BATON ROUGE, La. — Four years ago, I worked as a youth football coach.
One summer morning, a kid who couldn’t have been a day over 11 years old asked me why I cared so much about offense but never talked about defense. So I told him offense is for thinkers. Offense is where you get to be in control and know where you’re going and decide how the play is going to look.
Defense, I continued, is for reactors. There’s no room for thinking when you’re playing defense. It’s a game of instinct, of guessing wrong and guessing right. More often than not, good defenders are good guessers. They feel their way to the ball like a police dog sniffing for clues. But sometimes, if you’re one of the really, really good ones, you don’t have to guess. You just know.
In short, Jamal Adams is really, really good.
As usual, LSU has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to defensive talent. But Saturday night belonged to Adams. He recorded 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, a forced fumble and recovered a fumble, but even that stat line doesn’t do him justice.
Adams’ starting position is generally 8-10 yards off the line of scrimmage, just like a traditional safety. But Adams isn’t back there to play centerfield. There are very few players who can read a ball-carrier’s eyes like Adams can. Watch him closely on that forced fumble. At the snap of the ball, he doesn’t even move. He lurks, waiting to see which player has the ball. Then he attacks, aggressively, like a snake releasing itself from its coil to surprise its prey.
As much respect as Kendell Beckwith deserves for his 15-tackle performance (more on him later), Adams is the no-doubt MVP of Saturday’s game. For a safety to take a team out of its passing game, that’s one thing. But for a safety to shut down a rushing attack? That’s special.
The new (and improved?) offensive line
Going back to the point of thinkers and reactors, perhaps no position group gets less credit for being as intellectually intensive as the offensive line. It’s almost amazing that LSU, which started three offensive linemen against Southern Miss at positions that they did not start at against Missouri, had a better than average offensive line day.
For the most part, the guys in new positions played well. Left guard Maea Teuhema, who had been starting at right tackle, was an absolute mauler Saturday, using his size to an extreme advantage, especially when blocking on the perimeter. Ethan Pocic, who bumped outside to right tackle from his usual post as center, thrived in pass protection with the extra space he was afforded. And while new center Andy Dodd does need to improve a little on pull plays, he controlled the point of attack well by creating creases up the middle for Derrius Guice to hit.
And on the rare occasion when the offensive line did slip up, the fault actually belonged to the guys who have experience.
The man circled in yellow in that screenshot is left tackle K.J. Malone. This play, which came on the first drive of Saturday’s game, ends in a sack. And it’s mostly Malone’s fault.
Offensive linemen, especially tackles and guards, are taught to protect their inside gaps first in pass protection before looking outside. But Malone’s eyes, illustrated in red, are fixated on an outside rusher. It seems that he believes that the linebacker at the top of the screen is going to blitz, and tight end Colin Jeter will have to pass the defensive end with whom he is engaged off to Malone.
However, if Malone had swiveled his head into the yellow track, he would’ve noticed that he left the B gap, or the lane between the guard and tackle, completely vacant. Southern Mississippi’s Elijah Parker shot that gap and downed Danny Etling for an 8-yard loss.
This just goes to show that experience isn’t everything when it comes to offensive line play. Good players, of which Malone is generally one, still make mental errors when defenses line up in deceptive sets.
But if the O-Line continues to grow together in its current alignment, it should be able to handle what’s asked of it, even if that involves slowing down potent Ole Miss and Alabama front sevens.
Credit where credit is due
As I mentioned earlier, Kendell Beckwith finished his day with a team-high 15 tackles, two of which were for loss. But as any good Cajun defensive line coach would tell you, linebackers don’t make tackles if they’re blocked.
You know that phrase “Behind every great man, there’s a greater woman?” Well, in front of every great linebacker, there’s a greater defensive line.
I don’t think you’d be shocked to know that this play ends with Beckwith making a tackle. But at some point, someone needs to devise a stat comparable to an assist in basketball for defensive linemen eating blocks to make tackles possible. If you look at the three defensive linemen highlighted in yellow, they’re combining to take up five blockers at this moment, making it nearly impossible for Beckwith not to make a play.
Sure, not all linebackers make this play as quickly and as efficiently as Beckwith as he is a phenomenal at knowing where the ball is going to go. But his defensive line effectively set up an Oklahoma drill between he and the running back. That’s every linebacker’s dream.
The forgotten play of the game
Certain plays matter immensely but never show up on the highlights. Here’s one of them.
At this point in the third quarter, LSU had just taken a three-touchdown lead, but Southern Miss was on the attack and mounting its best drive of the second half. The Golden Eagles lined up in the shotgun on 4th-and-1 and ran a trap play to try to catch the LSU defense off-balance.
Unfortunately for Southern Miss, the two men in the hole were Beckwith and Adams.
Beckwith was inside the play. He noticed the pulling guard, so he found a seam inside where the guard wanted to hit him and plugged it. To prevent the guard from correcting his course, Adams jumped in to fill the hole the guard was approaching. Beckwith blew up the play for a loss and LSU took over on downs. One play later, Etling found Malachi Dupre for a 63-yard touchdown.
Any threat of a comeback was effectively squelched.
Fun with formations
As I mentioned in the last “At Second Glance,” offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger loves lining up in tackle-eligible sets, or formations where an offensive lineman theoretically could be eligible to catch a pass.
As I observed last time, LSU tends to built this entire formation around one play, a jet sweep to D.J. Chark. You shouldn’t be shocked to hear that the first time LSU lined up in that formation Saturday, Chark rushed for a touchdown.
At right, you can see the formation as it’s set up. Malone, the near-side offensive tackle, is the last man on the line of scrimmage, making him eligible. Chark (82) is coming in motion across the field.
This play didn’t end up going to Chark. It was a simple handoff up the middle to Darrel Williams. But the set up worked. The second Chark went in motion, the Southern Miss defensive line shifted, setting up better blocks for the offensive line.
Defenses are starting to notice that Ensminger loves to run jet sweeps out of this formation. And that might be exactly what he wants. Because he’s setting up a combination of three or four plays that he can run from that formation that will continue to hit for big gains if team’s have to play honest against Chark’s speed and the jet sweep on the perimeter.
Do you see what I see?
Alright, you’ve been good. We can talk about running backs now.
When Guice was asked what he saw as he took the handoff on his untouched 61-yard touchdown Saturday, he joked that the only thing he saw was the fans cheering for him. And while that’s a nice story, it can’t exactly be true. I want to give Guice a little more credit than that.
Based on where fullback J.D. Moore (highlighted in red) was leading the way, it looks like the hole on this play was supposed to be off-tackle. To give Moore credit, had Guice hit the hole off-tackle, he likely would’ve scored there too. But Guice perfectly read Teuhema’s block (75, in purple) and cut inside instead of outside, and this worked out perfectly.
Why? Well, Teuhema’s head is on the inside shoulder of the defender with whom he is engaged, not the outside. This tells you that Teuhema wasn’t looking to drive his man. He just wanted to turn his hips. Whether this was intentionally or was a mistake by the guard, it gave Guice all the information he needed.
The defender who slipped through the formation into the backfield over-pursued, so Guice knew he could slip past him. Plus, Dodd and right guard Josh Boutte sealed off the interior defensive lineman creating a crease so big that Kendell Beckwith might not have been able to fill it.
Then Guice ran.
Go ahead and watch the play again in full speed and see what I mean.