LSU-Auburn post mortem

In Post-game on October 23, 2010 at 8:15 PM

Overall impressions

I know from total yards, it doesn’t look like it should have been close, but LSU really should have won this game. That’s not in any way an attack on Auburn, but I just recognize as an LSU fan that the necessary situations were there for my team (I’m avoiding use of the word “Tigers”).

I’m not saying this out of delusional support of LSU. I honestly didn’t think we would win and would feel better if I believed Auburn was just too good to be beaten, but LSU was more than capable and let the opportunities pass them by.

On each of the Fighting Tigers’ first three possessions, they had the ball at the Auburn 40 or better. Only three points came from those three possessions, however.

More of the same took place in the second half. LSU had the ball at the 50 yardline on the second possession, then on the Auburn 38 in the third possession. No points. LSU also had the ball at their own 47 to start out the next possession. Another punt.

If you had told me there would be that kind of ineptness on so many drives, I would have picked Auburn to win by 3 touchdowns (like 24-3), because I would have expected that the other drives didn’t even get that far, when in fact there were two touchdown drives as well.

On the other hand, Auburn took over on their own 10 yardline or in even worse field position 5 times and got 14 points from those drives. That part is understandable (see below where I discuss the defense), but it doesn’t alter my point that holding that team to 24 points (I know they could have had more, but only because of the ill-fated 4th down for LSU) was more than sufficient for the LSU offense to win the game.

LSU on offense

Jordan Jefferson will get blamed for the interception on the first drive, but Newton threw a couple of balls that were just as off-target. The difference was the Auburn receivers made a play on the ball and came up with it. There were a couple of other similar passes by both Jefferson and Lee.

When the ball hits the receiver in the hands—and when, even if the receiver had made no play at all, it would not have been intercepted—I have a problem with blaming the interception on the quarterback. The incompletion perhaps, but it was a very risk-averse throw. The deflection by the receiver is the only thing that resulted in Auburn catching it.

If you exclude Newton from Auburn, LSU has better pure athletes on offense, but I think there is a failure to take advantage of their talents.

I’m starting to suspect it’s a coaching issue. It’s too much about some abstract ideal of what convoluted play they want to call and not enough about having plays that can and will be executed well. The variation of the halfback pass was nice, but that’s not something that out of the ordinary or inventive to have in a playbook. So I’m not saying we don’t need a few plays like that, but trying to get some complicated formation out there that they can’t even organize through a timeout and a full play clock on fourth down just doesn’t make any sense. The game wasn’t about to end (although it turned out to be LSU’s last possession), but it was pretty much Tennessee all over again.

At the very least, there has to be a simplified playbook in such situations, maybe even plays Les can call from the sidelines, and they have to be plays where everyone knows exactly where to be. It seems like the more urgent or pressure-filled the situation, the more deliberative the play-calling process becomes.

It reminds me of the last time I played a football video game. There were just too many different options of plays to go through. These are the kind of options I was looking for—goal line, draw, off tackle, bootleg, option, play action, quick hitch, quick slant, and a couple of different combinations of short and long passes, and then finally a hail-mary type of play. I wanted there to be a basic menu in case I didn’t have time to be creative (which when the game is new to you, never). I didn’t want to have to pick a basic formation group and then pick how many running backs I wanted and then pick how many wide receivers and tight ends I wanted every time.

I’m not saying that calling plays in a real game is like calling it on a video game. It’s more complicated than that, which means it’s even more true that in some situations, you can’t have everything on the table. People don’t just magically appear on the field where you expect them to be. Also, it wasn’t 4th and 38, it was 4th and 6. There should be a good idea of what play you want to run and whatever option you choose, it should be a pretty comfortable set-up for your team to go out there and execute the play without all the confusion. You don’t want to invent a new play no one has ever seen before. You don’t have the luxury of trying out a play with a 25% chance at a touchdown and a 75% chance of an interception or incompletion, you want a play with a 40-50% chance at a first down even if there is almost no chance at a touchdown. Like even the halfback pass I mentioned, which is hardly groundbreaking, is not the part of your playbook you want to look at, not to mention something that seemed even more complex.

LSU on defense

I wasn’t thrilled with the defense. You can’t give up that many yards, especially when you’re used to dominating and not be frustrated in a few instances. There wasn’t enough of a “safety” approach, which was the recommended solution for Tim Tebow, for instance. If you get 5 guys in the backfield without a tackle being made, then the opposing offense has nothing but open spaces. If you keep the players in front, he might get a couple of yards, but you don’t want to risk giving up 50 for the chance at stopping him (or another player) in the backfield. So it’s not always a good thing to get those defenders back there. When considering Auburn’s strengths and weaknesses rather than the type of game to which I’m accustomed as an LSU fan, the defensive failures were much more understandable than the offensive ones.

Conclusion and looking forward

Although I’m sure LSU will fall in the polls, I hope we did show people that it is not a joke and not “smoke and mirrors,” as John Saunders called it (citing “a lot of people”), that this LSU team started 7-0 against a very good schedule. I just hope that unlike last year, and something like our 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2007 efforts after losses that we keep playing well and continue to show that to people. LSU hasn’t finished with only 1 loss since 2003, so trying to be arguably one of the two best LSU teams since 1958 (LSU’s last undefeated season) or 1961 (the last time apart from 2003 that LSU won a bowl game and finished with one loss and no ties) isn’t a bad goal. We can’t control if Alabama beats Auburn (if it comes to that), but if we beat the remaining teams in front of us, that will be every reason to be very proud.

No team with a prior BCS championship is undefeated right now, and the only other program with two BCS championships is 4-3. The third program with two championships during the BCS era (one an AP trophy) is 5-2 and on probation. So it’s not like it’s like LSU fans have to hang their heads too low right now anyway.

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