I can tell you….I'm just so excited to be putting together thoughts about this game.
What is pretty clear at this point is that this team is not good offensively. At least not right now. Not even close. The team wasn't just "sleep walking" through the Auburn and Towson games. Those games were not the anomaly. The game against Washington is the anomaly. What we saw in that game is what most of us were looking forward to all summer. A devastating run game combined with an efficient quarterback that could make all the throws. However that game seems like forever ago now, doesn't it?
Suddenly, this team can't run the ball. And if they can't do that, then nothing else works. So in a sense, it's tough for the coaches to call plays when they're saddled with that reality. But LSU has spent too much time (i.e.. an entire spring practice, offseason and fall camp) working on doing things this way. They're not suddenly going to put Mettenberger in the shotgun every play and start slinging the ball around. LSU is going to do what they do and try to pound the ball. It's going to be ugly, but I'm quite sure that's what we're going to see. They'll lean on the defense a lot and try to win games any way they can. It could be a lot like the 2010 season but with a better defense and a worse running game.
Could they do something different? Absolutely. And they need to. Despite the fact that LSU is handcuffed due to the failures on the offensive line, they can certainly stand to be more creative in the passing game. LSU runs some very, very basic concepts in the passing game and it's easy to predict and easy to defend….especially when the opponent's safeties are not concerned about stopping the run. Making things more complex may not be the best thing for this team right now. But doing something different is absolutely necessary. It would also help if the wide receivers caught the ball when it hits them in the hands.
If Greg Studrawa, at $500K per year, and the rest of offensive brain trust on this team, can't get this group to produce better than what we saw on Saturday, then LSU needs a new brain trust. Consider the fact that most of the problems start with Stud's offensive line, and he should be feeling a little heat right now. It's too early for all that talk, so that's all I'm going to say about that right now.
OK, I'll say one more thing about it. In LSU's first two SEC games, they looked fantastic on their opening drive. These drives were likely scripted, with input from the entire staff. After that drive, the play calling responsibilities then go to Greg Studrawa. Draw your own conclusions.
Starting with something positive, LSU's defense was simply incredible in the first half. Dominating. The offense was so bad that they essentially forced the defense to be perfect. Eventually, they cracked. For the day, LSU still allowed just 237 yards and they handed LSU's offense the ball at their own 40 and at Florida's seven yard line . That should be enough to win but unfortunately it was not.
After LSU's opening drive, Florida drove to their own 40 yard line before punting and pinning LSU on their own nine yard line. LSU was stuck. The two teams essentially traded punts for the rest of the first half and LSU's next four drives started on the 9, 6, 21, and 8 yard lines. Most of that first half was wasted in terms of play calling. Obviously, play calling drastically changes when you're backed up inside your 10 yard line. LSU was conservative back there, running the ball on a couple of third downs. Honestly, that's probably the right call early in a game on the road. They were aggressive once on 3rd and long, had a guy open, and Mettenberger sailed the pass and threw an interception. That play seemed to affect LSU's play calling for the rest of the day. LSU was very conservative from that point forward.
LSU's defense finally flipped the field position after a fumble and return to their own 40. After a punt, Florida started on their own 17 where LSU's defense forced another fumbled, resulting in a field goal.
Two turnings points. When LSU was unable to punch in their goal-to-go situation at the end of the first half, that actually gave some momentum back to Florida when it should have been heavily on LSU's side. A 10-0 lead going into half would have been a lot different than 6-0. Odell Beckham's fumble after his long reception in the third quarter was an absolute killer. With the ball on Florida's 23 yard line, you figure that LSU would have, at a minimum, taken a 9-7 lead. The defense, which had just given up a touchdown drive, comes onto the field inspired instead of totally deflated. We'll never know how that would have turned out. That fumble crushed the spirit of the entire sideline. Game over.
It looked to me that LSU did adjust a bit to their recent lack of pass protection in recent weeks. The coaching staff dialed up plenty of quick, three step drops for Mettenberger so that he could get rid of the ball quickly. The problem is that Florida's defenders did not fear anything over the top and sat on all of the underneath and short routes.
Kwon Alexander was playing a great football game, and I was just starting to think that Luke Muncie may get "Wally Pipp'ed". With the way things went on Saturday, it was natural, of course, that Alexander would break his ankle. He's out for the remainder of the season.
Where has Jarvis Landry gone? After catching eight catches in the opener, including several bubble screens, I though the Josh Reed comparisons were right on the money. He was nowhere to be found on Saturday, and only has four receptions in the last three games. With everyone else dropping the ball, he's a guy that I would try and feature out of the slot. I would throw him crossing routes, quick outs, and bubble screens until someone stopped it.
We'll end with a positive note too. Kevin Minter. Holy crap. 20 (!) tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks and a forced fumble. He was awesome on Saturday and it's a shame his effort did not contribute to a victory. His name is starting to pop up on some NFL Draft lists, and he'll be someone to watch in January as a possibly early entrant.
Tracking The Stats
As a whole, LSU and Florida played to a virtual tie in the field position game. LSU's average starting field position was their own 25 yard line while Florida's was their own 27 yard line. However, LSU started one drive at Florida's seven, which skewed the numbers a bit. As mentioned above, LSU spent most of the first half inside their own 20, unable to call plays like they normally would.
Florida enjoyed a +134 advantage in rushing differential. That is really, really bad. You have to go back to the Auburn game in 2010 for the last time that LSU was outrushed so badly in a game.
For the season, LSU averages a rushing differential of +99.83 per game, good for 21st nationally and fourth in the SEC behind Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M.
In pass efficiency differential, LSU has risen up the national rankings in the last two weeks. They're now ranked ninth nationally at +47.8 and that ranks fourth in the SEC behind Alabama, South Carolina and Florida. In pass efficiency defense, LSU is third nationally behind Alabama and Florida.
At the end of the day, this LSU team can still accomplish everything they want to this season. We knew going in that this three game stretch of @Florida, South Carolina and @Texas A&M would be brutal and that LSU could drop one. But beat Alabama, win out, and LSU is right where they want to be. But that's kind of out of people's minds right now, isn't it? People are upset over the Florida game. And if they're like me, they're not so much upset that LSU lost but rather over the realization that this 2012 team, which we all looked forward to so much, has not shown anything to make us believe it's a championship team. A crazy flood of injuries and suspensions have certainly played a part. But the players just seem a little bit off to me.
Despite not winning the national championship a year ago, it's almost as if this group is suffering from a bit of the "hangover effect" that you often see after a championship season. After being SO DAMN GOOD in 2011, it's as if the guys just expect the good things to happen this year the way they did last year. Hell, we all thought that way, didn't we? I know I'm guilty of just assuming we'd be able to steamroll teams again when, in fact, a season like 2011 is very, very rare. The good news is that while injured and suspended players can't suddenly get back on the field, this mindset is something that can change.