NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two former LSU Tigers were among those watching Saturday in a state of shock and awe as their former team out relay-raced Vanderbilt 66-38.
Former Tiger quarterback Zach Mettenberger watched as Joe Burrow threw six touchdown passes, erasing the LSU single-game record of five TD passes they both shared, and thought how this is how modern college football is played and that the Tigers are playing it.
Ex-LSU kicker David Browndyke watched the points pile up on the scoreboard like the national debt clock and thought how his late coach Bill Arnsparger, one of the best defensive coaches of all time, would have been none too thrilled.
This season has brought a brave new world of LSU football, and four games in the adjustment period is still an evolving thing.
A few years ago this is a game the Tigers would have won by something like the 27-3 score they hung on Vandy their last time here in 2010.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase turned in record-breaking performances in a 66-38 rout of Vanderbilt in the Tigers'…
Between visits to the Music City (LSU was also here for the 2014 Music City Bowl, losing 31-28 to Notre Dame) the Tigers’ offensive tempo has gone from adagio (slow and stately) to presto (very fast). And for better, or worse, the LSU defense has been swept along with it.
In other words, in a very short and jarring period of time, LSU has become something that looks a lot like Oklahoma, a team that can’t be stopped but has a hard time stopping anyone else.
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It is one thing when Texas hangs 38 points on LSU. It’s another when it's winless, relatively hapless Vanderbilt. It was a point total Saturday that included a pair of defensive touchdowns by the Commodores — one on a fumbled exchange by Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the other on a late pick-six thrown by Myles Brennan. But there were still blown assignments and sloppy tackling enough to deepen the frown lines in Ed Orgeron’s tanned face.
“We had some pretty plays and some uncharacteristically bad plays,” Coach O said.
To be fair, the Tigers have been mighty hampered by defensive injuries. Four defensive starters sat out this one: safety Todd Harris (out for the season), defensive ends Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan and outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson. Orgeron said LSU basically had to start a second-string defensive line. And losing linebacker Michael Divinity halfway through did nothing to help the cause.
Going faster on offense is also a contributing factor. But to Orgeron, a career defensive coach, it doesn’t nearly coverup all the Tigers’ defensive sins.
“We’re not happy at all,” he said. “That first drive we were playing four technique and were in the ‘B’ gap and we had guys jumping in the ‘A’ gap.” And the faster-paced offense, he said, “has nothing to do with missed tackles. It has nothing to do with our offense.”
LSU went to Vanderbilt with the same things they've brought all season: Big offense, spotty defense.
It’s part of the dizzying reidentification of LSU football this season, a season in which the chronic concerns have shifted so quickly and completely from offense to defense.
The offense, whose point total also benefited from a blocked punt scoop and score by Micah Baskerville (he had himself one heck of a day on special teams) still poured on 59 points of its own in the highest-scoring regulation output ever by LSU in an SEC game (this is leaving aside the 74-72 seven-overtime loss at Texas A&M last November). That bested LSU’s season scoring average coming in of 55 points per game. The Tigers have poured on 231 points in their first four games, LSU’s most prolific offensive start since 1930.
“We’re starting to see what we can do in every game versus every team,” Burrow said. “This is who we are as an offense. We’re going to throw it to open up the running lanes. I’m happy with where we are.”
It’s an offense that gives LSU a chance to win every game on its schedule, including that one Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But if you think LSU can play defense like this and contain Alabama’s brilliant passing attack, think again.
That said, there is still enough time and still enough pieces to work into a coherent whole to hold off on passing judgment against the Tigers’ defense. National college football observers won’t fret as much over LSU’s defense as the folks on the home front. They’ll be dazzled by Burrow’s half-dozen touchdown throws.
This is fashion in college football, the de rigueur way of doing business. And it’s certainly a good day for a Heisman contender’s stats. This is how Oklahoma quarterbacks keep winning the sport’s biggest prize. They get in scoring extravaganzas like this and the stats pile up.
“All the best defenses have a game like this,” said safety JaCoby Stevens, who had a late interception to thrill the home folks from nearby Murfreesboro. “We have two weeks before Utah State (on Oct. 5) to fix that. These guys are really good coaches. It’s really too much time not to get better.”
It sounds reasonable, especially considering how good LSU usually is on defense.
But this season LSU football has been turned on its ear. Black is white. Up is down. And it may very well be true all season long that the best defense may be a good offense.