LSU broke out an entirely different defense on Saturday night. Not a few new wrinkles, not a couple little tendency breakers, an entirely new defense. They were different up front in base, they broke out a ton of exotic pressures, they simulated pressure, they utilized players in different ways, they played a lot more soft cover 3, etc. As it turns out, Daronte Jones can actually call a pretty great game when he’s allowed to do more than two things.
On the offensive end, more of the same. Outside of a couple plays, the LSU run game was mostly under control with Alabama playing even fronts to stop their counter game. In the pass game, it was brutal, just a really badly called and schemed game. All things considered, this was kinda the highest end of the range of outcomes
The game started with a little bit of an Alabama drive that stalled, #Bamakickers struck and they missed a field goal from 46 out. LSU quickly got a first down into Alabama territory but stalled until a fantastic fake punt resurrected the possession, it ended in a touchdown to give LSU an early 7-0 lead. Alabama then went 3 and out and started a chain of 4 punts in a row, 2 from each team. Alabama then drove a little bit into LSU territory but was stopped on a 4th and 2 by LSU’s defense. LSU answered that opportunity with their 3rd consecutive punt. Alabama struck back with a long touchdown drive that LSU answered with a 3rd down INT. Alabama quickly turned that opportunity into a touchdown. That ended the half. The second half started with an LSU lost fumble that Alabama immediately turned into a long touchdown. This stretch was a brief glimpse into how this game SHOULD have gone for Alabama, but that was IT for Tide points. LSU valiantly answered that score with another punt. Daronte Jones’ unit forced a 3 and out quickly. LSU was somehow able to scratch together an excellent drive that ended with a Jack Bech TD to make it 20-14. The teams alternated 3 punts and LSU got the ball back with a chance. They drove all the way down to the red zone sparked by a 37 yard TDP carry on 4th and 1. They stalled out in the red zone and made the critical (and correct) decision to go for it on 4th and goal but were stopped on a Johnson overthrow. They got the ball back on a sack fumble with another chance but were smothered. They forced a punt and had a slim chance with 50 seconds left, they got into Hail Mary range but it was batted away as the game ended.
The biggest thing to highlight is all of the ways Daronte Jones was able to scheme up pressure, generate free rushers, and attack Alabama’s 5 and 6-man protections. Here, LSU calls what is known as a “hot pressure.” The general idea of a hot pressure, which is very trendy across college football right now, is a 6-man rush where you play a cover 3 with two seam defenders behind it. The pressure is a pretty simple cross dog from Clark and Jones. You see Ojulari rush wide to open up the tackle, Jaquelin Roy engage the guard, Jones insert behind the guard and occupy the back, and Clark loop around free. Jones gets the sack because the back whiffed his block but if he hadn’t, Clark would have gotten there. Behind it, you can see the seam defenders “poach” both the in breaking route from 8 (John Metchie) and the corner route from I believe 10 (JoJo Earle). Now, if Young had broken contain or this blitz had been picked up, it’s probably a touchdown to Metchie, but that’s the nature of a hot pressure, it has to get home, often it does.
Another thing LSU did a good job of was slanting and disguising fronts. They showed and ran a lot of Dave Aranda-esque odd fronts in this one that led to incredible success stopping the run. Here, they run a slant that Dave Aranda calls “field slant,” but with a hard insert from the will linebacker. The crux of what happens on this play is that edge rusher Damone Clark (used as a multi tool up front on Saturday) occupies and widens the tackle, Soni Fonua engages the guard, and Baskerville inserts hard into the vacated area. Since it’s an empty protection, he’s free to the QB.
Here’s an example of a simulated pressure LSU ran. They show blitz, but the two linebackers up on the line drop out into a regular cover 3 zone look. The change in picture panics Bryce Young a bit who has to hold the ball since the rail (back on a fast wheel) and mesh routes are covered up when he expected the areas to be vacated. The skycam showed he had the middle sit route if he just maintained his composure but he got confused, panicked, and took a sack. This is a great sequence by Daronte Jones, who had been bringing heavy pressure out of this look all night, to counter that and drop into coverage out of it. Nobody is better at simulating pressure than Georgia, so Dan Lanning, Kirby Smart, and Glenn Schumann have to be salivating after Saturday’s game. Reminder that this was the shell of the LSU defense, think of what THEY can do.
This one might be my favorite play of the whole game. All of the stuff above was fantastic, but the real star of the night was LSU’s 0 blitz assault on Bryce Young. Here, they come up in a “double gum” front (double mug but with the linebackers in the B gaps instead of the A gaps).
In addition to this structure, LSU has Jay Ward walked up in man coverage and Cam Lewis walked up on the edge to rush. The bodies in every gap force Alabama into a “5-0” protection where they have to simply block the guy in front of them and deal with the highest danger rushers, those in the middle. This gives you two free rushers off the edge to the boundary here, BJ Ojulari (who was finally used as a standup edge!!) and Cam Lewis. Bryce Young’s job is simple, just throw hot into the vacated area right? Not so fast my friend, Baskerville drops out late to take away the TE running a shallow in the middle, where Young looks to throw hot. The other potential hot option, the running back on the trail route, is sniffed out by Damone Clark dropping out late. He has no time to actually survey so he just has to throw it hot to a guy who is covered, LSU gets the ball back.
LSU’s fluidity and diversity in their front structures was a huge reason they did so well stopping the run, but another huge factor was simply Damone Clark. Damone Clark, as it turns out, is an ELITE linebacker when he is used properly. That proper use is similar to Dave Aranda’s use of Devin White. Not a ton of coverage responsibility, but a lot of hard inserts and aggressive, down hill, attacking of gaps in both the run fit and pass rush. He had his very best game as a Tiger because he was finally not treated like something he isn’t. A shame he didn’t get a career playing the ROVER for Dave Aranda like Devin White. Had Aranda stayed, he becomes Devin White’s heir. They just couldn’t block him. They run inside zone Y insert and the TE Latu can’t get to him even close to in time.
Another reason for LSU’s dominance up front on D was Neil Farrell, who has been unblockable all year and an elite run defender. Here he is adding some explosion to the pass rush.
The offense, on the other hand, was as sad as ever. While Daronte Jones was proving himself an independently capable defensive coordinator, Jake Peetz’s offense looked the same as it always has. They don’t do anything like switches, rubs, bunches, etc to create releases, so they’re just spreading things out, calling quick and intermediate concepts, and hoping their true freshman receivers school high level DBs in 1v1 situations. A bad recipe. Here is a particularly brutal play call. They call stick, a 2 high beater, in the red zone against a team that had been playing pretty tight cover 1 with some cover 3 all night. Here they are in 0, manned up, and you’re calling stick, a 2 high zone beater. Lol. As bad as Johnson was, he wasn’t given much of a chance. This play sums up the whole game right here.