LSU football: Day off a good opportunity for Tigers to focus on themselves
LSU had an opportunity to watch a lot of college football Saturday.
The spike in COVID-19 cases around the Florida program moved the Tigers’ game at The Swamp scheduled for Saturday to Dec. 12.
LSU was able to scout both of its next two opponents by watching South Carolina host No. 15 Auburn. LSU hosts South Carolina next Saturday and visits Auburn in two weeks.
But LSU – especially the defense – probably would have been better off not watching.
That’s because so far, offenses’ performances against other teams have been inconsistent with their performances against the Tigers.
LSU allowed an SEC-record 623 passing yards and 5 touchdown passes in a season-opening loss to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs’ offense has been anemic ever since.
Missouri’s offense was anemic in losses to Alabama and Tennessee, then passed for 406 yards and 4 touchdowns in beating LSU last week.
So it’s hard to figure what South Carolina’s 30-22 victory over Auburn might mean for the next two Saturdays for LSU. South Carolina won despite passing for just 144 of its 297 total yards. Auburn lost even though it passed for 272 of its 481 total yards.
LSU’s biggest concern has to be its own defense – regardless of who the opponent is or what they’ve done against other teams.
Sure State’s K.J. Costello played extremely well against LSU in the opener, but the Tigers helped out his receivers and his statistics by missing a bunch of tackles that should have been routine.
Sure Missouri’s Connor Bazelak was poised, accurate and efficient as he completed 29 of 34 passes last week, but LSU helped him out with a bunch of mental mistakes that left Bazelak’s receivers unguarded.
“There are some things going on in that film, some busts, guys running wide open,” head coach Ed Orgeron said. “I do believe there was some miscommunication going on. Guys were out of position. Guys didn’t play stuff right.”
So South Carolina’s Collin Hill and Bo Nix could both be in for big days if they play well and LSU’s defense doesn’t play better. And it has to play better if the Tigers are going to have any chance of salvaging a respectable season.
First-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini has generally been considered the biggest culprit in the 1-2 start.
The defense had pretty good numbers – 113 passing yards, 266 total yards – in the 41-7 win against Vanderbilt that was sandwiched between the bookend debacles.
But that was Vanderbilt.
The other two performances have been monumentally bad. You can factor in that it’s a new scheme being run almost exclusively by young, inexperienced players – and the performances would still have to be considered monumentally bad.
“I told the players to put it on me,” Orgeron said. “It starts with the coaches. I told the coaching staff that we’ve got to coach them better, got to get better. I’m not going to put it on the players. We’ve got to execute better, but we’ve got to practice better.”
To whatever degree the newness of the scheme and the inexperience of the players are factors in the defense’s poor play, that should be mitigated as the season goes along.
The players will be getting more accustomed to the scheme, to their individual roles, to competing as starters in the SEC, to their teammates.
Pelini and the defensive staff should be figuring out what these players can do well and what they can’t – and zero in on having them do that which they do well.
Orgeron said LSU would “simplify” the defense and figure out in practice what the players are comfortable with.
“I don’t care if we have to play one defense and one coverage; play it, play it right, do whatever we need to do, put our athletes in a good position and let them make plays,” Orgeron said. “I’m going to make sure that any defense that’s called, that we run it right all week and our guys understand it. If we don’t understand it, we’re not running it.”
The performance against South Carolina will let us know if the extra preparation time was helpful in fixing the defense. Orgeron has a modest starting point.
“Not letting people run by us and score touchdowns uncontested – that would be a great start,” he said.