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Behind the Box Score: Southeastern Louisiana

The one where Poseur charts formations

NCAA Football: Southeastern Louisiana at Louisiana State
More pockets that look like this, please
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Before we go full swing into Auburn Hate Week (FCR!), we need to close the books on Southeast Louisiana. The game was truly a giant bowl of meh. It’s hard to be too thrilled or upset by this game, but damned if we aren’t trying our best to put on our angry pants.

I get it. LSU scored just 31 points against an FCS school and after the first quarter, the offense really didn’t do a whole lot. Then again, it’s not like they had to, and it also wasn’t entirely the offense’s doing. For that story, let’s go to the numbers.

184. LSU’s rushing yards on 35 carries, a healthy 5.3 average. Nick Brossette (rhymes with Posette) rushed for over 100 yards for the second straight game, establishing himself as the bell cow. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a big run taken off the board due to penalty, but this is no longer a running back by committee. It’s Brossette and his supporting cast. It’s hard not be thrilled for a guy who has truly waited his turn.

50%. Joe Burrow’s completion percentage. Let’s not mince words: this is unacceptable. We were all willing to spot him the drops in the Miami game, but you need to complete more than 50% against an FCS team. That’s simply not a good performance.

10. Tackles for a loss by the LSU defense. Bredien Fehoko led the way with 2.5 TFL and a sack, but eight different Tigers recorded a tackle in the backfield. There were plenty of issues with the performance, but the defensive front applying pressure was not one of them. A thoroughly dominant performance up front.

15. Number of offensive plays in the second half. It wasn’t so much that the offense failed in the second half, it’s that it was barely on the field thanks to SELU having three consecutive drives of 10 plays or more. And this is where we take a digression because of the constant criticism after the game that LSU ran max protect to no avail in the second half.

Curious if that was true, and given that it was such a small number of plays, I took out my trusty yellow legal pad and charted the formations in the second half. There were actually 16 plays, thanks to one play getting wiped out of existence thanks to a phantom personal foul call. LSU ran a play out of the three wide receiver shotgun formation with a single back ten times, the majority of the playcalls.

What’s interesting is how a narrative gets started. I believe it was in the 2nd quarter when the announcer noticed LSU in max protect on 1st and 20. Fans picked up the ball and just ran with it, even though the very next play, LSU went four wide. But let’s look at each drive in a bit of detail (I told you it was a digression) to see how LSU managed running so few plays:

  • Drive 1: 3Q, 12:34, L12. LSU started with terrible field position, so LSU ran power formations on its first two plays: two tight ends and a single back. Brossette ran for 40+ yards to get LSU in good field position and LSU promptly went 3 wide. The chop block erased a big gain, and faced with 1st and 25, Burrow succumbed to pressure on obvious passing downs, throwing incomplete and scrambling for a yard. But both were out of three wide sets.
  • Drive 2: 3Q, 4:47, L37. LSU came out heavy in a two tight end set again, and threw for Burrow’s only completion of the half to Ja’Marr Chase. It looked like they were trying to set a bubble screen, not really playing max protect: those blockers were for the receiver. LSU went three wide for the next two plays, a run and a pass on third down. Chase dropped a pass right in the numbers which would have given LSU a first.
  • Drive 3: 4Q, 11:54, L06. Pinned inside their own ten, LSU went heavy on its first two plays, both runs. On second down, they covered up the second tight end, so they essentially had six offensive linemen. They gained six yards on the run, setting up 3rd and 4. On third down, it was back to three wide and Burrow went on a rollout that I can’t tell if it was a designed run because he turned upfield so quickly. Even if we call it a pass play, it wasn’t max protect.
  • Drive 4: 4Q, 3:47, S18. Four run plays to Edwards-Helaire, the first three out of a three wide receiver set. On first and goal, LSU went back to the overloaded line look for a run play. Which, not to be pedantic, worked both times.

LSU did not run a single max protect pass play in the entire second half. LSU ran only one pass play out of a two tight end set, even counting the Burrow runs as pass plays, and that play was LSU’s only completion of the half. The narrative of LSU running max protect in the second half is simply not true. The problem was that the offense never had the ball. Why was this?

5/6. SELU’s fourth down conversion rate. LSU’s offense never had the ball because the Lions had three consecutive drives consisting of a total of 36 plays, gaining 156 yards, and eating up 16:36 of clock. It also resulted in zero points. This was the perfect strategy for SELU, as they essentially milked the clock for the second half. It was death by a thousand paper cuts. SELU only had one play go for more than 15 yards, and they used all four downs to pick up conversions. It’s a strategy that almost no other opponent on LSU’s schedule will use, but those conversions kept drives alive and kept LSU’s offense off the field.

35. Number of yards of offense taken off the board due to LSU offensive penalties. LSU only committed two offensive penalties during the course of a play, but they wiped out an 18 and a 17 yard gain, respectively. LSU’s offense cannot afford to lose its big gains and then also move ten yards backwards.

11. Devin White tackles. Of course. He also forced a fumble. LSU lost three linebackers for this game, and as long as Devin white is there, I’m not sure it matters that much. He’s awesome.

All in all, just a meh game. It’s hard to read anything into it based on SELU’s offensive tactics and extreme ball control. That’s not going to be repeated by any other team because no one is going to be as bold as to go for it on fourth down nearly any chance they get while also being so conservative as to rarely take a shot downfield. LSU’s offense needs to perform better, but it was more of a sample size error than anything. It’s not often a team will only touch the ball four times in a half. But for all of the talk of the offensive line, the big issue is that the receivers have to make catches. There’s still too many drops, and it has a ripple effect right down the line.