After digesting LSU’s 19-6 victory at Mississippi State to kick off the Tigers’ 2011 SEC season, here are 10 random thoughts about that win.
1) Yeah, it’s pretty safe to say the LSU defense is very good.
That’s no shock to anybody who has been paying attention the last three weeks. I’m not sure, though, that the Tigers have played much better this season than they did against the Bulldogs.
There was defensive line domination in many forms – no running game allowed, pressure on passing plays and a handful of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage.
And when LSU rushed only 3-4 defenders and State quarterback Chris Relf actually had some time, the secondary blanketed the receivers.
So you had the d-line forcing Relf into quick throws most of the night and the DBs extending plays to create opportunities for pressure through sticky coverage.
The bottom line: After two long drives in the first half, the Bulldogs’ offense basically had nowhere to turn.
2) The LSU offensive line could carry the Tigers’ offense a long way this season.
There was that depth we knew was there, but it’s not really substantial until you see it in action.
When starting left tackle Chris Faulk went down with an ankle ailment on LSU’s first series, little-used senior Greg Shaw came in and held up very well in arguably the most important time he’s ever logged at the college level.
There were a few missed assignments, a few times when an LSU o-lineman got beat. Keep in mind, though, this was an SEC game and the guys in maroon on the front four weren’t recruited because they weren’t expected to win a few one-on-one battles.
With players shuffling in and out up front, the Tigers generated 361 total yards and 5.6 yards per play and Jarrett Lee was sacked only once. That will win a lot of SEC games.
3) Lee’s 21-of-27 night passing the ball for 213 yards might be the best overall game he’s played at LSU.
Critics will say the Tigers didn’t punch the ball into the end zone enough and point out that he missed a few throws or at least some opportunities downfield.
But Lee wasn’t dictating the play calls in the red zone, and on the missed opportunities he often checked down to a different receiver for a reason (see below) and still got something out of a play.
On the occasions when Lee went deep, he and Rueben Randle had very good chemistry and that tandem has put that play-action post pass on film for opponents to see and worry about.
As straightforward as LSU often is be running the ball, that effective little wrinkle adds something that hasn’t always been there the last few seasons.
Lee’s fourth-quarter interception put a minor damper on his game, but at least it wasn’t the kind of pick that plagued him in 2008 – throws when he forced the ball into windows that weren’t big enough or were closing quickly. This one was simply a throw that got away from him and every QB will make that mistake if he throws the ball often enough.
4) Now about those quick throws…
Thursday revealed a strong indication of why tailback Michael Ford hasn’t played more. To put it kindly, the sophomore’s pass-protection skills have a lot of room for improvement.
Lee’s time to deliver the ball was accelerated several times and led to the short underneath throws where he had receivers open.
When you couple some shoddy blitz pickup with the fact that Lee sat out the first few days of practice leading up to the game with a tender ankle and was undoubtedly hampered by the injury, it makes a lot of sense why he was looking for the quicker throws – because what little mobility he has was limited.
5) After two years of waiting in the wings, Randle has quickly blossomed into one of the SEC’s top receivers.
The potential has been there since he arrived on campus, but he was a good young solider and stayed in the background as Brandon LaFell and Terrance Tolliver showed him the ropes and filled the role as primary go-to threats.
With the spotlight to himself now, Randle hasn’t shown any growing pains with 12 catches for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns – both on beautiful passes from Lee.
Beckham simply catches anything thrown within arm’s length of him and Boone reminds me of a young Randle. And should Jarvis Landry continue to look as comfortable as he looked Thursday, that would be a nice explosive threat to inject into the game plan.
6) It’s not like there was a lot of call to question Spencer Ware’s toughness before the State game.
There’s certainly no lingering doubt now.
Not only did Ware endure a 22-carry, 107-yard rushing performance and seem to get stronger as the game went along, he also absorbed some vicious – clean but vicious – hits when he got loose in the second and third levels of State’s defense.
And he kept popping back up and running just as hard the next time he got the ball. If that’s not toughness and the perfect back for a Les Miles’ offense, I’m not sure there is one.
7) Cornerback/nickel back Tyrann Mathieu had a pretty quiet night and still finished with a team-high 10 tackles. That’s how deep the Tigers’ defense is, especially in the secondary.
State was first team that looked like it was avoiding Mathieu at all costs, both on the ground and in the air. The alternatives? Trying to throw toward Tharold Simon and Mo Claiborne.
Simon finished second to Mathieu with eight tackles, many on the short pass plays that netted the Bulldogs only 5.6 yards per attempt and Claiborne snared his first two interceptions of the season. So the Bulldogs weren’t left for many options.
For the third straight game this season, DBs ranked 1-2-3 in tackles as Eric Reid logged six stops.
8) As key as Drew Alleman’s four field goals were to the victory, LSU’s special teams lacked some … specialness.
D.J. Howard produced 37.2 yards a punt, although none were returned.
The Tigers’ punt-return game was downright bad, as Mathieu had two chances and went backward both times.
Kickoff returns were a little better, with Claiborne breaking off a 33-yard return and having another long one nullified by a penalty.
The glaring problem, though, was on kickoffs. Neither Alleman nor Howard cracked 60 yards on their three kickoffs and State’s average starting field position on those kicks was just inside the 33-yard-line – essentially a free first down right off the bat.
9) I didn’t get the Bulldogs’ offensive strategy late in the game.
They were down 19-6 and had been physically mauled in the second half. But State got the ball back with 2:48 to go and moved the ball effectively for the first – and only – time after halftime.
Instead of using the final two timeouts he had or running a hurry-up offense to try and score and then try an onside kick, though, MSU coach Dan Mullen basically let his team play out the string. The game ended with the Bulldogs at the LSU 15.
It doesn’t take a long memory to recall that Auburn was in a similar predicament in the season’s first week and managed to escape with a 42-38 win.
Granted, LSU is a different animal than Utah State. But you aren’t going to experience many miracles if you don’t at least take a chance and I thought Mullen took that chance away from his team.
10) It may be loud when the Tigers head to West Virginia next week, Tennessee in mid-October and Alabama in November, but I’m not sure it will be as loud or electric as the opening few minutes of Thursday’s game were.
Yeah, there was plenty of artificial noise-making – besides the cowbells, the PA system was cranked up to 9 or 10 – but the Bulldogs fans did themselves proud early on and really made Davis Wade Stadium a hostile environment.
This was my fourth trip there for a football game and it was by far the best environment of the four.
The good news: LSU wasn’t fazed by the atmosphere at all. The defense forced a three-and-out on the game’s opening series and the Tigers’ offense sucked a lot of the zeal out of the State portion of the crowd with a methodical 16-play, 77-yard field-goal drive.
As much as anything, that’s a sign of how quickly a young LSU team has matured already in three games.