Cut down by a 29-0 shutout in Tiger Stadium, LSU's offensive numbers plummeted after the Tigers got the business end of the Alabama buzz saw.
It was the second time they were shut out by the Crimson Tide with Steve Ensminger as offensive coordinator. In 2016, when Ensminger served as the interim offensive coordinator following Les Miles' firing, Alabama beat LSU 10-0.
The Tigers' most recent loss to No. 1 Alabama did not do much to alter head coach Ed Orgeron's public support of Ensminger, who's in his first full season running the offense.
On Monday, Orgeron said Ensminger, himself a former LSU quarterback, had his worth this season in LSU's 22-21 win over then-No. 8 Auburn, when the Tigers overcame an 11-point deficit to win on a game-winning field goal.
Orgeron also noted LSU's 36-16 win over then-No. 2 Georgia, when the Tigers recorded 475 total yards of offense against a Bulldogs team that entered the game with the nation's seventh-ranked total defense.
"I think (Ensminger's) done an excellent job," Orgeron said. "For us to beat Georgia by 20 points, I thought it was a great game plan against Georgia. It was excellent. ... I think he's done a tremendous job there. Steve's a Tiger, and I'm very pleased with his work."
Some questions amid the rubble of LSU’s 29-0 loss Saturday to No. 1 Alabama:
Orgeron's words echoed the praise he gave Ensminger at the start of preseason camp, telling the Baton Rouge Rotary Club that in Ensminger's time as 2016 offensive coordinator, "all he did was set records."
That season, Ensminger's offense set seven offensive school records in eight games, including most yards gained in a game (Derrius Guice, 285, against Texas A&M).
Even with those victories over Auburn and Georgia, LSU's offensive numbers were not impressive entering Saturday's blockbuster matchup with Alabama. LSU ranked 60th in the nation in scoring offense (30.4 points per game) and 86th in total offense (383.6 yards per game).
The offense had relied on steady runs and short passes — at times out of an up-tempo pace — that set up explosive plays downfield. It was effective against Auburn and Georgia.
Quarterback Joe Burrow threaded a 71-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Dillon between a cluster of Auburn defenders, which initiated the comeback victory. Against Georgia, Burrow threw three passes of more than 35 yards, and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a 47-yard run that set up LSU's first touchdown of the game.
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Alabama's defense — ranked 10th in the nation in scoring defense (15.9 points per game) entering Saturday's game — all but eliminated LSU's explosive plays. The longest play, 30 yards, came on the Tigers' final drive of the game, when Burrow, wrapped up by a defender, flipped a check-down pass to Edwards-Helaire, who reversed field and broke loose on the broken play.
LSU averaged 3.26 yards per play in the loss, and its 196 total yards were the fewest since Ensminger's offense recorded 125 in a 10-0 loss to Alabama in 2016.
"(Ensminger) was disappointed," Orgeron said. "Obviously very disappointed. There was nobody that wants to do it better than Steve and wants to try. But he was very disappointed, obviously."
So how did Alabama shut down LSU?
Orgeron, Burrow and leading receiver Justin Jefferson each said Monday that the Tide played more zone coverage than LSU anticipated. The coverage did three things:
- It took away deep passes by playing Alabama defensive backs off the wide receivers, giving them enough space for a head start. Burrow completed just one downfield pass longer than 20 yards — a 23-yard post to Jefferson, when LSU was already down 22-0 at the end of the third quarter.
- It took kept Burrow from completing short crossing routes to wide receivers and tight ends. Jefferson said the Alabama linebackers dropped under their crossing routes, which was apparent when he caught an 8-yard slant in the second quarter a split second before getting tackled by an inside linebacker. Alabama defensive ends also prepared for the quick slants. Anfernee Jennings batted a Burrow slant at the line of scrimmage on LSU's first drive. Then, in the second quarter, Isaiah Buggs sensed he was being cut blocked (an attempt to clear a passing lane) and raised his arms to deflect Burrow's pass.
- It indicated Alabama was willing to risk letting LSU wide receivers have more space to develop routes, because the Crimson Tide believed its pass rush would get to Burrow quickly enough before anything developed. The pass rush did. Burrow hardly had any time all night, getting sacked a season-high five times.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron was straight and to the point after the Tigers' 29-0 loss to Alabama on Saturday, saying his team's talent on the offensi…
Orgeron said the adjustments LSU made on offense didn't work. Neither he or Burrow said what adjustments had been made. Orgeron did say that Esminger "was kind of mad" at Burrow, saying "he needs to be a little more patient."
"I said, 'It's a little tough down there to be patient, you know he was under duress most of the night,’ ” Orgeron said. "(Burrow) needs to learn how to hang in there, but I think for the most part he was."
"You kind of just have to feel the game," Burrow said. "I talk about that a lot: feeling what kind of game it has to be, and Saturday was a game where I had to get the ball out of my hands quicker than I would have liked to. And that's fine. I just wasn't able to find guys as quickly as I would have liked to."
It isn't the first time Burrow's been critiqued for taking too much time before a throw.
Orgeron said part of the reason Burrow was sacked twice Sept. 8 against Southeastern Louisiana was because he held the ball too long.
Defensive pressure has only increased since LSU's 27-19 loss at Florida on Oct. 6, and Burrow threw four interceptions and no touchdowns in the past four games.
LSU will not face a defense that ranks as high as Alabama's for the rest of the regular season.
The Tigers close the season with Arkansas (101st, 33.7 points allowed per game), Rice (121st, 38.5 ) and Texas A&M (33rd, 22.2).
Arkansas used to be a hangover game for LSU. Recently, it's been more of a cure for what ails the Tigers.