Well, we all knew that there was a chance that with an 11 a.m. kickoff, LSU’s match-up with a solid Utah State game had a solid chance for hinky-ness.
And hinky it was. Albeit, not in that close game kind of way. LSU blew the Aggies off the field in a fashion that the score doesn’t even fully illustrate. The Tigers ran NINETY plays on the day compared to just 53 for Utah State, doubled them up on yards per play and held the ball for more than two thirds of the game.
But the dominance was still out of fashion compared to LSU’s first four wins; the offense turned the ball over twice in the first half, punted once and scored just 21 points. Not exactly the liftoff we’ve all been used to in 2019. Luckily, the defense came out with its most dominant performance since the season opener against Georgia Southern. LSU allowed just 159 total yards, 0.9 yards per carry on the ground, 4.5 yards per pass attempt with three interceptions and a season-high 10 tackles for loss.
The offense came out with a more deliberate, run-heavy approach — still up-tempo, just slower than what we’ve seen in other games. It seemed like an effort on Ed Orgeron’s part to counteract Utah State’s extremely fast tempo, and help the defense in an environment that was blisteringly hot. And while it wasn’t quite as aesthetically pleasing as what we’ve gotten used to, it definitely seemed to work.
Oh, and the offense still managed to rack up an outstanding 601 total yards, with another five-touchdown performance by Joe Burrow.
So what does it say that we see a performance like that, and think “the offense was a little off?”
- I cannot stress how oppressively hot it was in the stadium. Easily the sparsest crowd I’ve seen in a long time, and it was even more empty in the second half. And to be honest, I’m not sure I can blame anyone. A friend sat with me with his three-year-old son, and they tapped out before the end of the first quarter.
- You could tell that the offense was a bit sleepy early on, with Thad Moss getting blown up on the first play and then Ja’Marr Chase missing an easy slant on the second.
- Interesting personnel note — Ed Ingram did not appear to start at left guard, nor did Adrian Magee slide out to tackle. The two started rotating on LSU’s third possession, while Dare Rosenthal spent most of the game at the left tackle spot. Magee, noteworthily, was johnny-on-the-spot recovering a fumble by Burrow.
- A Clyde Edwards-Helaire observation: he doesn’t have the top-end speed, but he comes out of the blocks with a great first-step and that can make him really effective in short-yardage. Basically, he’s Yoshi from Mario Kart. You’ll get off to a great start with him, but he’s not going to leave the rest of the field in the dust.
- Early snaps for John Emery, with some impressive moves. Although a very obvious holding on call on Moss would rob him of an impressive touchdown. It only delayed the inevitable for the offense overall though.
- The missed-tackles stat has been circulating — LSU only missed four this week after 18 against Vandy — and obviously the defense did a lot better overall. But something that Utah State’s tempo illuminated early on were some of the problems with Grant Delpit that we’ve seen this season. Oddly enough, the problem is not having John Battle around. Last year, Delpit was able to simply play his role while Battle made sure the rest of the secondary understood its assignments. This year, he’s getting the rest of the group lined up, and you can see it’s slowing him down a little bit. Although once he returned from his minor injury in the first quarter he looked a lot more like himself.
- Patrick Queen seemed like he was all over the field in this one, to the point that it was kind of a surprise to see him finish with just six tackles. But he had three big tackles for loss, including one that helped short-circuit Utah State’s first possession.
- On Burrow’s interception, he probably could’ve cut back and scrambled for first-down yardage, but he tried to gun it out to Moss. Not the greatest throw, but still a ball that was right off Moss’s hands for the pick. But the defense did a fantastic job of holding Utah State to the field goal. Fantastic coverage on third down allowed Neil Farrell to get to Jordan Love.
- Ty Davis-Price got into the action on LSU’s third possession with a nice run early, but on second down he makes a bad choice to bounce an inside zone play outside where the Aggie pursuit could get to him. The inside creases weren’t huge, but he had a solid three or four yards blocked for him.
- Drive stalls out on fourth and one — Burrow makes the right call to keep it on a zone-read play, but Utah State sells out all the way and has too many bodies. Justin Jefferson might’ve been able to get a shoulder into the safety who came up, but looked unsure of the assignment. And my usual complaint about the shotgun on a short-yardage run goes here.
- And on the very next play, Love shows the NFL potential we all heard about last week, throwing just an absolute dime on the run over Kristian Fulton. Coverage wasn’t bad, but that was a big-league throw.
- Shortly thereafter, the defense catches a break when Love is slightly off on a post that bounces off Caleb Repp’s hands. Stevens was shook on the route and Delpit overan his deep leverage, and looked like he thought he was about to get interception before Repp broke in front.
- Interesting offensive wrinkle this week was the use of a lot of jet motion with Jefferson. On LSU’s fourth possession he caught a short pitch on the action for a 38-yard gain with some help with great blocks from Moss, Edwards-Helaire and Stephen Sullivan.
- Just really lazy technique from Eric Monroe on the roughing the kicker in the second quarter. He almost seemed to realize he had no shot at the ball but jumped anyway, which is almost always going to result in at least running into the kicker, and given that he’s in a pretty vulnerable state with the kicking leg akimbo it’s not hard to draw a roughing call.
- Shortly thereafter Utah State’s tempo finally caught up to the defense and Love was able to connect on a 35-yarder over Cordale Flott. LSU had barely gotten about four players off the field and the secondary was pretty clearly not set. Still, Flott was able to at least be pretty close to the receiver on what was a very good throw.
- And then a few plays later, Love tries Derek Stingley, and he makes a textbook deep interception on a fade. He looks completely untouchable right now. As a true freshman.
- Kind of a weird spot on Stingley’s pick. I guess it’s probably right, but nine out of 10 times referees just give the player the roll into the endzone for a touchback. But the offense marches — methodically — 99 yards for a will-breaking touchdown. The Aggies’ next eight drives all ended in either a punt, interception or the end of the half. And five of those possessions lasted just three plays.
- By the second half, Utah State completely abandoned any semblance of caring about LSU’s rushing attack. Two high safeties, three-man rushes and constant attempts to flood passing lanes with zone defenders. I imagine that also further contributed to the more run-heavy gameplan.
- On LSU’s first touchdown of the third quarter — I saw a few people asking if Jefferson “stole” another touchdown from Chase, but it seems pretty obvious from the wider angle that Burrow was trying to throw more towards the spot Jefferson was running towards, rather than Chase, who tried to work his way back towards the throw late.
- Note on K’Lavon Chaisson: he finished with just a single tackle, but he did a nice job of setting the edge on running plays to allow pursuit to get to the runner. Also came very close to intercepting an attempted screen pass that he read very well. A workman-like day, but one that deserves better recognition than most realize.
- Delpit finally does a Delpit thing to stuff this run on third-and-short:
- Breiden Fehoko does a fantastic job of occupying two blockers, and Delpit is able to fly up from the nickel spot, square up and take out the legs of the runner. That’s what we’re used to seeing from the All-American safety.
- Emery’s fumble, one would hope, won’t cost him too much in terms of coach’s confidence. More of an effort play trying to fight for extra yardage. Still not good, but nothing I’d kill him for.
- Jefferson’s second touchdown was a thing of beauty:
- The vertical route to the field occupies the deep safety, and Jefferson and Chase’s switch causes the outside corner to flip his hips, triggering Burrow to throw. He can probably hit Chase down the middle if he waits a beat, but he lays it out well and Jefferson tracks it down like a pro.
- Bit of a rebound game for Kary Vincent. He had a really impressive tackle for loss on a play where most of the defense wasn’t set — read his man and sprinted a long way to make the hit on a slow-developing screen — and then undercuts a crossing route for the interception. With Flott’s injury and Kenan Jones’ transfer things are pretty thin on the back end of LSU’s defense. LSU badly needs Vincent to find his 2018 form. They haven’t changed much about his role, he just hasn’t been as consistent as he was a year ago.
Usually weird games like this aren’t nearly this impressive. LSU’s defense played their best game, and the offense’s worst game still resulted in 42 points, 600 yards and six total touchdowns from the quarterback. Are the running game and defense “fixed?” There are still much better offenses and defenses on the horizon, so it’s doubtful we’ve seen the end of the issues we saw through those first four games. But it was still a solid step forward, and a sign that this team can play better when they put their minds to it.
But now things are about to ratchet up even further.