Coming into this game, I talked about LSU not being able to address every problem that was displayed in week three’s beat down to Mississippi State. The need to just take a single step forward as best that you can. Put the last game behind you, and take down the team that’s in front of you.
That wasn’t a high bar, but the Tigers found a way to clear it, and persevere for a win in a situation where the breaks of the game were clearly favoring the opponent.
The good news is that LSU’s offense was able to calmly, and methodically, march right down the field and put up a touchdown and put this game away when Syracuse was able to get within a field goal of the lead with plenty of time left.
The bad news is that the Tiger offense remained stuck in the mud for a quarter and a half or so, only to take their foot off the gas once they were able to get things going, and allow the Orange to close an 18-point gap in the second half.
The ugly is part of what we’ll get into through the tape.
- We’ll start with what had been a sore spot for many penalties — just three for 25 yards, but a really tough roughing the passer call that helped set up Syracuse’ final touchdown on third and long. Just an unnecessary hit by K’Lavon Chaisson, and a mistake that proved critical.
- Although, for what it’s worth, it also came on a play that should have been blown dead at the snap, as the play clock had been at 00 for a good two seconds. Referees had a terrible time managing Syracuse’ offense. They allowed substitutions without standing over the ball, and simply ignored set rules at the line of scrimmage. The Orange also really like to simulate snaps, which is illegal as well. Luckily that never caught the Tigers.
- LSU’s average starting field position through the second and third quarters was their 15 and 16 yard lines, respectively. Syracuse’ Sterling Hofrichter was really in a grove.
- The blind spot of raw stats: LSU averaged 6.8 yards per play and was 7 of 13 on third down. You would have guessed that yielded a relatively efficient offense, but five punts, a safety and a woeful 4.0 yards per carry tell another story. Syracuse had 24 first downs to 18 for LSU.
- Thirteen tackles, half a tackle-for-loss and a pass break up that was nearly a very athletic interception for Devin White. He’s really coming into his own in the middle of this defense.
We’ll lead this off with the offensive line, because that’s been the focus of most of the discussion on this one. I jumped into this game with pretty low expectations based on what I saw on the field in Tiger Stadium. What I saw was still bad, but not quite in the way I expected. From a protection standpoint, the issues were relatively spread out — including tight ends and backs. Syracuse sent not just a lot of pressure, but a lot of delayed pressures from safeties and corners that Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams and Foster Moreau all struggled to pick up at times.
In the running game, the most egregious errors came from the right guards, mostly Ed Ingram and Adrian Magee, who started out like a bit of a house of fire in the second quarter but cooled off and had some big mistakes in the second half.
LSU began to have some success throwing quick to attack the blitzing, but I don’t think anybody feels well enough about it to call that a long-term answer right now. It is something that Matt Canada will have to keep thinking about down the line.
- Starting with a bang for Greedy Williams: his interception looked a whole lot like his pick against Chattanooga. Syracuse motioned a back out wide, Williams switched off onto him while the interior receiver was bracketed. Eric Dungey stares down his read, Williams drops into a short zone and breaks on the ball perfectly. Don’t think he expected Dungey to be able to catch on the return, or he might have dove for the pylon and scored.
- Overall, zone-and-tackle seemed to be Dave Aranda’s initial gameplan for the Orange, and it worked early on, until a very well-designed direct-snap-reverse picks up a first. Not the last time schoolyard, “ball don’t lie” tactics would work.
- First offensive series gets off to a really rough start as Toby Weathersby gets beaten badly for a sack. LSU shifts to a tackle-over, unbalanced alignment into the boundary, with David Ducre and the two receivers to the field. It’s a play-action, deep drop with a levels concept, and Ducre was wide open on a crossing route, but Weathersby was just smoked right out of his stance by Syracuse’ Kendall Coleman. No miscue or missed assignment, just plain beat. Coleman forced Danny Etling up into the pocket and there was no chance for him to see the wide open Ducre.
- Non-line protection issues show up on the next offensive snap: LSU rolls Etling and Foster Moreau struggles to hold at the edge — which is kind of the crucial block as that particular rusher is going to have the shortest path to the QB. Still, LSU was able to string together a couple plays on this possession, despite a steady stream of six-man rushes with corners and safeties involved. Although the pressure that would ultimately force the punt came on a three-man rush when the nose tackle just absolutely powered over Will Clapp. Moreau would later give up the sack on the first play of Etling’s final drive before he was swapped out for Myles Brennan.
- By the end of the quarter, LSU had run just 10 plays for 11 yards, and were starting on their own goal line. But the Tigers finally put a solid run together with a pin-and-pull power run off a jet-sweep fake:
- Moreau, Clapp and Ed Ingram all hit their spots here, and Darrel Williams picks up a much needed first down on third and eight. Ingram would commit his most notable mental error of the night on third and one a few plays later:
- Pretty clear that Ingram missed a call somewhere, and is not supposed to be pulling. Guice runs right at his hole, and afterwards Clapp kind of gives him the “what were you doing?” bit. Ingram would be benched for Adrian Magee shortly thereafter, who was certainly ready to hit people, but would eventually make his own mental errors.
- It took a quarter plus, but Canada started working around the pressure with some quick throws and clear-out plays — this was a nifty motion concept that LSU came back to later when Myles Brennan came in:
- Chark motions in, then orbits back out into the slot into kind of a starburst of curl routes out of a trips bunch. It’s the kind of play, and motion that you can work off of later on with some double-moves. In this case, it was a nice pickup on third and five.
- Few players later, very pretty strike to Stephen Sullivan for a touchdown that nearly mirrored the TD he dropped in the Chattanooga game.
- LSU aligns trips to the field, and Sullivan runs a skinny post on the back side — he’s your man-coverage beater should the defense over-play the concept side here, and that’s exactly what happens as the robber safety comes up on a short crossing route. Easy throwing lane, great throw and Sullivan does a really nice job crossing the field after the catch to get the six.
- Another really pretty read and throw by Etling on the second long touchdown to Drake Davis. Play-fake with the jet-sweep action, with double post routes from Davis and Ducre out of the F-back slot. Middle safety comes up, Drake is behind him and Etling just lays out a perfect deep ball. Davis needs to learn to keep his eyes on the ball a bit, but he recovered and took it in.
- On the quarterbacks — earlier in the week, a lot of people talked about prioritizing some snaps for Brennan, and it’s clear that Orgeron did as well. It was talked about very early in the broadcast and then re-iterated coming out of the half by ESPN’s sideline reporter. I don’t see why people are so up in arms over it. Sure, Etling had completed six of his last seven throws, but the offense had also just gone three and out. Plus, he quickly donned a cap and headset, and would later be seen excitedly running through things with Brennan following the fourth touchdown drive. The idea that there’s some controversy here seems a bit manufactured, to be honest.
- Brennan, for his part, came in and immediately led another touchdown drive, largely operating out of the same clear-out plays. Once Canada felt he’d established a few things he stayed with it — including coming right back to a swing pass to Williams one play after Syracuse was able to just barely disrupt the timing with a tip at the line.
- LSU’s motions and unbalanced formations paid off with Williams’ 20-yard score:
- K.J. Malone and Moreau “trade” positions, with a fake sweep to the unbalanced boundary. Clapp pulls around and gets a strong seal, Williams’ stutters one defender a few yards down the field and then powers in.
- Back to the QB switch: if I have one complaint, it’s that it did seem to lead to the rest of the team taking their foot off the gas a bit. It probably didn’t help that other backups, including former walk-on Jonathan Rucker, were out there trying to chase Dungey and Syracuse’ umpteen trick plays.
- In terms of Brennan’s second drive, it’s definitely fair to question putting him in that position, backed inside his own endzone. That said, given how he’d performed on the previous drives, and the score at that moment, I think there’s also something to be said to raising the stakes a bit. I don’t know that this is nearly the cut-and-dried decision that people want it to be.
- That said, if the coaching staff continues to ping-pong between the two, that would be bad. If Etling is the starter, ride with him, especially once we hit the meat of the schedule. It’s one thing to give Brennan a few series again against Troy. But beyond that, LSU’s going to need to pick a horse and ride with it, provided one proves he can get the offense galloping.
- And, unless there was some check Brennan failed to make, it’s certainly not his fault that Syracuse picked up a safety — that falls on Magee, who committed a cardinal sin for blocking on the play-side of a power run. Uncovered by a defensive lineman, he looks to the outside and fires out to the mike linebacker, which allows the weakside linebacker to shoot the A-gap and make the play. Power is ALWAYS blocked inside-out, especially for an uncovered lineman. Huge mental bust by Magee there.
- A bit of the freshman came out on the next drive for Brennan. He had an issue getting in and out of the huddle, and then very nearly threw this pick early on:
- Play-action levels concept to the field, with Ducre in the flat and Chark behind him, and at the apex of his drop Brennan hitches his feet just slightly, and it’s enough for the curl-area defender to nearly jump the route. Throws like that, especially on first and 10, need to be bang-bang. Hit the top of the drop, fire. Just a timing/speed-of-the-game thing that has to come with experience.
- Meanwhile, Davis takes the blame for Brennan’s actual interception — and on review, you can see him take a short hop over from the spot Brennan was throwing to right at the top of his curl route. Chances are, Davis thought he was getting into a better window for his quarterback, but Brennan was throwing to the spot. The kind of mistake inexperienced players can make. Luckily, LSU was able to hold on.
- Tough spot for K’Lavon Chaisson on the roughing-the-passer call. The quarterback gets kind of bounced into him by Corey Thompson, and his only real chance to avoid a call is to catch him. Truth is, the play should have been blown dead for delay of game.
- For as aggressive as Dino Babers was all game, with school-yard play after school-yard play, it seemed a bit odd that he handed LSU field position late with an onside kick that the Tigers were looking for. With a short field, LSU was able to get the running game moving again, and eventually set up the jet sweep to Chark for the final touchdown.
- Overall, I think we saw a solid performance from both quarterbacks. The key moving forward will be working to their strengths, and around the limitations of this offensive line. More clear-outs and quick throws should help, and it might be a good idea to put some emphasis on the jet sweep to space out fronts a bit.