So where was I at 2:30 pm yesterday when the biggest game of the year (so far) began in Tiger Stadium? On I-10 between Pensacola and Mobile, hoping like hell I would be able to pick up WWL (870 am) on the radio. Amazingly enough, it was crystal clear. So, picture if you will my eight year old listening to God Knows What on her pink iPod Nano, my 2.5 year old watching "the Wiggles, the Wiggles" for the 4 millionth time on the in-car DVD system, my beautiful but football-challenged spouse catching up on back episodes of Rescue Me (Dennis Leary as Fireman) on a portable DVD player, and me driving, with the AM radio faded and balanced to the front left, pounding the dashboard like a lunatic every 4 minutes or so. We were a rolling multi-media wagon and guess who got the short straw in the technology lottery? Dad.
Yes, "Life" intruded on my LSU football addiction once again - a visit to Mom and Dad and my two brothers near New Orleans (we are seldom able to all get together) - so I had to resort to barbaric and ancient methods to enjoy the game - AM radio! The good news is that the "Little Tropical Depression that Couldn't" stayed about an hour ahead of me and to the north of I-10. So my driving was sah-weet! The bad news, for those in Tiger Stadium, was that - well, y'all got wet asses.
Anyway, back to the point. I missed nearly all of the *&$^%# television broadcast, but I did get to listen to Jim and Jordy and Doug call the game. Which was great in a depressing and visually-addicted sort of way...
Like last week, I won't spend much time on the obvious stuff.
On offense: LSU's running game was very good, and South Carolina's running defense is still weak. LSU struggled in the air, completing less than 50% for less than 100 yards in the air. Did the weather impact that stat? Sure. So did the Cock secondary. And, I suspect, so did Matt Flynn's injury and the lack of Early Doucet (more on that in a bit).
On defense: Wow, again. LSU's defense dominated for three quarters. And on the ground, they dominated for four. South Carolina was able to find and exploit a weakness in the seam between the linebackers and the secondary, and that really hurt on third downs. Glenn Dorsey showed why he's more than an over-hyped player, beating double-teams all afternoon to be the second leading tackler on the team and a huge disruption, particularly against the run. I thought LSU was going to hold the Cocks (that just doesn't sound right, does it) to less than 150 yards offense until the fourth quarter, when it seemed noone with purple on their uniforms or clothing was into the game any more. (At least, it seemed that way on the radio).
Special teams: Colt "Crazylegs" David. Questions? I think Hawthorne shat himself while he was calling that one. Pretty fun to listen to. Even better to watch on the highlight reel.
So. Here's what I'm thinking.
First, I was wrong about the depth of the receivers. Even though the Cocks have a very, very good secondary and their stats prove it, I believe we witnessed enough dropped balls and lack of open receivers to conclude that Early Doucet's loss was a factor in this game. Mitchell was a target a lot yesterday, but he only managed one catch. Johnson (FB) was the only running back to catch a pass. A bright spot is that the Dickson (TE) played a bigger role, leading all receivers. But only four Tigers caught balls on Saturday (Dickson, Lafell, Johnson, and Mitchell) - as opposed to previous weeks when it seemed like EVERYONE caught a pass. Now, I DO think Mitchell and Byrd and Tolliver are very talented and will step up. But I did not understand fully how significant Doucet really is to this team until last night. I'm very pleased that we have Tulane next week (although an 1100 kickoff seems a bit uncivilized to this Tiger fan - HELLO! Youth Soccer!! Thanks for making me choose!!!) to allow some breathing room for the young receivers to gain more experience before the Gators.
Yes, yes - it was raining and the field was wet. The Cocks were on the same field and in the same conditions, and their previously anemic passing game managed 244 yards on a very talented LSU defense.
Second - is it just me or has the offensive line turned the corner? I haven't watched the game yet, but I was hearing a lot about huge holes on running plays and I believe we only had one sack against the Tigers. I can't remember specific o-line penalties this game either, although they probably had one or two -very normal for a big game. So, props to the big guys.
Third - as in Third Down ineptitude. 4 for 14 on third down. I think that stat speaks volumes about our poor passing game this Saturday, but I also think it may be a coaching issue. I'm not sure how you can run the ball 290 yards in the game and not do better than 4 for 14 on third down. Play calling and a failure (small one) to adjust the game plan to current playing conditions seems like a contributing factor in this case. Just something for those of us who are addicted to LSU football and have given Crowton HUGE credit so far, to ponder going into Florida via Tulane. I hope the wet conditions explain away most of it. But it could also be that Spurrier was the first coach this season to figure out LSU's playbook. "Herban" Meyer won't be far behind... Which means the defense is more important than ever.
Fourth - as in fourth quarter let down. Give credit to Spurrier. Although he talked like a beaten man prior to the game, he came loaded and ready to pull an upset and he didn't quit - no surprise there. I think he had his team playing their very best. But I wonder if our offense didn't keep our defense on the field too damn long, resulting in opportunities for Spurrier to pull a fast one and get much closer than he should've. Fisher punted seven times, two more than the GameCocks.
Last, what happened to our kick-off team? Did the wet field play a factor in those short kicks? Last week, Crutchfield seemed like the answer. This week, he seemed like a looming question. The Cocks had reasonable field position after nearly every kickoff, with one return crossing mid-field. Me no likey. Fix that, wouldja Coach Paveto? Thanks.
Isn't it nice to be in a position to gripe a bit about a 12 point win, that was never really close after the first 10 minutes, against the number 12 team in the country? I think LSU looks strong, particularly on defense. I also think that a dry field (short of another Cat 4 Hurricane, it won't rain in the Dome) and a healthier Flynn will put the Tiger offense back on track, which will give the defense a break.
I cannot say enough about this defense. Even with the unusually pourous passing coverage yesterday, they still did a fantastic job of holding a competent SEC opponent with a superb game coach to 16 points, which is more than double what they've given up in the previous three games. Player to watch: two words (proper nouns, really): Danny McCray.
Byrd, Mitchell and Tolliver need to produce next week in order to bring balance back to the Crowton offense. And Matt Flynn needs to have a good, confidence building effort.
The Tulane game is very important, and the Green Wave haven't had much to cheer about this year. This will be their bowl game, more than likely. It's a perfect chance to put it all together just prior to the first of (probably) two meetings with the other best team in the country - Florida.