LSU’s offense reminds me of that recent commercial where the guy shows his landlord a water stain on the ceiling.
The landlord’s solution is to slap some paint over the peeling, molding spot and pretend that solves the problem.
The ceiling is LSU’s offense. The Tigers painted over some of their problems revealed in last Saturday’s 38-27 season-opening loss at UCLA during Saturday night’s 34-7 throttling of McNeese State in Tiger Stadium, but the stain is still there.
The trouble spot is LSU’s offensive line. And the Tigers have a very low ceiling for the rest of this season if they can’t get it corrected pronto.
In some ways, things went from bad to worse for LSU from Week 1 to Week 2 on the line through no fault of anyone. Three starters — left tackle Cameron Wire, right tackle Austin Deculus and right guard Chasen Hines — were sidelined with injuries. LSU was still able to beat McNeese State by overwhelming the Cowboys with talent and a defense that definitely made strides, allowing just 142 total yards with eight sacks and a stunning 16 tackles for loss.
But for the makeshift offensive line it was more of the same as it was out on The Coast. Mucho trouble prying open holes for the running backs. Just as much trouble forming a pocket around starting quarterback Max Johnson and backup Garrett Nussmeier, who got more mileage with titillated LSU fans in going 3 of 10 for 19 yards (with several drops) than any Tiger quarterback ever.
“It’s not good enough,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “It starts with protection first. We have to protect the quarterback and we have to get better.”
LSU’s offensive line situation has frankly been a mess for months.
Former offensive line coach James Cregg was fired in June over admitted NCAA recruiting violations. Orgeron made a call to Brad Davis, then at Arkansas, to join his staff.
It’s been a struggle since the start of fall camp for LSU’s offensive linemen to find a comfort level with their new tutor. One player recently even acknowledged that the difference in Cregg and Davis’ styles was a major adjustment. Alarm bells rang after LSU’s first scrimmage when Orgeron said the defensive line dominated (son Cody, McNeese’s quarterback, could give that an amen). But you still figured this veteran group would find its footing in time to beat UCLA.
It did not, and was a major reason why LSU lost to the Bruins. The running game wilted in the Rose Bowl, netting just 48 yards. And Johnson was either running for his life or improvising to get passes off most of the night.
Orgeron should shudder to think how LSU’s offensive line might look if the Tigers didn’t have four of their five starters return this season (the fifth, oft-troubled left tackle Dare Rosenthal, was sent packing and would up at Kentucky).
The struggles continued against McNeese, abetted by the wholesale substitutions. Still, these are highly touted players on LSU’s line, players totally out of McNeese’s class to recruit. It should still have been advantage LSU by a wide margin.
It was not. We submit an anatomy of how LSU’s running game performed in the first quarter alone:
Gain of 2.
Gain of 21 (a toss left to another exciting freshman, Armoni Goodwin, on the kind of outside run the Tigers never showed against UCLA).
Gain of 3.
Gain of 1.
Gain of 1.
Loss of 1.
Gain of 3.
Loss of 1 (Johnson’s fumbled snap when LSU went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 44).
Goodwin probably would have helped elevate the running game numbers, but unfortunately he suffered a sprained ankle and had only one more carry for 2 yards.
Tyrion Davis-Price also broke a 21-yard run to the McNeese 7 in the second quarter after a Cowboys’ fumble, setting up a Johnson-to-Kayshon Boutte touchdown pass, on a hole wide enough for those debris trucks now roaming Southeast Louisiana after Hurricane Ida. But mostly the running game was a slog through molasses for the Tiger ball carriers until McNeese started to wear down in the second half. Freshman Corey Kiner’s weaving 23-yard touchdown run to put LSU up 34-0 in the fourth quarter was the coup de grace on a 126-yard rushing night (LSU had just 306 yards total).
“We really should have put up 60 points," said wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, who had two touchdowns but just five catches for 31 yards on eight targets, something else Coach O said needed to improve.
Successful football requires successful blocking and tackling. Again, consider the competition, but the Tigers produced disruptive, confidence-building numbers on defense.
The blocking still needs a lot of work, and it must come quickly. Central Michigan, next Saturday’s opponent, only lost 34-24 at Missouri last week. Then LSU goes back on the road to Mississippi State.
“We need to take the next jump next week in a lot of areas,” Orgeron said.
It’s not a time for a hasty lick of paint. A real remodeling job is needed, and it starts with LSU’s O-line. If not, the ceiling won’t be the only sign of trouble. The whole building could come tumbling down.