It’s hard to complain too much about a 65-14 win where LSU very much pull away from the over-matched Northwestern State and really never looked back. After the half.
But the win still feels a little incomplete, as much as I hate to say that. Maybe there was a degree of emotional let-down, but the Tigers played with this cupcake a little bit. The devouring was still orderly, but the order was a bit off.
Thinking back to what I wrote on Friday:
The goals for this game are:
Keep players healthy, and
Play to your standard as a program.
No luck on the former, as safety Todd Harris went down and is now out for the year. On the latter, we did eventually see that in the second half, but in the first LSU allowed Northwestern State to score a touchdown — take the lead — on its second drive, then to add another, making the game tight for about a quarter and a half. The blowout came as expected in the second half, but there’s no question LSU simply could’ve done a better job. Specifically with regards to stopping the short passing game and running the football.
How does that portend moving forward? There are two more data points before the meat of conference play hits in October, but for now, LSU has some things to clean up.
On the bright side, you definitely don’t want to see a team peak in week three. Having room to improve when you’re already playing at a record pace on offense is a good thing. But on the other, this is a defense that is too talented to be playing less than dominant football.
Anyway, we’ll be a little short on the review this week, but here are a few notes:
- Joe Burrow is playing at a pretty damn special level when he can throw a pretty bad interception — he telegraphed that out route to Justin Jefferson about as bad as any throw I’ve seen him make this year — in a really bad spot. You never want to give an underdog hope when they’re already hanging around for longer than they should be. But not only was the pick irrelevant, it feels almost like a humorous footnote in another dominant performance. Burrow only missed three passes period, including that pick, his third straight game with a completion rate higher than 80 percent.
- And Myles Brennan may have been picking the bones of a dead opponent in the second half, but credit to him for doing what he could, completing another eight of nine passes. No touchdowns, but he still led the offense to a few scores. His one incompletion was a bit hurried by a blitz, when he might’ve been able to hit Devonta Lee on a crosser. Overall, you can’t complain, although I’m not sure what big-picture conclusions there are for him yet.
- Burrow did take a sack on the night, but overall had more than an average of three seconds per drop-back. He was a little indecisive on a few scrambles, staying with plays that probably don’t open up against better defenses (when there was free yardage available). That might catch up to him later on.
- Surprisingly rigid rotations at running back and receiver in the first half here, with Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Lanard Fournette getting the bulk of the work at tailback while Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall Jr., Derrick Dillon and Stephen Sullivan were mostly working at receiver and tight end.
- There also seemed to be a real effort to get Sullivan involved early on, which is probably due to him being shut out in the first two games. He did miss out on a chance for a wide-open touchdown, stumbling on his break. Burrow pulled the trigger and a sliding Marshall made the catch in Sullivan’s place.
- For the offensive line, the pass-blocking was superb even without Saahdiq Charles. In the running game, it still looks like more of the same, with the guards and center Lloyd Cushenberry struggling to get to the next level and really help creases become full-sized holes. Adrian Magee in particular seems to struggle getting a push consistently. That may give Chasen Hines some opportunity moving forward. The answer there may simply come down to trying to get the ball out on the edge more often in the running game, or using short passes to that effect.
- Tyrion Davis-Price does at least give a little more punch on his own as a runner, with size and leg drive.
- Now for the defense. First off, to date, it doesn’t feel like this unit has really found an opportunity. Some of that may be related to three very different strategies in each of the first three games, as this Jacob Phillips quote to Cody Worsham illustrated. From an option-heavy Georgia Southern, LSU played more zone coverage against Texas in order to deal with Sam Ehlinger’s mobility. This week, Dave Aranda kept things pretty basic, with a lot of very simple cover-one looks and some very basic rush looks without a ton of movement or pressures beyond four-man rushes. So Northwestern State would spread the field, then exploit off coverage by safeties and nickels with slants, quick hitches and crossing routes. In the second half, LSU rolled things up, made those quick throws a little more difficult and got much better results.
- So what’s the answer? Obviously, getting healthy/eligible in the front seven is a good start — this group was down four starters on Saturday, and while that’s not an excuse for Saturday, it’ll definitely come into play down the stretch. Secondly, Aranda, Orgeron and Bill Johnson will need to get a little creative with some different line movements and stunts, particularly on passing downs. And of course, bring more pressure. This defense has the corners outside to be a lot more daring, and the safeties and nickels have to be willing to take some risks as well. Versus Northwestern, we just saw a lot of very passive coverage; defensive backs playing like they were okay giving up the catch and making the tackle. In the second half, they started to drive on the ball and on the break a little more, and as a result we saw NSU’s Shelton Eppler hit just one of his first five passes as the Demons went three-and-out on their first three drives.
- In particular, Grant Delpit needs to be closer to the line more often. He can do much more in that spot and give the front a little more versatility.
- And on top of that, some individual players just need to do a better job. Jacob Phillips was timid at times. Catching blockers and not getting off in the running game. And Kary Vincent just seemed to have his feet in cement on every receiver break. He was dynamite in off coverage last year, but rolling him up might help as well, especially with the August talk using him more as a blitzer.
- It would also be a good idea to catch some of the three interceptions that LSU dropped on the night.
- I would like to single out NSU’s Eppler for throwing some very nice passes as well. He definitely hit a few tight windows. Even on an incompletion late in the first half that was well-covered, he stuck a pass really tight to the sideline that his receiver was able to get to, but not in-bounds. Yeah, it was for naught but the throw itself was still impressive.
- On the Demons’ final touchdown, it looks like LSU was in a cover-two shell with man underneath, and Travez Moore was matched up on tight end Davi Fitzwater. The tight end and the outside receiver crossed with the latter going deep, and Moore passed him off like he was expecting deep help, but the safety was occupied by an inside seam route. Ugly play, but one wouldn’t think we’ll see Moore in that spot many more times this season. Barring some unfortunate circumstances.
- Fantastic open-field running from Trey Palmer on his punt return for the touchdown. Only real block that made the return came from either Cordale Flott or Kendall McCallum. Cool note on the return from punter Zach Von Rosenberg:
Pretty special for 7 of the 11 players on the Trey Palmer touchdown return to be Walkons! pic.twitter.com/jgwjDph2xO— Zach Von Rosenberg (@ZVR09) September 16, 2019
In the end, this game won’t amount to much for better or for worse for this team, and it deserves the requisite consideration. Yes, there are things that need to be improved, but those things would still exist regardless of the result. Flush it and move on to conference play this week.