by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
On Saturday morning at Missouri's Faurot Field, LSU must survive another curve ball, the script being flipped once again on the unluckiest college football team of all time.
I get it...this is LSU VS Missouri, there should be only one victor... But you have to admit Week 3's schedule has been a reptilian pain in the ass from the start:
Our Tigers' bout vs Missouri didn't exist when the schedules first came out....then after the SEC only schedule was released, Missouri were hit with both Alabama and LSU: a double whammy purge for Eliah Drinkwitz's program ...and to make matters worse, the Tigers wouldn't be forced to travel to Missouri for the first time either...
Now, after Hurricane Delta popped his weiner-shaped head up from the sand, LSU's preparations immediately jumped from a home game at Death Valley to a road contest clear over in Columbus, Missouri (finally LSU's debut in Missouri), Orgeron's support staff scrambling to stay one step ahead of the revised schedule....the Tigers now playing three road games in a row and four out of our next five.
Additionally, Orgeron's Tigers are negotiating a near 12 hour change in kickoff times (only two days before the first snap)... and while you can argue "Missouri has to deal with this too", they don't...they didn't have to travel.
All of the above are a coach's worst nightmare, switching from a late night start to a very early kickoff time (due to Hurricane Delta's imminent threat inside Louisiana) and once again, LSU will be forced to flip the script for the 100 billionth occurrence of 2020 already.
Much like the program's topsy turvy off-season full of opt outs, transfers, suspensions, these circumstances don't favor the Tigers, but don't look for excuses or shortcuts emanating from Orgeron's squad:
This is a business trip...and LSU have their own offensive steambreathing, defensive quarterback-eating agenda.
Just like Vanderbilt, Missouri will serve as a confidence-platform, however this week must be taken far more seriously than Nashville if we want to win a second straight National Championship:
We need to make sure our players' on-field reps provide our coaching staff enough depth hints before Florida. With our bizarre 2020 off-season, live in-game reps are now the only way our coaches will truly understand & best utilize LSU's empirical / elite personnel...
There are no do-overs....nobody will rewind the clock if LSU's high octane coaching staff miss on a few position players...although I'll tell you our opponents will definitely be rewinding their DVRs over and over if we falter, cackling at our misfortunes...just as they did 2 weeks ago vs Mississippi State.
As the eyes of Louisiana turn to their Tigers, hoping LSU football can distract from the urgency, danger and unceasing stress of hurricanes, Covid, political unrest and 2020's ominous Year of the Demon qualities, Coach O's squad are intending to put on a show Saturday morning, all while his roster moves one more massive step closer to complete clarity... exploring their possibilities and limitations vs Missouri....
Experimentation will be the word of the weekend...
Our Five Burning Questions for LSU vs Missouri (besides what f****g channel is it on????!)
1. LSU'S O-LINE VERSATILITY
When the Tigers line-up for that first play against Missouri, the occasion could be LSU's 3rd different starting five on James Cregg's O-line in 3 games for 2020 and if Ingram fails to start, it'll be Cregg's 11th different starting lineup in the past 17 games (LSU 9-1 in those games)...
While such flux sounds foreboding, remember how many different starting offensive line combinations became successful throughout last season's undefeated run...and against top competition.
RG Chasen Hines started a few games last year at guard, as did LT Dare Rosenthal, LG Ed Ingram replaced an injured Damien Lewis early on vs Oklahoma or showing up on the legendary 3rd and 17 play vs Texas...even guard Adrian Magee switched to left tackle for a start! And they all performed at a high level, such is O-Line Impresario James Cregg's scrupulous crosstraining.
The Super Bowl Champion O-line coach's success throughout 2019 didn't simply rely on fixed stars, they had to lean on guys like Badara Traore, Chasen Hines, Dare Rosenthal & 2020 junior Ed Ingram at crucial moments during the year, buoying the core of Charles, Magee, Cushenberry, Lewis & Deculus.
Everyone played a big role to win that Joe Moore Award and James Cregg knows how to replace talent in brilliant, often creative ways.
He'll do it again here.
Look for plenty of O-line experimentation on Saturday, regardless of who may start.
Should red shirt freshman Charles Turner start over sophomore Anthony Bradford, freshman Marlon Martinez or Kardell Thomas (questions surround his injury recovery but I can't wait to see him play)???
Coach Orgeron also spoke of his favorite player, rotating defensive tackle Joseph Evans being sent back to offensive line for the second time, now to deputize as an extra left guard.
All hands are on deck...except for Coach O forcing a helmet and pads on 31 year old T-Bob Hebert.
We believe Turner, a member of the 2019 National Champion squad, is more than ready to pop a Missouri D-lineman in the mouth and gain his confidence this weekend...
Could Saturday be the moment Charles Turner announces himself upon the big stage?
Aside from Ingram's temporarily vacant LG spot, Dare Rosenthal and Cam Wire are battling over the left tackle spot tooth and nail:
Dare is shaking off an injury and a below par performance in defeat; meanwhile, Cam Wire stepped in brilliantly, smashing fools on the outside tosses or screens throughout his first ever LSU appearance.
Truth be told, even if Rosenthal was 100%, I'd still hand Wire the start:
Compared to Dare's performance at LT vs Miss St, Cam Wire's exposition of physical magnificence against Vandy made our running game pop. We were able to get further penetration between the tackles, Emery, TDP and even Josh Williams elevating to the next level easier than the chorus of My Morning Jacket's "Steam Engine".
During week 2, Wire was agile in the passing game, he was rarely beaten and when he lost any rep initially, he was far quicker to react than Dare, once again using only a small sample size in which Rosenthal (an NFL talent) was banged up.
For O-line continuity heading into the Florida game, Wire must start and Rosenthal could use the second half to get back his game shape.
We expect a starting lineup of DECULUS at left tackle, HINES at right guard (quietly playing well), SHANAHAN at center, TURNER at left guard and CAM WIRE returning at left tackle for the second straight game...
2. LSU DOESN'T SETTLE FOR FIELD GOALS ANYMORE
Currently 3/7 scoring TDs in the red zone from two appearances (6/7 scoring), LSU need to up their game in the opposition half.
Last year they scored 78% of the time in the red zone, an outrageous number we don't expect them to hit again...though 60% or higher is where this unit should be at.
Possessing red zone TD machine Terrace Marshall, massive mismatch Arik Gilbert, speedy receivers Trey Palmer, Kayshon Boutte, Jontre Kirklin, additonal aerial threats Racey McMath, Koy Moore & Jaray Jenkins, as well as Kevin Faulk's multi-dimensional rushing attack, LSU have no excuses when missing blatant touchdown opportunities.
We settled for two field goals at crucial second half moments vs Miss State, costing us a chance at victory, including a goal-line stand; against Vandy we threw away a pair of drives in exchange for Cade York field goals....although York is automatic, Myles Brennan must guide this offense to ultimate aggression and Jason Statham-ism: Always Finishing drives with 7 points at all costs.
When facing Mullen and Trask's passing game, Alabama's fleet of elite receivers or Trevor Lawrence's well-entrenched RPO lightning show, field goals won't keep up the pace.
In Columbus, expect LSU's Ensminger and Linehan to devise as many different personnel combos and points of attack as possible within the red zone: although the formations will be exotic, the play calls themselves must remain simple and devastating:
Already holding a red zone TD this season, Arik Gilbert is unstoppable on a crossing route or back shoulder fade within the 25 yard line (or anywhere for that matter); Terrace Marshall's aerial ability towers over all, #6 proving to be the best red zone target in college football (all 13 TDs in 2019 were in the red zone and 2 of his 4 this season are inside the opposition 25); Elsewhere, John Emery punched in a TD from 10-15 yards out, cruising around the corner untouched....a big rushing TD for the short yardage confidence of Faulk's backs.
We need Myles to see as many possessions as possible during this game, affording our offense numerous opportunities to prepare for Florida.
3. WR BY COMMITTEE?
Good question...Who is LSU's #2 or #3 WR???
Against Miss State, we witnessed #10 Jaray Jenkins take the spotlight with both hands, 5 catches for 85 yards, including a major 58 yard catch when LSU needed his contribution most....
Last Saturday, Jontre Kirklin enjoyed an electric breakout game, Choo Choo catching his first career TDs and providing blistering pace on the perimeter, making defenders miss after catch & contact.
Myles is spreading the ball around more liberally than Gavin Newsome, testing his guys to find out who can deliver tough catches in traffic while taking a big hit...after Vandy, freshmen like Kayshon Boutte rose above the competition as the game wound down, catching 3 passes for 46 yards with plenty of yards after catch (Kayshon averaging 26 yards per catch on the season, including a 17 yard gain vs Vanderbilt's gassed defense).
So....will 2020 LSU ever find a defined #2 WR or will we watch a new candidate rise each week, a scenario which may prove to be an uncomfortable, unpredictable prospect for opponents to game plan and an astute strategy by Ensminger....you have to cover all of us.
We expect a big offensive morning vs Missouri, full of dynamic plays after the catch...we also expect Ty Davis-Price to take Week 3's running game over....as for who Terrace's #2 will be for Missouri???? Florida???
Senior Racey McMath was the anticipated choice for that spot, however he isn't deserving of the job just yet. Yes, he's made a few big catches, but too many times does McMath go missing for this offense when they need him most...Racey needs a huge game vs Missouri...he needs to score and grab a 100 yard night (or close) for me to trust him as the #2 guy.
Watch for Gilbert to become Myles' #2 target, Boutte terrorizing Missouri this week and either Kirklin, Boutte or (above pictured) Jaray Jenkins become Myles' solidified #2 receiver in time to face Florida.
4. LSU'S DEFENSE 100% BACK???
Containing Vandy to 113 passing yards, 7 points and 3.9 yards per play, LSU's defense comprehensively responded after their 44 point, 623 yard collapse vs Mississippi State.
Collecting 8 sacks, forcing 6 turnovers (nearly 8 or 9) and issuing 19 QB hits, Bo Pelini's salivating defense has been fast, frenetic and high octane through 2 games.
Jacoby Stevens, Ali Gaye, Eli Ricks, Andre Anthony, Apu Ika, Jabril Cox, B.J Ojulari, Damone Clark and Jaquelin Roy have all been must see TV for Tiger fans, bringing back the attacking fury of past Pelini ethos combined alongside modernized athleticism and professional side to side speed.
But have they turned the page on their coverage woes?
Stingley's mere return to his cornerback role removed 510 passing yards and 5 TDs off the board vs Vandy (although Ken Seals was never going to throw for 300+ yards, let alone 600)...still, LSU went from 623 to 113 in 6 days.
Is Derek Stingley Jr just a mask for some serious coverage deficiencies at DBU circa 2020?
No, but I do think LSU's Cordale Flott, Jay Ward, Darren Evans and linebacker Damone Clark need improvement when it comes to defending crossing routes (specifically talking about how we've been defending mesh concepts underneath). Both younger and older defenders alike were repeatedly torched over the middle.
One statistic which points this out?
LSU's 45.5% opposition 3rd down completion percentage...we want to see this number plummet to the mid or low 30s by the end of Saturday morning...DBU needs to get off the field on 3rd down with consistency, just as we demonstrated last week.
Pelini's defensive front is robust, speedy and full of playmakers, but one question I'd ask:
Is our obsession with attacking the quarterback allowing too many big passing plays in the secondary?
We should stay more conservative on certain 3rd down blitzes vs Florida, so when we face Missouri I want to see picky blitzes from Bo Pelini:
Deploying a roving front collapsing around the O-line, we only rush 3 linemen, a fourth (Gaye or Ojulari's length) drops into coverage underneath, right as Jacoby Stevens / Mo Hampton (even Todd Harris) are sent in on the quarterback...always bringing 4-5 guys (Anthony stunting inside) but leaving Missouri completely lost as to who may fly into their backfield next...or when.
Missouri's offensive system is a good form of practice for Florida's pre-snap happy offense:
"They'll give you a lot of eye candy with motions and stuff, so our guys gotta show eye discipline," Jacoby Stevens said about Missouri's movement offense.
Against Missouri's struggling offensive unit, we have a perfect scenario for Raymond & Busch to organize our coverage assignments pre / post snap, just in time for the second big passing game test of the campaign @ The Swamp.
We must remain fluid and able to adapt a hybrid man/zone look quickly: Stingley and Ricks stationed in man coverage on the outside while the safeties and linebackers stick to their areas.... affording Trask, Mack, Bo (or whoever may be at QB) nowhere to throw....
LSU's 2020 defense can generate an insidious amount of pressure from only rushing 5 or fewer....also a perfect opportunity for SEC refereeing crews to finally isolate and identify the scary number of uncalled holding penalties against LSU's raging front four over the first two weeks.
If the Tigers play Missouri as hard as they'd play Florida, we'll be 2-1 and headed to the Swamp ready to claim their house as our own.
5. WHO WILL START VS FLORIDA??
Besides winning the game with another strong showing in all three phases, 2020 LSU need to fortify their starting lineups during the Missouri game.
Don't look at who starts vs Missouri as an indication of who'll take the reigns for good... watch for the young men who battle harder, affect or influence those around them most, and pull off the biggest plays:
LSU WINS 55-13
-Myles: 400 yards 5 TDs
-TDP/Emery: 155 combined 1 TD
-Marshall: 2 TDs
-Gilbert: 1 TD
-Kirklin: 1 TD
-Boutte: 1 TD
-Eli Ricks 1 INT
-Ojulari strip sack
-Gaye INT ret TD
GAYE ROY IKA OJULARI
COX CLARK BASKERVILLE (Where's Lee?)
WIRE TURNER SHANAHAN HINES DECULUS
BRENNAN EMERY / TDP / CURRY
MARSHALL, GILBERT, KIRKLIN, BOUTTE
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC