COLLEGE STATION -- The Tigers walked away from Kyle Field on the right side of a 24-19 decision Saturday.
No. 6 LSU (7-1, 3-1) moves onto a much needed bye week before hosting Alabama while Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2) falls to .500 in league play.
Here are some of my initial thoughts and notes on the game from an LSU perspective followed by the best quotes given by players and coaches.
It took a while for the Tigers' defense to warm up, but they did.
Kudos to coordinator John Chavis and the rest of the defensive staff for making in-game adjustments. It didn't even take until halftime to shift around and change things against an A&M offense having success. By mid-second quarter, much of the gig was up as far as the surprise factor (in terms of pace, speed and scheme) for the Aggies. LSU had locked in and adjusted to the speed.
Consider that the Tigers trailed 12-0 after one quarter and some change and had given up 85 yards on the ground to that point. The rest of the game LSU conceded just seven points and 49 yards on the ground. That's a staggering turnaround. And the result of LSU bottling up Johnny Manziel (17 rushes, 27 yards) on the ground was way too many passes (56) for the Aggies to be successful against this LSU defense.
What was the primary adjustment for the defense? They took an additional defensive linemen off the field, brought in Micah Eugene as the dime back and were able to put coverage guys (nickel and dime backs) on A&M's slot receivers, as opposed to a linebacker like Kevin Minter or Lamin Barrow. Those matchups weren't in LSU's favor in the first quarter, so Chavis eliminated them. He also turned up the pressure from Eugene and Jalen Mills, LSU's nickel back. Those speedy guys in the backfield sped up Manziel's internal clock.
Jeremy Hill is progressing. Zach Mettenberger is not.
Tale of two different stories in the LSU backfield. The Tigers' freshmen back from Redemptorist is a fresh man, not used heavily until the South Carolina game this year and able to completely rest during a year away from football in 2011. He's starting to give this team the same type of lift Kenny Hilliard did down the stretch run a year ago, only he's got a better overall skill set than Hilliard.
Hill again caught a pass today, led the team in rushing (18 carries, 127 yards, 1 TD), scored on a long run in the fourth quarter and was more than serviceable in pass protection. Great game for the youngster, and he was again the one who pried the lid off the jar late after LSU worked at loosening it the whole game.
As for Mettenberger, it may not be fair to say he's regressing, but I don't know anyone can say he's heading firmly in the other direction either. Today he was well under 50% on completions (11 of 29), took two more sacks and routinely sailed balls over open receivers deep. The LSU offense made a point of taking shots today, in an attempt to scare the Aggies out of the box, and Mett couldn't deliver. There was talk after the game by Mettenberger himself, Josh Dworaczyk and Kadron Boone about the wind. That may have been a factor, I grant, but it's no reason at least one of those four or five deep shots couldn't have been landed.
Simply put: Those are the throws Mettenberger has to make, at least one or two of them a game, to separate this year's LSU offense from the familiar Cro-Magnon run-first, run-second, run-third version fans have become accustomed to seeing in recent years. Teams are going to continue stacking the box against LSU. There's only one way out of that.
The Wildcat finally came in an LSU uniform this time. It wasn't mind-blowing.
As has been speculated by everyone in the free world the past two seasons plus, LSU can run the Wildcat with Spencer Ware. Today it finally happened. And, despite the fact that I applaud any effort toward offensive diversity, it wasn't terribly effective.
A week after Ware lined up twice directly under center for QB sneaks, he was in the tried-and-true shotgun version of the Wildcat against A&M. Russell Shepard and Michael Ford took turns crossing the formation in the old Felix Jones role from Arkansas. Ware couldn't find much room, especially on consecutive Wildcat running plays inside the A&M red zone in the second half. In a spot where the Tigers could've used six to put the game away, Miles actually ended up going conservative by using the Wildcat. Three points was the result.
Now, what was nice was Ware getting under center and pitching out to Michael Ford on fourth down deep in enemy territory in the second quarter. Good creativity there, and it led to a Ford touchdown on the very next play.
Moral of the story: Different formations are good and can only help a sometimes stagnant LSU offense, but there's not a ton of bite behind it unless the defense actually thinks Ware will throw.
Final Defensive Notes
- Eric Reid had a big ice wrap on his right shoulder during postgame interviews. The guy's been dealing with a nagging sternum injury, so add this to the pile of thing's the sophomore safety has to contend with.
- Both Ego Ferguson and Josh Downs did eventually return to the ballgame after sustaining injuries in the second quarter. Neither played nearly as much as the clear-cut favored players today at defensive tackles -- Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson.
- Not a lot of Lamar Louis today. A player that was trusted explicitly in coverage against South Carolina last week was on the sideline for most of the afternoon this Saturday. LSU scrapped Chavis' favored 4-3 for nickel to begin and then dime for most of the game. That meant very little three-linebacker sets. Louis' PT suffered as a result. So too did Deion Jones'. All in all, this was the least the freshman 'backers have played since the Washington game.
BEST OF THE POSTGAME QUOTES
LSU DE Sam Montgomery
On Texas A&M: "Those guys play hard. Texas A&M is a hard-fought team. They deserve to be in the SEC. They deserve it. Their quarterback's very dominant. They've got a big heart on defense. Their offensive line is tough. Those guys deserve it."
On what it's like playing against Johnny Manziel: "It's like playing hide and go seek in the morning with no energy. It's like playing tag with a cat that moves so quick. His running ability is unbelievable, and his eyesight down the field is unbelievable. This kid's going to do nothing but grow and become a better passer, an even more dominant runner. I wouldn't be surprised if he won the Heisman two years from now."
On why things turned around for the defense: "It was just a second wind. They came out jumped on us the first time. We're not used to that style of football, that quickness, but we can get adjusted to it because we do run tempo at our place."
LSU Defensive Coordinator John Chavis
On going to three-down linemen sets: "We wanted to pressure them a little bit more, and it's easier to pressure out of our Mustang package. You've got more speed on the field. Certainly that was a big benefit for us."
On catching up to the pace: "I think our guys had adjusted to the pace. Let me tell you, it's hard to simulate what they do with a scout team. It's hard to simulate that speed when you don't work against that speed every down, and we work against our own offense, so we get some of it. But we don't get that constantly in practice. Our guys did adjust to the speed very well. Certainly we made some adjustments from a scheme standpoint, but the biggest thing was our guys adjusting to the speed. Once they adjusted to the speed of the game, I felt comfortable that we could do a good job shutting them down."
LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
On facing the A&M defense: "I wasn't surprised with how tight they played us. Before this game we hadn't really taken many shots downfield. We run the ball really well, so everyone is going to try to stop the run against us. Next time we have to capitalize on the deep balls. The wind was a big factor today, especially on the deep balls."
LSU RB Jeremy Hill
On if he was more comfortable this week: "It's all the same to me. The coaches did a great job preparing us with the great noise at practice. Once you're in the game, it's just like practice. We go against our defense, and you see how great those guys play. So going against Texas A&M and playing out here, it's really nothing different. We just go out and execute."
On the balance offensively: "I think we had a great balance today. We've just got to start connecting on some of those passes. Once we start doing that, our offense will be pretty tough to stop in the SEC."
LSU LT Josh Dworaczyk
On getting teams out of the box: "I think we saw it last week. South Carolina wanted to put a lot of guys up there in the box, and we ran the ball successfully. But with Texas A&M, they did a lot more movement. For us, as an offensive line and an offensive unit, when you have all that movement going on and that many guys, there's always going to be a defender going free. You saw that a couple of times when we did try to run it with eight or nine guys up there. We just weren't successful. So you've got to start throwing the ball. That spreads things out, then you get a big run like we did from Hill. It's awesome for the offense and the entire team."
On trying to go deep: "Zach was definitely airing the ball out, giving those receivers a chance to really turn on the jets and run by guys. You saw some plays made, but you also saw some that were maybe a foot or two right in front of them. Those two groups will continue to work on that."
Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore
On the LSU O-Line: "They had a tremendously talented offensive line. Probably the most talented offensive line we have played here. They were talented athletically, and they had the mean streak that you want your offensive line to have. Second half we had some injuries that we were fighting through. Not taking anything away from them, but they just seized the moment and capitalized on our misfortune."
Quick Hitters: Texas A&M
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