Once they returned from Los Angeles last weekend, LSU’s football coaches reviewed the tape, a weekly task the day after a game. As they watched, all the issues that led to LSU’s season-opening 38-27 loss to UCLA glared on the screen.
The film confirmed what they saw in real time. LSU struggled along the line of scrimmage, failed to effectively run the ball, allowed too many explosive plays, was susceptible to crossing routes and missed blitzes.
“We spent a lot of time on Sunday going through those things, and we've got to eliminate those things,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “There's a lot of things we could have eliminated as coaches, and we didn't do it.”
As he had after the game, Orgeron took responsibility on behalf of the coaching staff for the loss, one that changed the outlook of LSU’s season as the Tigers try to rebound from a 5-5 campaign and return to the upper echelon of college football.
LSU can still complete a successful year, but now issues loom over almost every part of the team. Whether or not the Tigers fix the problems that arose against UCLA will define the rest of the season, which continues this weekend against McNeese State.
Linebacker Jared Small, a former walk-on who asserted himself as a potential starter during preseason practice, will miss the season with a knee injury, coach Ed Orgeron confirmed.
“Most of the mistakes,” Orgeron said, “can be fixed by coaching.”
One of the most glaring issues appeared along the line of scrimmage as LSU struggled to run block and pick up blitzes. It also allowed 210 yards rushing.
With the offensive line, Orgeron said LSU’s coaches have to help the players by using a more diverse set of runs. Orgeron said the Tigers identified a core set of five running plays last spring they wanted to use through different motions and formations. More would be implemented depending on the game plan. But UCLA’s blitz packages and stunts caused LSU to simplify its selection.
The decision had an adverse effect. LSU didn’t offer a variety of looks, allowing UCLA to key on runs as the Tigers already struggled to block. LSU abandoned the run for stretches. It finished with 49 net yards on 25 carries. Orgeron said LSU focused part of its meetings Sunday on changing the run calls.
“We need to help them out in the variety of runs that we run,” Orgeron said. “If you only run one or two runs, people are going to key in on them. They know what you're running. They're going to overload the box.
“I think the more we can get the ball outside, the more we can have gap schemes and the more we can help our offensive linemen out, the better we're going to be. I think it starts with us as coaches. We've got to help them out.”
At least five players, including both of LSU’s starting offensive tackles, have been ruled out of Saturday’s home opener in Tiger Stadium agai…
Similarly in the passing game, Orgeron said LSU has to better protect quarterback Max Johnson. The sophomore played under pressure the entire game, often forcing him to backpedal away from blitzes. The havoc affected his accuracy and timing with receivers. He appeared hesitant.
"It's not his first start, but it's his first time he's the man," Orgeron said. "He's the quarterback. We're going to give him time to get better, but he needs to improve."
But this week, LSU will have to do all of that without its starting tackles. Left tackle Cam Wire and right tackle Austin Deculus are unavailable, Orgeron said without sharing the reason. Both players appeared to suffer injuries against UCLA, though Deculus returned to the game.
When Wire left the field, LSU eventually settled on sophomore Charles Turner at left tackle. Orgeron mentioned Turner and sophomore Anthony Bradford, who started at right guard, as players who need to step up in their teammates' absences. LSU may also play some underclassmen as the Tigers test their depth, one of the biggest preseason concerns with this team.
“We cannot let our quarterback get hit,” Orgeron said. “We've got to have short, easy throws and put the ball in our playmakers' hands in space and let them make plays.”
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.
On defense, Orgeron said LSU has to stop the run. The staff also had an “extensive meeting” on crossing routes, a concept that has beaten LSU since last season and led to explosive plays. The Tigers allowed two touchdowns on crossing routes against UCLA. Orgeron said the Bruins showed schemes LSU hadn’t seen on tape or showed its players in practice.
In response after re-watching the game, Orgeron said LSU developed drills designed to cover the crossing routes the team has seen. He added the coaching staff tweaked a couple calls and formations to address crossing routes, but solving the problem completely may take time as new defensive coordinator Daronte Jones and the players learn more about one another. Jones had never called a game.
“They were showing some different keys that were putting them in a confusing situation that was allowing those crossing routes,” Orgeron said. “We looked at it, and we looked at the terminology of what we're doing. We fixed a couple things this week. We made some adjustments. If they get that look again, hopefully we can cover them.”
Throughout his remarks, Orgeron came back to coaching. He thought the players displayed enough effort. He wished LSU had coached them better since the beginning of preseason practice. That way, when LSU had to watch the film the day after the game, it didn't need to identify so many mistakes.
“That falls on me,” Orgeron said. “But all the things we saw on tape — we spent eight hours on the tape on Sunday — every one can be fixed.”