A couple of days before LSU played McNeese State, coach Ed Orgeron said exactly what he wanted to see from his team.
Very little had to do with winning, which was never in much doubt because of LSU’s size and speed. LSU needed to move on from its season-opening loss to UCLA and improve before its first Southeastern Conference game.
In order to do that, LSU’s defense had to cover crossing routes and stop the run, the two areas it struggled with the most against UCLA. On offense, Orgeron wanted a variety of runs and hoped to see his offensive line protect sophomore quarterback Max Johnson.
The Tigers clearly handled their concerns on defense against an overmatched opponent, allowing 147 total yards and maintaining a shutout late into the fourth quarter. The real test for that group will come later this season.
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But problems remained on offense. Even though it played without three starters and the top backup on the offensive line, LSU didn’t meet Orgeron’s goals in the 34-7 win. He said some version of, “We’ve got to get better,” throughout his postgame comments.
So as we rewatched the game, we focused on the offensive problems, what caused them and what LSU may try to do to fix the issues before the SEC schedule begins in two weeks.
LSU’s issues with pass protection began early. McNeese State brought five rushers at one point on the first drive and sacked Johnson, who tried to step up in the pocket but had nowhere to go. LSU ended up scoring on fourth down. The next three possessions ended without points.
Even when Johnson didn’t get sacked, he operated in a busy pocket. Pressure was an issue against UCLA because of the Bruins’ blitzes, which forced Johnson to backpedal and rush decisions. He finished 4 of 14 with an interception when pressured last weekend, according to the ESPN broadcast crew.
McNeese State couldn’t exploit LSU’s battered offensive line enough to win, but the Cowboys kept the score close far longer than anyone expected, able to compete with LSU's offensive line.
LSU wants to use a man-on-man blocking scheme so its wide receivers can stretch defenses, but the concept hasn’t worked through two weeks. One play late in the second quarter showed why.
LSU’s offense reminds me of that recent commercial where the guy shows his landlord a water stain on the ceiling.
LSU emptied the backfield on third-and-7 as it tried to extend its lead. McNeese State rushed six. LSU picked up five of them. One defender sprinted untouched between left tackle Xavier Hill and left guard Ed Ingram to sack Johnson. LSU settled for a field goal.
“All these routes and all these good receivers running down the field,” Orgeron said, “if we can’t protect the quarterback, it’s not going to work.”
Orgeron said LSU will have to adjust its blocking schemes by sliding the line or using tight ends and running backs to help protect Johnson. That will give the quarterback fewer receivers, but as Orgeron said, none of that matters if the routes never have time to develop.
“We want to get our athletes in space,” Orgeron said. “It’s just not working, so we have to look at it again. It’s all going to be about protection first. Whether it’s a tight end and a back, sliding the line, whatever it may be, we have to change it.”
UCLA’s defense forced LSU to abandon the run and use fewer plays. So Orgeron preached variety throughout the week. He wanted motions, shifts and different formations to spark the running game. He hoped more diverse calls would also help the offensive line by making LSU less predictable.
Offensive coordinator Jake Peetz listened. LSU’s second play from scrimmage was a toss sweep that gained 21 yards. The Tigers ran stretches, counters and jet sweeps to push the ball outside.
The calls were there, but the production didn’t follow. LSU’s offensive line — which played without left tackle Cam Wire, right guard Chasen Hines, right tackle Austin Deculus and top backup Anthony Bradford — struggled to reach the second level and block on the edges.
LSU won 34-7 as the defense dominated McNeese State, but it struggled offensively, doing little to assuage concerns about the offensive line and how the team will fare when it begins the Southeastern Conference schedule.
One sequence in the first quarter stood out. LSU ran a jet sweep with receiver Kayshon Boutte that gained 6 yards, then freshman running back Corey Kiner ran an outside zone for 3 yards.
On third down, Johnson tried quarterback sneak. McNeese State stuffed the attempt. LSU went for it on fourth down needing a foot-and-a-half. McNeese State clogged the gaps. Johnson fumbled on another sneak.
The Tigers finished with 103 net rushing yards. Two plays gained 42 of them. They'll have to establish the run moving forward.
Three defining stats
LSU finished with 16 tackles for loss, including eight sacks. The Tigers pressured McNeese State quarterback Cody Orgeron the entire game as they overpowered the Cowboys’ smaller offensive front.
As LSU’s shuffled offensive line struggled to create space, the Tigers averaged 2.9 yards per carry. They wanted to establish the run by varying calls. Though they used more sweeps and stretch plays, they didn’t control the line of scrimmage.
McNeese State had eight three-and-outs, unable to do anything on offense because of LSU’s suffocating defense. The Cowboys punted 12 times.
It was clear LSU would play without some starters when coach Ed Orgeron announced a few predetermined absences at the beginning of the week.
Players of the game
The freshman defensive tackle recorded his first career sack early in the first quarter. He added two more by the end of the game to lead the team. Smith, a former five-star recruit, is carving out a large role.
Anthony led the defensive effort along with Smith. The sixth-year defensive end finished with 2.5 sacks. Anthony now has 3.5 sacks this season, tied for the most in the Southeastern Conference.
When LSU’s offense stalled twice just past midfield, York gave the team points. The junior crushed a 55-yard field goal to set a Tiger Stadium record. Then he made a 56-yarder. York owns the three longest field goals in LSU history.