LSU saw it’s first true gimme opponent on Saturday night in the Rice Owls, and blew through them in sidedish-appropriate fashion for an efficient 42-10 victory.
While the Tigers didn’t cover the 44-point spread, they did accomplish a couple of the very reasonable goals I outlined before the game: season-bests in yards per play (8.0), third-down conversion rate (62.5) and a perfect five-for-five on red-zone conversions, all touchdowns.
I don’t know if that constitutes true “progress” for the offense, but it could be something to build on as the Tigers prepare for a big finale at Texas A&M this week, with plenty on the line. In the meantime, the preseason fourth/fifth place team in the SEC West just won their ninth game of the season, with one more regular season game left to go and at least one postseason game. And the playoffs, while unlikely, aren’t even off the table.
So let’s look back at some points from the game:
- Right out of the shoot, LSU took the ball and went out to try and make a statement quickly with the offense. And Steve Ensminger called a good game against a more zone-based defense with a lot of stick and levels concepts. And for Joe Burrow’s part, he did a great job of just taking what the defense gave him — that, more so than trying to bomb away down the field, is clearly more of his game. And the result was a 20-of-28 passing day for more than 300 yards to seven different receivers. I don’t know if the results are replicable, but the focus can be.
- LSU’s offense was perfect on third down through the first half, up until the final play. And they converted from distances of 4, 4, 2 and 5 yards. Schedule matters.
- Drops were, of course, a problem for LSU’s receivers in the first half; four of them within Burrow’s first 14 pass attempts, which made for all four of his incompletions. The most frustrating may have been Justin Jefferson’s drop on the Tigers’ first possession, if only because it was maybe Burrow’s prettiest deep ball of the year. Right over his shoulder, in stride.
- As expected, Rice runs a pro-style scheme that kind of does a bit of everything, from base I-formations to some Wildcat/spread runs. It’s success was pretty much determined by LSU’s defensive line, and whether or not they could occupy blockers and keep the linebackers free. They did a fantastic job in the first half, and when Rice did manage to get on some short-yardage third downs, Dave Aranda was able to just rush three and drop eight, congesting the passing lanes for the Owls’ QBs.
- LSU was able to set the edge on zone runs pretty consistently, but couldn’t on the left side for Jontre Kirklin’s attempted quarterback sweep. Neither Saahdiq Charles or Jefferson got much of a crease, but that doesn’t excuse Kirklin’s poor ball security, either.
- Still, the offense came right back. Burrow makes a nice completion over the middle to Moreau, Nick Brossette picks up a nice run, and then an easy jump-ball to Stephen Sullivan for the touchdown off of play-action.
- Lots of defensive linemen rotated in this one, and Neil Farrell made a huge stop in the first quarter on an attempted veer play from the gun. Drove right at the mesh, flashed just enough to the back’s side to make the QB keep it, but he had nowhere to go with Farrell in his lap.
- By Rice’s fifth possession, they were able to find a few things that worked for them, and a handful of missed plays — a tackle by Grant Delpit on a wildcat keeper by Jumo Otiviano, and Greedy Williams on a jump-ball play down the sideline. A nice sack by Tyler Shelvin held them to the field goal on another third-and-medium passing situation where LSU was able to clog the passing lanes with eight in coverage.
- Keeping Burrow in for a two-minute drill made a lot of sense, because he still needs his own work at quarterback, and it showed at times on that drive. On both the near-interception he threw, and the one he did throw that would come back on an offsides penalty, Burrow tried to force balls down the field into tight windows when he could have just tossed it to Brossette releasing out of the backfield. And then later on another scramble that resulted in an incompletion. Just take what’s there, especially when the defense is bailing out. LSU manages tempo pretty well, and there was enough time that he never should have felt like he HAD to force plays.
- Although, again, his receivers let him down with Jefferson dropping a touchdown catch.
- Two plays later, Charles gets beat on an inside swim move by Anthony Ekpe, Burrow is forced to step up and can’t get the ball off. With no timeouts left, LSU chose not to rush a field goal, which may not have worked anyway. A frustrating end to what had been, otherwise, a pretty damn perfect half.
- In the second half, Rice held the ball for a near 20 minutes, mostly by just needling away in the running game. It seemed like the Tiger offense got a bit lazy, and by the fourth quarter the defense had obviously emptied the bench. LSU only had four possessions total in the third and fourth quarters, and the last one featured walk-on kicker Jack Gonsoulin playing some receiver.
- Still, Burrow was able to wash the taste of the botched two-minute drill out of his mouth with a nice, rhythmic first drive. A couple easy completions to Moreau, Jefferson and Derrick Dillon, all standard-down throws (first-and-10 on the first two, second-and-three on a slant to Dillon), and then hits a 45-yarder to Ja’Marr Chase to set up a touchdown run for Brossette.
- It is a shame that Burrow’s throw pulled Chase just to the sideline enough that he stepped out shy of a touchdown for what has to have been the third or fourth time this year.
- Myles Brennan got in and didn’t exactly have much of an opportunity to show off, aside from a fantastic deep comeback throw to Jefferson from the far hash mark — definitely a big-time throw — with some nice YAC running by No. 2 after. He was able to find his checkdowns and avoid taking any sacks. Other than that, pretty nondescript. Plus, by the fourth quarter LSU was clearly just running the clock.
- Couple minor notes that still feel worth mentioning: Michael Divinity continues to be a really solid edge player at the F-linebacker spot; he sets the edge and keeps containment really well, and with seven tackles on the night he’s now up to 47 on the year with a team-high 10.5 tackles for loss. Davin Cotton shows some impressive get-off, albeit late in a blowout, but needs to keep adding some size.