Sunday, August 31, 2008

SUNDAY SOAPBOX: Gustav Edition

Godspeed to everyone on the road right now, running away from Gustav. It seems trivial to spend time assessing a football game at a time like this. But, since I can't do anything else, and it may provide a few minutes distraction to some folks, I'll press. Hope you're all safe and your property escapes major damage.


As it turns out, I think I was mostly dead on in my pregame post.

1. Ball Control. The Tigers put the game away by both scoring quickly in most cases and sustaining longish drives. Overall, LSU had a decent edge in time of possession in the first half (16:16 compared to 13:44) and slight edge in the second half (15:32 compared to 14:28). Part of the reason the time of possession was fairly close is that LSU scored quickly on most drives, with the longest drive of 82 yards only taking 2:50. But the Tigers also came out flat in the second half and, along with frequent substitutions of young players, that aided App State in stopping a few drives and sustaining one or two of their own. The Mountaineers had one drive of 60 yards, fueled mostly by a 44 yard 3rd quarter TD reception in broken coverage. App State had some other promising drives going, but defensive pressure forced some throwing/catching errors that killed them.

2. Pressure outside, discipline inside. Armanti Edwards tried but could not get around the corner. The ends and LBs were really outstanding keeping him contained. And we all know how the front four played - pretty much lights out. The Mountaineers had about 60 yards rushing, and a large portion of that was on a couple of broken plays. LSU would have had about 6 or 7 sacks if Edwards weren't as good as he is. He had an average of about 2-3 seconds to throw, and made some very nice escapes under extreme pressure. He and the other two QBs were on their backs a lot after throws. Clearly, this was a key to LSU's domination of the game.

3. Emotion. In no way did LSU take App State lightly. I thought the defense played with a lot of emotion the entire game. The crowd really got the team going in first half. By the second half, the vast majority of the stadium was headed home to prepare for Gustav's arrival. The change in atmosphere, particularly when LSU was on offense, was palpable. But the bottom line is that LSU respected App State's capability and played tough the entire game.

4. Fatigue. LSU played a dizzying number of players in this game. Six or seven true freshman saw significant playing time, especially on special teams. LSU's running back situation is very, very good. The DLine looks interchangeable two deep. And the OLine was fantastic all day, even when the second team was in the game. Like last year, I think LSU will be able to rotate some key relief into the game and stay fresher than most of their opponents. I wouldn't want to have to consider blocking LSU's defensive line knowing the Tigers have 8 massive players that all could start almost anywhere in the country.


QB. I thought both quarterbacks played pretty well considering their complete lack of gametime experience. If forced to pick one, I'd say Hatch had the better day by just a little bit. But overall, I am optimistic about both of these quarterbacks.

I've watched the game a few times now. The conventional wisdom on some fan sites seems to be that Hatch has an arm strength problem. He certainly doesn't have a howitzer. But his arm isn't nearly as weak as some folks seem to think. If you watch the replay and count yardage, Hatch made some long throws with decent zip on the ball. Two particular throws well over 20 yards, both to Byrd, were overthrown because of incidental contact on the route. A third throw of about 45 yards (from the line of scrimmage) was on azimuth but just about 3 yards underthrown and broken up by the defender. I'd say that 45 yarder is the limit of Hatch's range. But clearly, Hatch can keep the secondary honest with accuracy out to 25 yards from the line of scrimmage. This should alleviate anyone's fears that teams can stack the box on Hatch - they'll get owned if they do. Lafell and Byrd are both very good after the catch and can turn a 25 yard strike into a much bigger gain - especially Byrd.

The other piece of conventional wisdom I'm reading is that Hatch made better decisions than Lee. True, Lee threw one interception and almost threw at least one more. But Hatch made two horrible throws into coverage as well and was lucky not to have one of them picked off. I don't think Lee was significantly worse than Hatch in decision making. I do, however, think Hatch was more comfortable and had better vision of the field. Makes sense. He's at least been there a time or two before. Lee has not.

I think the biggest difference between the two quarterbacks in this game was Hatch's mobility. He's quick and is able to capitalize on defensive containment breakdowns with speed and agility. I think Lee is fairly mobile as well, but we didn't get to see this in yesterday's game. I don't think Lee is as comfortable on the run as Hatch is.

So, I'd have to say that Hatch - based on his vision of the field and mobility - has the upper hand right now. Clearly the coaching staff thinks this is the case based on playing time alone in this game.

However, I would like to see both QBs get significant time against Troy. In fact, if I were king I would not play Jordan Jefferson at all until North Texas. Troy is going to be a decent opponent and another good workout for both Lee and Hatch. I would let these two share time, hone their skills, compete some more, and get rid of any residual jitters. Jefferson will likely get a series or two late against North Texas and that will be enough. By that time, JJ should feel more comfortable with the offensive schemes and have some Tiger Stadium stink on him.

My prediction at this point is that Hatch will get the Auburn start. I'd be surprised if Lee progresses fast enough to overtake him before South Carolina.

But I do think, eventually, Lee threatens to win the starting job. He showed flashes of the strong arm and quick delivery that could make him an outstanding QB for LSU.

Keiland Williams. I spent a lot of time rewatching all of the running plays. And I'm dumbfounded. Compared to Scott, Murphy and Ridley, Keiland Williams' runs looked like he was in practice. He didn't finish a single run I watched and went down very, very easily. I saw one half-hearted shoulder hit to a defender. Otherwise, he gave up the ghost at the first serious defensive threat, or accepted running out of bounds, instead of getting every yard he could get. In my opinion, Williams cost LSU two first downs inside the redzone because he just didn't want to deliver a hit and drive for the yardage.

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In contrast, Charles Scott and Stevan Ridley looked a lot like Jacob Hester all day long. And even the tall and lighter Richard Murphy ran like every inch counted. Murphy delivered at least two good shots to App State defenders.

I think Williams will shine in a game or two simply because the LSU OLine is dominant this year, and he will eventually find a huge hole to sprint through. But more times than not, Williams' apparent hesitation in the face of taking a hit will keep him from breaking through smaller gaps. So he'll remain more of an option threat, which is a shame. Because Big Herm and Ciron are going to open up some huge holes for the other backs who don't mind mixing it up with the big boys.

Punting. If LSU is to compete for the SEC title, then the punting game has to get significantly better. Right now, it's just atrocious.

Freshmen. The Tigers played a lot of true freshmen in the game, but the two that absolutely stuck out were Patrick Peterson at cornerback and Ryan Baker on the kickoff team. Peterson held his own, broke up two passes - both of which he had a chance at an interception - and played with a lot of intensity and poise. He's going to live up to his hype. No doubt in my mind.

Ryan Baker was a wrecking ball on kickoffs. He had a hand in every kickoff tackle except one, and that one came back for a decent return for the Mountaineers. Look for #22 on special teams - he's going to be awesome. Can't wait to see him in the LB rotation as well.


App State is a good football team. How good? Impossible to tell. Outside of giving them the credit of their recent domination in the FCS division, there's just nothing to compare them to at this point. But one thing is clear - LSU handled the FCS national champs with absolute ease. Had LSU decided to forego wholesale rotation in the late third and entire fourth quarters, LSU would have scored 60 points and probably held the Mountaineers to 10. But what LSU did was far more important. By concentrating on building quality depth, LSU is creating breathing room and flexibility heading into an always tough SEC conference schedule.

Kudos to the coaches and players for a great performance in trying conditions.

Stay safe, everyone. My thoughts are with you.

1 comment:

  1. I think the comfort of the quarterbacks really showed before the snap. Lee always seemed to be confused before the snap, slow to the line, and generally just had poor body language. Hatch did look more comfortable there.

    And I do agree both of their strengths and weaknesses are pretty much gradiations on the same scale. Neither guy has a howitzer, but arm strength is overrated anyway. I'm not concerned about Hatch on deep routes, but on putting zip on the ball on swing passes. Both made poor decisions, but Lee's were slightly worse.

    Both looked like, well, guys playing their first real college football game.


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