by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
He may have only called 9 plays all game, but damn we couldn't stop a single one.
Holding a paper with some stuff scrawled on it, a transfer QB in KJ Costello nobody knew much about, and a group of receivers who's careers since have been mixed at best, Mike Leach's Mississippi State ended LSU's 16 game winning streak with 632 yards of offense (only 9 yards rushing), dropping 44 points on a secondary playing under Bo Pelini's vicious, mercenary command, and without Derek Stingley Jr or a solid free safety available.
Costello made simple throws and the receivers ran vanilla routes, but the pre-snap movements became the Waterloo for LSU's 2020 season that day.
Unable to communicate, pass off receivers from zone to zone (let alone even playing zone), while playing Darren Evans, Cordale Flott, an injured Jay Ward only two weeks after surgery on a torn meniscus, coupled with linebacker Damone Clark's inability to adequately cover receivers or tight ends, LSU were picked apart.
Still it is a day that haunts the fan base as well as these Tigers...the same Tigers on the field that afternoon at Death Valley, walking down the tunnel a little worried without #24 to back 'em up, and suddenly, Mike Leach transformed into Hannibal Lecter before their wide eyes.
Ruining a streak dating back to January 2019's Fiesta Bowl vs UCF by way of a 44-34 win over the top 10 ranked Tigers, LSU had their pants pulled down on the first week of a pandemic shortened championship-defending season....in stunning, shocking fashion.
Sure, it's 2021....LSU possess many new faces and strong contributors who could've thwarted last year's outcome; many will say "this is a different team".
Regardless of a change in vibe, mentality, collective unity or staff harmony, when the Tigers last played a Power 5 opponent, we shit our pants....again in almost the same exact manner, albeit with one caveat:
The lessons from that fiasco may not have been felt by some individual Tigers on the team, but for most of those players who experienced 2020's Week 1 catastrophe, many tried desperately in vain to take back the game vs UCLA....
However, due to repeated individual errors at the Rose Bowl, or the near comical mistakes on UCLA Tight End Greg Dulcich's long touchdown (where the entire linebacking corps are lost and the free safety tackles his own teammate), our Tigers repeated the same slapstick humiliations of the Pelini era's molten shame.
Can Defensive Coordinator Daronte Jones create a defense using both man and zone concepts, combined with the right personnel, alongside a defensive front who won't be bullied and a secondary who can't be fooled by Leach's pre snap tomfoolery?
And if things go wrong early, can Jones adjust LSU out of trouble?
As the LSU Tigers head for a Saturday morning battle on the road in Starkville, what are we thinking about this collision course?
While victory against Leach's 2-1 Miss St wouldn't guarantee wins over predicted attrition @ Kentucky, the blood and WTF mix that always comes with LSU-Florida, the hijinks and high scores whenever Layne Kiffin arrives, or a date in Tuscaloosa vs Saban's Alabama Escape Artists, it would go a long way in critically helping improve the psychology and confidence of these 2021 LSU Tigers.
Sure, beating up on Central Michigan with filthy offensive stats felt great for many of the Tiger players and fans, or watching our D-Line pummel Coach O's son vs McNeese supplied mind-numbing entertainment, although the truth about this team's lukewarm performances remains until they prove it against top opponents...and what better place to start than Starkville on Saturday morning?
1. MISS ST ARE 1 DIMENSIONAL
Over three games, Mississippi State are rushing for 2.7 yards per carry at 50 carries and 136 total yards from 4 different backs. In comparison, LSU freshman Corey Kiner rushed for 130 yards from just 23 carries over the past 2 games.
I get it...some football snobs will claim "BUT MIKE LEACH DOESN'T RUN THE BALL!" but that's just not true...
The real facts?
He calls run plays, he's just quick to abandon the run for his Air Raid passing game.
This squad aren't equipped to run the ball with sustained success, boasting leading rushers of 71, 49 and 18 yards against (in no order) Memphis, Louisiana Tech and North Carolina State.
Leach will ride QB Will Rogers' gunslinger arm for 4 quarters, riding or dying on the aerial assassinry which brought LSU to their knees just under a year prior.
Over 1,000+ yards passing, 8 touchdowns to just 1 interception from over 163 attempts, completing 122 passes as well, Rogers is a very good quarterback, but against Eli Ricks, Dwight McGlothern or safety Jay Ward, can he recreate Costello's crazy performance?
With news of Derek Stingley Jr's practice injury breaking on LSU Odyssey last night, the symmetry is becoming a little ominous...
Whether #7 plays or not, Daronte Jones' unit must use Miss St's one dimensional pass-obsessed offense against them, countering Leach's litany of pre snap motions, screens, crossing routes and random draws into open middle space with speed, speed, speed.
Due to LSU's strength on the flanks, Leach should have Will Rogers attack the middle and underneath until the outside opens up. Just like UCLA 2021, or 2020 editions vs Miss St, Missouri, Alabama, Auburn, our opponents will go right at our nickel, safeties and linebackers, daring the guts of our defense to make tackles in space, follow pre-snap movement, and fight off post-snap jams or scissor routes.
This could be a game where any number of LSU nickels could stake a claim for the starting spot, but for this game we should use matchups for each different profile.
Cam Lewis guarding the flex guys, the impressive in 2021 (but ghastly in 2020) Cordale Flott could be trusted to cover slot receivers, freshman prodigy Sage Ryan should be another speedy option at nickel I would love to see deployed, the deserving Quinton "Pig" Cage showed some solid coverage abilities during reps vs McNeese and CMU...
Will this weekend be the game for hybrid LB Mike Jones Jr to rise up out of the shadows?
His speed should be utilized within our linebacking corps, especially if perennial automatic starter Damone Clark is struggling in coverage.
2. OUR QUICK DRAW PASSING GAME MUST LEAD THE WAY
QB Max Johnson was unreal against CMU, and I believe he was so good that, due to Joe Burrow spoiling the fan base, LSU fans take his 5 TD performance for granted.
Becoming the first passing game artist in LSU history to throw at least 3 touchdowns during each of his first 5 starts, Johnson silenced his critics by way of a commanding display vs CMU, racking up 20 completions, 4 touchdown passes & a 35-7 lead in the wake of the Tigers' first half onslaught.
Against CMU, Offensive Coordinator Jake Peetz finally found a rhythm on offense, eschewing a running game for our own form of Air Raid offensive fireworks:
Let Kayshon Boutte's jet sweep action open up spaces over the middle....work the linebackers ragged....test Miss St's secondary at will....find Jack Bech, Deion Smith and Boutte on most of our targets....utilize Brian Thomas Jr's height advantage on the deep ball...
After witnessing LSU's embryonic offensive viciousness vs CMU, I believe when all the kinks are worked out, the Tigers' 2021 offense can score with anyone through the air...we only seem to shut down when our ground game creates negative plays.
Give Max the keys, let him run a quick-striking, fast tempo offense using Boutte, Bech, Smith, Thomas Jr, Palmer and Nabers in all kinds of formations.
Miss St's secondary, combined with their below average pass rush, should be feasted upon by LSU's fast-paced offensive machine, hopefully being able to cover over the cracks on the offensive line.
3. TRUST IN YOUTH
Orgeron's Tigers have a vast array of young weapons all over the offensive side of the ball, studs and stunners such as Bech, Smith, Kiner, Thomas Jr, and Nabers.
Against former LSU DC interviewee Zach Arnett's defense, Jake Peetz must believe in his sophomore / freshmen burners, aerial dominators, and YAC merchants.
Facing Arnett's basic to expansive scheme, there will be pockets of space for LSU's young Tiger playmakers as well as windows of opportunity for Max to deliver the football.
Controlling the tempo is paramount, so...NO NEGATIVE PLAYS.
Our starting receivers should consist of Boutte as a roaming sultan, Bech as another alternating piece, Deion Smith placed on the outside as a home run hitting stretcher, and Devonta Lee as the large, versatile target: giving Max every possible option and profile.
Backed by Koy Moore, Trey Palmer, Jontre Kirklin, and Jaray Jenkins, the receiving corps should be loaded enough to out-perform or at least out-class Miss State's DBs.
Despite individual errors, there remains a ludicrous amount of defensive athleticism wearing purple & gold:
Without naming guys like Ricks, Ojulari, Maason Smith, Roy or others who will definitely find playing time, Daronte Jones' defense are equipped with youngsters who must receive reps in this game, among them DE Phillip Webb (3 pressures off the bench vs McNeese), DT Jacobian Guillory (solid in all 3 games), nickel Sage Ryan (if he's back to 100%), and linebacker Bugg Strong (out to prove he's no coverage liability) are all strong options on paper.....but the job will go to whoever works with Jones' approach best.
Also of note:
In the wake of Andre Anthony's injury, DT Maason Smith is doubling up as a defensive end, offering countless options for the Tigers' D-Line who favored a three deep cluster of starting caliber edge rushers; I believe Maason's move to DE will work masterfully over the course of 2021.
Regardless of his design, Jones must understand the bountiful athleticism he has at his command....use it.
4. CONTROL TIME OF POSSESSION: WHICH MEANS EITHER OL PLAYS HARD OR A FEW TURNOVERS?
If LSU control the clock, meaning our running game is at least waking up somewhat and our OL are staying clean, plus, if Max Johnson is firing on all cylinders, it really shouldn't matter how many points Mike Leach's Air Raid offense put up, should it?
Without running the ball effectively at all, this is an offense showing signs of being able to control games for stretches, only to give up for big lulls....just like we witnessed against McNeese or CMU.
If we can't run the ball, how do we control the clock?
By handing Jake Peetz & Max Johnson's offense as many possessions as possible.
If the LSU defense surrendered 28 points, but forced 3+ turnovers, I would feel confident in saying the Tigers would win the game, right?
It may become a shootout where LSU control the clock or tempo by simply scoring...out-pacing Mississippi State...blowing them off the field in a track meet.
But if Saturday becomes a 29-24 type game, I'm worried for our Tigers.
It all comes down to one simple question:
CAN LSU RUN THE FOOTBALL....Just enough to get us over the line in some of these games?
With TDP still starting and gaining health, Corey Kiner shining brightly, Armoni Goodwin recovering from injury, Tre Bradford becoming eligible for this weekend, and John Emery's status to be decided on Thursday or Friday, Kevin Faulk's Running Backs unit are about to gain some reinforcements....right when our team need it most.
WE WILL BE PREVIEWING THIS MATCHUP EVEN MORE...
KEEP IT LOCKED...
KEEP IT LOADED...
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc