BATON ROUGE, La. — It still boggles the mind, every bit of it.
You have an offense that is so bad that it does not score a first-quarter touchdown until the third game of the season or a fourth-quarter touchdown until the fifth game of the season. And the best running back in the country is part of that offense.
Then, without that guy in the lineup, said offense goes off for 634 yards against Missouri, the most in LSU history versus an SEC opponent. The old record of 630 held up for a very long time, first being set in 1967 and tied in 1987, but never surpassed.
And was this output really as simple as the direct result of firing Les Miles and Cam Cameron?
That seems like an oversimplification, but there’s no question LSU’s offense had a more ambitious direction Saturday night.
“He called a tremendous game,” interim coach Ed Orgeron said of offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. “We started throwing the ball to loosen them up on the run. I think it was a cumulative effect of our whole coaching staff. We had a lot of ideas there, a lot of guys working hard to implement the new system within the system we had. I thought his game-calling was excellent.”
Despite the coaching change, this was really the ultimate Les Miles dream result: 52 rushes for 418 yards and 6 rushing touchdowns. And even though LSU’s ability to throw the ball seemed to open things up, running back Derrius Guice believes Missouri was still fully committed to stopping the run.
“The box was more loaded,” Guice said. “They were bringing safeties down who were basically playing linebacker. So we had about eight or nine guys in the box.”
That does explain in part how Guice, Darrel Williams, Nick Brossette and D.J. Chark all broke off big gains in this game — if you can make it past that line of defense, it’ll be awhile before anyone catches you downfield. If they can.
Is it possible that Missouri’s defense just isn’t that good?
Of course. But even Dana Holgorsen’s theoretically-explosive West Virginia offense was limited to 26 points and 494 yards by this Mizzou defense. (If you can call allowing nearly 500 yards of offense “limiting.”)
To Missouri coach Barry Odom, it was a matter of LSU’s offensive line smashing his defense.
“They won on the line of scrimmage,” Odom said. “I felt like there were times where we were in position to make plays and we didn’t. Schematically, we felt OK a couple times and you look up and it’s second-and-5 and you’re playing behind the sticks a lot defensively and that’s hard to do.”
In the eyes of tight end Foster Moreau, the output was a result of going to the most time-honored principle: Keep it simple, stupid.
“The biggest thing is we cleaned up a lot of stuff and made it simpler as far as play-calling,” Moreau said. “We did a good job of putting ourselves in the right positions. We executed well. Didn’t have a lot of penalties (only 5 in the game). Didn’t turn it over.”
What exactly was simplified?
“A lot of communication things got simplified as far as huddling a lot more,” Moreau said. “We simplified plays. We may have put some little tags on them to change them up.”
With a season-high 82 snaps, the offense appeared to move at a faster pace than usual, which would be a major change. But it turns out that is just a statistical illusion.
“We huddled almost every play,” said center Ethan Pocic. “The emphasis was to convert third downs. I think that’s why we had so many plays. We got so many first downs. We kept the ball moving. Not every play has to be a home run, but we were getting positive plays left and right.”
LSU made good on its emphasis, going 6 of 11 on third down. And the Tigers picked up plenty of first downs before even getting to third down, finishing the game with 30. The Tigers came into the game with 68 first downs all season, an average of 17 per game.
There is no one reason the Tigers went from inept to the best offensive performance the program has seen in 84 years of SEC play.
It certainly started at the top, but it’s hard to say how much Ensminger’s game plan had to do with LSU executing better than it has all season. Perhaps Orgeron lightening their load in practice was a factor. Or maybe they were mentally freed by no longer having the burden of expectation and questions about Les Miles’ future hanging over their heads.
At any rate, this bolt from the blue will have LSU fans anxious to see if the Tigers sudden explosiveness can go from anomaly to habit.