Count me in with Poseur — LSU dominated Central Florida in this game, regardless of the final score. They held the Golden Knights down for, essentially, three out of four quarters. They held UCF to a season-low 4.1 yards per play, forced six punts (tying their season high) and a full 10 percent beneath their average third-down conversion rate (40 percent).
All while overcoming a host of starters AND their backups out. In general, LSU just had a generally snake-bitten prep for this game with defensive lineman Neil Farrell and receiver Dee Anderson suffering injuries on top of the players missing the game for one reason or another. On top of that, there was bad turf and worse refereeing — maybe the worst I’ve seen in any game this season, and that includes the Texas A&M fiasco.
Overall, if not for:
- The refs missing Joe Burrow’s touchdown on LSU’s first possession;
- Avery Atkins slipping on a kickoff to give UCF the ball at the 31 on their opening possession
- Derrick Dillon slipping to allow Brandon Moore’s interception, plus the missed targeting call on the Burrow that would have negated his touchdown return;
this one might have been much uglier. Anyways, one last time for the 2018 Tigers, let’s look at the tape.
We talk a lot around here about how raw stats can be deceptive, or outright useless at times as a descriptive measure. But extreme cases always tend to create examples. Take time of possession — in general, it’s not all that valuable. Heck, even with their measly quarter or so with the ball, UCF’s offense managed to still score 24 points. But when one team just out-and-out dominates the stat the way LSU did? Not great. Ditto the total yardage disparity of 555 to 250.
And coming in, I noted that for LSU to be successful with a ball-control strategy, the offense had to make sure it didn’t miss very often. Not counting kneel-downs at the half and end of the game, LSU had 13 possessions and scored on eight of them. Not perfect, but pretty good, all things considered.
- Honestly, Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 77-yard kick return to open things was more about some really poor coverage than anything else. He slips a tackle at the 20, and by that point UCF is completely out of their lanes. Sadly, he didn’t quite have the speed to finish the play off.
- One of the least-discussed subplots of this game was LSU’s offensive line starting out with some very ugly run blocking before picking it up. On the first offensive play, they just can’t get any push on a wide zone play, but luckily Brossette was able to reverse field when the Knights lost containment on the back side for a nice gain. And then on the second play, Austin Deculus lets an end right on through to make the tackle for a loss.
- I loved the speed option call on second and goal, and Burrow pretty clearly slid over a body to get in. Of course, LSU tried to line up and go hurry-up before a replay could evaluate things, although they had some 30 seconds of real time — enough for ESPN to get a replay in — before LSU was lined up again. Should Orgeron have gone slower to allow for it? Probably, but honestly at this point I wouldn’t blame him if he’s a bit gun-shy on trusting review to actually do its job at this point. And a procedure penalty ended up pushing the offense into third and longer. Frankly, the referees on the field should have known it was an iffy call and been ready to get review involved in the first place. And it wasn’t the last time they’d screw up, either.
- Third down saw another theme in this one early on — LSU runs a “spacing” concept, where receivers that are bunched together release wide on spaced-out curl routes. UCF’s defenders just ride them the whole way out of the break with no call, and by the time Foster Moreau has worked his way open, Burrow had to bail on the pocket with a linebacker in his face.
- And then the officials struck again with an extremely obvious hold on Grant Delpit to allow McRae to get to the sideline for the first touchdown.
- On the play before Burrow’s interception, Rashard Causey for UCF just absolutely backpacked Derrick Dillon to break up a slant. No call. On the next play, Causey and Brandon Moore absolutely mug Dillon and Justin Jefferson at the tops of their routes. Dillon slips — it looks like the ball was still a bit too outside, although who knows if Dillon wanted to break that way with all the contact — and Moore has an easy pick. It felt like watching the Legion of Boom Seahawks with the unchecked physicality.
- And then, the big hit:
- I’ll say this — if the quarterback is going to make the tackle, he’s fair game for a block. But this kind of headhunting was specifically what the targeting rule was put in place to eliminate (after a Bama player cheap-shotted Aaron Murray in the SEC title game in 2012), and there was absolutely no response from the officiating crew, other than a flag on another jackass who then stood over Burrow to rub it in (as if he was feeling anything at that moment). Not only have other players been ejected for less, others WOULD be ejected for less in this one. This is the part of bad officiating that nobody seems to want to acknowledge — it creates a safety hazard for the players. And the game is dangerous enough when it is officiated correctly.
- And yes, Brian Griese is just as incompetent calling the game, as you can tell from the sound.
- Not going to lie to y’all; at 14-3 in somewhat ugly fashion, this one felt pretty bad. It’s such a cliche to joke that “the hit just woke him up” but boy, did Joe Burrow respond quickly. Fired off a perfect deep crosser to Stephen Sullivan, and then scrambled for an 11-yard first down — with another very obvious penalty that was waived-off for some reason. A UCF defender clearly chucked Burrow in the white of the sideline. Not an egregiously dirty hit, but certainly a penalty. A gimme call, in fact.
- A few plays later, a pretty ticky-tack celebration penalty on a UCF defender — this is the kind of makeup call attempt that only makes things worse. If you can’t call something right early on, adding the false equivalence later on only reinforces the lack of control.
- Questionable read, but a beautiful throw by Burrow on the first touchdown. Looks like an all-verts concept off play-action, but the weakside safety doesn’t quite twitch with it, or really bite on the inside route from the slot receiver. But Jefferson gets a clean release, Burrow just lays it out with a perfect “our ball/no ball” throw and the receiver gets to it. Best guess is that he felt like it was a good time to take a risk on first down, especially given how much UCF was squatting on the shorter routes.
- Speaking of corners, UCF’s offense puts a lot of pressure on a defense to single-cover outside, and while LSU couldn’t really lock down the UCF receivers consistently, they at least made the heads-up play and would just take the interference call over a completion. A 15-yard penalty is better than a 20- or 25-yard completion. And with the corner position so depleted, I’m not sure the Tigers had much choice.
- Devin White picked a perfect time to do a Devin White thing, and forced a timely fumble from Darriel Mack Jr. Basic zone ready play with the tight end out as a lead blocker. Michael Divinity sets the edge on the tight end, White scrapes to make the tackle and forces the ball out and Divinity is able to get on it.
- Of course, the Tigers lose 15 yards plus another corner because Terrence Alexander throws a punch. It’s a stupid play, and Alexander has to know the position he’s in here, but this is what happens when officials fail to rein in a game that by this point has already featured a ton of extra-curricular activity.
- When the receivers were able to get a free release, LSU had a smart game plan to attack UCF’s two-deep shell with slants and crossing routes. Burrow finds Dillon for a 49-yard touchdown on one that was set up perfectly. Motion from Jefferson into a tight set next to Dillon helped get him matched up on a linebacker, and Ja’Marr Chase was in perfect position to make a block and get Dillon to the sideline.
- Really heads-up play by Divinity on the ensuing drive, recognizing the attempt at a swinging-gate play by UCF and cutting off the throwing lane, allowing Jacoby Stevens to get after Mack and force a third down.
- Immediately following the interception and the dirty hit, Burrow completed nine of his next 11 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns. To set up that third touchdown he throws a beautiful drive route to Sullivan under pressure:
- Moreau creates space with his own deep crosser, and Sullivan is wide open.
- Touchdown No. 3 was Jefferson’s second, a 33-yarder on which he was actually the decoy route on the play:
- Classic sail concept, and Jefferson is running the go route outside to try and stretch the safety. Looks like quarters coverage, but the inside safety breaks out on the sail route for some reason. Jefferson sees the open space and astutely runs to it. Luckily, Burrow spots it, and is able to scramble, find some space and put it up to him.
- On the next drive, Delpit draws the targeting call. Bad call, but I can’t say I’m surprised because I’ve seen it called this way tons of times now:
- The receiver is tackled INTO Delpit by Mannie Netherly, with their heads inadvertently colliding. There’s no actual attempt by Delpit to hit high, but the ball-carrier’s head still ends up in the cross hairs. Again, I’ve seen hits like this penalized so many times in so many other games, and it’s a flaw in the targeting rule that officials don’t seem competent enough to deal with. Luckily, Delpit will be fine for the 2019 season opener. If he’d gotten this call in the second half, the suspension would STILL carry over to next year.
- This still felt huge at the time, because yes, LSU had a nice 10-point lead here, but the table-setter of a secondary that is already down three other guys is now out. When the offense got the ball just shy of field goal range and went three-and-out passing, it felt like a good time to actually play for a field goal. So it was frustrating when they passed three times and punted. It felt like a prime spot for UCF to drive for points before the half, when they’d be getting the ball to start the third quarter, which is never ideal game circumstance.
- That said, I felt much better about the situation once Rashard Lawrence blew by a guard for a sack. Just swatted the offensive lineman’s hands off, got underneath his pads and ripped through. Although a few plays later Lawrence would be a little slow getting back on sides, and would get caught by the UCF tempo, which negated a sack fumble that would have put the Knights in fourth and long.
- UCF strikes for a touchdown, and I know a lot has been made of LSU being in single coverage on that play, but honestly Mack’s throw is so good he might have still gotten it beyond an over-the-top safety. Just a bullet right on the end line of the endzone. Great job by Gabriel Davis to get a foot down as well. Still, it felt like a huge momentum swing with UCF getting the ball after the half.
- Luckily, the defense finds a way to get off the field to start the first half. Todd Harris skated on a pretty clear interference penalty, but at this point at least they let somebody else play besides the UCF DBs.
- LSU goes right back to the crossing routes with Foster Moreau to get the next drive started, and finally gets the running game in gear. UCF brings a corner blitz, but Saahdiq Charles and Garrett Brumfield just maul the UCF defensive right side and Brossette is able to get underneath the blitz for a 24-yard gain.
- That sets up the shot play, and LSU goes max-protect/play-action, and Ja’Marr Chase runs one of the better go routes you’ll ever see.
- Go routes aren’t just about speed, especially if you’re not a 4.3-forty guy. Great route runners know how to use head bobs, shoulder fakes, stutter steps, whatever to try and get that cornerback to stumble just a bit. Here, Chase gets about 10 yards down the field and shuffles his feet like he’s about to make a cut and the corner slows up just a bit. It’s a veteran move, and shows the quickness that Chase has, even if he’s not a burner down the field.
- Coming into this match-up, I talked about younger players stepping up and Chase certainly fits the bill there. Burrow had a perfect passer rating when targeting the 6-1 sophomore, and his ability to get loose on short routes was invaluable against a UCF team that really wants to try and limit big plays with deep safeties.
- On LSU’s second possession of the third quarter, an illegal formation call helped short-circuit the drive close to the goal line. LSU was in an unbalanced, tackle-over look to the field:
- The referees say there’s too many men in the backfield here — basically that LSU needs another receiver on the line of scrimmage. As you can see here, the outside receiver is clearly lined up about a yard ahead of the slot receiver. Maybe not exactly on the line of scrimmage, but pretty close. Now according to rules expert Terry McAulay, a receiver doesn’t have to have his feet on the actual line of scrimmage, just even with the center’s belt. So who’s right — this officiating crew here, or the one from the Texas A&M game?
- Overall, LSU dominated this third quarter. UCF had just an EIGHT percent success rate. And as you might have expected, it was the line of scrimmage that set the pace. LSU’s offensive line started getting some push — specifically the guard/center triangle — and the defensive front did a great job of keeping UCF’s blockers at the line and letting the second-level defenders get to the ball. Tyler Shelvin didn’t make many flashy plays, but he did a strong job of occupying two men. If not for Damien Lewis’ horrible false start penalty and Burrow fumbling on a handoff, two of those field goal drives could have easily cashed in.
- Granted, having Davis drop a sure touchdown pass helped.
- Although Justin Jefferson gave them that play back with the muffed punt. Just slipped and lost it on the turf and had it bounce up perfectly to the on-rushing coverage team. Should it have been overturned? Well, he had a pretty good grip on that ball with a knee and an elbow down, before the rest of the impact knocked it loose. It’s pretty clear the ball is tucked into his elbow on replay. Of course, nobody knows what a catch is anymore... Should Orgeron have challenged it? It’s tough to say. On the one hand, its your last timeout, but on the other, that’s a potential game-changing play in midst of one you’re about to break open. To me, it’s a hindsight play. But I do believe there was a case for overturning the muff.
- Jefferson compounded the mistake on the next offensive drive when he dropped a touchdown. The receiver competition is going to be Thunderdome this offseason, and while Jefferson was easily the best receiver on the team this year, he’s still got a ways to go in terms of his consistency.
- Midway through the fourth, and LSU puts together a 12-play, 78 yard drive that looks set up to put things away. Eight runs, plus maybe Burrow’s best throw of the day to Sullivan down the seam. But things stalled out close to the endzone again. Offensive line gets stoned. LSU tried a quick Spider pass play to Tory Carter, but UCF covered it well, and then they just kept it on the ground to try and preserve the field goal.
- In the end, it felt like UCF’s offense had to find some success against such a short-handed defense, and they did in the fourth. Keep in mind by this point, LSU was down five regular starters, plus two more backups that would have been playing significant minutes in place of those missing starters. Great job from Dave Aranda and the whole Tiger defensive staff of getting players ready to go here.
- I’ll harp on the officials one more time, because they deserve it. A part of the issue of poor game management that doesn’t get discussed is the safety aspect; in the fourth quarter, both Divinity and Lawrence suffered injuries as an indirect result of this crew failing to do its job. First, Divinity gets dragged down awkwardly by UCF right tackle Jake Brown, for what should have been his third or fourth holding penalty. Maybe a flag helps him clean that up if he knows the referees are watching. And on UCF’s final scoring drive, Mack is allowed to throw the ball away inside the tackle box with no grounding call. Lawrence would have to leave the game after the next play, which might’ve been a third-and-long situation instead of a short-yardage one had the referees made the call.
- I barely watched the onside kick, because they’re so difficult to get right, but damn if UCF didn’t get the perfect bounce. Short-hopped awkwardly into Jefferson — I can’t even blame him for not getting it, it hit so awkwardly — and luckily Moreau was Foster-on-the-spot.
- That inconsistency from the offensive line was kind of embodied on LSU’s attempt at icing the game. Austin Deculus, Lewis and Carter open up a nice crease for Brossette to get four yards on first down, but couldn’t get much on second down (Brossette made a nice cut to get three but it was mostly his own vision). And then on third, Charles is late coming off a double team and Moreau gets submarined, allowing UCF to just get enough of a grip on Brossette to stop him short and force the punt. Yes, LSU could have tried a very long field goal — Cole Tracy has kicked some 50-yarders this year — but it would have been a much bigger risk for both a block or a miss. It appeared that LSU wanted to try a freeze but for whatever reason Burrow and the offense didn’t get lined up quickly. Orgeron’s body language seemed to indicate that was the call.
- Ultimately, Josh Growden was able to hit the punt LSU needed to get the ball inside the 15.
- A couple individual performances worth noting — Jacoby Stevens in Delpit’s dime set safety/linebacker position, along with Patrick Queen, who showed some fantastic range in place of Jacob Phillips. Lawrence got some gaudy individual numbers, but Shelvin and Glen Logan both also did a great job of holding up blockers. And Divinity continued his stellar job of setting the edge at the “F” linebacker spot.
- Also, major kudos to Kary Vincent, who locked down his side of the field to the point that he was only targeted three times, with no completions. As somebody who’s very close to his father, I don’t want to imagine what it felt like for Vincent to be playing less than a week after losing his. That’s also a big step forward in his development for next year.
A team like UCF is used to making the big plays at the big moments, and I have no doubt they stayed pretty confident down to that final interception. LSU looked like a prepared team that was confident in their own gameplan and never lost heart even through a ton of adversity. That’s a big feather in this team’s cap and a big check in Orgeron’s column here. LSU broke a 25-game winning streak for UCF and beat its fourth top-10 opponent of the 2018 season. That’s something to be proud of, and with the prospect of a ton of this team returning in 2019, the program should be set up for another step forward.