Welcome to At Second Glance, a weekly feature where I go back and rewatch the tape from Saturday’s game to fill in some of the gaps that we might have missed watching it the first time around. Today I’ll be reviewing LSU’s 18-13 loss to Auburn.
Having rewatched the film all the way through, there are some obvious mistakes that LSU made on as few as just two or three offensive downs that could’ve completely swung the game open. But there also were some systemic and technical flaws that hampered the Tigers all game, as well as some brilliant tactical decisions, especially on defense.
Here are some of my four-notebook-pages-worth of observations:
About that last drive …
There’s a scene in the classic 2001 animated film Recess: School’s Out where charming prankster T.J. Detwiler tosses a baseball to his athletic buddy Vince and says “Forget what they told you: Aim it, don’t throw it!” Now, I’m not going to make the conclusion that this scene is where LSU quarterback Danny Etling learned how to run a two-minute drill, but I’m also not not saying that.
If you go back and watch that drive again, you’ll see that Etling wasn’t stepping into his throws at all on that drive. Rather, he was setting his feet and relying on his arm to guide the ball to the receiver. Sometimes that worked; he did drive the offense into the red zone after all. But he also missed out on a couple of huge plays, including a should’ve-been touchdown that he lofted out of the end zone, because he was aiming, not throwing.
What I suppose to be his reasoning for the technical change is somewhat sound. The worst thing he could’ve done on that drive was throw an interception, so he took extra care to make sure that didn’t happen. But what he made up for in safety, he sacrificed in big-play potential. And when your team is down five points with less than a minute left, that might be the time to abandon the pretenses of safety. To quote Albert Einstein: “A ship is always safe at the shore, but that’s not what it’s built for.”
Etling’s throws might’ve been safe on the drive, but he sure wasn’t. There’s absolutely no reason that Leonard Fournette should’ve been on the field in the game’s waning moments. After he reinjured his ankle, he should’ve been sidelined for the rest of the game. Fournette is a special player, but he’s not Michael Jordan with the flu or Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open on a torn ACL.
The thing was, the coaches put Fournette back in there, but they put him on the field to block. If they had him in to run, I would’ve understood a little bit more. Just tell him to go straight ahead and try to avoid cutting too sharply. But he was left in to block, and he whiffed badly both tries. On his first play, he missed the blitzer but Etling got out of the pocket and gained some yards with his feet. But on the second one, Fournette got bullied by an edge rusher and Etling got sacked, wasting plenty of valuable time and field position.
If there was one positive about the drive though, it was Etling’s feet. The transfer rushed for more than 30 yards on that drive alone not counting sacks, carving out huge chunks of the field and keeping the game alive.
And this isn’t even to mention that ending. I’ll spare you of having to relive that.
Only in schemes
It’ll be overshadowed by the ludicrous nature of the ending and the firing of Les Miles, but LSU’s defense executed Dave Aranda’s game plan pretty close to perfectly.
Sure, Auburn scored six times; even if they were just field goals, they were points. But LSU had a shockingly bad special teams day and the defense rarely started in good field position. Equally shocking though, LSU also rarely started in a base defense.
By my count, Auburn had 11 drives Saturday night. Of those 11 drives, LSU only lined up in its base 3-4 set to begin the series on its last one. For the most part, LSU attacked Auburn’s option offense with a nickel defense, a frequently-used counter to Gus Malzahn’s high-octane attack.
LSU used two kinds of nickel looks, a 3-3-5 and a 4-2-5. Really, the only difference between the two is that in the 3-3-5 Arden Key was in a two-point stance and in the 4-2-5 he was in a three-point stance. Both looks featured two linebackers, usually Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley, lined up over the offensive guards and five defensive backs, as well as the three down linemen and Key.
To be more specific, there were two kinds of nickel looks. For most of the first quarter and the beginning of the third quarter, LSU lined up in these nickel sets with cornerback
Tre’Davious White playing the STAR, or the nickel cornerback who sometimes serves as an extra linebacker. With White in the STAR, LSU’s defensive backs tended to cover more over the top, allowing Auburn quarterback Sean White to complete short passes to the sidelines, but limiting his deep throws and his outlets and screens to running backs and slot receivers.
For the rest of the game, White was at his regular post as a cover corner and senior defensive back Dwayne Thomas was playing the nickel. These sets were more conventional in nature, with one of the major differences being that LSU showed more press coverage in these situations.
Also of note: On the few occasions that LSU did line up in a base 3-4, it was usually with Key playing deep, almost where a 4-3 SAM linebacker would, and Michael Divinity, Jr. taking his place up on the line of scrimmage. Despite this, Key still rushed frequently in those situations.
The Goat and the G.O.A.T
As a biased former offensive lineman, I can say with the utmost certainty that center is the hardest position to play on offense. So it is with a heavy heart that I have to crown Ethan Pocic this week’s goat.
If you watched the ESPN broadcast with the sound on Saturday, you probably heard about how rough of a time Pocic was having against Auburn’s defensive front. But that barely scratched the surface. By my count, Pocic was either blown backward or straight up missed the man he was supposed to block eight times in Saturday’s loss. To be fair, he got better as the game wore on, but the team also starting passing more, making it harder for him to be blown up.
You see, Pocic struggled all day in the run game. Auburn defensive lineman Montravius Adams in particular dominated him at the point of attack. LSU’s inability to set the line of scrimmage from the middle made it much harder for the team to establish the run game where Fournette is most comfortable, up the middle, which is why his day seemed a bit underwhelming.
Here’s a supercut of all the instances I found of Pocic getting beat:
On the opposite side of things, I’m awarding Kendell Beckwith as Saturday’s G.O.A.T. If you look at the stat sheet, Duke Riley was the linebacker who had the most impressive day. But it was actually Beckwith who shined the brightest when the plays mattered most.
Beckwith almost single-handedly kept Auburn out of the end zone on LSU’s second-quarter goal-line stand with less than one minute left in the half. On both third and fourth down, Beckwith effortlessly shot the gap unblocked and blew up plays before Auburn’s running backs could establish forward momentum. Beckwith finished the day with 12 tackles, seven of which solo, and one quarterback hurry.
Here is the unedited video of Beckwith’s stands on the goal line:
C’mon and Geaux for it
I know it’s bizarre to say that teams should kick fewer field goals after a game where the winning team legitimately only kicked field goals, but that’s the sort of thing that I do. And there was one instance Saturday when now-former LSU head coach Les Miles made a silly mistake by sending out the field goal unit instead of pressing for more points.
The offense of being criminally conservative was committed with about three minutes left in the third quarter. With his team down 12-10, Miles decided to kick a chip-shot of a field goal from 25 yards out on fourth-and-1, much to the disagreement of Fournette as the video above shows.
And Fournette was right. Even with as bad as his offensive line had been all day, the team still finished the day averaging almost seven yards per carry. Even if you take out the three outliers, the Tigers still averaged 3.34 yards per carry, exactly enough to get a first down every third play if you run every down. The decision to kick was indefensible, and it very well may have lost Les Miles his job. Think about that.
- In addition to catching his first career touchdown, Foster Moreau had a pretty good day blocking. Being that Fournette often had to bounce his runs to the outside because of the logjams in the middle, this turned out to be pretty important.
- The defense did a really good job of preventing Auburn from being successful on jet sweeps. On two separate occasions, LSU did this by setting the edge with the likes of Key, defensive lineman Greg Gilmore, White and safety Rickey Jefferson, which forced Auburn’s ball carrier to turn back inside, where the blocking isn’t set up. This is a superb blueprint for how to stop jet sweeps moving forward.
- Last season when Fournette trucked through the Auburn defense for 228 yards and three touchdowns, the running back broke a lot of tackles because Auburn defenders were attacking him too high. This wasn’t the case Saturday. Auburn’s players, especially their defensive backs, made sure to wrap Fournette up low, taking his powerful shoulders out of the equation and also putting more stress on his already-injured ankle.
- In more than one instance, LSU was a seal block away from scoring a touchdown. To grossly oversimplify offensive line play into one sentence, almost every hole is set up with two kinds of blocks: A kick, in which a lineman pushes a defender outwards, and a wrap, in which a lineman pushes a defender inwards. That separation creates a seam for backs and receivers to run through. Needless to say, it’s hard to be perfect. But on a couple of instances, including one with 12:50 remaining in the first quarter and another with 13:43 remaining in the third quarter, LSU was a wrap block away from busting Fournette open for a 20-yard gain, possible more. Those two mistakes were made by tight end Colin Jeter in the open field and guard Josh Boutte on a linebacker respectively, for what it’s worth.
- Even though he finished with 13 tackles, Jamal Adams didn’t have a particularly good game. He allowed a 36-yard pass to Kerryon Johnson on a busted assignment on Johnson’s wheel route out of the backfield and looked lost on an inside pick play that he should’ve been far more aggressive on where he allowed a first down.