South Carolina Game Thoughts

Now, that's more like it. 

It was not perfect by any means, but LSU played a lot like the team we were all expecting to see in 2012.  The most obvious and important take away from the game is that LSU re-established its identity on offense as a power running team.   LSU ran for 258 yards and nearly five yards per attempt against what used to be one of the top run defenses in college football.  As I mentioned in last week's write-up, this entire offense was built around the premise that LSU would run the ball effectively.  Everything they try to accomplish on offense is a by-product of the running game.   So when it looked like this team might not be able to run the football worth a damn, things were looking pretty bleak.  By showing the college football world that LSU can still run the football down your throat, they made it clear that they don't intend to go away quietly this season.  

What's most impressive is that LSU had so much success on the ground with a pieced together offensive line.  Three opening day starters were out of the lineup Saturday, and a pair of freshmen helped fill the void.  In a way, I suspect the injuries, along with the poor performance last week, helped focus this group.  They realized they can't just show up each Saturday and expect to run for 200 + yards.  

LSU's passing game is still a work in progress.  It looked good at times on Saturday, especially on third down.  Zach Mettenberger also missed some throws, a couple of which could have been huge turning points in the game.  It has to get better if LSU wants to win any kind of championship but with a young receiving corps and a quarterback still growing into the starting role, I suspect it will only improve.  

The best news is that this was not LSU's best game, not by a long shot.  After seeing so many games in 2010 and 2011 where LSU did not dominate the box score but did dominate the scoreboard, I've been surprised to see the opposite this season.  Saturday was no exception.   In both the Auburn and South Carolina games, a look at the box score would suggest a double digit victory for LSU; however, both games were two point wins.  Special teams, turnovers, field position and red zone efficiency have been trademarks of LSU in recent years, but our Tigers have struggled in those areas so far this season.  In regards to special teams, LSU has most of the same personnel as a year ago which makes the performance this year even more baffling.   If LSU starts putting those other things together, then this group may be pretty tough to stop. 


Slant Routes
-  On LSU's first drive of the game, LSU faced a 3rd and 1 from South Carolina's 15 yard line and they chose to run to the right side…behind a pair of freshmen offensive linemen.  That surprised me a bit, but it showed a lot of confidence from the coaches in Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander.  For all of spring practice and fall camp, Turner and Alexander worked together on the second team offensive line on the right side, so they were certainly used to each other.   Then again, the strategy may have been to run away from Jadaveon Clowney.

-  Later on the same drive, LSU faced a third and goal from a couple of yards out and gave the ball to Kenny Hilliard, again going over the right side.  It looked as if Hilliard was about to score before but he, disappointingly, got stood up just shy of the goal line and pushed backwards.  That was very un-Kenny Hilliard like.  In his brief career, Hilliard has proven to be a beast around the goal line, and I'm not sure what happened there.  I suspect it won't happen again.   LSU had to settle for a field goal a play later.  

-  Much has been made about LSU's struggles inside the red zone against South Carolina, especially in goal to go situations.  LSU simply has to get better at converting those opportunities into touchdowns.   Typically, a strong running game translates very well to the red zone.  However, that was not the case against South Carolina.  

-  Lamin Barrow played the best game of his career on Saturday.  He logged 12 tackles, including one for a loss and always seemed to be around the ball and in the middle of several negative yardage plays.   

-  Lamar Louis stepped in at SAM linebacker in place of Luke Muncie who is still nursing an illness and Kwon Alexander who is out for the season.  I thought he played well, especially for a true freshman.  He only logged two tackles, but had a couple of quarterback hurries and was solid.   

-  Speaking of Muncie, I'm not sure he played any linebacker but he made a great tackle on Ace Sanders' long punt return.  

-  Jeremy.  Freaking.  Hill.  His 50 yard touchdown run is the play of the season so far for LSU.  Hill won't suddenly become a feature back because of Ware, Ford, Hilliard, etc, but Saturday will definitely go down as his break out performance.  

-  Credit LSU's wide receivers.  They caught the balls they were supposed to catch, unless you think Odell Beckham should have caught the one Zach Mettenberger sailed way over his head.  I don't blame Beckham too much for that one.  I thought he made an incredibly athletic play just to get his hands on it.  LSU needed the receivers to hold onto the ball, and they made several key catches on third downs to keep drives alive.  

-  Worst game of Brad Wing's career?  Probably so.  No reason to harp on it, but it wasn't his night. 

-  Michael Ford continues to look solid on kickoff returns.  I really like him there. 

-  I thought Eric Reid played his best game of this season.  He was clearly inspired and made a number of fantastic stops in run support that were Brandon Taylor-esque.  


Tracking The Stats
-  LSU won the field position battle on Saturday; although, it certainly didn't feel like it since a LSU turnover gave South Carolina the ball on the one yard line.  At the end of the day, LSU's average starting field position was the 36 yard line while South Carolina's was the 32 yard line.   For the season, LSU averages a start at their own 36 while their opponents start at their own 26.  

-  LSU dominated the running game against South Carolina, with a differential of +224.   For the season, their average rushing differential is now back up to +117.57, which is 16th in the nation and third in the SEC.   Here are your top five SEC teams with national rank in parentheses. 

Alabama (4)  +161.84
Florida (13)  +125.83
LSU (16)  +117.57
Texas A&M (17)  +111.16
Ole Miss (34)  +65.85


-  In pass efficiency differential, LSU is ranked 14th nationally at +38.26.  That's good for fourth in the SEC.  Again, here are the top five teams in the conference:

Alabama (1)  +90.98
South Carolina (5)  +62.13
Florida (8)  +44.16
LSU (14) +38.26
Mississippi State (15)  +38.06

-  Focusing on pass efficiency defense, LSU is fourth in the nation and second in the SEC behind Alabama.  

-  LSU finished  28th in the nation in 2010 (86%) in red zone scoring and fourth in 2011 (93%).   LSU is now 77th in the nation so far this year, converting just 78% of red zone trips into points.  Furthermore, they have converted less than half (15 of 32) red zone trips into touchdowns.  As mentioned above, that has to get better.