Saturday night, in front of a packed house, LSU stood blow for blow and shot down the Texas Longhorns 45-38.
This was a Big-12 game for all intents and purposes, with the Longhorn offense proving incredibly difficult for the Tigers to stop, save for a handful of big plays. But the Tigers — especially quarterback Joe Burrow — proved more than up to the task. LSU never blinked in this and answered every haymaker Texas brought through in the second half. And put the game away with a 61-yard touchdown strike on third-and-17.
This win was historic for a number of reason; first and foremost, because it was literally, the very first road win in program history against a top-10 out-of-conference opponent. Burrow’s 471 passing yards were the second-most in a single game since Rohan Davey’s 500-plus day against Alabama in 2001. It was also the program’s first 400-plus yardage day since that season as well. Plus, the first time ever that three different wide receivers topped the 100-yard mark.
Obviously, the biggest takeaway will be the true arrival of LSU’s new up-tempo spread offense under Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady, which racked up 573 yards of offense at 8.4 per play, converted 50 percent on third down and was a perfect five for five in the red zone. But as much as we’ll remember the flash, I’ll remember the substance. With all of the in-game momentum and the energy of the crowd bearing down on the Tigers, Burrow led the offense on three straight touchdown drives to put the game away through the final 17 minutes, answering the furious rally blow for blow before the icing touchdown to Justin Jefferson. When they had to have touchdowns to hold on, LSU was able to get them. As much as it showed explosiveness and talent, it showed guts.
And even as Texas cut the 14-point lead in half to keep the game tight, the Tiger defense at least was able to limit the big plays and force Texas to use most of the remaining time.
There’s still 10 more games left this season, but that’ll be one to remember.
So let’s do some remembering.
- Texas deserves a lot of credit, and they’ll get some in this space, but I was a big fan of Tom Herman’s opening script here. Figuring — rightly — that the LSU defense would be hyped up, he came right out with a double-misdirection screen pass to play on over-pursuit. He then came right back with a designed quarterback run, which probably helped get Sam Ehlinger comfortable, and put the defense on notice.
- We’ll discuss this a lot, but Dave Aranda kept his safeties with pretty deep leverage for most of this game. Perhaps more worried about Texas challenging down the field, but clearly comfortable with Grant Delpit, Jacoby Stevens and others playing down hill to make tackles. The plan did work perfectly on the game’s first third down, as Delpit flew up to make the tackle on Keaontay Ingram short of the line to gain.
- LSU looked at trying to make a statement on the ground early on here, and he had a nice nine-yard pickup on third and two; with a bunch formation to the field, LSU runs a straight dive from the shotgun and gets a really nice edge from Thad Moss, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall, with Clyde Edwards-Helaire making a really nice spin move out of a tackle from a Texas linebacker pursuing.
- And then a hell of a 38-yard shot from Burrow to Marshall, with great placement over the receiver’s outside shoulder. Burrow’s pass placement will be something we talk about a lot here.
- One of few bad decisions from Burrow on third down; reads pressure from Texas and tries to swing it out to Edwards-Helaire, right as Jefferson was breaking wide open on a shallow cross. Even if Edwards-Helaire had caught the ball, Texas had him well-defended. The throw to Jefferson would’ve been tough, but Burrow made harder ones later on.
- Early on Texas’ second drive, we saw the first of what was a frequent problem for LSU’s defense: bad tackling. Allowed Ingram to pick up seven yards on a run that should’ve only gotten two. Put Texas ahead of the chains and allowed Texas to take a shot down the field.
- And while Rashard Lawrence’s hands-to-the-face penalty made it a non-factor, Kary Vincent probably should’ve drawn a defensive pass interference call.
- Low-key big play: Collin Johnson throws an elbow into Kristian Fulton and then flops on a ball that was overthrown. Tried to draw the penalty, but the tumble looked like it reinjured Fulton. With him out, Texas was able to hit Brennan Eagles down the field on freshman Cordale Flott.
- Great play design by Texas on the first fourth-down attempt; with a tackle-over, unbalanced look, it appeared the Horns were setting up a QB run for Ehlinger to the overloaded side. Instead, they snuck out both the backside tight end and the running back away from the action. Luckily, Ehlinger’s pass was a bit high and Ingram dropped it.
- It may just be old battle scars, but I’m always a little wary of deep shots out of the endzone on first down. In general, I thought Burrow/the play-calling got a little aggressive in that second quarter, taking more shots and less of what Texas was offering short. Although it certainly paid off in the second half.
- Interception was just a fluky tip drill. Athletic play by the Texas rusher to get a hand up on the ball. Burrow had Ja’Marr Chase open on a slant, but the ball was tipped right to Joseph Ossai.
- Obviously, the defensive line did a great job of helping stone Texas on the next series. On third down, they completely submarined the Texas front and allowed the linebackers to fill on the run, with Patrick Queen forcing a fumble that, luckily, wasn’t called correctly. Texas recovered a few yards back and would’ve obviously kicked a field goal. On fourth down, Michael Divinity and Jacoby Stevens do a great job of setting the edge while Glen Logan and Queen ran Ehlinger down.
- First sack of the day on the next drive looks like its on Burrow. Call is pretty clearly an RPO with the offensive line run-blocking. Burrow pulls, and is looking for a slant to his left, although he probably should’ve just tossed a quick hitch to Justin Jefferson in the slot. The defensive front recovers and sees him with the ball and pounces.
- He takes another one a few plays later: offensive line does a nice job of picking up a six-man blitz from Texas, but Burrow can’t find an outlet.
- There’s going to be a lot of talk about Burrow arriving in this game, and that may be the case for some national writers. But the player who really showed up big for LSU was freshman corner Derek Stingley Jr. He did such a great job of locking down his side of the field that Ehlinger was forced to pick on Kristian Fulton. Although he did most of his damage on slot receivers with the safeties playing off. But look at the job he did on this deep shot to Johnson:
- Johnson gets a nice push-off, but Stingley manages to recover and get his hand in cleanly to prevent Johnson from holding on to the ball. Didn’t quite secure the interception, but this was already a pretty damn special play.
- A few plays later, Fulton misplays a deep pass to Eagles for six. He was in solid position, but just underplayed the ball. You don’t want to see too much of it, but you have to live with talented cornerbacks taking chances like that sometimes.
- On the ensuing drive, LSU actually caught the Texas defense subbing out with tempo, although the referees should’ve probably given them a little extra time. Tigers snuck Lanard Fournette in at tailback after Edwards-Helaire’s long run, and it wasn’t caught. Not the first time I’ve seen a no-huddle team use that trick.
- First touchdown from Burrow to Jefferson really thread the needle right between the two safeties on a crossing route.
- On Texas’ second-to-last possession of the first half we saw LSU adjust to more of a pressure package, using their “mug” front with an inside linebacker over the center between two three-tech linemen. Got pressure on Ehlinger to set up a third and long, with K’Lavon Chaisson able to pick up a sack and force a punt on the next play with a stunt from the boundary.
- Nice job from, I think, Justin Thomas on the defensive left side to occupy both the right tackle and guard for Chaisson to come through clean.
- Fantastic clock management from Orgeron to get LSU one last good shot at the ball, and right away Burrow throws a spectacular out route to Chase for 19 yards. High and right on his outside shoulder. Two plays later, another beautiful back-shoulder seam route to Jefferson for the touchdown on a four verts play.
- Honestly, at halftime, this game is looking like a burgeoning route. LSU is up 13 and getting the ball back after the intermission with the offense in a total groove. And while the defense has had its cracks, Texas hasn’t consistently moved the ball, and struck out on eight plays inside the 10-yard line. And I don’t mind saying, Herman didn’t exactly project a ton of confidence in his interview with Maria Taylor.
- But then LSU comes out with a tough three-and-out. Edwards-Helaire drops a quick screen on third and short, which felt like an attempt to catch Texas in a blitz but maybe was a bit too cute.
- And the Longhorns respond with a NINETEEN play, 86-yard drive that really epitomized what their offense has been with Herman and Ehlinger. Spread running, short throws. A lot of bad tackling, as demonstrated by Delpit blowing up a screen to Devin Duvernay, only to miss the tackle and turn what could’ve been a third-and-long into a manageable six yards.
- Finally force a third-and-nine, and Johnson just completely shakes Fulton on a comeback route for 12.
- In general, Aranda seemed content to keep Ehlinger contained and in the pocket. Two high safeties and a lot of four-man rushes. Maybe he was a little worried about the Texas wideouts, or what Ehlinger could do if he broke containment. Either way, hats off to the UT QB, who made some big-time throws. Especially his third-quarter pass to Jake Smith, which was a real strike.
- It’s been a while since I’ve felt supremely confident in an offense, so when LSU came right back out with a false start on the next possession, this really felt like a game slipping away. But Burrow immediately throws a strike down the field to Chase, who absolutely MOSSES the Texas corner on the jump ball. Yes, the drive ends in a field goal but it felt like another sign that the offense was still game. We had no idea just how game it was.
- Speaking of field goals, how about Cade York? Three for three, including a 40-yarder when LSU really needed it. I’m hesitant to say any college kicker has arrived after two games, but York definitely instills some confidence.
- Great sequence by Texas DC Todd Orlando at the end of LSU’s second drive: overload run blitz gets an unblocked safety off the edge to stuff Edwards-Helaire and turn second-and-two into third-and-six, and then a well-timed zone blitz that had Burrow throwing an outlet that was covered. Edwards-Helaire dropped a high pass but he wouldn’t have picked up the conversion even if he’d caught it.
- The biggest thing you see in Burrow, especially in the second half, is how in control he seems at all times. He never looks rattled, even under pressure, and looks very sure of where he needs to go with the ball. Much like against Georgia Southern, just totally in command. Even as he short-arms a slant on an RPO with a blitzer bearing down on him.
- Burrow’s 26-yard touchdown to Marshall came on a classic West Coast “drive” play with a “Mills” combo on the back side. Chase runs a shallow cross from the strong side, while Jefferson runs a deep crosser from the slot with Chase over the top on the post. Burrow looks off the safety to Jefferson, then throws the post right over his head to a very open Marshall.
- On the next drive, Texas gets the long TD to Duvernay on fourth-and-one with an excellent call from Herman and OC Tim Beck. LSU was clearly selling out for the QB run — a five man rush with Neil Farrell dropping as a spy in case they don’t get home — with man-coverage across the board. Duvernay and the inside receiver run a switch, and he was just wide open on the slant with no safety in the middle of the field. It’s easy to criticize the call from Aranda, but based on Texas’ tendencies it made a lot of sense.
- And of course, had Kary Vincent made the tackle, it at least wouldn’t have gone for six.
- Nice run-blocking on Edwards-Helaire’s 12-yard score. Saahdiq Charles rides his man up field and Adrian Magee and Lloyd Cushenberry set a great edge.
- On the penultimate touchdown for LSU:
- Both teams are betting big here. LSU has four verts called, and Texas responds with an all-out, zero-coverage blitz. The offensive line and Edwards-Helaire do a nice job of picking it up, but Texas has numbers. Burrow steps up and is just able to see Jefferson breaking open across the field right at the sticks. Puts the ball right on him from a tough throwing angle, Jefferson breaks a tackle and takes it to the house.
- This game also marks the second straight onside kick LSU’s seen that caught the perfect bounce for the kicking team (see last year’s Fiesta Bowl). Ja’Marr Chase was the man responsible for getting on the ball behind the wall of blockers, but the ball took a sharp angle away from him. Luckily Johnson couldn’t get his hands on it in bounds.
- Couple final notes: Fulton took a lot of flack post game, and his bad moments were bad — but he still made a few nice plays on the ball. Stingley was an eraser though. Chaisson’s day looked a little better on the rewatch, with another hurry and at least two holding penalties that he probably should’ve drawn. He definitely seemed more focused on getting the tackles stacked up so he could shed if Ehlinger stepped up one way or the other. Siaki Ika missed the game due to an ankle injury that had him out of practice some. Coaches were also worried he’d struggle with Texas’ tempo. The matchup was also the reason Edwards-Helaire and Fournette played so much more than John Emery or Tyrion Davis-Price — coaches wanted them in for blitz pickup, and honestly it was probably the right call with how much pressure Orlando sent.
Overall, aside from the defensive mistakes this was one hell of a well-played game between two very good teams and two damn good quarterbacks. The good thing is LSU comes back with the one true cupcake on its schedule next week in Northwestern State, which should mark a chance to rest some banged-up players, get more experience for the youngsters and, hopefully, clean up the mistakes we saw on Saturday.
One more closing note: in his two-and-a-half(and change) seasons as LSU’s head coach, Ed Orgeron is 11-5 versus ranked opponents and 6-3 versus the top 10. That’s pretty damn good. After a week of almost nothing but talk about Tom Herman’s “record in big games,” or as an underdog, just maybe some folks need to adjust how they talk about LSU’s head coach as well. He’s been locked into a very stupid eternal judgement zone against Alabama, and if that’s all you can ever see about the job he’s done here, you’re missing out on one hell of a ride.