On the one hand, LSU having a let-down was fairly predictable, if frustratingly so. But on the other, what the Tigers did do was knuckle up and put the game away in the fourth quarter with two emphatic scoring drives and a defensive stand.
Good and bad, much like I predicted on Friday. Still, there was some improvement, with season highs in scoring, rushing, and total yardage and general offensive efficiency. Still a step forward in this team’s journey.
But they had better prepare for another dogfight next week when Ole Miss comes to town.
**Ed. Note: in the interest of time, I’m working mostly from memory and some highlights, without as intense of a rewatch as I would normally put together. So bear with me.
- Quick run through the box score — some thing to like: 76 total plays run and 25 first downs, and an outstanding 11:05 worth of possession in the first quarter. Time of possession can be an overrated stat, but whenever you’re playing an offense that is used to scoring and using tempo, it’s a good way to take the air out of things early on. Provided it comes with points.
- For the reverse, look at Tech’s near reversal in the third quarter with nearly 10 minutes of possession.
- Uninspiring first possession with the three-and-out. Bad drop by Justin Jefferson on a screen, although it remains to be seen if he’d even have gone anywhere had he caught it, followed by a third-and-three run by Nick Brossette that failed to pick up the first. One of the perils of living more in the shotgun in those short-yardage situations.
- That said, the offense came back and hit some very nice runs later in the first half. Badara Traore and Garrett Brumfield were having maybe their best day in terms of sealing the left edge.
- No word on Brumfield’s injury yet, although it did not look good seeing him get twisted up in a pile. It’s telling as to his role on the team watching some of the younger linemen gather around him and help him off the field, however.
- Some struggles by Austin Deculus against Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson, who had some success getting low and bull-rushing the burly right tackle. After a nice day from Traore, that competition may continue. Deculus seemed to be playing too upright and not bending his knees, and Tech’s line being on the shorter side was a big help in terms of leverage.
- The offensive line still has its ups and downs, but overall, when you rush for 200-plus and allow just four tackles behind the line while being down two starters, that’s not bad necessarily. Chasen Hines continues to show some real strength as a drive blocker.
- How about Devin White’s one-handed stab on that fumble return? Baller move.
- Speaking of linebackers, Jacob Phillips flashed some impressive speed and can really cover a lot of ground, which may explain some of the defense’s choices later on in the game. But he has to be a more consistent tackler. He had just three solos in this game and missed in some one-on-one situations that gave the Bulldogs a lot of room.
- LSU’s line had some success using more pin-and-pull looks against Tech’s alignment — Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 28-yard score being a great example. Bunch set with Foster Moreau, Tory Carter and Justin Jefferson — all of whom create great blocks. Jefferson in particular rode his man a good ways down the field. Traore pulls around and turns a defender to the sideline and Lloyd Cushenberry gets another man on the ground and Edwards-Helaire just takes off.
- It felt like Edwards-Helaire was maybe a little impatient early on, but eventually found his rhythm and let things develop. Meanwhile, patience and vision remain Nick Brossette’s greatest strengths as a runner.
- Special teams: no real change-up at punt returner after some talk of it this week, but overall, LSU continued to enjoy a nice edge in field position, with a plus-five yardage difference (average start at their own 29, compared to own 25 for Tech). That comes out to roughly 65 hidden yards over the course of the game. In addition to perfect day for the kickers — Cole Tracy made all of his attempts, and Avery Atkins was seven-for-seven on touchbacks on kickoffs.
- LSU somehow broke up nine passes in this game — a season high. Of course, that comes with the quarterback throwing up a ton of 50-50 balls. And Tech was still able to win their share, keying their comeback. That’s going to have to be a point of emphasis against Ole Miss’ receivers next week.
- Still, it felt like the Dave Aranda’s gameplan was built around trying to keep leverage deep and counting on White and Phillips to clean things up underneath, but that also meant that Tech had just a ton of easy throwing lanes through much of the second and third quarters, sometimes with clear overloads to bunch groupings of receivers out loud. Aranda’s generally been reliable on adjusting to something like that by rolling up his corners and safeties, but he stuck with it until late in the fourth. There are teams you can do that against, but a no-huddle team like Tech will eat that up, and if the safeties and linebackers get antsy, they’ll sometimes lose track of the middle of the field.
- It is worth saying that Tech’s J’Mar Smith looked like maybe the best quarterback LSU’s seen this year. He was incredibly composed and made some throws down the field with a hand in his face — while LSU didn’t sack him until late in the game, they definitely kept him on the move in the pocket.
- Step back for the receivers, who struggled getting off Tech’s coverage in this one. Of course, play-calling that seemed more intent on forcing the ball down the field didn’t help. Credit Dee Anderson for making some nice plays down the sideline, even on the Bulldogs’ best cornerback, Amik Robertson.
- On a closing note — the student section damn near completely emptied at halftime. I hope y’all can get permission to stay up late next week against Ole Miss with that 8:15 kickoff time. Embarrassing.