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Post Game Review: Auburn

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Everything wrong with the LSU offense, on display.

It’s just hard for me to imagine a situation in which you can be given such a wake up call as Ed Orgeron was in 2020 and stay the course. They talked about making changes but Ed Orgeron’s seemingly ideological commitment to running the Pet Sematary version of Joe Brady’s offense and Pete Carroll’s Cover 1, under front 2006 ass defense. In addition, he coaches not to lose in 4th down situations like it’s 1997. It’s gotten to the point where he seems unwilling to change, detached from the modern game, and no longer a fit for his position. It’s time.

Recap

The game started well, with an Auburn punt. LSU responded by throwing for 120 yards on a single possession (thanks to a huge loss on a botched snap) that ended in a great touchdown on a slot fade to Kayshon Boutte. Auburn went on a long, inefficient drive and missed a long field goal to follow. LSU drove deep again but the drive stalled when Max Johnson took a sack, Cade York cashed the field goal to give LSU a quick 10-0 lead. Then, Auburn gave TJ Finley his only series, where he turned it over on downs. LSU drove into striking distance on a catch and long run by Jack Bech, but the drive stalled again and they kicked another field goal to get it to 13-0. Auburn began to chip away with a touchdown on a truly bananas, incredibly lucky Bo Nix scramble drill heave to make it 13-7. LSU answered with a punt AT AUBURN’S 41 YARD LINE ON 4TH AND FIVE!!! GO FOR IT! Auburn drove down and kicked a field goal to make it 13-10 to end the half. A failed onside kick to start the 3Q gave LSU good field position. They drove down to the 5 but stalled and had to kick a field goal......again, 16-10. Auburn drove down but had their field goal attempt blocked by Jay Ward. LSU ran a wildly inefficient 11 play, 29 yard drive and settled for a 51 yard queso shot from best player Cade York. Auburn marched down the field on the ground, with Bo Nix punching it in on a zone read to make it 19-17. LSU then went feebly 3 and out but Auburn answered by doing the same. LSU punted the answer to that possession and Auburn punted it back immediately after. Then LSU, despite great field position, took a false start on a 4th and 2 at midfield, forcing a punt. Auburn then, sparked by a 44 yard Jarquez Hunter run, took the lead on a touchdown. LSU then threw a game ending INT after a would be Kayshon Boutte 3rd down catch was called back (correctly).

Film Review

The game started out with Auburn playing their cover one base, mixing in some 0 blitzes, and daring Johnson to be decisive in the quick game. To his credit, he has improved at identifying pressure and throwing behind it. Auburn started out largely playing a lot of man coverage and got really hammered by LSU’s receivers in the quick game. It was their cover 1 base, some 0 blitzes, and LSU’s receivers were beating their men in coverage soundly.

Late in the second quarter and into the second half, Auburn realized that LSU was incapable of running the football and stopped worrying about defending it entirely. They started treating LSU like teams treat Mississippi State. They starting playing back in zone and dropping 8 into the coverage (on a couple snaps they dropped N I N E), both taking away underneath windows and playing soft enough with their 2 high shell to also be sound against anything vertical. To the boundary in both clips LSU has a slant/flat combo, and you can see how they were able to take it away. Once Auburn got out of base and also stopped trying to blitz, they completely ended LSU’s night offensively. The entire second half looked like this gif. They were able to take away Johnson’s primaries and force him to work out of rhythm, which he just can’t do well. Even if he could, there weren’t many windows available with Auburn selling out so hard against the pass. In a situation like that, you want to be able to tighten up a bit, either condense sets by getting in 12 (one back, two tight ends) personnel or getting in bunch sets in 11 and running the football with diverse blocking schemes. That’s what they did in 2019 when Auburn sold out against the pass, putting 7 DBs on the field at a few points. They bunched up, forced their non run defender DBs to fit the extra gaps you create in bunches, and ran their duo scheme down their throat.

I think LSU should go a little further nowadays by outright getting in 12 personnel instead of staying in 11 like they did in 2019. Schematic adjustments aside, they would likely make little difference given how horrid their run blocking is. They just can’t hold blocks on guys they can account for. Run scheming is, at root, accounting for bodies, and if you can’t actually make the blocks in the blocking scheme, the play dies. That said, by staying in 11 and 10 and running from spread sets, you’re just not giving yourself much chance without a really good OL. It’s 2021, you kinda have to be able to get into 12 and be diverse in the run game again, running the ball is cool again.

For instance, they try to run outside zone here on this 2 and goal in the 3rd quarter. Ed Ingram just gets completely, completely worked. Additionally, Deion Smith can’t hold his block (like, at all) and a safety gets in the fit to gain a numbers advantage against their 5 man blocking scheme. A mess. Running the ball is how you keep modern defenses honest against the pass, it’s an inverse Les Miles. With that, you can build a robust RPO and play action game off it, and that kinda stuff makes your QB’s life so so easy by massively reducing the post-snap processing he has to do.

That leads me to Max Johnson. No, it’s not all his fault, but he was very sketchy and his surface stats continue to lie to you. He is fine if he can. operate in rhythm and doesn’t have to process too much, but he cannot really operate well if forced to work off his primary. The processing and reads continue to not be good and he doesn’t add much in the vertical passing game unless his receiver is really open (with the exception of that dime to Boutte on the shock/dragon concept on the first drive). He invites a lot of pressure by holding the ball forever which will happen when you don’t process well or have a ton of spatial awareness. Here, he has a corner route to Boutte to the boundary (which he breaks off when he sees Johnson scramble) and a dagger concept (Middle Read or Go route with a dig underneath it) to the field. He tries to look off the boundary safety and throw the corner but the CB zones off to deep 14 and cuts it off. A better QB would simply reset his feet seeing it’s a 2 high shell (very favorable for dig routes) to the backside dagger concept, see the middle runner run with the seam route, and throw the dig into the vacated window. Or he’d eliminate Boutte’s route pre snap and just read the dagger. That’s big boy processing, but the kind you have to do in such a dropback heavy offense. He tries to throw the dig after panicking and moving around but it’s far, far too late and he takes a hit/fumbles the ball.

As for the defense, they were generally fine. I think they’re going to get brutally exposed in the coming weeks for their rigid adherence to Cover 1 but they were fine in it on Saturday. Bo Nix made a few absurd, bananaland freak plays but aside from that he was his normal self. That said, LSU began to pay at the end for their constant adherance to just over and under 4 down fronts. The same two fronts on every standard down. Eventually, Auburn called zone read arc here. You read the defensive and and have the arcing H back block a down safety or scraping linebacker or whoever the 2nd level defender outside the (ostensibly collapsing if the ball goes to the perimeter) end is. Teams will exploit LSU’s defensive rigidity, Auburn just didn’t really have the players to make them pay to the extent that they could have. May be as soon as next week! Liam Coen calls Kentucky’s offense. A Sean McVay disciple, that offense was built to attack the Pete Carroll cover 1 that proliferated across the NFL in the 2010s.

Buckle up.