Remember back in September, when we weren’t sure if this team would make a bowl game?
Three weeks later, LSU has hit it’s bye week right at six wins, with a satisfying, if still imperfect, 40-24 win over Ole Miss. It was set up to be a classic trap game, at night, in Oxford, but the Tigers were well prepared, started with emotion, and ultimately put it on the home team.
The Tigers can spend the next week healing up, and then begin a final push through November with a lot to play for — a possible division/conference championship, and a possible New Year’s Six Bowl birth.
That getting healthy is an important part, as we’ve seen with both Derrius Guice and Arden Key on Saturday.
- LSU averaged 8.7 yards per play in this game, a season high, with a success rate of 52 percent.
- The Tigers also started every single drive in the first three quarters of this game inside of its own 25. That’s a testament to the value of explosive plays, given that LSU still finished an anemic four-of-11 on third-down conversions.
- The Rebel running game averaged 5.5 yards per carry in this game, even with sack yardage included. Devin White finished with just three assisted tackles. That strikes me as a likely coincidence.
- I’m sure the zero catches for a wide receiver will get a ton of play from the Humanoids this week, but a season-best 249.3 pass-efficiency rating for Danny Etling is a far more important number here. This passing attack was able to generate big plays through other targets — which gives it a little more versatility down the stretch. At least, in theory.
- Darrel Williams’ becomes the first running back in LSU history to top the 100-yard mark in both rushing and receiving yards in one game. That seems like an insane stat, until you consider most of LSU’s quarterback history — especially matched against some of the receivers that have played here. That may be a key tactic to involve both Williams and Guice in two weeks...
- Speaking of pass efficiency, Shea Patterson finished with a 59.75 rating. This game completely dug past previous lows in completions, yards, completion rate and yards per attempt, at 10-of-23 for 116 yards. Alabama only held him to 14/29 for 165 yards. Although with word that he’ll miss the remaining five weeks with a knee injury, you hate to see a talented player get hurt.
- LSU’s defensive backs set the tone in this one, with LSU playing almost entirely out of a nickel base defense with Greedy Williams and Kevin Toliver on the corners and Donte Jackson in the nickel. Right on the first play we saw the Tigers roll it out, with an interesting twist of safety John Battle rolled up at the line and Jackson playing deeper. Jackson immediately disrupted a throw to A.J. Brown.
- LSU’s corners somehow finished with just two scored pass break-ups, but they were consistently physical and in the face of the Rebel receivers and affecting receptions even without physically batting the ball down. And by the second half you could see it was in the head of the opposition.
- I get a lot of questions about LSU’s offense “looking like” Matt Canada’s 2016 Pitt attack, and we started to see that on Saturday night, from the stance of the way he found multiple uses for set personnel groups and formations. Take for instance, LSU’s first big play of the night, on a swing screen to Darrel Williams:
- Offense is in 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end), but in a shotgun look with Williams and Derrius Guice alongside Danny Etling, and Foster Moreau split out in the slot to the wide side of the field. Williams runs an “orbit” motion behind the quarterback and just runs a basic swing pass, while Moreau and D.J. Chark are screen blocking the whole way. Canada came back to this look several times, adding a play-action fake to Guice to set up the screen, and later bluffing the screen on a hand-off to No. 5. There were also a couple of cross-buck runs out of the set with one back blocking across the formation for a run the other way, and that later set up a play-action pass to Williams for another nice gain.
- These high-percentage, completable throws on early downs are a great set up for the run by keeping the offense in favorable down and distance. Plays like this help manage a limited quarterback, and can help create more favorable situations to get the receivers involved later on.
- Pressure continues to fluster Etling, as we saw on the Tigers’ first red zone possession. Breeland Speaks, who played a whale of a game, completely beats Saahdiq Charles on the edge, and Guice fails to give him much help. LSU was running a quick man-coverage pass concept, but Ole Miss dropped into zone and Etling had nothing when he bailed on the pocket. He has to throw that away immediately and can’t take a sack like that, even with Connor Culp’s emergence.
- I cannot believe Matt Luke kicked a field goal on fourth-and-short on the next Ole Miss possession. Huge chance to take a lead with a hot crowd that you know will get behind you in this game. Yeah, LSU’s offense has its issues, but with a defense this bad you have to know field goals aren’t going to win.
- Very next drive, No. 5 strikes:
- Same grouping as Williams’ big play, only in a one-back set with Guice in the backfield and Williams at the F, this time with a tackle-over set to the field. Williams motions across and runs a sweep fake into the boundary behind a zone stretch play; Charles and Toby Weathersby get a fantastic seal, Guice has a huge crease and takes off. The only reason he didn’t score here is you can still he’s still a shade under 100 percent.
- And the offense lines up quick in the shotgun with Williams in the slot and runs a stretch back to the opposite side, where Guice had a great edge set by his backfield mate, Moreau, and Weathersby to get the touchdown.
- Speaking of players starting to look like their old selves, Arden Key Part One:
- Fantastic get off, jam on the offensive tackle to stay free, and Key forces Shea Patterson to step into the other defensive linemen.
- Arden Key looking like Arden Key Part Two:
- This time left tackle Greg Little is in a good set for Key, but 49 uses his hands to swat Little off, shows some great balance to get around and comes right down on Patterson, with a little help from a slow-developing play-fake. Teams like Bama and Texas A&M that like those types of play passes will have to be aware.
- LSU doesn’t score on the ensuing drive, but they do eat up half of the second quarter and flip field position, leading to Ole Miss getting impatient.
- The Rebels string together two nice plays and then try a double play-fake that fooled absolutely nobody on LSU’s defense, leading to the interception. Ole Miss had two receivers in the pattern, a crossing route underneath a post. LSU’s linebackers had depth to take away the crossing route, and Grant Delpit was planted firmly in the middle of the field, ready to jump the post and pick off his first interception as a Tiger (although he still needs to work on attacking the ball a little more aggressively in the air — still let the receiver get in front of him).
- Delpit continues to put it all together. He’s recognizing things quickly and filling exceptionally well versus the run, and staying home against the pass as well.
- Running mate John Battle, however, had a rough game. He missed tackles on several of Ole Miss’ bigger runs on the day, including Jordan Wilkins’ 28-yard touchdown, allowing the Ole Miss back to cut out of a pile to open space. Interceptions are nice, but a player like Battle needs to do the little things better on a snap-to-snap basis.
- LSU did at least capitalize on Delpit’s interception with more points, albeit with the offense stalling again. Etling did throw his best pass of the night — an absolute dime right over the shoulder to Stephen Sullivan that wasn’t brought in. Ole Miss’ Ken Webster did get a hand in to help break the pass up a bit, but Sullivan has to find a way to cradle that better. Another drop by Russell Gage would also lead to the eventual field goal.
- Right out of the intermission, Guice comes back with another big run, 48 yards to set up a field goal.
- Ace set, that started unbalanced into the boundary, then saw Morau and Charles motion into a standard look. Chark motions in, then runs a jet to the strong side, but instead of a zone play opposite of the fake, LSU runs a counter behind it, with Ed Ingram and J.D. Moore pulling. Moore misses his block, but Guice makes a linebacker miss in the phone booth and breaks out into the open field.
- Ole Miss responds with a field goal drive, and the Tiger offense came right back with a its own answer, thanks to Guice ripping off a 33-yarder off the exact same counter play. The Ole Miss defense would stiffen and defend a second-down play-action pass well, but Etling was able to scramble to get into the endzone.
- The jet-sweep fake helps to set up another nice run for Guice, along with some big blocks from Weathersby and Ingram. And it sets up a touchdown that a number of Canada fans have been waiting to see, on a shovel pass to Moore at the F-back slot:
- LSU starts out bunched in tight in an I-formation look, but with Drake Davis dotting it behind Guice. From there, they shift to a shotgun set with Davis out wide, and Gage in a tight bunch set with Moreau and Moore. Ole Miss is extended to the field, with Speaks in a wide nine technique. Gage fakes the jet sweep with Guice as a lead blocker, the weak-side linebacker gets a bit too wide, Ingram pulls as a lead blocker and Moore has a nice crease to rumble for the touchdown.
- Arden Key looks like Arden Key Part Three:
- You really don’t want to try and read off Key when he’s healthy and ready to go.
- The jet motion and overloads set up LSU’s final touchdown of the night to Moreau, this time a fake to Sullivan in tight on third and short. Ole Miss completely collapsed on the dual run actions and Moreau was all alone, sans for Jamal Pettigrew to escort him down the sideline.
- Toliver puts the capper on this one with the best play of his career, ripping an interception out of D.K. Metcalf’s hands. Toliver didn’t get his head around on the pass — still something he can struggle with on deep balls — but he got his arm into Metcalf’s body, and had great leverage to rip the ball off as the receiver tumbled out of bounds. Whether Toliver was in bounds himself was tough to say, but there was no definitive replay to reverse the call, either.
Strong win for this team, one that’s indicative of progress to this point. Time to use this open date to heal up, and we’ll see where November takes us.