Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Washington Recap

Traveling on the road against a BCS conference opponent for the season opener is never an easy thing.  You can ask LSU's 2002 team about their trip to Virginia Tech or the 2005 squad about their trip to Arizona State.  Things become more difficult when a team must travel over 2,000 miles and face one of the nation's most talented quarterbacks.  But LSU did just that, and they defeated the Huskies without ever being in any serious danger of losing the game.  So the faithful LSU fans should be satisfied with the victory then, right?


That's not the case.  And rightfully so.  Achieving victory should not be easily dismissed as a certainty; however, I think we were all hoping for a bit better performance from the Tigers on Saturday...especially from the defense. 

After hearing all off-season about the new defensive coaching staff, LSU fans became optimistic that a return to playing outstanding defense was imminent.  So to see LSU surrender 478 yards and allow 11 of 19 third down attempts was especially disheartening. 

After hearing all off-season about how "hungry" the team was after a lackluster 2008 campaign, it was disappointing to see the team play without a sense of urgency and with seemingly little enthusiasm. 

But things were not all bad. 

While I would have liked to see the Tigers run the ball between the tackles with more success, the offense played well as a whole.  Jordan Jefferson wasn't perfect but he was very composed and he threw three touchdowns without turning the ball over.  That's a welcome change from 2008, no?  He also added 42 yards rushing.   Terrance Toliver enjoyed a career day with two long touchdowns and 117 yards.  And while the running backs seemed to get stacked up at times, they averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a group.   LSU averaged more yards per play on the night (6.6) than did Washington (5.8).

Also in the "good news" department is that LSU made adjustments in the locker room and performed much better in the second half.  LSU allowed just 116 yards in the Huskies' first four second half drives. They then gave up 81 yards for a touchdown on Washington's last drive while playing a prevent defense.

The real story of the game was the time of possession.  Washington held the ball for 37 minutes as opposed to just 23 minutes for LSU.  The Huskies ran 83 offensive plays while the Tigers ran just 48.   That's an incredible disparity, and I wanted to examine why this took place. 

First and foremost, LSU really struggled in the first half at getting off the field on third down while on defense.  LSU would make two solid defensive plays before allowing Washington to convert on 3rd and long.  So despite playing very good defense 66% of the time, the Huskies were able to keep drives alive and keep LSU's offense on the bench.

Additionally, it was clear that LSU's strategy on defense was to play a "bend but don't break" style.  This worked to an extent because despite 470 yards of offense, LSU held Washington to just 16 points until the final play of the game.   LSU played the safeties very deep and often had the linebackers drop deep on passing plays.  While this opened up the short middle of the field for quick crossing routes and contributed to Washington's success on third down, it prevented big plays for the most part and allowed LSU's defenders to attack the ball carriers and receivers by running towards the line of scrimmage.  I thought that LSU made some big plays.  They had a pair of turnovers and several tackles for little to no gain.  And it was on one of those drops by a linebacker that enabled Jacob Cutrera to intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown.  However, some of the fundamentals were lacking.  Missed tackles and bad angles led to a few Husky drives staying alive when they didn't need to.  Those fundamentals are things that often improve a great deal after the first game or two, and we hope that's the case moving forward. 

Lastly, LSU scored quickly on a couple of long touchdowns to Terrance Toliver which gave the ball back to the Huskies quickly. 

It was a surprise that Russell Shepard didn't see the field at all on Saturday.  Perhaps one of LSU's best offensive weapons stayed on the bench.  Les Miles indicated that the game was close and couldn't afford any mistakes that a freshman might make.  Many others speculate that Miles doesn't want to "reveal" Shepard until SEC play begins so that he will be more difficult for opponents to gameplan against.  I'll buy each of those reasons, but not entirely.  It'd like to see Shep on the field Saturday and involved in the offense. 

Lost in the negative discussion about the defense were some very good individual performances.  Three guys really stood out to me as having played great games.  Patrick Peterson, Drake Nevis, and Harry Coleman were all outstanding. 

LSU's punting has to improve.  Derek Helton's debut as the Tiger punter wasn't a good one.  Helton averaged just 32 yards on four punts, and that's not going to get it done. 

So while it wasn't pretty, it could have been worse.  Just ask Georgia or Oklahoma.  Red Flags?  Yep.  Time to panic?  Not for me.   I'm going to take a "wait and see" approach for now and I'm going to expect a good win against Vanderbilt on Saturday. 


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