We talked about the dangers LSU was facing in this spot, and with this Ole Miss team on Friday. The Rebels had just enough playmakers to be dangerous, and a banged-up Tiger squad was primed for a let down after the Bama win last week.
And sure enough, Ole Miss was able to chip into a huge LSU lead in the second half, getting down to just two touchdowns before the Tigers put things away in the final few minutes.
It’s an ugly look for the defense to give up 400 yards rushing, but in the end the Tigers came home victorious. And somehow, the offense managed to hit several more impressive milestones. As expected, Joe Burrow cracked the single-season passing record pretty quickly, but on top of that he set a new in-game record with 16 consecutive completions. JaMarr Chase broke the single-season touchdown receptions record, and he and Justin Jefferson became the second 1,000-yard receiving tandem in school history, just the third ever in SEC history. Clyde Edwards-Helaire also had a personal-best 172 yards on the ground. In all, it made for a 714-yard performance at 8.8 yards per play; a season-high on total offense and the highest yards-per-play average since the Florida game.
If you’re going to have a let-down game, a 21-point victory with no major injuries is still pretty good.
As for the defense, I think everyone should take a breath and accept that the following are all true at the same time:
- You’d have to go back to Mississippi State rushing for 302 yards in 2014 to find a single-game rush defense performance this bad. 402 rushing yards are more than LSU has allowed in the last three games combined.
- This defense, while far from as bad as some of the worst things said about it, is definitely under-performing, Especially compared to it’s talent level.
- This Ole Miss offense has put up high rushing numbers on virtually every team they have played, regardless of big deficits. As discussed in the preview of this game, they have one of the most explosive running games in the country.
- While this game never quite hit the true “garbage time” definition, it was 28-0 after 20 minutes, and despite Ole Miss’ heroics, the game never got closer than two scores.
- Aside from a number of big plays (196 yards on four), LSU forced four total turnovers (three on downs) and still held their opponent to two of 11 conversions on third down. And seven of the Rebels’ points in the second half were a direct result of a rare Burrow interception.
While nobody should be particularly happy with this defense, right now, there should still be some maintained perspective.
With that in mind, let’s dig into the game:
- Ole Miss had a solid plan early. Keep the adjustments simple, don’t show much pre-snap, and attack from the edge with speed against LSU’s backup tackles. LSU’s adjustment was to bunch up a little and help create even faster throws for Burrow. And of course, he was his usual masterful self navigating the pocket to extend plays.
- For example, the opening 34-yard touchdown to Chase:
- Ole Miss slants to offense’s left, and the offensive line does a relatively solid job with it, but Charles Wiley gets inside of Badara Traore, and with Burrow flushed a bit the corner can change his angle around Edwards-Helaire. But Burrow is able to step up between both guys and get free. It looks like he has an easy 10- or 15-yard run, but he sees Chase getting free and gets the ball off. Can’t quite tell if Chase is running a hitch and go, or just sees that Burrow is scrambling and just keeps going up the sideline to either draw his man or create a throw.
- Right away, it looks like LSU’s linebackers are playing in quicksand compared to John Rhys Plumlee and Jerrion Ealy. Jacob Phillips was slow to pursue on both their longer runs on the opening drives.
- Ole Miss also understands that they can isolate larger players on Plumlee in space with read plays. And there’s virtually no defensive lineman that’s going to tackle that kid in space. Most teams usually read K’Lavon Chaisson, but in this one it was Rashard Lawrence that was left unblocked a ton.
- Tigers come back stuntin’ on the second drive, with a spin move from Justin Jefferson and a big stiff-arm from Edwares-Helaire on the first two plays picking up 26 yards.
- Rebel defense has some step-up plays to force the long field-goal attempt; cornerback Keidron Smith does a nice job of high-pointing a deep throw to Chase to avoid the touchdown, and then linebacker Sam Williams gets a great jump on the snap and attacks the mesh point on a zone-read play. No real good decision for Burrow to make.
- Yes, Cade York missed a 48-yard kick. But he also made a 52-yarder. College kickers on long kicks.
- Good emblematic play of the defense on Ole Miss’ next possession: Plumlee hits Elijah Moore in the flat, and he’s able to reverse field, then cut back to the middle of the field for an 11-yard gain that could’ve been a loss, or tackled at several points sooner, with multiple players just breaking down and almost pausing and waiting for extra pursuit rather than just making a tackle.
- Defense does come back with a three-and-out on the Rebels’ next possession, with some great pursuit from Phillips and Jacoby Stevens, particularly on a third-and-one stop on Plumlee.
- LSU comes back with the “glance” RPO slant to Chase on the next drive, but with a handoff look to the running back instead of a draw.
- Which sets up another long touchdown pass. LSU had the rush well picked up, but with coverage. Burrow breaks the pocket — live I was saying “just get it out kid” — but he finds Chase again. Chase, for his part, was running a post, but again looked back to his QB then just ran to the open space.
- Touchdown No. 4 appears to be a similar ad-lib. Called play is a run, Burrow sees that Jefferson has room in the slot, and just makes a basic “smoke” call and throws a quick hitch to him. Jefferson then makes a nice job of getting to the pylon.
- And then the defense takes its foot off the gas. Ole Miss blocks GT-counter run well for Ealy, and Grant Delpit just completely whiffs it in the alley, resulting in a 49-yard gain. Delpit and Phillips later take horrible angles on Plumlee’s first touchdown of the day from five yards out.
- Tigers still resume another drive. But Adrian Magee gets blown up to force a six-yard third-and-goal, and then Edwards-Helaire falls on a slant that would’ve been wide open, leading to a Burrow sack.
- The defense looked checked out as soon as the second-half started, with Phillips caught completely flat-footed on a play-action throw to the tight end that wound up picking up 29 yards. And on the next play, the whole front seven bites on GT-counter read, which gives Plumlee the edge and that was all she wrote for a 46-yard touchdown.
- Next offensive play, Burrow puts a shoulder into the umpire, because he knows how to appeal to Louisianans at all times.
- Maybe that’s why the play-clock wasn’t restarted later on the drive, leading to LSU having to waste a time out for no reason.
- Ole Miss’ next touchdown was particularly frustrating:
- Rebels fake a toss to the left then run a QB GT-counter right, and LSU’s defensive line has this almost perfectly defended. Neither pulling lineman can get down the field and Patrick Queen is right in position to make this tackle. He looks like he puts his eyes down for a second, and he lets Plumlee just go right by him. Delpit takes too sharp of an angle to the line, like he didn’t anticipate Plumlee’s speed and then he’s gone. You cannot make mistakes like that against an explosive runner.
- Of course, the offense responds in four plays.
- You really saw how Plumlee struggles throwing, especially outside the numbers in this one, because he missed a few of those throws early and then he had the pick to Kary Vincent in the third quarter.
- Of course the defense couldn’t really stand prosperity there. For one, Vincent cuts his return to the middle of the field when he had a caravan of blockers down the sideline. And then he takes off his helmet in celebration and draws a pointless 15-yard penalty.
- Burrow’s aggressiveness gets the better on him on his first interception. Ole Miss flushes him to the boundary with most of his receivers to the field, and does a good job of chucking Edwards-Helaire at the line to take away his pressure read. He has Chase on the sideline right away, but he double-clutches to the middle of the field, then comes back late. Chase stumbles a bit, and that allows the DB to cut underneath him to make the play.
- Plumlee pounces promptly. QB sweep, fakes a reverse and just totally freezes Queen and Delpit. Vincent and Phillips are much too wide, and he can just cut to the middle of the field and turn on the jets.
- Burrow’s second interception was just a total brainfart. He has one-on-one down the field, but he doesn’t have any way to actually set his feet because of pressure and the ball just sails. The underneath corner is able to sink and get to the ball. From the far hashmark it was a difficult throw and if he couldn’t get a good step into it he probably should’ve just eaten the sack on second down.
- Vincent burned on a third-and-long on the next drive too on a rare Plumlee pass attempt. First third-down conversion of the night for Ole Miss at this part. He later was also slow getting up the field on the Rebels’ other conversion on third and one.
- Luckily, the defense is able to get Ole Miss backed up into an obvious third-and-long passing play and hold. And shortly thereafter, Burrow reads pressure and hits a slant to Chase. He slips a tackle for a nice long run, then catches just enough of a hustle block from Edwards-Helaire to cut to the corner for the score.
- Rebels get one more touchdown with designated passer Matt Corrall. He finds Eljah Moore on a crossing route, Delpit stumbles and he’s able to cut up and break for the touchdown. I suspect he’s still nursing the leg injury that had him limited the week of the Bama game, but this is definitely a game he’ll want to forget.
- Tigers recover the onside kick and tack on one more touchdown with Edwards-Helaire going 49 yards. LSU’s basic “duo” dive play that’s been the moneymaker all year, but Ole Miss has so many bodies near the line that when Edwards-Helaire breaks through there’s nobody home. Big block from Chase helps take out the one Rebel that might’ve been able to get to him. You could argue that he could’ve sat down after a few yards and helped take more time, but the touchdown helped put a cap on this one and probably killed off whatever fight was left in the Rebs.
It’s easy to say “well, there was bound to be a let down here.” One of the strengths of the Orgeron regime has been shrugging off the Bama results the next week. Thing is, actually winning that game, and the tidal wave of elation that came? That’s a different ball of wax. There’s dealing with prosperity, and there’s convincing everyone that what’s seemed like the mountaintop for years was just another step in the journey. Luckily this Ole Miss team wasn’t good enough to really take advantage, even if they could make a few plays.
Question is, against an all-time bad Arkansas team, can they wash this bad taste out of their mouth and keep moving forward?