Watching LSU's loss to UCLA again two days later didn't make the team look any better. The Tigers struggled at the line of scrimmage, missed crossing routes, allowed explosive plays and didn't run the ball well.
The season opener could have helped announce LSU's return to championship contention and shake off the 5-5 season in 2020. Instead, the game revealed many of the same issues.
Before we turn our attention to LSU's next opponent, McNeese State, we reviewed the loss like we will every week throughout the season to better understand what happened and in this case, what needs to change moving forward.
1. Push missing at line of scrimmage
As much as football has become a spread out, high-scoring game, teams must still win at the line of scrimmage, and UCLA controlled both sides.
There had been concerns about LSU’s offensive line throughout fall camp. The starting five didn’t practice together until the week before the season opener because of various injuries. Coach Ed Orgeron admitted they would need time to gel.
But the offensive line struggled mightily in this game, particularly blocking the run. Junior Tyrion Davis-Price had seven yards on four carries at the end of the first quarter. LSU finished with 49 yards rushing on 25 carries.
LSU had to cycle linemen at times, which didn’t help. Starting left tackle Cam Wire left the game with a knee injury, according to the FOX broadcast crew, and he was eventually replaced by Charles Turner. Perhaps more time together will help the offensive line, but it wasn’t a good start. Orgeron questioned the physicality at the point of attack.
On the other side, UCLA created wide rushing lanes. One of the most glaring examples came at the start of the fourth quarter with LSU trailing 24-20.
The Bruins opened a gaping hole on the right side of the offensive line and reached the second level of LSU’s defense. Running back Zach Charbonnet cut back through the opening. He gained 43 yards. UCLA scored five plays later.
2. Crossing routes led to touchdowns
When asked after the game about LSU’s defensive issues, Orgeron mentioned crossing routes and missed assignments, saying “those things continue to haunt us and hurt us. Have to get them fixed.”
LSU had struggled to pick up crossing routes last season because its defenders didn't communicate well. Orgeron wanted to simplify the scheme under new coordinator Daronte Jones to help eliminate the missed assignments.
But LSU allowed two touchdown passes on crossing routes. The first resulted in UCLA's first score.
The Bruins had punted on their previous three drives, mostly contained throughout the first quarter. Then, tight end Greg Dulcich released across the field while the offensive line carried out a play-action fake in the opposite direction.
As Dulcich snuck through the defense, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson rolled to his right. LSU’s linebackers bit on the play fake, cornerback Eli Ricks covered a route in the flat and safety Todd Harris crept toward Thompson-Robinson, leaving Dulcich wide open. He scored a 75-yard touchdown.
Later, Thompson-Robinson waited for a crossing route to develop on a 14-yard touchdown throw.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of capping them and getting them fixed,” Orgeron said, “but, obviously, we’ve got to look at what we’re doing and eliminate those crossing routes and busted coverages, and why we busted them.”
PASADENA, Calif. — Throughout the busy, bumpy months leading up to this LSU football season, the storylines were numerous. And urgent.
3. Blitzes affected LSU's offense
UCLA wanted to blitz. It had shown the tendency last weekend against Hawaii. It continued to bring pressure against LSU, especially with the Tigers struggling to run the ball. And twice, the extra pass rushers prevented LSU from scoring touchdowns inside the red zone.
With LSU trailing 14-7 late in the second quarter, it drove to the 7-yard line. The Tigers ran three straight pass plays. The first two throws landed incomplete. On third down, the Bruins sent seven defenders. Three of them broke through.
LSU quarterback Max Johnson retreated, trying to buy time. He saw junior wide receiver Trey Palmer run toward the corner of the end zone. He almost completed the throw. But Johnson’s pass zipped behind Palmer as he threw off his back foot, and Palmer didn’t come down with the ball. LSU kicked a field goal.
In the third quarter, UCLA rushed six on third-and-2 from inside the red zone. LSU kept tight end Kole Taylor and Davis-Price in the backfield to help block.
Still, UCLA broke through as Johnson backpedaled, and he desperately threw the ball away with his back turned to the line of scrimmage to avoid a sack. LSU settled for a field goal.
A rundown of LSU's opponent for its home opener, the McNeese State Cowboys ...
UCLA finished with five quarterback hurries. It seemed like more, as Johnson was under pressure the entire game. LSU actually recorded more sacks (four) and tackles for loss (nine) than UCLA (two sacks and four tackles for loss), but the Bruins applied more consistent pressure.
The Bruins recorded 210 yards rushing on 47 carries. The majority of the production came from Charbonnet and Brittain Brown, who combined to average 7.7 yards per rush.
One of the areas LSU struggled in the most last year was allowing explosive plays. Orgeron stressed throughout the offseason the need to eliminate them. But UCLA gained at least 10 yards on 17 plays.
A night that could have inspired confidence as LSU tried to rebound from a 5-5 season ended in frustration as recurring issues led to a 38-27 season-opening loss.
1. Greg Dulcich
The 6-foot-4 tight end only caught three passes, but he recorded 117 yards. Dulcich’s first touchdown sparked UCLA’s offense. All three receptions gained at least 19 yards.
2. Zach Charbonnet
The Michigan transfer finished with 152 total yards. He averaged 10.6 yards per carry. He recorded 117 yards rushing, making him the only player to eclipse the threshold.
3. Kayshon Boutte
Boutte was one of the few highlights for LSU. The sophomore wide receiver caught nine passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns, making him the first player in school history to catch three touchdowns in back-to-back games.