In the fourth quarter of this game, I had an observation on Twitter, and it really is just very...us...to somehow still be fairly unhappy with a game where LSU lights up the scoreboard. Sixty-six points and a school record for touchdown passes in a game that was basically garbage time for more than a full half.
And that rather than talking about that, the narrative will mostly be about the defense.
That isn’t to say that the Tigers don’t have issues on that side of the ball, or that there aren’t things to worry about moving forward (which god needs a sacrifice for some friggin’ injury luck?), but there’s a lot of perspective worth adding to that final score.
Obviously, 14 of those points go on the offense for a pick six and a fumble recovery for a touchdown, but in addition:
- LSU had a season-high nine tackles for loss and forced their first two interceptions of the season, in addition to a blocked punt;
- Vanderbilt had just 17 total first downs — the same amount they had in the week one blowout versus Georgia;
- The Tiger defense forced seven total three-and-out drives and eight total punts, a season high for Vandy;
- The average Commodore drive gained just 21.6 yards;
- Per SEC Stat Cat (a great Twitter follow, by the way), Vandy finished with a 32.4 rushing success rate, and had negative yardage on 26.5 percent of their carries.
The simple fact is that aside from a few outliers, Vanderbilt really did struggle to move the ball with any consistency in this game. And that was with LSU down four starters on defense and losing another significant one during the game.
Plus, as I pointed out before this one, Vandy has a couple of legit playmakers. Jared Pinkney would start for LSU, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Kalija Lipscomb would both be in the running back and receiver rotations. That isn’t to say that there weren’t some breakdowns that are looking like trends through four games — particularly some bad tackling — and we’ll discuss those.
But speaking of injuries, reports seem to indicate that Terrace Marshall broke bones in his foot and could return in a few weeks, at least maybe by November. Justin Jefferson will be fine, and with an open date he may even be back for game five against Utah State. Michael Divinity as of the latest I’ve been told, could be back by Florida. Good time to be catching an open date, and a final non-conference game as well.
Anyway, let’s break down how this one played out.
- It didn’t take long for the defense to bust and give up a 41-yard run to Vaughn. Vandy runs a split-zone play out of the pistol; LSU actually had an eight-man box, but with the numbers to the field where the receivers were lined up. Patrick Queen looks like the main culprit here.
- Queen looks like he reads Vaughn’s first step, which is slightly towards the A-gaps, and engages the center. So when Vaughn breaks to the B gap, there’s nobody home. Also looks like Kristian Fulton stumbles a bit from the deep safety spot, and is a step or two slow getting over to make the stop. Bad run fits are killer against a talented back, more so when the box is loaded because that usually leaves a lot more room after the second level.
- Give Vandy’s offense credit for guts — they went right after Derek Stingley Jr. right away, with a quick screen and then a shallow flat route to Lipscomb. To the freshman’s credit though, he damn near picks off an out route near the goal line.
- The most disturbing trend with the defense so far overall remains bad tackling. Grant Delpit missed two tackles on the opening drive, both near the line of scrimmage. And then Queen makes contact with Vaughn but doesn’t get him down, allowing his blockers to help push him through into the endzone.
- I’m sure some will suggest that Delpit might be sandbagging due to his expected high draft status, but I don’t think that’s the case. He’s still active and aggressive, he’s just throwing his shoulder into people instead of wrapping up. Tackling is something I put on players, unless it becomes a long-term trend. Which isn’t the case here. Some of the defense’s body language (and I’m really dubious to read into these things on the TV broadcast) look that of a group that believes its own hype right now.
- Speaking of the running game, LSU busts its longest of the season on the next drive, a 46-yarder for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He does a great job of reading the zone blocks and the flow of the defense. Austin Deculus gets a great seal, Damien Lewis gets up to the linebacker and Edwards-Helaire has a huge seam, untouched for a good 10 or 12 yards, then a stiff-arm to the safety gets him clear.
- But he did drop a possible touchdown pass on the next play. I suspect the defender might’ve been able to get him short of the endzone. Although shortly thereafter, LSU’s tempo catches Vandy trying to substitute and Justin Jefferson is wide open in the flat for an easy six.
- Defense gets a three-and-out Vandy’s next two possessions, with the one after going just four plays thanks to a 36-yard gain to Lipscomb. He shakes Stingley with a really nice out-cut after faking inside, then gets a missed tackle for some YAC. Via Cody Worsham, Pro Football Focus credited four catches for 72 yards to Lipscomb when matched up on Stingley. I’d say that’s a testament to the senior receiver’s ability. He wouldn’t be one of LSU’s top three (who are playing on a pretty damn high level right now), but he’d play over guys like Racey McMath, Derrick Dillon or Trey Palmer right now. And Stingley still batted down three passes while matched on him, plus his first career interception.
- Speaking of Stingley — this may be some paranoia on my part, but he has a tendency to catch punts away from his body somewhat, and that scares me.
- Nice fourth-and-one stop from the D, made possible with a good run fit by Fulton and great pursuit by Queen and Damone Clark to get Vaughn down.
- Interesting schematic adjustment from Aranda to Todd Harris’ adjustment. JaCoby Stevens played safety some sets, but in others Kary Vincent lined up, which allowed Dave Aranda to rotate him to either side when Vandy went with slot looks, with Kristian Fulton playing off in a strong safety role on the other side of the field to keep numbers.
- It’s unfortunate that so much of the narrative among fans is focused on the defense right now because...y’all...it’s really hard to score 28 points in a first quarter without a defense or special teams touchdown. Yeah, it’s Vandy, but LSU’s offense dropped the hammer and essentially had this close to a laffer after 15 minutes.
- Vincent got off to a nice start in this one with a few big tackles early on, including a big tackle on Jared Pinkney in the flat, but he had a miss early on Vandy’s field goal drive in the second, and then got caught by a tempo play for a 28-yard gain on a quick screen. The ‘Dores kind of caught LSU napping with a tendency-breaker. Smart tactic.
- But the defense came through, with Stingley breaking up two balls in the endzone and Justin Thomas getting a sack on third down.
- Ensuing drive had its own highlight:
Oh. My. Word ... watching the LSU LG here. , celebrates and then gets another ... I’m at a loss of words. pic.twitter.com/ebMWgDqUIx— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) September 21, 2019
- Adrian Magee has always been an attitude player, and he was strong in this one. The offensive line overall may have allowed a pair of sacks, but it was able to block for a season-high 181 rushing yards at five yards a clip.
- I’ve always been a fan of the play-design on Burrow’s near-pick-six: Jefferson motions into the backfield then attempts to pivot right back out on a swing screen; he stumbles, so Burrow tries to vamp and make something happen. Just make sure you get it out of bounds in the future, kid.
- Tough break for Edwards-Helaire on the fumble. Just didn’t take the hand-off clean. No mesh read, just a straight zone hand-off.
- Ja’Marr Chase had 199 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, and it looked like he might seriously contend for Josh Reed’s single-game record. He “only” finished with 229 yards on the day, but what I loved most about his game was that he did a little bit of everything. He caught one touchdown on a quick slant that went 51 yards. He split the safeties on a post route versus cover two. He broke tackles, ran by defenders or straight Moss’d guys on jump balls. That’s pretty much every way a receiver can beat a defense.
- He also had the first four-touchdown day for an LSU receiver since Tony Moss 30 years ago.
- Smart gamble for Vanderbilt to try the onside kick to open the second half, especially down just 21. But whereas the last two LSU has seen caught perfect bounces for the kicking team, this one kicked right up to Micah Baskerville for the return. He couldn’t close the deal with the touchdown, but he made up for it on the blocked punt later.
- Defense looked ready to play in the third when Breiden Fehoko knifed in for a tackle for loss on Vaughn. But then Stingley duffs a tackle that turns what should be a six-yard gain to a 26-yard one, and then Vaughn takes another one to the house:
- Backup linebackers in here, but LSU should have this one defended. Inside zone, but Fehoko eats a double team. Baskerville gets too wide, and Clark gets caught up in traffic and just fails to find the runner. From there, Delpit flat-out misses him in the open field and that’s all she wrote. Just a bad effort all around. Not a structural issue. Bad individual efforts.
- Anyway, enough about the defense — holy crap LSU scored 60-plus for the second game in a row and broke records for points in an SEC game and touchdown passes. Joe Burrow joined Jamarcus Russell and Tommy Hodson as the only Tiger QBs to ever win three SEC Player of the Week honors, and it doesn’t feel like he’s done at all. He’s in command of this offense in a way that almost makes it seem like the loss of Marshall will barely even be felt (not that I want to test this theory). He just takes what the defense gives, finds the open man and lets the playmakers do their thing. LSU can kill a defense with either of its top three, and the way Burrow is playing right now I’m pretty confident that McMath, Dillon, Palmer, Stephen Sullivan or Thad Moss will step right in against Utah State. And if the offensive line and running game can keep build, there’s still even more potential here.