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by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
We've been waiting for this entire quarterback situation to clear itself out and now we know:
Surprising many, freshman T.J Finley was named as LSU's starter vs South Carolina, though the difference over Max Johnson wasn't by much, #11's "cerebral" study of the game has won him the starting job at Louisiana State University.
"T.J made a few more plays on 3rd down than Max, that was it," Coach Orgeron told the media, acknowledging Finley's decisiveness greatly helped his cause.
With LSU at 9/40 on 3rd down over three games vs Missouri, Miss State and Vanderbilt (astonishing numbers) Orgeron and Ensminger were basing their decision on which freshman could muster enough 3rd down offense....and it appears T.J Finley is the choice.
One thing I don't understand:
Why does Coach Orgeron insist on saying "we want to play both" when to me, if T.J Finley is diming and vibing out there, don't you dare pull him out of the game, I don't care if the score is 57-0 in our favor...Finley needs every rep possible, just as Myles did coming into the season....
For the continuity of the team, LSU needs to stick with Finley through thick and thin until Myles Brennan comes back...I don't care about one or the other transferring...if they're geauxing into the QB battle thinking "If I don't win the job right now, I'm gonna transfer", then they shouldn't be playing for our program anyway.
Orgeron nor his staff can afford to send mixed signals during this "freshman quarterbacks controversy", especially considering the elevated talent levels of both prospects....
You could be choosing one player for potential who becomes a bust, while the "effort" guy comes out of the shadows and goes somewhere else to win a championship....never overlook anyone....that's exactly how LSU grabbed Joe Burrow, it's how Lincoln Riley dragged Oklahoma's 2019 corpse into the CFP (Jalen Hurts' transfer) etc upon etc...
If the Tigers have to say bon voyage to one of these freshmen quarterbacks in the future, it's going to be the guy forced to sit there with his helmet in his hands while the other geauxs out and beats South Carolina inside Death Valley...
Tomorrow is a big game....not only to keep LSU's Lloyd Christmas slim chances of staying in the SEC race alive or to instigate T.J Finley's future greatness, but also to send a statement of brutal intent and championship calculation to the entire college football world.
Finding out their impressive starting quarterback Myles Brennan's "abdominal tear" injury is far worse than first thought right as an NCAA witchhunt fell flat on LSU's doorstep....I felt so bad or Coach Ed Orgeron and his staff...most of all, I felt the worst for Myles.
After the hellish week LSU just experienced, a dominant showing vs South Carolina could solve a lot of current problems and potentially set the table for a Tigers resurgence.
For that Tigers revival, we need to see THESE things OR....LSU could be staring down a 1-3 record after 4 games vs Miss State, Vanderbilt, Missouri and South Carolina...not to sound doom and gloom and cheap, but just reading that line makes me sickened.
1. LET FINLEY FLY
Let T.J throw the ball around....all game...
Of course we all want to see the running game pick up steam, and of course T.J must rely on our backs (especially as passing game outlets), however....possessing a howitzer for a right arm and untouchable aerial weapons everywhere you look (Marshall, Gilbert, Boutte, Jenkins, Kirklin etc) Ensminger would be foolish to get conservative.
Mark my words:
If Steve Ensminger's play-calling becomes more careful, less aggressive and far too methodical, our offense's current passing success will go right down the toilet.
But I just can't see Ensminger growing conservative within this offensive system...he knows their multi-dimensional attack can work with any quarterback (especially after watching Myles break records his first 3 games).....
A slinger like Finley is tailor-made for this offensive system: not only does he have the arm to launch the ball from sideline to sideline with effortless ease, T.J can also make the throws, fitting darts into tight windows or hitting the defense over the top while on the run...we've seen Finley combine well with Terrace Marshall over the past day of practice....the young man can move.
We weren't given much access, yet we did get 15 minutes of footage....and the footage exclusively fixated on T.J Finley, showing the quarterback during goal-line and 3rd down drills. What we watched was extremely encouraging, from both T.J and Max. Both were smart and leaned on their best players, neither telegraphing their passes or Max's decisions to scurry with the ball.
In our previous piece on the freshmen quarterbacks, we picked Max as our choice for South Carolina starter, mostly due to his improving arm and rushing threat potentially handing our running backs a few yards of space; Although we chose Mad Max, we understand why T.J will be starting and we're 100% behind the Ponchatoula phenom.
But if we're going to run the ball all game, we might as well start Max Johnson, thus giving Will Muschamp's defense multiple rushing threats on every play;
Since LSU are shocking everyone by starting Finley, I really suspect we'll see the same 2019-2020 pedal to the metal passing attack from our Tigers, playing to freshman T.J Finley's pocket passing strengths for his debut....and with all seriousness, if Ensminger puts the blinders on and pretended T.J Finley was Myles Brennan, T.J could throw for 400 yards and a few touchdowns himself.
He has the talent.
LSU has the weapons.
All that's left?
Coaches putting players in the best position to make plays...
Let T.J throw the damn football.
2. & 3. AN ASS-KICKING DEFENSE / WHAT TO DO AT LINEBACKER
Maybe this should be #1....
T.J is a freshman and he'll do what he can, we're not expecting him to throw for 600 yards and 8 touchdowns, but if our defense plays like they did vs Missouri or Miss State, then we'll be lucky to leave Death Valley with a survivor's shootout win.
And if we watch a repeat of 600 passing yards, 40+ points at home, missed tackles, blown coverages, lack of complete and utter control (star-spangled by embarrassing performances across the board) then perhaps Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini should be fired...I don't say that lightly...
Anyone who's ever read our writings understands just how much I'm a fan of Bo Pelini and the hire, still....that wasn't a Bo Pelini defense out there...
When you see the same mistakes return again and again as mass confusion, missed tackles and blown coverages abound, you begin to seriously question what the hell is geauxing on.
Is this a Hitchcock film???
That's not a fun defense to watch unless they're creating turnovers or pressuring the quarterback (they have forced a lot of turnovers, 4 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries & 4 interceptions)...it doesn't make you feel good watching LSU defenders catch at the air...5 star guys completely bail on a play... their lack of pride must change.
This group should be a title-winning defense...are we playing the right players?
Is Pelini pushing the right buttons?
At LSU, one position movement, one personnel switch...one guy geauxing from offense to defense can make all the difference...
In fact, with a roster as loaded as Orgeron's Tigers, those random moves can unknowingly change a program's entire trajectory...just ask Jacoby Stevens (arrived as a wide receiver), Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Matt Mauck (2001 SEC title game after Rohan's injury) for the positive side...or from the Les Miles era, ask Ryan Perriloux or Russell Shephard for the bad side of playing on a team as stacked as LSU.
Instead, our defensive coaching went down the same path again....completing the definition of insanity for a critical, some say "CFP-ending" collapse of shocking proportions.
One embarrassment should've been enough...if it happens for a third time in 4 games against the weakest SEC opposition (and a schedule which will only increase in difficulty) you begin to wonder if the naysayers were right all along...if the game did pass the National Champion & Super Bowl Champion by when he was at Youngstown State for so long.
This week during practices, Pelini continued to institute some radical changes...just not in the manner you'd expect....
I won't highlight exactly what that is (we're not tipping off Muschamp, because I know you're reading this buddy), however I know this young defense wouldn't have had enough time to install these new adjustments without the luck of a Covid 19-assisted bye week.
I'm not saying Pelini constructed some defense resembling Russell Crowe's chalkboard in A Beautiful Mind and now demands his young unit speak in defensive tongues, but these subtle new adjustments will register as key shifts in momentum if executed properly.
Too many have focused on this defense adjusting from the 3-4 to the 4-3 as an overnight ease, but it wasn't....what position of the field would be most impacted by a switch from 3-4 to 4-3 formations?
The linebackers... Damone Clark is better suited to SAM linebacker: he can rack up the numbers and he's a phenomenal run stuffer, but he's a liability in coverage...we need to move him more to his strengths...disrupting the backfield.
I say switch Damone to SAM, keep Cox at WLL and then bring Jacoby Stevens in as the new MIC linebacker, using both free safeties Todd Harris (1 FF, 1 INT) and Mo Hampton in behind as two coverage safeties (Jordan Toles as well as Cam Lewis at strong safety are other options)...this lineup fits the circumstances we find ourselves in perfectly against high octane passing teams.....however, against South Carolina's vanilla pro-style attack, shouldn't this LSU defense turn into a bunch of Bayou Beasts and devour these Carolina roosters???
Yeah...that's what we thought about Miss State...a very one-dimensional offense in actuality, but we surrendered 623 passing yards and 44 points to a mutinous team who now share the same record as us....then you've got Missouri......a freshman roasting Louisiana State University corners like that???
We've said it before but we won't make the same mistake thrice with this defense until they play a lights out kickass game....there's so many individual young men on this squad who pack a mighty punch and seem to really deliver championship play-making ability...but as a collective, when the guy busts a 10 yard gain and this defense had him...he's surrounded, somehow, one by one all 5 or 6 guys cannot or would not make the tackle and the aimless 10 yard catch became a 50 yard play...
I could care less who plays or what new details are installed on the defense...Pelini can put in the same exact starting linebackers as Weeks 1-3...however, if those kind of defensive allowances resume at home vs South Carolina, this home audience will roast Bo Pelini back to the year 2007...
Some of his most cardinals sins includes blitzing way too many number unnecessarily, failing to rotate the safeties or linebackers if guys are missing tackles and allowing big plays, inability to change from man coverage to zone vs Miss State..."the little things"....
And if South Carolina devastate and annihilate such a talented mixed group of young and experienced Tigers, I may just be sick to my stomach with so much outraged disappointment I turn into the Kool-Aid man and run through the wall of our one bedroom apartment....never to be seen or heard from again.
4. FRESH BLOOD
Gross title, eh?
Yeah I dunno, it would gross me out if I were reading it, but writing it just feels kinda...
Anyway yes, Fresh Blood....We need to see our coaching staff rotating many different players into the game per certain scenarios tailored to fit their skills and the team's needs...if they haven't realized how dominant Jaquelin Roy is at this point, if Pelini isn't grasping just how damn good Ojulari is coming off the edge opposite Ali Gaye, then I cannot help him.
If Passing Game Coordinator Scott Linehan cannot understand how "slap yourself in the face duh it is" to have Arik Gilbert on the field for those four downs (even as a decoy with his minimal, but painful shoulder injury) and if he repeats the same kind of lunacy with personnel, we can't allow him to call 3rd down or red zone plays.
We can also rotate at linebacker, giving Devonta Lee, Josh White and Phillip Webb some much-needed debuts as Tigers already 4 games into the campaign, something I didn't expect whatsoever, even with the likelihood of a Cox-Clark starting LB combo.
It's modern football, you need as many bodies as possible to throw at the problem...although there are some players who must stay on the field at all costs:
Start Eli Ricks at corner, he's electric and Cor'dale Flott has struggled, Ward is just back and Eli has the "Eli of the Tiger" (I think nickelback may be Cor'dale's true position as he's been more impressive when stationed inside); Gaye and Ojulari at DE, Ika and Roy on the interior is a majestic combination built on speed, based on strength, and run on high octane versatility.
Starting Left tackle Dare Rosenthal has been suspended by Coach Orgeron for tomorrow's game and possibly further, and while so many outsiders point to this as a huge issue, I see it as more of a depth hit than anything...I actually prefer Cam Wire at left tackle.
Cam Wire was brilliant vs Vanderbilt and also made some incredible face-saving plays blocking other O-linemen's guys during Missouri (he was starting at left guard).
Pelini needs to have the nerve to move Jacoby Stevens to MIC linebacker and if he shows the nerve to do so, everything will be alright....
5. PLAY-CALLING / SWAG
In fact, just get out ahead of this right now, Coach Orgeron.
I think Steve Ensminger should be handling 3rd downs and red zone offense from now on anyway, right? I mean why not, the Bayou Gandalf was dialing up some absolute beauties throughout the first three games...it's just some plays are poorly executed, some work perfect just as they were drawn up and some become either an improvised mess or an Eddie Van Halen solo...
Ensminger was on a roll with both Joe Burrow and Myles Brennan...I hope this synchronicity develops between Finley and our offensive coordinator in his ear, but we also know T.J is just a freshman and putting such responsibility upon his shoulders can be irresponsible.
Wait a minute...if Ensminger can show ultimate confidence in T.J's passing abilities and our aggressive offense can continue to score points, this may just calm our defense down and help our guys focus on the task AT hand...beating Will Muschamp's South Carolina Gamecocks and evening it up at 2-2...a savage way to start the season, but a river LSU must cross with swagger, confidence and execution or our Tigers could end up 1-3.
PREDICTION: 45-25 LSU
LSU's defense are ragged at the beginning and end, but make colossal plays and play well to secure a big SEC win to get back to .500...
But the big story is the debut from freshman T.J Finley who we believe will have a very successful day throwing the football.
FINLEY: 321 3 TDs
TY DAVIS-PRICE: 2 TDs. 111 yards
OJULARI: 2 sacks, 4.5 TFL
MARSHALL: 2 TDs
GILBERT: 1 TD
STINGLEY: 1 INT RET FOR TD
RICKS: FR, 2 PD, 5 TACKLES
COX: 1 INT, 8 TACKLES
STEVENS: 1 FF, 1 SACK, 12 TACKLES
ROSENBERG: EJECTED AFTER CHALLENGING THE ENTIRE SOUTH CAROLINA BENCH AFTER A 110 YARD PUNT (😂😂😂)
BLACK LIVES MATTER
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
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