a flinch from the offensive line and Danny ate a short gain, he was slow to manage a huddle coming out of a Florida timeout, forcing LSU to use one of their own. On the next play, he has Williams out of the backfield right away with plenty of room and a potential first. He even had time to maybe hitch up and wait for Sullivan to come open on a crossing route, but he forced it and again, was nearly intercepted. Luckily, Connor Culp saved the drive with a field goal.
- Although Cam Gamble was sure to freak us out with YET ANOTHER KICKOFF OUT OF BOUNDS.
- First drive of the second half, LSU comes out with two successful runs and tries a play-action bomb — Etling can’t quite get the ball out in front of Chark, but No. 7 comes up with a helluva heads-up play to wrestle it away from the Florida DB. Fifty-fifty goes to the receiver, but at the point of the catch this one was probably 60-40 Florida, before Chark pulled the ball away as they hit the ground. Credit Etling for getting the team lined up very fast for a running play before the replay could run. It’s not exactly a fair standard, but Myles Brennan failed to do that later when Etling was knocked out and awarded a conversion on a third-down run. It’s a savvy play we don’t see often enough in general, in my opinion.
- Of course, a competent set of officials wouldn’t need so many replays, such as later in the third when Kadarius Toney is awarded a 22-yard run when he very clearly stepped out after eight in full view of the side judge. On the very next play, the crew missed an incredibly obvious tip by Donte Jackson on a pass-interference call. To say nothing of the offsetting penalties call on Gage and Duke Dawson because — I don’t know — Gage had the temerity to let his facemask get in the way of Dawson’s slap. The SEC should apologize for these mistakes and the officials involved should be disciplined.
- The big key for this offense, especially with the freshmen linemen out there, is to stay ahead of the chains with positive gains on first downs. The jet-sweep and other quick throws bailed the Tigers out at times in this game, and will need greater use in the future. Canada really needs to be judicious with his shot calls, not just because of Etling’s limitations, but because of the position an incompletion can put this team. Expanding the sweep game to include Drake Davis and Sullivan has its own benefits as well.
- As rough as LSU’s defense looked through the third quarter, credit them for standing tall in the fourth. White has all the headlines, and deservedly so. Keeping him on the field will be crucial down the stretch, because the drop off to Donnie Alexander, Tyler Taylor and especially Jonathan Rucker is stark. Christian LaCouture and Greg Gilmore both played their asses off in this game as well. They have their talent limitations, and this team needs to continue to rotate in a healthy Ed Alexander, Glen Logan and starting this week, Frank Herron, but 18 and 99 deserve kudos for setting an example.
- Whether it’s health, or lack of ability, John Battle was exposed in this one as well. Gave up a couple of third-and-long completions in coverage, and whiffed on a big gain for Lamical Perine in the third quarter.
- Small thing that can go unnoticed: Donte Jackson forcing an incompletion by Franks, but absolutely bull-rushing Malik Davis right into his QB on a blitz.
There are questions and limitations that remain for this team, especially with a tough matchup against Auburn looming, but there are also some lessons to take from this game, and tactics the coaching staff can build on. It will be interesting to see if this is just another pass-through on the season or a real turning point.