Last night what seemed like an almost interminable offseason finally ended, and in sparkling fashion, as Ed Orgeron’s LSU Tigers laid a whipping on the No. 8 team in the country with a 33-17 win over the Miami Hurricanes at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Below are our impressions of the festivities…
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth: Much of what follows will be criticism – we wouldn’t be doing our job if it wasn’t – but let’s not lose sight of the fact this was a significant victory for the LSU program. Miami was a 3-point favorite in the game and there was a pretty good consensus among the “experts” that “The U” would handle the Tigers. Instead, Orgeron was able to make his mark with a signature win – at #8, Miami is the highest-ranked team he’s beaten at LSU, higher than #10 Auburn last year or #15 Louisville in the 2017 Citrus Bowl. To have done it in such a stark fashion, leading the game 33-3 after three quarters before giving up a pair of meaningless late touchdowns, gives off the impression that this is a program moving forward rather than stagnating as “the experts” have cast it as all summer.
Burrowing under the stat line: New Tiger quarterback Joe Burrow’s numbers coming out of the game – 11 for 24, 140 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions – won’t blow anybody away. But those numbers are wholly misleading in telling the story of just how good Burrow was. In fact, the best play of the night was one he won’t get any credit for – an audible he called beating a Miami blitz with a running play which led to a 50-yard touchdown scamper by Nick Brossette from which Miami never recovered. More, Burrow’s stat line should have been something like 14 of 24 for 200 yards (and maybe a touchdown, because Jamarr Chase scored on that play by the pylon in the first quarter). He had at least three drops, two of which would have been long gains. Burrow, particularly when he had time, put the ball on the money. But he didn’t have a lot of time to throw and the playcalling, which favored him early, didn’t help him as the game wore on. More about that below.
Special teams were great: Last year the kicking game was a weakness for LSU and Orgeron was heavily criticized for cutting up the special teams coaching among the staff. But with the additional coach allotted by the NCAA Orgeron elevated former Saints special teams coach Greg McMahon from an analyst position to the full-time special teams coach for this year, and so far that looks like maybe the best hire he’s made. LSU thoroughly dominated Miami in the kicking game, and it was one of the deciding factors in putting the Canes away. Particularly impressive was McMahon’s offseason find Cole Tracy, the Division II All-American kicker from tony Assumption College in Massachusetts who arrived as a graduate transfer. Tracy was absolutely automatic in drilling field goals of 43, 21, 21 and 54 yards, plus he was 3-for-3 kicking extra points. That’s a big improvement from last year’s putrid 16-for-27 field goal performance, and Tracy’s deadeye aim bailed out a suspect red zone offense. But there was more – punter Zack Von Rosenberg was a difference-maker for LSU, and so was kickoff man Avery Atkins, another McMahon offseason find. Defense and special teams can go along way toward winning games, and it looks like LSU has them. Orgeron gets credit for the upgrade.
How good is Miami? That’s a decent question given the magnitude of LSU’s dominance over the Hurricanes for the first three quarters of the game. Miami did end up outgaining LSU by 46 yards, 342-296, but that came largely thanks to a pair of drives – 77 and 74 yards – for touchdowns after LSU was up 33-3 in the game. It’s fair to say Miami is overrated; they’d probably be 8th in the SEC, much less the country based on last night. Even so, it’s clear that’s a good team. Malik Rosier isn’t a great pocket passer but he’s elusive as hell, which saved him from getting sacked at least three more times than he did (LSU got him four times). Gerald Willis, the former five-star recruit out of Edna Karr High School in New Orleans who’s been a bust up until now, looked like the best player on the field the entire game. Miami’s secondary is quite good and so are their receivers – particularly the lightning-fast Jeff Thomas, who had 132 yards on five catches. This game wasn’t about Miami being overrated; it was about LSU being a lot better than “the experts” thought.
Sitting on the lead: One criticism of the coaching last night we could make was that Orgeron and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger really let up on the gas pedal in the second half. It’s understandable that they did; after all, Miami’s defense forced 31 turnovers last year and returned eight starters off that unit, so with a 27-3 halftime lead as a coach your primary concern is going to be to take care of the football and play the field-position game until the clock runs out. That said, one of the key features in Ensminger’s offense we were supposed to see this year was a controlled, high-percentage passing game, and it never showed up at all after the half. Considering Miami was loading the box with eight and nine defenders, the short passing game to keep drives alive should have been on order. It wasn’t, and LSU didn’t taste the end zone in the second half. They will play better teams as the season progresses, and the offense – and its playcalling – will have to progress as well.
Front seven dominates: Both defensive lines won the battle in the trenches, but LSU’s was the more pronounced champion of the two. In the Tigers’ case it wasn’t so much the defensive line making plays – Glen Logan, Rashard Lawrence, Breiden Fehoko, Neil Farrell and Ed Alexander combined for just 11 tackles, 1.5 TFL’s and a half a sack – as the way they occupied blockers to let the sensational LSU linebackers clean up. The impression the D-line gave is they won’t be run on this year, and they’re a pretty good group at creating a shrinking, contained pocket. Interestingly, LSU played that well despite defensive coordinator Dave Aranda playing most of the game with a 2-4-5 nickel set.
Brossette could be the next star back at LSU: Nick Brossette was the game’s leading rusher with 22 carries for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Brossette looked the part of a 1,000 yard rusher in the game. It’s not fair to judge him against his three recent predecessors as LSU’s workhorse, namely Jeremy Hill, Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. Brossette looks a little more like Stevan Ridley, who ran for 1,200 as a senior in 2010 on his way to a nice NFL career with the New England Patriots. Like Ridley, Brossette is a straight-ahead runner with a decent burst into the hole. He’s not going to fake anybody out of their shoes, but he’ll move the pile a little and he doesn’t go down on anything other than a direct hit. And as this offense, and particularly the passing game, develops that’s going to be more than enough. We’d like to see a little more out of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Chris Curry than we saw last night, but there will be time for that – particularly this Saturday against a Southeastern Louisiana team which gave up the better part of 600 yards in a 34-31 loss to UL-Monroe over the weekend.
First game jitters: Both teams suffered from some execution issues, and Miami absolutely killed themselves with 11 penalties for 85 yards. But LSU came out of the game with some fixable problems they’ll want to focus on. There was a time management issue, particularly in the first quarter, and the Tigers had called all three of their time outs 12 minutes into the game. That wasn’t great. Missed assignments on the offensive line and the secondary will need to be corrected. The wide receiver play wasn’t great. And LSU had players cramping up quite a bit, due we think to being overadrenalized. None of that was unexpected, but this team is going to need to settle down some – last night was a bit on the sloppy side. They’ll need to have it tightened up two weeks from now at Auburn.
Chaisson and Magee: As of this writing we don’t have a diagnosis on the two potentially serious injuries which hit last night. Right tackle Adrian Magee was rolled up on in the first quarter and didn’t return, though we’ve heard he was walking without crutches on the sideline in the second half. But in the fourth quarter K’Lavon Chaisson went down with a scary non-contact knee injury, and we’ve got a bad feeling about that one. Orgeron after the game said both injuries could be serious, so Tiger fans need to pray neither player will be out long. On the bright side in case the news is bad, Badara Traore – who was in a neck-and-neck battle with Magee for the right tackle job throughout camp, did an adequate job after Magee went out and did a better-than-expected job in pass protection. And when Chaisson went out, sophomore Andre Anthony, who’s been kept off the field by an academic redshirt and injuries the last two years, looked pretty damn good replacing him. Anthony only had one tackle, but his get-off at the line is impressive and he’s got a lot of speed.
Dropping the ball: LSU’s wide receivers are supposed to be the strength of the offense. So far they aren’t. We counted at least three drops in the game, the most egregious of which was junior Derrick Dillon’s whiff on a deep slant from Burrow late in the first quarter which would have gone for a good 30 yards. Stephen Sullivan and Terrace Marshall also had drops, and that’s going to have to improve. But the wide receivers aren’t the only ones who need some work on the JUGS machine. LSU’s secondary generally played fairly well, but dropped interceptions made for a maddening scene. Grant Delpit had an easy one go through his hands on what later became a touchdown drive, and Jacoby Stevens dropped a ball in the end zone on another touchdown drive.
Linebacker U: While LSU’s defensive line was doing a great job occupying blockers, the Tiger linebackers were absolutely dominating the game. Devin White had 8 tackles and a quarterback pressure, Jacob Phillips had seven tackles, a QB hurry and a 45-yard touchdown off an interception, Chaisson had five tackles, a QB hurry and a sack, Patrick Queen had four tackles, Michael Divinity had three tackles, a QB hurry and a sack and a half. To say the least this was a disruptive unit; they more or less reduced Miami’s offense to two things; Rosier running for his life and Rosier launching deep passes down the field. LSU won’t play too many QB’s as nimble as Miami’s, so those blitzes generating free-running linebackers through the middle of the line are going to result in more sacks than the four the Tigers generated last night. Auburn specifically could be an interesting game; Jared Stidham is a mobile quarterback, but Stidham doesn’t escape White, Phillips or Queen like Rosier did last night.
Saahdiq Charles and Damien Lewis struggle: Going into the game the biggest areas of concern for LSU on the offensive line were center and right tackle. Interestingly, or perhaps disappointingly, those were not the problem areas. Traore actually had a pretty good game following Magee’s injury; up against potential first round pick Joe Jackson at left defensive end Traore held him to just three tackles and a pass breakup – that came on a slant route near the goal line which would have been a score. But Saahdiq Charles on the left tackle side didn’t have as good a game. Johnathan Garvin had eight tackles, three for loss, and a sack against LSU’s best edge protector. And right guard Damien Lewis, touted in camp as LSU’s best offensive lineman, had a dreadful game against Willis, who looked like an All-American with eight tackles,m four TFL’s, a sack, a pass breakup and a QB hurry. Lewis is going to have to step things up, because in two weeks he’ll be up against Derrick Brown from Auburn who’s every bit as good as Willis.
Post-game Malcontents: Following a big win like this you’d think there would be some exultation up and down LSU’s roster, and for the most part there was. But not everybody is apparently on board: this showed up on outside linebacker Travez Moore’s Twitter:
And defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin said this on Instagram: “don’t ask me no questions about why this or that I was sold a dream and was told my dream but it is what it is my phone on DND until I get answers so don’t bother me…. and yes I’m already looking.”
Neither one played against Miami, and for good reason – neither one are currently on LSU’s two-deep depth chart. Guys not on the two-deep probably won’t play a lot against a Top 10 team. For them to take to social media to bitch about playing time after a signature program win like that shows lousy character, and frankly it makes them expendable. In Moore’s case it’s even more egregious – Chaisson’s injury might well be serious, which would make him Anthony’s backup potentially for the rest of the year. Not only is it bad form to be whining when your teammate goes down, you’re whining so loud you can’t hear opportunity knocking.
In both cases it’s immaturity, and let’s hope there’s a lesson learned. Both players are sophomores, for crying out loud. Brossette is a senior who’s finally getting a shot. Learn from him.