By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
On Saturday night in Nashville, Orgeron's 2020 Tigers sealed their first victory of the season following a 41-7 domination of Vanderbilt, Myles Brennan showing poise, doses of swagger, evading pressure like a heathen, showing fantastic body language (even when struggling) and most of all: he was tossing the ball around, unloading 4 years of frustration with gutty throws.
The erasing of Vanderbilt was exactly what this team needed: We know this collection of players possess boundless talents, but would they have the mental toughness to respond after such a disappointing start to the season, seemingly "burdened" by expectation?
We received our resounding answer from these tough Tigers, in fact, if a few receivers don't drop the ball or you remove Myles' bone-headed interception, LSU would've administered a medieval 60 point beatdown.
Instead we'll make do with a furious 34 point destruction of a Vanderbilt team which was hyped all week:
While all headlines will be on The Real Myles Brennan standing up, we feel the true key must be the improved "edge" along James Cregg's offensive line, demonstrating exactly what kind of Grade A developmental coach the Super Bowl and National champion has always been.
Our offensive line unlocked Brennan's passing rhythm, refused to allow a sack (only 3 QB hits), and (led by starting debutant Cam Wire's brutal instigation) Cregg's men established LSU's efficient ground attack behind John Emery Jr.
Before the game, we were told about the intensity of Vandy's defensive line, the quality of the Commodores' pass rush, Derrick Mason's greatness etc ...however, LSU's offensive line assumed maximum command of (Orgeron protege) Kenechi Udeze's LBs and Vandy's "bend don't break" D-Line.
Instead, 2nd string Left Tackle Cam Wire set the physical tone: obliterating and controlling Vandy's DEs with ease, rising ahead of Dare Rosenthal on the pecking order after his agile edge play freed John Emery's silky moves.
Yet another great showing came from guard Ed Ingram as well, although he left the game hobbling towards the sideline...a definite worrying sign.
Right Tackle Austin Deculus stood tall as the senior powerhouse dominated throughout the contest, burying fools in the trenches; center Liam Shanahan's communication with Myles has solidified, weathering a few sloppy 1st quarter false start penalties (due to the weird canned crowd noise).
Thanks to Cregg's O-Line instituting demoralizing savagery along the trenches (and Chris Curry's absence due to an undisclosed illness) running back John Emery took over the game early and often, averaging 11.0 yards per carry for 3 quarters (finishing with 8.6), snagging his first career 100 yard day (103 rushing yards from 12 carries) all capped by a walk-in touchdown from 15 yards out....a blistering announcement from #4....a statement game which drew the praise of Derek Ponamsky following Emery Jr's score.
Johnny be good....Johnny be daaaaamn good....and tonight was his coming out party. After he arrived on campus as a much-hyped freshman, Emery's single-eye vision caused him struggles during 2019 (still scoring 4 touchdowns in very limited time).
Undergoing surgery to repair his vision in January, Emery's already showcasing incendiary flair, primal home run-hitting moves combined with violent running between the tackles....we felt he was gone on a few runs before Vanderbilt's helpless defenders eventually caught up with him.
Our question to you fans, respond on our Twitter, Facebook, at the bottom of this page:
Has LSU just found their feature back?
Ty Davis-Price produced flashes and will be a big weapon geauxing forward; But on this night, Faulk & Ensminger stuck with the hot hand...this is the pattern of our rushing attack:
We're not always going to give you all three backs....if one or two are enough and they look like busting runs loose, Ensminger and Faulk are riding with whomever is the raging bull at the time....still, we should be looking for matchups to get the best out of each dynamic running back.
But the headlines are quite rightly geauxing to be focused on Myles Brennan and damn right...the kid just went through hell last week, hopefully blocking out the negativity swirling around his spot in the driver's seat....and we're not just talking about the college football mainstream...many LSU fans panicked on Myles Brennan...and panicked is putting it nicely.
Sure, he's nowhere near the finished product....yet after back to back 300+ yard games featuring 7 TD passes, 2 flukey interceptions and 1 true Gong Show thud vs Vandy, Brennan rebounded in a huge way on Saturday night in Nashville...and just as we suspected, the lack of Burrow jerseys and 2019-spoiled fans helped Brennan orchestrate the show.
We saw through Myles Brennan for the second week in a row and once again, those promising flashes from Mississippi State were fully maximized by our junior quarterback tonight:
Linehan and Ensminger involved the quick passing game early and it wasn't long before Brennan whipped a pass out wide to Kirklin, the speedy receiver (ex corner) beating players for 12 yards as he had the week prior on the same play.
Although that screen would be Kirklin's only grab of Week 1, Ensminger figured "if it ain't broke" and dialed the same play again in succession, first Kirklin gaining the aforementioned 12 yards before the senior caught another screen, following blocks as he zoomed into the end zone.
Holding a 7-0 lead, Brennan endured 3rd down struggles after Jaray Jenkins dropped a wide open 1st down, though the sophomore would atone later on....still without a 3rd down conversion for a game and a half straight, LSU's offense were stationed in the red zone, 3rd and 8 needing a spark.
Suddenly, Brennan took a quick drop and without hesitation delivered a cruise missile pass through two DBs and straight into the hands of Terrace Marshall, the receiver grabbing his 3rd TD of the season....it was a hell of a way for Brennan to end a losing streak, immediately winning over teammates.
On the next drives, he found a rhythm, hitting Gilbert, Boutte, Jenkins, Palmer & Emery etc for quick slants, grabbing a first down on nearly every completion.
In totality, Brennan completed a pass to 11 different receivers, 8 catching 2+ receptions and all averaging more than 10.8 yards per grab and 14.7 per completion as an offense...like a true gunslinger quarterback, Myles wasn't thinking twice, he was trusting his guys out there tonight and his lack of hesitation paid dividends.
He took adversity on the chin and responded, too: after Brennan threw a cheap pick with a bad overthrow on a dig route, Vandy scored to cut the lead to 14-7; Courtesy of Ensminger's fatherly trust, Myles' Hair Of The Dog mentality came out, he bit the bullet, Ensminger called the same exact dig route, and this time Brennan caressed the ball between defenders for his main man Marshall to haul away, streaking through the middle of the field for a long touchdown answer....
Just like 2019 LSU, our 2020 Tigers boast a high octane attack capable of scoring at any time.
Later in the 4th, Brennan never took his foot off the gas until the final drive, and in doing so, the junior suffered a vicious shot right in the chops on an outrageous flea flicker touchdown pass to Jontre Kirklin.
Perhaps LSU's most swaggering and definitive snap of the night, Myles displayed absolute pocket presence, fitting the ball with exacting, surgical precision as he was smashed into the backfield, Kirklin and Brennan navigating the tiny 2 yard window in ridiculous fashion...
We get it....he should be lighting up Vandy....but amid this current uncertainty of 2020, nothing is guaranteed...Miss State lit up LSU for 44 and just coughed up a loss 21-14 to Arkansas...a team which refused to win a single SEC game for 3 years...
Saturday night in Nashville was about building Brennan's confidence and most importantly, the team's confidence in him.
"They never stopped believing in Myles," an unnamed LSU staffer told us. "Everyone saw the tape...everyone made mistakes last week...this was about getting right."
A big part of "getting right" had to be the middle finger'd answer from Bo Pelini's defense, holding Vandy to 7 points, 3.9 yards per play, only scoring once from 3 red zone opportunities, forcing 2 interceptions for the second straight game and continuing their leviathan pass rush from last week (pressuring Seal once in every two pass attempts).
Our defense posted 8 tackles for loss as Travez Moore, Andre Anthony and Apu Ika collected LSU's trio of sacks. Elsewhere, freshmen B.J Ojulari (2 QB hits, 4 Pressures) and Jaquelin Roy (2 contributed mightily up front, disrupting Ken Seal's every move....
The Vandy quarterback made gutsy plays, Marlow, Wakefield and their other backs ran for 153 yards on the Tigers, yet these big plays never led anywhere.
Pelini's defense consumed Vanderbilt, Andre Anthony (2 QB hits, 4 Pressures, 1 sack 1 PD) and Ali Gaye (2 QB hits, 4 pressures, 3 forced incompletions) running the edges for 60 straight minutes as Ika and Roy equally bruised the interior.
The secondary was night and day from Week 1, trending up from 623 yards vs Miss State to Ken Seal's paltry 113....proving the loss of #24 (backed by a myriad of injuries) vs the Air Raid offense was just a perfect recipe for disaster:
The Best DB in the universe, Derek Stingley Jr, returned and took away 3/4 of the field, deflecting one red zone shot & earning a rare pass interference flag on his two targets (his 2nd ever PI flag for LSU)....regardless of his DBU ghosting of Vandy, Stingley Jr's biggest contribution on Saturday night resides in his controversial punt returner role.
Though LSU fans will always be justifiably worried about injuries, Stingley's brilliance on special teams fortified the Tigers' likely victory, Stingley Jr registering 92 return yards including a 58 yard scamper which set up an LSU score (CRAZY STAT: Derek's 92 yards were good for second on LSU's all-purpose yardage list, trailing only John Emery Jr's 137!!! Incredible!!!) ;
Just as we'd hoped Jay Ward was rested and (as we'd predicted) Todd Harris / Mo Hampton split time effectively at free safety (Harris intercepting his second career pass, slipping in front of a loose Seal throw in the red zone, killing a strong Vandy drive);
Meanwhile, Eli Ricks earned equal playing time alongside Cordale Flott (who's 4 solo tackles, 2 forced incompletions and 2 TFL were impressive), although it was Ricks who stole the DBU highlight of the night for the second week in a row, juggling his second INT of the season!
I felt he would grab another interception due to Seal's terror of throwing Stingley's way and we were correct, Eli making a near carbon copy pick vs Miss State, this time adjusting to a bobbling pass and ripping it into his chest...(in his 2020 Profile, we projected 4 INTs for the freshman, a number I defy anyone else to prove they predicted)...
Despite our ingrained belief in the Mater Dei stunner, we didn't anticipate Ricks to be given such opportunities so early in the campaign...and after being the catalyst for LSU's week 1 third quarter comeback, Eli assisted our offense in stamping an authoritative statement again.
"This one counts!" Jacoby Stevens told Eli after his 2nd pick, our defensive overlord alluding to last week's INT during the Miss State loss, shaving off some of Eli's shine with a stern intensity....after all, Jacoby knows how to intercept the football (see below):
Putting the entire defense on (what Stevens called) "Punishment" the past 7 days worked beautifully: our incredible, exciting defensive unit executing at a high level.
We just felt our first goose bumps of what could be another championship-level Pelini defense...this group has already forced 6 turnovers this season and with Jacoby Stevens as their Burrow, Pelini-D 2020 looks ready to change every game on the schedule.
So...a night of feel good, kick ass LSU football has ignited our players' confidence, calmed a panicking fanbase and proves the toughness this team is made of....BUT....
This is Vanderbilt...we have work to do...just as Myles said walking off the field, showing his first big moment of swagger by confidently, casually declaring "that's how it's done...gotta get back to work..." we have a date @ #3 Florida two weeks from now:
Week four's wild upcoming night in the Swamp will indicate the true character of where this team is at when it comes to repeating as National Champions...but right now, the barometer for LSU tells us this:
This team know they control their destiny; Our squad have far more belief in each other than even Tiger fans currently do; and while this team may have been sucker-punched coming outta the gates, they're still standing.
BY LONN PHILLIPS
COPYRIGHT 2020 UNINTERRUPTED WRITINGS INC LLC
SHOUTOUTS: Jontre Kirklin on his career day! Myles Brennan for refusing to fold and Matt Moscana's weekend hilarity.