LSU and Major SEC Games Week 1

Strange times in the SEC, but I suppose it’s not too unusual that LSU and Alabama look good in the early going.

I’m still getting used to the absence of people like Les Miles, Steve Spurrier, and Mark Richt.

Less significantly, Hugh Freeze is gone now too. Based on recent developments, Kevin Sumlin may be on his way out as well. It’s a tough job and you expect turnover, but it’s getting to the point where you can barely get used to people.

Despite managing to win the East the past two years, Florida has been struggling against non-divisional major-conference opponents for a long time. By my count, the Gators have dropped the 16 of the last 20 such contests (see the end of the blog for the list).

So although I’ve never been a fan, it’s been disconcerting to have Florida struggle outside of its own division as well. It’s not the Spurrier or Meyer days there anymore for sure.

Moving on to specifics over the weekend, Florida St. (who incidentally is responsible for four of those Gator losses) made me feel a little bit better about the fact that LSU was shut out against Alabama about 10 months ago. That’s a pretty talented quarterback with a pretty talented play-caller (actually one of the best), and the Tide held them to only 7 points. LSU had an interim OC and a quarterback who couldn’t manage to hold the starting job at Purdue a couple of years before.

The Seminoles’ longest run from scrimmage was 9 yards. If that happens to LSU against Alabama, we’re most likely going to see another shutout.

Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher when Fisher was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU. Of course, they were head coaches on opposite sides of the Alabama-Florida St. game.

I do want to be fair to both Florida St. and Alabama (which did show some weaknesses in giving up 210 passing yards) going forward though. If Florida St. struggles in the passing game this year, it may be due to the season-ending injury of that quarterback at the end of the game. If Alabama’s defense doesn’t look quite as good, it may be because that unit suffered a couple of season-ending injuries as well.

Going back to Florida for a moment, the score makes the Gators offense looks a lot better than it was because two of the scores were from interception returns. Even without any injuries, Florida may struggle at the QB position more than Florida St. does going forward.

Another program that shouldn’t be feeling too good is Texas A&M. When you’re paying your head coach $5 million per year and your defensive coordinator $1.55 million, you don’t blow a 44-10 lead. That’s something that happens to a school where the head coach and DC are lucky to get $1 million per year combined.

Kevin Sumlin (left) and John Chavis probably don’t have very secure jobs at the moment.

So with the big headline scores in the SEC out of the way, I’m going to talk a bit about my Tigers. It might not be quite as impressive as holding Florida St. to 250 total yards; but BYU isn’t Savannah St. or anything, and the Cougars were held below 100 total yards for the game.

The negative rushing yardage was the lowest by an LSU opponent since Ole Miss in 1982. The longest run from scrimmage being only six yards was the “lowest long” since Tulane in 1976.

On the LSU rushing side, there will be some criticisms that the Tigers ran too much, but when you average over 5 yards per carry and only have to punt once, you can theoretically run every down without it being “too much”.

Although he only threw 17 passes, Danny Etling (the former Purdue quarterback I mentioned) had the highest completion percentage since Zach Mettenberger was 25/29 in Week 6 of 2013. Unlike Mett, Etling didn’t throw an interception though. Etling mostly threw short passes, but he did throw one pass for 52 yards and another for 32.

DJ Chark catches a 52-yard pass from Danny Etling to set up the Tigers’ second touchdown in the second quarter.

It was far from a perfect game though, as you’d expect from a first game. At halftime of his game Nick Saban said something like, “We made a lot of mistakes, but we got away with most of them.” Same applies here to some extent.

LSU did get to third down 10 times, which resulted in 5 conversions, 3 field-goal attempts (1 missed), 1 punt, and 1 failed fourth down attempt. So only 3 of the 10 were complete failures.

Without a deep threat and without the ability to gain speed in space, the offense did sputter at times in the red zone. The failed fourth-down attempt was on the goal line and it looked like a combination of the wrong back and a missed block. I don’t think it was a bad play call though.

There could have been some more passing plays called in the red zone, but there were reasons not to call those. When you have less margin for error, there is a greater chance of an interception. LSU’s field goal kicking is a work in progress. Giving up a sack could have taken them out of field goal range. Also, since LSU was ahead by 14 or more points for 2/3 of the game, it was obviously in the Tigers’ interest to run the clock.

A couple of other minor things that could be problems in the future…

The one LSU drive (the first one) that led to a punt was mostly due to 15 penalty yards. LSU was also penalized a total of 15 yards in the drive that ended in a missed field goal. In total, the Tigers were penalized 10 times for a total of 86 yards in the game.

LSU had a lot of kickoffs, which is good, but on many of them the coverage outran the return team. This is how you give up special teams touchdowns. It didn’t happen, but I’m sure there will be someone back to make them pay in some of the SEC games without improvement. The average BYU kick return was still almost 20 yards.

At any rate, I’m more optimistic than I was going into the game. I think the line was 14.5, which seemed about right to me. If anything I thought LSU would win by less than that. I’m impressed by how well the young players did, and to think many of them are second string right now gives me hope for both this season and for the future. We have to go one week at a time, but I have a feeling that we could at least win more big games than we lose in October and November.

I don’t anticipate having much to say about LSU after next week’s game, but I’m going to consider what kind of blog I want to write in the middle of the week going forward. This will be a much shorter week than normal since I won’t have the top 25 until tomorrow.

Many were on the road or at neutral sites, but the Swamp still isn’t what it used to be.

This was the list of Florida games I referred to earlier.
1/2/13 Louisville (Sugar Bowl) L 23-33
9/7/13 @Miami L 16-21
10/5/13 Arkansas W 30-10
10/12/13 @LSU L 6-17
11/30/13 Florida St. L 7-37
9/20/14 @Alabama L 21-42
10/11/14 LSU L 27-30
11/29/14 @Florida St. L 19-24
10/3/15 Ole Miss W 38-10
10/17/15 @LSU L 28-35
11/28/15 Florida St. L 2-27
12/5/15 Alabama (SEC Champ) L 15-29
1/1/16 Michigan (Citrus Bowl) L 7-41
11/5/16 @Arkansas L 10-31
11/19/16 @LSU W 16-10
11/26/16 @Florida St. L 13-31
12/3/16 Alabama (SEC Champ) L 16-54
1/2/17 Iowa (Outback Bowl) W 30-3
9/2/17 Michigan L 17-33

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