LSU Review: The Template that must be changed

You can't say you weren't warned. What happened Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium was mentioned by many writers as a likely template for how most VU football games would develop in 2010. The challenge for the Commodores is to find a way to alter the script.

Two weeks into an immediately not-so-new football season, VU fans can see the long road ahead, and it's not pretty. There's just no getting around the fact that points are not going to be plentifully found in Nashville. The offensive front just doesn't possess the heft needed to blow up holes in primary gaps, and when the ground game gets contained, Larry Smith is going to be the sitting duck he was Saturday night, as LSU's front seven swarmed him from start to finish. The Bayou Bengals frolicked in the VU backfield, sacking Smith six times for a net loss of 44 yards. When you realize that Vandy's offense committed all of the team's penalties, VU gave away 96 yards in sacks and penalties. The 52 yards of penalties essentially meant that VU's 135 yards of total offense were overvalued. The Dores – factoring in hidden lost yardage – mustered a true net of just 83 total yards. Shades of last year's Mississippi State loss – which we mentioned in the lead-up to the season – were impossible to deny for an offensive unit that simply lacks the brawn in the trenches or the game-altering talent at wide receiver that can give this team SEC parity.

It's all so lamentable. For one thing, the effort level is there. This is not an indication of insufficient desire. No, it's just a lack of having enough studs in the stable. Moreover, the offense's pronounced woes – exacerbated by training-camp injuries to key players – are also hard to take because coordinator Jamie Bryant's defense continues to play with such distinction and determination. If you weren't able to catch this game and see it unfold in real time, you probably wouldn't think VU's defense held its end of the bargain in a 27-3 Tiger triumph, but the boys in black were more than up to the challenge on the defensive side of the ball.

Let's state the matter succinctly: Vandy's defense – left on the field for more than 33 minutes in this game – was still able to produce a red-zone stand with 12:32 left, as LSU's sputtering offense scored just its 13th point of the night. After three quarters of slugging, VU still found the Bryant-fueled fortitude to turn back another Tiger drive and keep the scoreboard margin manageable. LSU did lead by two possessions at 13-3, but the visitors from Baton Rouge did not gain the two-touchdown stranglehold that would have represented a nearly impossible hill to climb. A 10-point deficit, though appreciably worse than a one-score margin, could have been overcome. It lay within the realm of possibility. Just 12-plus minutes of inspired offense offered the promise of a week-two barnburner and more endgame headaches for Les Miles, the anti-guru of clock management.

Unfortunately, Commodore Nation never got to see Mr. Miles sweat in the final two minutes. Dreams of a Dore dash to the finish line were shattered immediately after LSU attained its 13-3 lead.

Warren Norman – a heroic figure on kick returns last season – fumbled on the ensuing kickoff. A VU defense that had just stood on its head – again – in the face of LSU's team speed was thrown right back onto the gridiron, and at its own 26, no less. The situation was an impossible one, and the Tigers – whose quarterback play was putrid in this encounter – were able to run the ball down the throat of a very exhausted defense. Four plays were all it took for the Tigers to score a touchdown and register the kill shot. The 20-3 margin – a three-score lead – rendered the ballgame over. Yet, one could hardly blame the defense for that touchdown, essentially scored by the special-teams blunder. In this game's real essence, Vandy surrendered only 13 points. That should win a number of games for most teams and it should certainly lead to photo-finish fourth quarters for many more teams. Yet, for Vanderbilt in the 2010 season, the outlook was and is different. Jamie Bryant's fabulous gang of 11 did not get to participate in a down-to-the-wire thriller as a result of its pronounced quality on Saturday night. No, the Dores' defense had to stare up at the scoreboard and see a 24-point LSU spread when the fourth-quarter clock hit triple-zero.

This is the template that was talked about in August. It has quickly visited VU in September. How, just how, can it be changed?

One concept in the larger realm of sports bears mention at this young stage of the season. The concept is called a "pressure point." The teams that maximize their talents and gain more wins than they ought to are the teams that maximize the value of an in-game pressure point.

Saturday night, the pressure point Vandy needed to exploit came in the middle of the third quarter, when VU's Casey Hayward picked off the wretched Jordan Jefferson (8-of-20 completions for only 96 yards on Saturday) in the end zone. Vandy's sideline received a fresh and massive injection of momentum. With the score just 10-3 at the time, VU had its big chance to tie the game and ride its adrenaline surge to good effect. However, just moments later, with VU facing a fourth-and-one at its own 40, the Dores flinched. A delay-of-game penalty led to a punt precisely when a bold fourth-down approach was called for. The most untimely of penalties robbed Vandy of an opening on a night when openings were few and far between.

The idea of a pressure point is that while you might not be able to outplay a team straight-up for the balance of a competition, you can seize pockets of momentum and outplay an opponent for certain portions of time if you take advantage of your opponent's deteriorating form or declining confidence. Constructing this idea to an even fuller extent, if you can maximize the (minority) stretches in which you excel, and minimize damage during the times when you do get outplayed, you can steal a win as an underdog. Vandy's defense did in fact minimize the damage done to the Commodores when LSU carried the play, but VU's offense was never able to maximize a pressure point and change this 27-3 game into a 13-13 white-knuckler late in the fourth period.

In future weeks, though, an end-zone interception by VU's defense needs to become a catalyst for a substantial shift in fortunes. In future weeks, a fourth-and-one needs to become a chain-moving affirmation of momentum instead of a delay-of-game-penalty lead balloon.

We can see the grim template awaiting the Vanderbilt Commodores. However, there is a way to change that template for the better. Commodore Robbie Caldwell needs to exploit the pressure points that come his way as the 2010 season continues. Top Stories