The Brian Kelly era started off with a weird, frustrating dud. LSU didn’t play a particularly good game of football and none of us had fun until the last 2 minutes so, let’s examine why.
The biggest problem LSU had all night was their almost complete inability to block anybody. The offensive line was ineffective, losing 1 on 1s reliably and keeping the entire offense off schedule. This opened a lot of things up for Florida State defensively that helped them keep LSU inefficient. LSU actually dialed up plenty of 3-route RPO structures that I quite liked, but Florida State consistently forced give reads for the QB and made them keep the ball on the ground. Here, FSU is in the quarters look they like to live in. In order to account for every gap in their run fit, the defense will often rotate the weak safety down to fit the B or C-gap. FSU leaves him out of the fit and is a gap short. The nickel is out of the fit as well and is able to focus entirely on coverage (they play him tight to take away anything free in the curl window). This is a deal FSU was willing to make, as LSU’s issues run blocking prevented them from making them pay for looks like this, and taking away the pass options in the RPO at the same time prevented them from generating any easy, efficient, standard-down offense.
The OL was even worse in the passing game. Here, LSU has a post/wheel concept on with Daniels’ read taking him from post to wheel. By the time he is off his primary, he immediately has two rushers in his face and has to try to bail before he has a real chance to throw the wheel. If kept cleaner, he could have put the wheel to the back shoulder of Taylor away from his man defender who was several yards inside. You just can’t operate under these conditions
They didn’t just miss blocks, they had trouble with assignments and reads in their protections as well. Daniels checks the line into a full slide (for some reason) and Josh Williams blows his assignment. In a full slide, the back is usually supposed to protect the backside of the slide. He steps forward like he’s executing his typical read on the linebackers and is out of position to account for the free EDGE defender. In his desperation, he ends up taking a hold. Even if he hadn’t, having your RB one-on-one with a star edge rusher in the protection is a losing proposition anyway. The blown protection prevents Daniels from getting to the backside dig by Boutte, which comes open against FSU’s Cover 2 invert look.
Here we get a Mills concept, designed to beat FSU’s quarters structure. Boutte’s post gets open with the quarters safety flat-footed but Daniels can’t throw it, despite it being his primary, because Anthony Bradford gets absolutely cooked and forces Daniels to abandon the read and try to escape. Note: Will Campbell with a solid rep against possible 1st round EDGE Jared Verse. Campbell had a very up-and-down night, largely against Verse, which is honestly, all told, a pretty good start to his career. I expect him to really grow as the year goes on. Other than that, the OL was prohibitive on Sunday night.
Honestly, I thought Matt House did a lot of things I really enjoyed. For example, LSU generated several free runners by running this B-gap, Mike-insert creeper path similar to what Coach Cody Alexander calls “Dak.”
The basic idea of a “creeper,” also known as a “replacement pressure,” is to insert a defender into the rush that is not on the DL, think a linebacker, nickel, corner, or safety. The defense will, at the same time, drop a player on the DL into coverage, usually a standup edge rusher. This is done to create the illusion of a pressure package and mess with protections or run blocking schemes to get a free runner while keeping a full 7 bodies in coverage.
LSU was able to generate free runners on this concept several times. All in all, Matt House called a pretty decent game and was able to scheme up a lot of pressure, both in outright pressures, blitzes, and creepers/simulated pressures. It’s a much more modern, diverse defense than we’d seen in the past couple of years.
LSU did have a handful of first-game-type issues, however. The primary among them was their confusion about how they were going to fit counter. Typically, fitting counter is done in two different ways: “boxing” or “spilling.”
When you are “boxing” counter, the edge defender will engage the OUTSIDE SHOULDER of the first puller and keep his own outside arm free. This forces the ball-carrier inside to where the defense, in that case, has help.
When you are “spilling” counter, the edge defender will engage the INSIDE of the first puller and try to force the ball-carrier outside to where he, in that case, has help.
In the play above, BJ Ojulari attempts to spill but LB Kolbe Fields is inside of him, allowing the back to bounce to the outside where nobody can immediately get to him. This happened several times in the game and allowed FSU to have some success on counter. Outside of plays like this, they fit the run pretty well.
LSU’s 3rd down struggles can mainly be chalked up to FSU QB Jordan Travis playing a sharp and technically advanced game of quarterback. LSU sent a lot of pressure in obvious passing situations in an attempt to force Travis to make quick, difficult reads and beat them. QBs are often coached to “replace the blitzer with the ball,” meaning that the QB is tasked with quickly diagnosing where the extra rusher is coming from and getting the ball into the vacated area before getting sacked. It seems simple enough, but it takes a lot of high-level, quick processing to execute with any reliability. The tape, to date, on Travis showed a very talented and athletic, but raw QB who was prone to some mistakes in his reads when they were stressed. That clearly is no longer the case, as Travis displayed sharp processing and reactivity against pressures all night in obvious passing situations to beat Matt House’s pressure packages, many of which generated the desired free rushers, for conversions.
In his best play of the night, Travis beats a 0 pressure with a free runner right in his face with a dime. In cover 0, the corner has no vertical help, so Travis unleashed a perfect ball on alert and let his receiver get vertical and get under it, all with a free rusher screaming down the B gap. Whether on pressures, blitzes, or creepers, Matt House was able to scheme up free rushers all night and dared Jordan Travis to play the position at an elite level. Sadly for LSU, he did, and you gotta tip your cap to that.