PREVIEWING LSU'S MUST-WIN GAME @ VANDERBILT
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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
This was not how we expected our national title defense to begin, but here it is....LSU were socked in the face, swallowing a tooth with an eye so swollen we can barely see, our future CFP path now faded and foggy...but still our players push on and we ride with them.
Saturday night was a "dark night of the soul" indeed, many long conversations and sleepless nights across LSU's roster and coaching staff... our entire program taking stock of where this team really were on the totem pole:
We were told we could reload just like Bama or Clemson, that we could lose most of our team and still contend....
We were told the return of Bo Pelini meant the revival of LSU's bruising, calculating, turnover-hungry defenses from 2005-2007: images of LaRon Landry flying in on a safety blitz and demolishing quarterbacks filled our imaginations, a rampant Craig Steltz still clear in our minds, & Glen Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and Ricky-Jean Francois running the show on the defensive line ALL set a championship precedent at LSU...
We were told the offense wouldn't head back to the archaic Les Miles era, in fact our coaches doubled down, declaring this 2020 group (led by Myles Brennan) would be even more aggressive than 2019's Tigers...
We believed Passing Game Coordinator Scott Linehan alongside offensive analysts Carter Sheridan and Russ Callaway's combined 70 years of NFL & collegiate football experience would easily replace Joe Brady's young gun mentality and energy....
But after Saturday's collapse, we're still waiting to see all of the above....
While Tiger fans witnessed snatches of greatness and superb moments during the first half on defense (Jacoby Stevens' fumble recoveries & Jabril Cox's INT returned for a TD) & a much improved offensive setup throughout the second half, our defense faded in the 4th quarter when LSU really needed a stop & our offense ran themselves into the ground, tossing piss-soaked jeans in the hamper at triple zeroes.
LSU's highly rated players and highly regarded / highly paid coaches suffered and swallowed a tough week of intense criticism, taking the shocking defeat on the chin before the entire raving sporting world, the college football universe's raging gallery still thirsty for the blood of Orgeron's men and hungry for their 2020 dismissal, a psychological tearing out of 2019 from the fandom record books of their minds:
Online or on the street, many have already thrown the Tigers' title defense out the window after the Miss State loss...Paul Finebaum said "LSU is done as a contender" this season....Finebaum didn't just say "I can't see LSU pulling it off" or "maybe", he neutered and skewered the Tigers.
But if the Tigers are prepared to make a stand and push for a second straight title, defying every critic or sensibly-brained fan on planet earth, the first step towards a successful campaign geauxs through Vanderbilt this Saturday....it's as close to a must-win game as you can possibly get...
Against this bullish Vanderbilt defense led by Head Coach and former NFL great Derrick Mason, DC Jason Tarver and former Tigers' 2019 defensive analyst Kenechi Udaze, Myles Brennan will have to be quick in his decision-making and willing to take the big hits in order to make the tough throws.
Last week, the Commodores' defense held Jimbo Fisher and Kellen Mond's passing game to a paltry 189 passing yards, 3/10 on 3rd down, forced and recovered 3 fumbles and ran 12 more offensive plays than the Aggies, granted by the turnovers.
So...how did A&M win the game?
The Aggies rushed for 186 yards on Vanderbilt from a mere 25 carries, gradually wearing Vandy down using three rotational backs and leaning primarily on Isaiah Spiller, just like LSU's running back rotation...
But if we're going to start off by lowering LSU's 2020 standards to equal Texas A&M, we may as well just pack it in....
We would never dare, in fact, if A&M can only muster 17 on Vanderbilt, then our Tigers should pump 40 on Vanderbilt.
It's time for LSU's players & coaches to wipe Week 1's delirium from their memories & forge forward into the dark together, maximizing the high quality flashes we watched on Saturday and highlighted in our 5 Positives article....simply put, no matter where the Tigers end up this season, Atlanta (SEC), Miami (CFP) or the damn Capital One Bowl, Orgeron's squad cannot succumb to a second straight defeat after 2019's infinite jest.
Defeat isn't an option for these 2020 Tigers....now that we've thrown down that gauntlet, it's quite obvious to anyone who cares about LSU's fate that Brennan and Ensminger's offense MUST have a high octane start straight outta the gates...a statement of intent.
The same urgency Brennan, Jaray Jenkins, the running backs, Terrace Marshall and Arik Gilbert showed us in the 3rd quarter is what will be required from first second to last against Vanderbilt or we'll find ourselves deep in an 0-2 SEC hole, once again cast as a "nearly there":
"LSU is a good program, they've even won flukey championships...but they're not at the level of an Alabama or Clemson just yet," is what Tiger fans heard throughout 2019 and its public relations aftermath.
Now those callous, dissenting voices are booming louder than ever before, echoing around the SEC media apparatus, "LSU are pretenders! They're fakes! Orgeron will skate by on 2019!!" All such premature reactulations...pure 2020 heathen madness to behold.
We even heard Geaux247's Josh Pate say LSU "aren't even a real team" due to the frequent nature of our opt-outs and transfers....most are actually holding their breath on a shocking sequel to our Week 1 collapse, with a Week 2 Nashville trip providing the Shakespearean stage for Brennan's final stand as our 2020 starter....there are many licking their chops, filming their post game videos, preparing their sports-robotica for immediate post-game publication.
This past 6 days is the payback they've waited desperately for since Joe Burrow drove their asses into the ground like Cool Hand Luke in an egg-eating competition...they wrote 2020 LSU's epitaph over the summer before Chase, Shelvin and Vincent opted out or Brooks transferred....the target has only grown...
These rivals or generalized Louisiana haters are salivating for Brennan's demise, but I warn any Tigers fan who may echo those sentiments (searching blindly for a solution):
Benching Myles in a dramatic scene of controversy is NOT the answer at this juncture...if we get behind #15, I have a full belief the kid can rebound....but against Vanderbilt's solid defense, Brennan will need to have an impeccably clean game (though their pass rush was effective, they only sacked Kellen Mond once).
He'll need to deliver the football with some bite and actual cajones, slinging passes slathered in sauce: kick it up a notch...
Even LSU Cooking Legend Rhonda will tell you "Myles must gather the right ingredients" for our Week 2 faceoff vs Vandy or the Tigers may not survive Week 2 at .500.
I don't care how poor Vandy's historical record vs LSU is (the Commodores are 7-23-1 vs LSU all time): This is a new unit, a very different season and a war of attrition ahead of our players & coaches for 60 minutes...
Although under freshman Ken Seal at quarterback (150 yards passing 20/29, 2 interceptions, 1 TD vs A&M) our turnover-hungry defense should find plenty of opportunities to steal possession as well as rattle the freshman.
Last week, Pelini's defense may have been roasted in the secondary, yet at the line of scrimmage there were awe-inspiring moments where LSU's front seven were a swarming hive of play-making hornets, slamming 5 sacks, 41 pressures and our D-Linemen blocked 5 passes.
Elsewhere, two members of DBU forced 3 of 4 turnovers vs Mississippi State (Stevens & Ricks) and nearly created 6 altogether against a seasoned quarterback like Costello (Ika's fumble recovery controversially called back & Neil Farrell nearly hauling in a pick at the line)....now...just think about the turnover possibilities on Saturday vs Ken Seal...
This game could become a defensive fist fight if Brennan and the offense fail to generate any rhythm, but luckily our leaders have shown up on defense so far and studs such as Clark, Cox, Stevens and Gaye have proven they can change the game in LSU's favor: (Clark led the team in tackles, Cox had a pick six, Jacoby forced a fumble, recovered 2, grabbed 2 sacks and Ali Gaye controlled the edge, rejecting 3 passes, mauling Costello for a one handed sack and nearly scoring his own defensive TD).
Luckily for the Tigers, another ultimate leader and 2019 champion will be returning, the best defensive force in the nation.
Derek Stingley Jr's re-appearance will further jettison our defense and allow our front seven (as well as Jacoby Stevens) to attack Ken Seal for 60 minutes...and the college football world will finally understand how valuable Stingley's coverage gifts really are.
Despite the crap Bo Pelini, Corey Raymond and Bill Busch have taken all week after Leach's 44 points or Costello's 623 yards against our DBU secondary, I know what those coaches are made of...I know those coaches will respond while LSU also have unexplored DB personnel to make up for Stingley's potentially limited role (McGlothern, Jones, Toles).
Meanwhile, DBs Cordale Flott, Mo Hampton, Todd Harris and Darren Evans are determined to make up for their shocking Week 1 performances: if the criticism these young men heard all week won't motivate them, nothing will....but I'm betting Cordale, Mo and Todd administer punishment and supply fantastic plays to atone.
Watch out for CB Eli Ricks...the smashmouth freshman has one INT vs Myles Brennan in practice, another poster-covering pick at the most critical point of his freshman debut, and he still made a pair of mistakes which will keep his competitive fires burning when called upon.
At the end of the day, a freshman QB like Ken Seal facing our front seven is a match-up which favors LSU all day...watch out for Jaquelin Roy to announce himself this weekend.
I'm not too concerned about our defense rebounding from Saturday, especially featuring Stingley Jr for the first time in 2020 since the National Championship Game.....
I'm more focused on our offense figuring out their identity.
Vanderbilt may smell blood in the water, they'll be hyped due to LSU's loss the week prior, and just as we saw vs A&M (even when this defense plays well) they also surrender big plays: the Aggies averaged 6.8 yards per play during a field goal contest bloodbath.
THAT is a statistic which bodes well for LSU's skill guys on the outside...this isn't rocket science or some secret society Dan Brown is writing a conspiracy novel about:
Beating Vanderbilt is predicated on Ensminger's recall of 2019's pre-snap movement handing LSU's dominant skill players space and constant mis-matches....it's time Scott Linehan earns his paycheck.
This is the formula for victory:
Leaning on our skill position players' athleticism while never allowing our opponent to stay comfortable....if the Tigers offense keeps up the energy, LSU can dominate this game:
On the first LSU drive, I want to see Ensminger stick Terrace Marshall or Racey McMath on the perimeter, thus holding the attention of Vandy's best cover guys in place (CBs Donovan Kaufman, Jalen Mahoney and safety Dashaun Jerkins);
Then Ensminger must motion our best weapons Arik Gilbert, Kayshon Boutte, Jaray Jenkins and Trey Palmer all over the field around or in between Terrace's threat, occupying at least two or three more Commodore defenders each snap...
On LSU's first offensive play of the game, Myles should fake a tame RPO draw to Curry and tuck it himself for a positive gain...proving if he can run the RPO action...he doesn't need the skill or pace to be effective, only deception and vision...all we need from the play is 4 or 5 yards to send the message...get the respect and gain more space...
When running Myles, we must substitute an extra blocking body who could also be set up out wide, motioning inside before the snap to provide the block.
We don't want to sacrifice Gilbert's aerial dominion on every running play as an extra blocker, so we'll hopefully see substitute TE Kole Taylor come on as a 6'7 250+ pound edge protector, first Taylor spread out wide only to motion inside right before the snap for LT Cam Wire's insurance....
Our offense must deploy these pre-snap motions and unorthodox sets (above was merely one example from a plethora of options Inc. Boutte motioning across the backfield, Gilbert moving outside etc) or...we might as well telegraph our play calls to the defense...like we did last week.
LSU's cutthroat offense must force Vanderbilt to respect everything in our playbook...but after the first snap (where Myles takes the ball for a run), we need to see him take control in the aerial department, slinging the ball with pace, timing and accuracy just as he demonstrated more than a few times during his 345 yard 3 TD performance last Saturday....but I repeat, all of this geauxs down as our reinvigorated attack remains headlined by pre-snap movement.
On 1st or 2nd down, Brennan absolutely must accept the 5 yard dump off to Curry or TDP without hesitation...too many drives started a play behind schedule before they'd begun, 2nd & 10, 3rd & 9;
On 3rd down, we want to see Myles maneuver inside a raucous pocket and step into throws, most of all we need to see him making quicker decisions....Brennan was 0/5 during 3rd and long situations vs Miss State and that category must improve.
We all want to see Myles take control, shove the doubt down his critics' throats and most of all: have fun...kick some ass...take some names...forget the pressure, block out the noise...just GEAUX out there and unload 4 years of frustration upon Vanderbilt...without the home crowd pressure of Death Valley, Myles is set up for a confidence-boosting day:
It's time to build a vibe, Myles.
Brennan needs to uncork play-action passes on 1st down like it's going out of style, giving himself more space from the pass rush. Whenever Myles threw a bomb with conviction against Mississippi State, everyone sensed a big play was close....the reason?
If you give any of Mickey Joseph's wide outs a chance, no matter how slim, they're going to catch the ball, especially after this week of practice where our receivers' 6 dropped passes felt the full incendiary wrath of Coach Joseph.
LOOK AT THE RECEIVERS WE HAVE, MYLES...DO YOU THINK ANYONE WILL BEAT THEM FOR A 50/50, 40/60 PASS WITH ACCURACY???
GILBERT CAUGHT THAT TD LIKE A MARVEL COMIC HERO CALLED "MAGNET MAN" BRO.....SLING IT, DAMNIT!
The more successful Brennan can be against Vandy's DBs over the top, the more space Myles will receive in the backfield from a blitz-shy DC Jason Tarver.
Myles delivered a nearly flawless play action record, going 8/9 in play-action scenarios with 2 TDs, 127 yards and a 158 passer rating vs Miss State. The Silver Surfer seems most comfortable when plays are anchored around a rushed "dive right in" mind set, which makes sense.
Myles' biggest issues at quarterback arise when he has too much time to second guess himself....which is why our bread and butter Saturday game plan must be quick slants, screens or out routes setting up the long ball, while Ty Davis-Price, Chris Curry and John Emery receive 30+ carries.
In order for the Tigers to leave Nashville at 1-1, Myles Brennan doesn't need to throw for 300 yards, he only has three obligations on Saturday vs Vanderbilt:
1. CONTROL THE TEMPO
2. EXTEND PLAYS FOR POSITIVE GAINS ON 3RD
3. EFFICIENTLY GET OUR PLAYMAKERS THE BALL WITHOUT HESITATION
If Brennan simply completes this task, LSU will command Vanderbilt's overrated defense...however, if Brennan plays with fear, our receivers drop passes and our offensive line repeats their profligate performance vs Miss State, LSU will be lucky to survive Week 2 with anything resembling confidence....
Punter Zach "Von Wilder" Rosenberg was brilliant on Saturday, constantly pinning K.J Costello in horrible field position and giving Pelini's defense a chance: a 10/10 showing from the 30 year old badass.
"Von Wilder" Von Rosenberg for President 2020....and after, the National Champion will enjoy a promising career in the NFL followed by a string of appearances on ABC's The Bachelor.
In the kicking game, sophomore iceman Cade York proved clutch, tying the game with a big field goal at 34-34, announcing himself as a leader aboard this 2020 Tigers team...
Both punter and kicker rose as champions and performed like it on Saturday, proving to be a reliable boost for the 2020 Tigers.
PREDICTION: 38-10 LSU VICTORY
We nailed our last week's statistical predictions, almost to a tee bizarrely, but we couldn't have been more wrong on the score.
After last week's wake-up call, Orgeron's Tigers dominate and send a message...they're still HERE.
This team can't blink for a second consecutive week....
BRENNAN: 315, 4 TDs no picks
EMERY: 1 rec TD, 70 combined yards
TDP: 1 rushing TD 60+ yards rushing
CURRY: 80 yards rushing
GILBERT: 1 TD
MARSHALL: 1 TD
PALMER: 1 TD
STINGLEY: 1 INT
GAYE: 2 SACKS, 1 BLOCKED FG
OJULARI: 1 SACK, 1 FF
STEVENS: 1 FR, 1 SACK, 6 TACKLES
CLARK: 10 TACKLES
COX: 1 PD, 2.5 TFL, 7 TACKLES
ROY: 1 SACK, 3.5 TFL, 4 TACKLES
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC