The Finer Points: LSU Beats State

What TSD publisher Ben Love saw during LSU's 21-19 win at Mississippi State, and how he and Les Miles reflect on those points two days later on Monday.

What follows are my notes taken in-game, quarter-by-quarter, from LSU’s 21-19 win at Mississippi State.

Some of them are accompanied by my Monday Reaction two days after the game (“MR”) while others include Les Miles Quotes (“LMQ”), given by the LSU head coach at his weekly Monday press luncheon.

FIRST QUARTER NOTES


- Fullback on the very first play for LSU and throughout opening series. Big change from what was shown last week during brief McNeese State encounter. It is sophomore John David Moore, leading the way for a lot of quick sweeps early to Leonard Fournette.

MR: The fullback was indeed a staple in the LSU offense throughout the game, as were two-tight end sets. But the Tigers did show a new wrinkle on single-tight end sets as the ballgame went on. More on this later.

- The difference with Kendell Beckwith in there at middle linebacker this year, as opposed to D.J. Welter a season ago versus Mississippi State, is evident immediately. Beckwith has 3-4 tackles through first two series alone. Coordinator Kevin Steele is blitzing KB early, too.

LMQ: “The line of scrimmage was cluttered for their runners. When the quarterback carried the ball, there was no place for him to go, so he ended up trying an edge and the edge was met with linebackers and some of those secondary backs that were responsible. So it was a well-conceived plan and our guys played awfully hard.”

- Three straight quick tosses/handoffs for Brandon Harris in first series. Not starting out too much differently in second possession. Are Les Miles and Cam Cameron going to stay conservative?

MR: As the first quarter went on, and even into the second quarter, Miles and Cameron did loosen the reins some on Harris. You could almost literally see Cameron’s trust in Harris grow as the first half went on, in terms of play-calling and even some designed quarterback runs/read-options. But the offensive brain trusts went back into the shell in the second half. More on this later.

- Two LSU sacks and plenty additional pressure in the first quarter. Both of the sacks are by defensive linemen – Arden Key and Davon Godchaux. Coach O effect is clear. Tigers are also blitzing effectively, using Beckwith and Jamal Adams on blitzes. So it’s not just defensive ends and then nickel/dime backs or bust for LSU when it comes to getting pressure. New sources of pressure.

LMQ:Lewis Neal and (Tashawn) Bower are both guys who have really improved. It's kind of that time where a backup now steps up to the first team and he's looking to -- he takes coaching better, he gets it all, and I think Ed (Orgeron) was just perfect for him. Adds a natural enthusiasm to his style of coaching. I think it's made a tremendous difference. They read and react and I think they can come off the ball and attack you extremely well. And then Arden Key's going to get nothing but better. His wingspan is huge and he's fast and he's a true freshman. Looking out there, you know, he's going to enjoy playing in his career, I can tell you that.”

SECOND QUARTER NOTES


- In general the offense is going with a lot more single-tight end sets that include just Colin Jeter. Finally, for first time under position coach Steve Ensminger, LSU not predictable by personnel (as they have been with single-tight end sets that include Dillon Gordon, or Chase Clement formerly).

MR: Still think this is a noteworthy development. Last season when Gordon was the only tight end on the field, it was almost certainly a run or max-protect with Gordon situation. When Desean Smith was the only tight end out there, it was almost certainly a pass. Jeter is the best fusion of the two. Tigers camouflaging better. Baby steps.

- One of few downsides to LSU’s effort so far is all these penalties. Two Travin Dural touchdowns already taken off the board, one through the air and another with him taking a handoff and running. Also a Jamal Adams unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Needs to be corrected.

LMQ: “We had a series of penalties that were costly. If you go back and add in the plays that were taken away based on holding – quality calls. I'm not in any way suggesting that the calls were not quality, but it cost us 204 yards, big plays that were taken back, and 17 points. Those kind of things you cannot do. We were fortunate to be on the road and play like that and still achieve victory.”

- Rickey Jefferson is playing extremely well at safety. Jamal Adams hitting hard, too. We’ve seen some sets where Jefferson was linebacker depth, almost spying Dak Prescott, while Adams was centerfield.

LMQ: “Rickey played well in that game. He worked hard to get some things accomplished in the game plan, and so many times as the coach you look at those things that they had mistakes on in the week and you go to find out whether or not they got it accomplished in the game, and Rickey Jefferson did. He had a very, very good game and he's ballistic, he adds great speed to the ball, and when he gets there, he'll hit you.”

- LSU is shifting around its offensive line toward the tail end of the half. Freshman Maea Teuhema is in at left guard, moving William Clapp to right guard and Josh Boutte to the bench.

THIRD QUARTER NOTES


- Darrel Williams is the trusted third-down back right now, not Derrius Guice. Means Frank Wilson and the staff trust him most with pass-blocking. Darrel has learned valuable lessons in that regard from a season spent next to Terrence Magee.

- Teuhema is back out there, starting the third quarter at left guard. Clapp is at right guard. No Boutte. Nice pulling guard action from Teuhema on 18-yard Fournette touchdown run midway through the quarter.

MR: Teuhema remained out there for every snap of the second half. I’m not sure he was great, but upon re-watching the game, Boutte was subpar in the first half. So the move to the true freshman was probably a lesser of two evils. Betting Teuhema gets the start versus Auburn. Miles said postgame that Boutte needs more “seasoning” and “coaching.”

- The LSU passing game is not terribly vertical tonight, and that’s probably an understatement. Lot of dink and dunk bubble screens, tight end looks and the occasional crossing routes (Dural just had a third-down conversion on a crossing route of sorts).

LMQ: “I would say that we labeled the game plan Saturday as imperfect. Certainly (there were) things that we like to get accomplished that we called that we didn't get accomplished. But if you think about 200 yards that were taken away by penalties and a 17-points – in other words, the opportunity that we certainly were down there in a very tight position to kick a field goal. In other words, I think if we had 200 more yards on our offense and a position of 17 more points, nobody would be arguing about the offense at all, okay? So the key to it is not change the offense; let's make sure we execute what we call and not hold or have an infraction.”

- Godchaux is repeatedly beating double teams. The LSU pressure is still there, affecting Prescott, even if the sacks have let up since the first half ended.

- True freshman Kevin Toliver is having a whale of a ballgame at corner. State is realizing it can’t throw at him and Prescott has even started to target Tre’Davious White right now.

MR: Easily the best freshman performance for LSU on the night, and that’s considering Key was dynamite. Toliver, who endured some struggles during spring camp as an early enrollee, looked polished and confident. He stayed on an island and made plays down the field, eventually forcing Prescott to start attacking LSU’s linebackers and Dwayne Thomas in coverage. Thomas left me with plenty of questions marks in slot coverage (he is no Jalen Mills in that nickel spot), but I have very few questions about Toliver. Borderline amazing debut.

FOURTH QUARTER NOTES


- State scores on a short Prescott run on second play of the final quarter. LSU defense is starting to wear down a touch as game goes on. Not a ton of rotation/platoon players at defensive end or linebacker. Depth starting to become a factor in this one.

LMQ: “I think Isaiah Washington probably will practice this week and I think that's good news because he's got great speed and gives some quickness there (at end). I think (Sione) Teuhema played a couple of plays and I don't know if he played on defense or if they were special teams, and I think that those guys will be counted on here pretty quick to play very significant football.”

- Dwayne Thomas also taken out of the ballgame for a stretch in favor of Donte Jackson at nickel back. Thomas got a penalty and has been targeted often lately, justifying the hook, but he did come back in to finish the fourth quarter.

- The reverse call to Dural on first down really early in the fourth quarter hurt the Tigers. Momentum was already against LSU after the Prescott score made it 21-13, and that worsened it. Then Tigers proceeded to run the next two plays and just punt, up eight. Miles and Cameron are too conservative still, even with a new quarterback with more tools.

- Harris with a critical 14-yard scramble run on third-and-11 with about eight minutes left in game. Big because it keeps LSU on the field even with a passing game that’s checked out.

LMQ: “Well, it's really not up to us so much (on how many designed runs Harris gets) as it is if they [the defense] want us to hand the ball to Leonard, we'll hand the ball to Leonard, but if there's an opportunity for the quarterback to carry the football, we certainly want him to carry it. We enjoy his abilities to scramble out of the pocket. We think we'll get a couple of those a game, and we also think that there's an opportunity for some dial-'em-up quarterback carry.”

- Furthering early point this defense is wearing down in the fourth quarter. Prescott is also making some nice throws, beating good coverage, but State is starting to pass with great success. Wasn’t happening consistently through first three quarters. May just be my take, but LSU needs to explore additional options for slot coverage.

- Interesting that only three receivers have played for LSU tonight – Dural, Malachi Dupre and John Diarse. I see the benefit of having Diarse in there as a blocker but am surprised that there’s been no D.J. Chark or Trey Quinn out there.

LMQ: “Well, I think there's a need to get a quality of play that you have to play to. I think the guys that did not play in this game will have an opportunity to play in others. I don't think there's any question that those guys will step onto the field here pretty quick.”



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