I am finally back from vacation, having missed out on the chance to make an immediate commentary on the Fiesta Bowl. But come on, it was the last game of the season, so let’s take the opportunity we have to talk about the game a little bit more. It’s the last bit of football we’re going to see in a long time.
Before we get to the actual numbers, let’s make one thing clear: LSU absolutely dominated this game. There’s hardly a place on the statsheet where LSU’s dominance does not shine through, and UCF was lucky to only lose by 8. I tend to make fun of the yardage zealots who look at the raw yardage total and declare who “should” have won, but there comes a point where the disparity is so huge that the yardage totals really do matter. We exceeded that on New Years Day.
555. LSU’s total yardage. That’s a lot. That’s not a lot for LSU, that’s a lot for anybody. It was a genuinely good offensive performance. UCF managed just 250 yards of offense, so the Tigers more than doubled the UCF total. Furthermore, LSU outgained UCF 190-18 in the third quarter, during which LSU absolutely should have out this game away, but did not. LSU only outscored UCF 10-3 in that quarter thanks to a failed red zone opportunity and a muffed punt by Justin Jefferson. That muffed punt kept UCF in the game.
4-5. LSU’s red zone conversion rate. That looks pretty good, right? Yeah, the problem is that was all field goals, so the touchdown conversion rate was 0-5. Worse yet, the longest field goal of the game for Cole Tracy was just 28 yards, meaning LSU kicked four field goals from inside the 11-yard line. That’s beyond awful.
The average team should score about 5 points per red zone trip, so LSU should have scored around 25 points. Kick three field goals and score two touchdowns, and you’d be at 23 points or score three TD’s and kick just one field goal and score 24. That would be an acceptable day. But four field goals plus a pick six is unacceptable. That is the #1 offseason Thing to Work On.
26-249. The team’s combined penalties and yardage. This was a chippy game. The officials almost lost total control of the game early on, refusing to flag an egregious head shot on Joe Burrow after the interception, a defenseless player by very definition in the rule and then also picking up a flag on a late hit. The game unsurprisingly, ratcheted up in violence and trash talk after that, and then refs brought the hammer down. UCF benefited both ways from the officiating: they got the lenient no-calls early and it was LSU who bore the brunt of the tighter whistle after the first quarter.
By text of the rule, Grant Delpit probably should have been ejected which speaks more to how poorly the rule is written than anything. But to allow a predatory hit on a quarterback from behind by launching into the head and leaving both feet before the hit is literally WHY the targeting rule exists. It was an egregiously bad call that thwarted the very idea of player safety. It didn’t matter in the outcome, but I’m still angry about it from the standpoint of the officials essentially allowing UCF to tee off on our quarterback which, shock of all shocks, resulted in another targeting later on. Why not? If they aren’t gonna flag it, keep trying to injure the opposing QB.
44:31. LSU time of possession. I know TOP can be a misleading stat, but nearly 45 minutes? That’s three quarters of the game. I mean, that shouldn’t happen unless you’re Army or something.
394. Joe Burrow passing yards. The good news is, the targeting seemed to wake Burrow up. He went from having a dismal start to lighting up the scoreboard. Four different receivers had at least three catches and four receivers had at least 75 yards receiving. He spread the ball around to 7 different receivers and hit three different targets for his four touchdowns. It was a near perfect day after such a rocky start.
1039. Nick Brosette’s season rushing yards. Brossette has the 19th 1,000-yard rushing season in school history, joining a fraternity of 14 players. LSU has now had a 1,000-yard rusher in six straight seasons, dating back to Jeremy Hill.
4. Rashard Lawrence tackles for a loss. He was a beast and the clear defensive MVP of the game. Lawrence spent the entire game camped in the UCF backfield. Hopefully, this is a stepping stone to a great senior year not a chance to bolt to the NFL. He was a difference maker in this game.
1. Racey McMath tackles. LSU literally ran out of cornerbacks in this one, and some wide receivers were pressed into service as defensive backs. McMath, a wide receiver on the roster, symbolized the heart of this team by doing whatever was needed to win by suiting up as a cornerback, and even recording a solo tackle. LSU suffered massive personnel losses in this game and instead of using it as an excuse, the bench players used it as an opportunity to shine. That is the heart of the Tigers, and the most fitting tribute to this year’s team.