Rapid Reaction: If LSU ever gets a run game and a defense ...
If LSU ever finds a running game and a pass rush, the Tigers are going to be really good.
The Tigers run game continued to sputter and the defense had several lapses against outmanned Vanderbilt on Saturday in Nashville.
But No. 4 LSU’s nearly flawless passing game kept rolling in a 66-38 blowout win that moved the team to 4-0.
Joe Burrow came into the game leading the nation in completion percentage and ranking second in passing yards. His performance Saturday likely maintained or perhaps enhanced his standing in both categories.
In the first quarter alone he completed 10 of 11 for 199 yards with three touchdowns. Two of the touchdowns went to Ja’Marr Chase and the other went to Justin Jefferson. Clyde Edwards-Helaire added a rushing touchdown as LSU rolled to a 28-7 lead after 15 minutes.
The Tigers got a brief scare in the second quarter when Burrow was hit, his left leg twisted and he hobbled to the sideline for a timeout. He stayed in the game though and moments later took a hard hit that drew a flag against the Commodores for roughing the passer.
But LSU linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. and wide receiver Justin Jefferson didn’t fare as well; both limped off the field after being injured in the second quarter.
The Tigers have an open date this week, allowing time for healing before they host Utah State on Oct. 5.
At the start of the game the LSU defense gave Tigers fans reason to panic.
But the offense didn’t allow much time for it.
The absence of a pass rush and the 500-plus yards allowed against Texas on Sept. 7 had raised concerns about the defense, but this time it was the run defense that was found lacking.
On the first possession of the game Vanderbilt drove 75 yards to a touchdown, getting 66 of the yards on five runs.
The hand wringing had barely begun before Burrow had tied the score. On the ensuing possession LSU needed just five plays and 73 seconds to go 75 yards and score a tying touchdown.
On the next possession it needed one play and 11 seconds to go 64 yards, on Burrow’s TD pass to Chase, for the go-ahead touchdown.
On the next possession it needed five plays and 1:56 to go 67 yards to another touchdown.
On the next possession it needed four plays and 75 seconds to go 70 yards to yet another touchdown.
Burrow had 357 yards before halftime, the most ever by an LSU quarterback in a first half. The previous high was 291 by Josh Booty against Western Carolina in 2000. Burrow wound up with 398 yards and a school-record six touchdowns passing before giving way to backup Myles Brennan.
But the breathing room at halftime wasn’t as substantial as it could have been. The Tigers defense allowed a 52-yard drive to a field goal and then the run game handed Vanderbilt a touchdown right before the half. LSU was trying to run out the clock near its own goal line when Burrow and Edwards-Helaire botched a handoff and the Commodores fell on it for a touchdown, leaving LSU with a comfortable but not totally satisfying 38-17 halftime lead.
Vanderbilt started the second half with an onside kick that Micah Baskerville returned to the 1. After a false start, Burrow threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Racey McMath.
The Commodores roared back with a three-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but all that did was ensure that Burrow would stay in the game longer.
On the ensuing possession, Burrow broke the school record for touchdown passes in a game when he tossed No. 6 and Chase caught his fourth of the day on a 25-yarder.
Baskerville blocked a punt and fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown and it was 59-24 midway through the third quarter.
It remains to be seen how much time Divinity and Jefferson might miss, but after four weeks the good news is that the passing game is plenty good enough for LSU to withstand periodic shortcomings from the run game and the defense.
The not-so-good news is that those shortcomings remain more prevalent than we would have expected before the season.