I'm not dead - just busy. It's been a busy month. Thanks to Joshua for single-handedly keeping the blog living and breathing. I'm not sure I'm back in full swing, but I'm back at least a little. We shall see.
LSU 40, Troy 31: A win is a win is a win.
Seriously? LSU struggled to beat Troy? Again? Just like in 2004?
Why LSU Struggled to Win
Coaching. Les Miles himself started his post-game press conference saying he was to blame for the way the game started. He said the coaches hand-cuffed the offense in a failed effort to reduce the chances that Lee would do exactly what he ended up doing anyway. So Troy knew they were going to run a lot and put 9 in the box. Troy, on the other hand, had an outstanding gameplan to negate LSU's personnel overmatch and play to their own capabilities. LSU's coaches were playing, at least initially, not to lose and Troy's coaches were playing to win. When the offense opened up and the defense stopped being so predictable with blitzes, the game changed. Of course, that's when Troy stopped playing near-perfect football. Which also helped.
QB. Jarrett Lee was atrocious in the first half. Jordan Jefferson wasn't much better. On the other side of the field, Troy's QB (Levi Brown) played amazing football for a half. Where Lee and Jefferson were unpoised, threw poor pass after poor pass, and failed to instill any confidence in their teammates, Brown played like he's destined for NFL success. He threaded the needle time after time, throwing extremely quickly. He didn't miss many of him many, many throws (72). In fact, I'd guess that half of his incompletions were dropped-balls by his receivers. LSU QBs were victims of drops as well. Just not as many.
Emotion. Troy had it, LSU had to find it. Troy entered the game knowing they had a chance to upset a struggling LSU team fresh from elimination from any SEC title hopes. LSU, clearly, had not yet embraced it's new season post Alabama by kickoff. The Tigers were flat. Troy is not an SEC caliber football team. But they are far too good and too well coached to be taken lightly. I don't know that LSU actually took them lightly on purpose. But the first half was emotionally flat.
Why LSU Won
Jarrett Lee. LSU's young QB is the poster-child of this season. Talented but inconsistent. And a bit of a head case. But the key is: he's talented. Maybe just as important - Lee has guts. The booing alone after bad throws could have ruined the kid for the rest of the season. But he pulled himself up by his jock-strap in second half after it became clear that Jordan Jefferson was doing fine but not good enough to lead a comeback. Lee put his SEVENTH pick six behind him and started looking more like Matt Flynn than - well - himself (early vintage).
Let's get this clear. Without Jarrett Lee making a personal comeback, LSU does not make a team comeback. Jarrett Lee, after struggling, won the game for LSU.
Defense. LSU's defense took far too long to wake up and adjust to the Troy passing game. But adjust they did. Even in the first half, Troy started having difficulty moving the football. In fact, if Lee doesn't throw the pick-six late in the second quarter, I think the game was close to turning around right there - all on the shoulders of the LSU defense.
LSU had decent pressure on the QB most of the game, and the yardage after catch for the Trojans was fairly low - because LSU was playing good defense. The problem in the first half was that Troy's QB was having an amazing game throwing the football. When he proved to be fallible, LSU's defense started stopping him.
Without LSU's defense sticking with it and playing strong the entire game, Jarrett Lee does not get the chance to lead the comeback.
Other observations for the future.
Big Man Depth Chart. LSU QBs had a lot of time to throw last night. And the offensive line does not rotate personnel often. With the departure of Helms and Johnson, critical jack-of-all-trades Miller, and maybe even Ciron Black, the O-line will be a huge point of interest next season. There's a lot of talent in the backups, and LSU has recruited well this year on the O-line, but all that talent has very little experience. Although the D-line rotates more than the O-line, the same concern applies. Jackson, Favorite, Alexander, Pittman, Tremaine Johnson - are all gone. Drake Nevis has seen some time, as have Pep Levingston and Al Woods. And Ricky Jean-Francois will likely be back next year after what so far has been a disappointing season for him. The D-line is in better shape in terms of experience. But the depth that has made them formidable in the past may not be there next year with so many underclassmen behind the returning experience. Again - we'll see.
Defensive Backfield. Chad Jones was all over the field last night, and may have finally had a chance to showcase in public why the coaches talk about him in reverent tones in press interviews. Patrick Peterson, Phelon Jones, Karnell Hatcher, and Brandon Taylor are all young backs getting a lot of playing time and holding their own. Even though LSU's pass defense suffered this year, I'm feeling a very, very stingy LSU defensive backfield in the making for a long time. Add Craig Loston at safety after this year's recruiting class. Awesome.
Rest of the season.
Difficult. Ole Miss beat Florida and spanked UL-Monroe on Saturday, a team that beat Troy 31-30. Ole Miss is going to require LSU to play some strong football. A slow start next week could be insurmountable against Ole Miss. Then Arkansas will be looking to play it's bowl game on national TV the day after Thanksgiving. Arkansas is struggling, but they remain dangerous, with a competent coach.
I think LSU ends the season 9-3, heads to a New Year's Day bowl, and gets a chance to ice the season with a sweet victory against a great non-conference opponent. Nothing in the road ahead will be easy. But it will be fun to watch.