Before I get to the main topic, I’ll mention a couple other things. Once again, please check out my LSU-Auburn Rivalry blog. I’m apprehensive another streak will come to an end. It’s much shorter than Mississippi St. was though: LSU has won three in a row and six of seven. Also, I had an observation about the computer ratings that I didn’t notice at first. Even though Nebraska is #3 right now, if you average it by playing week, the Huskers fall to 8th. So when Nebraska has a bye week on the 11th, they’ll have a more accurate rating after that point. Not that I expect they’ll have an easy time of things this weekend.
I’ll start with the good news from the LSU-NMSU game.
Brandon Harris obviously came in and did very well for the second week in a row. 11/14 for 178 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions. He also had five rushes for 36 yards and two touchdowns. His yards per carry probably would have been better without the touchdown runs, but I like how he showed he can run into a guy bigger than him and keep going. I think Les Miles admires that ability more than anything, so hopefully Harris made a persuasive enough case to start the next game.
Other freshmen of note were RB Leonard Fournette, WR Malachi Dupre, and WR/PR Trey Quinn.
Not much to say about special teams, but just about all the kickoffs went through the endzone (and no miscues on extra points), and our punter had 147 yards in three kicks. We only allowed 7 yards in punt returns.
The defense was put under a lot of pressure with four turnovers and a three-and-out in the first quarter. Kendall Beckwith’s interception return for a TD (while a good thing) also added to pressure on the defense. They didn’t allow any points during that stretch (until the final minutes of the second quarter, which I’ll get to).
New Mexico St. did miss a 40-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter, but that was when the Aggies had good field position after a turnover (and then a 15-yard penalty). They only obtained one first down in that drive.
I liked some of the different looks on offense. LSU HAS to be able to get the ball outside for short-yardage situations. When it’s a run and everyone knows it’s a run and they go up the middle, it’s not happening. It didn’t even happen against New Mexico St., which isn’t a good team in general and is especially bad against the run.
So even though the diamond formation resulted in a fumble, it wasn’t the fault of the formation, it was a good hit/bad holding onto the ball after the line of scrimmage. There was nothing wrong with the play itself. I would not be surprised if they at least tested it on Auburn once or twice.
There were also a couple of good (more conventional) option and pitchout plays that LSU understandably got away from with Mettenberger in the last couple of years, but why they weren’t there against Mississippi St. I have no idea. I think if LSU had just one of those plays and executed it (either for a touchdown or for the purpose of spreading out the field) during that goal-line stand, they would have won the game against the Bulldogs.
Three-and-outs are nice, but something else I like to see is a stop after giving up a first down or two. Against Wisconsin and Mississippi St. at times, it seemed like if they got that first first down, it was all over. I mentioned the missed field goal, but there were too additional stops at the LSU 47 in the first half while it was still only 14-0. The LSU offense had a three-and-out of its own between those two drives.
So there were a couple of situations that you don’t like to happen, but I like how they responded anyway.
Say what you will about the defense (although I noted they can catch the ball when you throw it to them and can also pick it up when it’s on the ground), New Mexico St. does have an offense that can produce points and yardage, so to keep them from even having scoring opportunities on all but two plays the whole game is good work.
There were some bad things, especially in the early going. It was another slow start on offense. Seven offensive points in the first quarter… no wonder they had zero for the first 20 minutes against Mississippi St. and only 7 for the first 2 ½ quarters against Wisconsin.
Of course, a big contributing factor to that was turnovers. You just can’t do that. In this case, you can’t give hope to the other team when they’re in a hostile environment with the odds stacked against them. Next week, when LSU is in that situation, it’s just asking to lose by 30 points or more if you start turning it over early. I’m not just talking about field position and points off of turnovers. Even if you don’t give the other team good field position, that means you had good field position yourself and squandered the field position and the momentum you were lucky to have.
I mentioned how LSU should try to spread out the field when they have the ball. If Cam Cameron would watch the LSU defense, maybe that would register in his mind a little more clearly. They gave up a play of almost 80 yards for a touchdown because they had too many people spread from sideline to sideline and no one had an angle after the runner went through the line of scrimmage. There were at least three similar plays between the Wisconsin and Mississippi St. games. A couple of them might have been short passes, but it was a similar issue with no one having any kind of angle on the ball-carrier. I know, one scoring play, but I think the Auburn offensive line might just be able to create more openings for plays of that nature.
New Mexico St. still had 274 yards (although it would have been fewer than 200 without the touchdown play), still completed more than almost half of its 33 passes, and still gained 4.6 yards per rush. That’s not as good as I was hoping for. The final score was great, but it does matter somewhat how you got there.
Also, third-down defense in the first half was not satisfactory. In two of the Aggies’ first three drives, they converted from 3rd and 6. There was another third-down conversion in the second quarter (from 1 yard) and nearly a fourth for the half before a fumble on that same down.
There is no excuse for LSU to have had five penalties in this game. They were only for 35 yards, but it creates similar types of issues to the turnovers I mentioned. I didn’t see the hands to the face. I saw the hand to the LSU player’s face on the same play, but there was some unnecessary sloppiness. Giving them a first and 5 toward midfield (for example) was not good.
I touched on this with the turnovers, but Jennings was bad. He ran himself (first drive only) and set up a couple of good running plays, but that was it. He only completed two passes for 11 yards, and none of the incompletions looked like good passes that I remember. One of the passes was for 7 yards and a first down, so it was really just one good passing play. Jennings threw two interceptions, was sacked once, and lost a fumble (on a separate play from the sack).
The hesitation with Harris was that he was liable to commit turnovers. Well, I think this should settle that (since I originally wrote this, Harris was named the starter). I know they want to give Jennings respect for his hard work as a backup and for practicing better and so forth, but next game will be game 6 of the season and most importantly game 2 of the SEC season.
I wish Jennings all the best and I hope he’s able to contribute to the team, but we’re past the time to be nice. He doesn’t need to start the next game, and I don’t think you even take Harris out unless he’s proven to be overall ineffective or mistake-prone in multiple possessions (or, God forbid, hurt). If Jennings can’t handle the pressure at home against New Mexico St., I don’t want to see him in the early going at Auburn. He’s a capable athlete, but I’m not comfortable with him at this point.
I want to say something about the boos. Someone said this about the NFL once: “We boo because we care.” If I’m in a stadium, especially paying an arm and a leg to be there, I’m going to voice my displeasure with certain coaching decisions. Everyone understands that when you want the coach to go for it and he sends out the punter, no one is booing the punter as a person. But somehow where quarterbacks are involved, people don’t seem to get it. There probably were some people who wanted to express displeasure to Jennings for the turnovers, but I believe the majority of the people were making clear that they didn’t like seeing the same guy come out and throw the same type of pass with the same result. The message wasn’t, “We don’t support you.”
I’m sure Auburn worked on improving some areas this week as well, so I’m still expecting it to be very difficult for LSU to win the game next week. I’ve been surprised by enough Les Miles teams in the past not to despair too much until the game is over and we have fewer points though. Or at least until we’re more than 20 points behind midway through the fourth quarter.
Also, no matter what happens, I don’t envy Auburn fans too much. Their next five games after LSU are Mississippi St., South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Georgia. Every other one of those is on the road. I didn’t even mention the game in Tuscaloosa the Saturday after Thanksgiving.