The Eagles took the field Saturday night in as hostile an environment as it gets, with 102,535 rowdy fans there to cheer on their Tigers. The Southern Miss game plan was to slow the game down and limit LSU offensive possessions. This plan was also necessitated by the injury to Nick Mullens throwing hand. Mullens' fast ball was not in effect Saturday night, which negated much of the down filed passing game. Even on the short outs the lack of velocity on Nick's passes was evident.
In regard to the game plan, the offense came out with a nice 15 play, 75 yard touchdown drive that ate up 8:02 of the first quarter play clock. The touchdown was set up by a nifty 19 yard jaunt by junior tailback Ito Smith to the LSU three yard line. The touchdown was the only touchdown the vaunted LSU defense had given up in the first quarter all season. The LSU defense had only given up six touchdowns in six games this season. The Eagles continued to milk the clock using the short passing game an effective short runs on another time consuming drive in the second quarter consuming 8:38 off the clock that led to a 38 yard field goal by Parker Shaunfield.
Ito Smith was again impressive against the 10th ranked LSU defense. Smith accounted for 111 yards of offense. 64 of which came on the ground, with a first quarter three yard touchdown.
Parker Shaunfield continues to be a great story this season as he nailed his 11th field goal in a row, as he closes in on Danny Hrapman's record of 17 in a row he set back in 2010.
In the first half, the Southern Miss defense was very effective in stopping the run, as well as getting some pressure on the LSU quarterback. The USM defense held LSU's offense to just 121 yards on a limited 22 plays for 5.5 yards a play, which was well below their season average of 6.3 yards per play. With that said, one must consider that the LSU offensive line was without two starters and to compound their issues they had to move the starting center to right tackle. The right tackle to left guard, and throw in the little used Andy Dodd at the all important center position. I mention the offensive line issues to illustrate why we may have had some success in the first half, as an entirely new LSU offensive line struggled to find their way. Sadly after some meshing and half time adjustments LSU's big offensive line began to click.
LSU took the field in the second half with considerably more fire than they started the contest with. A quote in coach Orgeron's half time pep talk seems to get right to the heart of the matter as gathered his troops chastising their first half effort with,"you got punched in the mouth. You going to let somebody punch you in the mouth and not do nothing?" LSU went on to overwhelm the USM defense with five touchdowns of 61,20,80,63,23 yards. The second touchdown, a run of 20 yards by Derrious Guice was aided by a George Payne fumble.
Southern Miss is presently ranked 121st in the nation in turn over margin with a -8. Matched against a superior opponent, the George Payne fumble was an absolute killer.
The amount of explosive play allowed by the defense is absolutely stunning. Southern Miss ranks 123rd nationally in yards allowed per play at 6.7 YPP. Over the last three games they are dead last in the nation giving up a whopping 8.4 YPP. You throw in the turn over margin woes and you have a massive recipe for disaster.
Before we march off the deep end, a bit of levity. Firstly, LSU is the elite of the elite in regards to talent. That defense marched out eleven or more guys that will be in NFL camps one day. The design of the spread offense is to put your opponent in a run pass conflict and to expose the defensive weaknesses. I did not see many weaknesses last night. Once they saw that Nick could not effectively stretch the field they just closed up the box. I will not get in a big twist over what LSU's offense did to us. We are undersized up front, and Guice and there receivers are all NFL draft talents.
What does get me in a twist is what happened to our defense last week versus UTSA, and the scads of big plays this defense has surrendered this season. As I searched last night for reasons, the first things that came to mind were the obvious lack of size up front. We are smaller up front than at any time I can remember. Our backers and corners are far from the better ones we have had in the past. The staff has seemingly tried to use some smoke and mirrors in an attempt to create confusion with different alignments, blitzes, and coverages. I think the problem with that concept is there are to many chances for confusion and misalignment on part of the defense itself. If you gamble in the wrong spot at the wrong time it can be disastrous. The issue on defense seems to be two fold. We are undermanned up front at times, and at other times the defensive concept on a given play is simply not sound. Also comes busts and mistakes on defense from having to think to much rather than just play. I think that has really hurt a guy like Antoine.
Defensively I do not know what the answer is, partly because I think it is multiple in nature. Here is hoping the added week off is a time for our players and staff to come up with some doable fixes. In the enterum, this staff needs to scour the earth for help on the defensive front. It will need to come from the JUCO route as well as high school. Sorry for rambling guys. Look forward to a beautiful and successful homecoming versus Marshall. The goals this team has set are still very much attainable.