The Knife’s Edge

LSU lost to Troy on Saturday, but what was more distressing is that if the game was played 10 times, LSU probably would’ve lost at least 7.

LSU’s players were worse than Troy’s. They were outmuscled at the point of attack, slow in the open field, and confused about their assignments. Turnovers were made, field goals missed, and errant timeouts were called.

It was a bonanza of incompetence.

Even more distressing than this dumpster fire though, is the current state of the program.

LSU is now locked into a contract with a millstone for a coach. Additionally, it’s still paying its old coach, someone whom no other program sees as fit to hire.

LSU’s Athletic Director, a man who twice failed to hire his targeted coach, is quite possibly a dead man walking. The Board of Regents is filled with political appointments who are more interested in party and power than purple and gold.

But, worst of all, the fans are missing from Tiger Stadium.

Perhaps the fans were chased away by too much success or perhaps they stayed away due to better and more comfortable entertainment at home. Perhaps they find the overly corporate game environment tiresome, like the piped-in music and the TV time outs. The traffic, tailgating restrictions, and torrid temperatures don’t help either.

Perhaps the fans have just grown tired of watching at best marginally competent football.

Ultimately, the causes of these various groups’ absenteeism/incompetence don’t matter. The fact is, each of these parties is negligent in their duties, and what we now have is a programmatic crisis in which we need all hands but can trust none.

There is no one who is reliable, much less good at their job.

Because of this, the current death spiral could go on for the remainder of the season. Blessedly, the SEC is amazingly weak this season, so there may be a respite somewhere.

But if losses mount, the spiral will begin in earnest, with recruiting suffering, then success, and then fan support. One could interject that “Next season will be better!”, which could be true. The team is young, and young teams develop.

But what track record does Orgeron have that inspires confidence?

No one likes a loser, not high school football players and not fans.

An empty Tiger Stadium will become the new normal, and all of the momentum, all of the success of the Saban-Miles Era will become a memory. Flags in the sky and stories that the middle aged and old tell.

These memories and stories will represent many wonderful things, but they will also represent a missed opportunity, a chance in which LSU could have become a consistently elite program instead of an up and down, bipolar one.

We are now on the brink, the knife’s edge, waiting to see what the program’s fate will be.

Sadly, I feel like we all already know what will happen, and that’s the real reason so few show up anymore.


In past LSU losses, fans often pointed to the team’s moribund offensive scheme. The Miles’ offense was so bad that LSU’s superior talent could not overcome it.

This is why despite having so many future NFL players, LSU still struggled against top quality SEC West opponents. The offensive philosophy was like an anchor that dragged the team’s chances down with it.

Against Mississippi State, though, LSU lost because it had inferior personnel.

This was similar to the 2014 loss to Mississippi State when a superior quarterback, Dak Prescott, and an experienced defense crushed a young LSU team.

Last night, Fitzgerald was the exceptional quarterback. Additionally, Mississippi State’s experienced offensive and defensive lines had their way with LSU’s thin and less than impressive units.

This line of scrimmage domination made LSU’s secondary and wide-receiver talent useless, though those units contributed plenty to their failure with blown coverages and dropped balls.

In total, the 2017 LSU team resembles that 2014 team—young and talented, but thin, especially in the trenches.

Both teams lost a great deal to the NFL draft, from Landry, Beckham, Hill, and Mettenberger in 2014 to Fournette, Adams, White, and Beckwith in 2017 (not to mention Pocic, Riley, Boutte, Godchaux, Dural, and others).

The quarterback play is better now, as are the general offensive and defensive schemes.

But, this team has a fairly low ceiling, I think.

For the 2014 it was 8 wins and a 4-4 SEC record. Hopefully this squad can put something more formidable together, maybe 9 or even 10 wins.

But beating any one of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee is going to be tough. The fact that 3 of those 4 games are on the road makes the sledding even tougher.

LSU hasn’t lost fewer than 8 games since 1999, when the team only won 3 contests in DiNardo’s last season.

It’s very possible that this team will win more than 8 games, as the talent and coaching is there. But, it’s not going to be easy, and it looks like the early Orgeron Era is going to be far less successful than the early Saban and Miles Eras.

Random Thoughts

  • This game had to remind Aranda of the time his Wisconsin team lost 59 to 0 against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Then, a large, mobile, strong armed quarterback named Caradale Jones destroyed the Badgers defense.


  • Before the game, one advanced metric forecasting model had LSU as a 20% chance to make the playoff. That number is now almost certainly 0%.


  • Thus far, LSU has had 271 total penalty yards in 2017. Over the past 5 or 6 years, LSU has usually had about 700 penalty yards. Some years it’s been less, like last year when the Tigers only had 492 penalty yards. Generally speaking, though, something in the 700s is a reasonable amount of penalty yardage. They are currently on pace for about 900 penalty yards (including the bowl game).

An FCS Comparison



Below, I’ve compared this week’s Chattanooga win to last year’s Jacksonville State win.

Both games had 3 things in common: (1) LSU won both, (2) they were the first home games of the season, and (3) both opponents were from the FCS level.

But despite winning both, LSU’s performances were significantly different, and I think this difference helps show the new offense’s effectiveness.

Against, Jacksonville State, LSU’s offensive was less potent, especially on the passing front.

  Yards Per Play Yards Per Rush Attempt Yards Per Pass Attempt
Jacksonville St. 6.63 6.6 6.7
Chattanooga 7.09 4.8 12.9

Per play, LSU averaged about .4 more yards in the Chattanooga game than in the Jacksonville State game. .4 yards is actually a lot more than it might initially seem as every play you’re getting an extra bit of yardage, which adds up over the course of a game.

Additionally, there was a huge amount of junk time in the Chattanooga game, essentially half of the third and the entire fourth quarter. There was junk time in the Jacksonville State game, but not that much.

So the difference in yards per play is probably a little bit more than .4.

Finally, the difference in the yards per pass attempt is huge, almost double.

If this doesn’t show the early difference between the Matt Canada approach and the old Miles-Cameron approach, I’m not sure what does.


On defense, LSU was better against Chattanooga. Oddly enough, both Jacksonville State and Chattanooga took the lead first with field goals. They also both started the game off with time consuming drives.

  Opponents’ Yards Per Play Opponents’ Yards Per Rush Attempt Opponents’ Yards Per Pass Attempt
Jacksonville St. 5.33 3.5 7.1
Chattanooga 4.10 2.5 5.4


Jacksonville was far better at passing and better at running.

Aranda’s system seems to be more thoroughly installed now, which is probably one reason was Chattanooga was so stifled.

Finally, LSU had way more first downs and one more turnover against Chattanooga than against Jacksonville State.

  First Down Differential Turnover Differential
Jacksonville St. +1 +1
Chattanooga +10 +2


In sum, these charts reflect a more organized, more prepared, and better LSU performance. Jacksonville State might have been better than Chattanooga, and maybe LSU just played better last night than last year.

But still, the Tigers have so far looked better under early Orgeron than they did under late Miles. This is especially true of the passing game, which appears to actually function when it is needed.




Irregular Dominance

Problems in the Past

For the typical college football fan, there was nothing remarkable about this win. It was an easy win against an inferior opponent. But, for an LSU fan, this was an eye opening experience.

It may have been a methodical and even boring game, but this win offered something new—relaxation.

For while Miles Era LSU teams did have easy wins that put fans minds at rest, there were terrifying and/or close contests against inferior squads like Towson, Troy, Washington, North Carolina, Louisiana Tech (2009), Mississippi State (2009), West Virginia (2010), Ole Miss (2010), and others.

Sometimes inferior teams crept back into the game (West Virginia), other times they stormed ahead (Troy) or kept it close for too long (Towson).

And some were genuine conference rivals (Mississippi State) while others were supposed to be opening day fodder (Washington and North Carolina).

But all of these teams were inferior to LSU. And instead of squashing them, Les and his Tigers haphazardly engaged them, turning cupcake games into nail biting ordeals.

LSU did thankfully win these games, but it was always a labor for fans. This labor was a pain to say the least.

Easy, double-digit wins are always valuable in college football, as they provide breaks from the grinding and tense SEC schedule. Without such breaks, the football season can become a series of interminably frustrating and tense contests.

An Easy Win

What was so irregular about Saturday night’s game against BYU was that this tenseness never appeared as the game was never in doubt. If anything, the game was downright dull due to dominance.

LSU mauled the Cougars, a gutting achieved with one tiger paw behind LSU’s back as many players were absent due to injury or suspension.

The players who could make it on the field did plenty, though. LSU had 20 more first downs than BYU, 81 more passing yards, and 301 more rushing yards.

BYU ran only 38 plays, 12 of which were incompletions (including one interception), 2 of which were sacks, and 3 of which were run plays that resulted in no gain.

In total, this produced 17 plays resulted in 0 or negative yardage (or a turnover).

So about 45% of BYU’s plays went really poorly, something that made sustaining a drive essentially impossible.

LSU on the other hand routinely gained yards with its new offensive. Canada’s game plan appeared to be run the ball a good bit and then pass the ball at opportune times. In one respect, it was a more effective and diverse version of the old offense.

The only thing that slowed it down were penalties and the red zone.

In short, LSU easily won a game it should have easily won.

That is something worth celebrating, and hopefully such wins will become increasingly common. We could all use some relaxation after seasons of tense, frustrating contests.

Random Thoughts

  • LSU has had entirely antithetical performances in its last two Superdome appearances—getting destroyed by Bama in 2011 and destroying BYU in 2017.


  • Guice needs to go down sooner; he shares Fournette’s spiritedness but should learn that health is more importance than an extra yard here and there.


  • While Etling lacks much arm strength, he can throw a decent over the shoulder pass. LSU has tall and fast receivers who can take advantage of these kinds of pass plays, which they did against BYU on a few occasions.


  • Brian Fremeau’s college football model had LSU at about an 80% favorite over BYU. ESPN’s Football Power Index, or whatever it’s called, favored LSU at a 90% clip. Bill Connelly’s model had LSU at about an 87% favorite, and Vegas put the line around 14 points or so. On all fronts, LSU beat modeled expectations, I’d say.


  • But, BYU may be very bad—they apparently looked bad against Portland State. They also lost their running backs during this game.


An LSU fan might look at BYU and see a lower-tiered football program, but that would be a mistake as BYU has had much success.

Coach LaVell Edwards is the coach largely responsible for the success. Before LaVell, BYU’s program had been a five-decade tire fire. Between 1922 and 1971 BYU had 173 wins, 225 losses, 15 ties, and only 1 conference title. During this slog, BYU never ended a season ranked.

In the 1960s, things began to look up with BYU achieving mediocrity. The program hovered around a 500 winning percentage for the decade under coach Tommy Hudspeth. After achieving this titanic feat, Hudspeth resigned in 1972 and one of his assistants, Edwards, replaced him.

Before arriving at BYU, Edwards had been a high school coach who ran the ultra-old-school single wing, literally one of the earliest offensive systems in football history.

Once he became the head coach at BYU in 1972, Edwards changed from atavistic offense to an Avant Guard offense. Simply put, Edwards’ BYU teams threw the ball, and threw it a lot.

Back then, very few teams threw much, and so BYU was an oddity.

But being odd can work, and it worked for BYU. Passing the ball helped result in a 257-101-3 record under Edwards (from 1972-2000). BYU was so prolific and skilled at throwing the ball that many young coaches studied the Cougars avidly, learning how to craft passing offenses.

For instance, Hal Mumme visited BYU several times while he was developing his Air Raid offense that has so greatly influenced modern college football.

In the context of BYU history, Edwards and BYU’s success was startling. Under Edwards, BYU won 19 conference and 1 national title, the last national title won by a non-Power Five team. Even more startling was that the program had only one losing season between 1972 and 2000.

This chart compares the Edwards’ Era with previous BYU history.

  Pre-Edwards (1922-1971) Edwards (1972-2000)
National Titles 0 1
Conference Titles 1 19
Ranked at end of season 0 12
Losing Seasons 27 1


While Edwards was at BYU, LSU had mixed results on the field.

In the 1970s and 1980s, LSU was solid to good, often winning 8, 9, and even 10 games. In the 1990s, though, LSU was the tire fire. LSU had a losing record in 7 of the 10 1990s seasons. Remember, between 1972 and 2000, BYU had 1 losing season.

The chart below compares LSU and BYU’s achievements between 1972 and 2000.

  LSU (1972-2000) BYU & Edwards (1972-2000)
National Titles 0 1
Conference Titles 2 19
Ranked at end of season 10 11
Losing Seasons 11 1


It’s important to note that LSU was competing in a much more difficult league (the SEC) against much more difficult opponents. But still, if LSU had played BYU during this stretch, it would have probably been a good game (unless it was during the 90s, then BYU probably would’ve won).

After Edwards, BYU did have some issues.

Initially, Gary Crowton continued the great tradition at BYU, going 12 and 2 and winning the conference in the first post-Edwards season.

But Crowton stumbled, had three straight losing seasons, was fired, and would eventually be LSU’s offensive coordinator for the 2007 national title team.

Bronco Mendenhall became the new coach in 2005 and did well instantly. Between 2005 and 2015 (when Mendenhall left), BYU was ranked at the end of the season 4 times, won their conference twice[1], had no losing seasons, and had double digit wins in 5 seasons.

LSU was of course having an even higher level of success during this period, winning conference and national championships.

Mendenhall left for Virginia, and now Kalani Sitake is BYU’s coach. They went 9 and 4 in his first season, continuing the programs history of solid play.

Regardless of how well or poorly the Cougars plays against the Tigers, it should be remembered that BYU is an extremely successful, consistent, and even revolutionary program.

LSU’s first meeting with the men from Provo should be an occasion for respect and enjoyment, but hopefully more enjoyment for LSU than BYU.


[1] BYU went independent in 2011, otherwise they may have won more conference titles.

Nega-Tiger vs. Sunshine Pumper: Ed Orgeron

Nega-Tiger (NT)—I can’t believe we just hired Ed Orgeron.

Sunshine Pumper (SP)—What do you mean, I can’t believe we just hired Ed Orgeron! Who would you rather?

NT—Jimbo. Or Herman. Or anyone else who doesn’t have a career 21-29 record, including a 3 and 21 SEC record at Ole Miss.

SP—Jimbo would’ve been good, I agree. But, it’s understandable that we couldn’t get him, he’s already got a good job. And Herman?! The guy who lost to Southern Methodist University, Memphis, and Navy? The guy who’s only been a head coach for two years!

NT—Herman was also the offensive coordinator for Ohio State when they, with their third string quarterback, blew out Bama in the playoff. He’s widely regarded as a genius, maybe the next Urban Meyer. Even Saban thought so, he and his whole staff visited Houston to learn more about Herman’s offense.

SP—There are no guarantees, Kevin Sumlin was a star at Houston, and now he’s struggling in the SEC. Herman could go the same way.

NT—Art Briles also started at Houston, and he’s been a star.

SP—You sure that’s the example you want to use?

NT—Good point, but I think there’s a larger issue here—this all says a lot about LSU. We didn’t get our first pick, we weren’t committed to pay or compete for Herman, and shrunk in the face of a bidding war with Texas.

SP—Lots of top programs don’t get their first pick.

NT—Like who?

SP—Well, Texas for one—Strong wasn’t their first pick. Hell, this guy wasn’t even the first pick at LSU.

NT—Still, though, what major programs hire from within?

SP—USC has been doing this for years, and maintained a high level of competitiveness. Since Pete Carroll’s departure in 2009, they’ve only hired internal people or people who had at one point been internal—Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, Ed Orgeron (interim), and now Clay Helton.

NT—They fired Kiffin quickly, did not retain Orgeron, and Sarkisian had to be dismissed for bad personal conduct.

SP—There are more successful examples, though—Dabo Sweeney coached at Clemson for years, became an interim head coach, and now is one of the best coaches around, even beating up on your beloved Jimbo Fisher.

NT—That’s a good point, but Orgeron’s never coordinated defense or called plays.

SP—Dabo wasn’t a coordinator either.

NT—If you’re saying Orgeron is the next Dabo…that’s a lot of hope and not much sense.

SP—Look, we’ve got a guy who can recruit, we saved several million dollars per year on him too. We can use that money to buy the best coaches and recruiters in the country, like Aranda, Kiffin, or anyone else we want.

NT—That’s a good point, but what if we hire a bad coordinator?

SP—We’ve almost always had good defensive coordinators—Muschamp, Pellini, Chavis, Aranda. There’ve been some bad or okay ones, like the time we had two defensive coordinators, but for the most part, we get someone good on that side of the ball.

NT—Yeah, but what does Orgeron know about offense? He’s a defensive line coach. He’s admitted that his interference in Ole Miss’ offense was one reason they struggled so much when he was their coach.

SP—Exactly, he learned his lesson and won’t interfere with the offense like Miles did.

NT—I take your point. Orgeron could be a better version of Miles in that he recruits well, but hires and empowers competent offensive coordinators. But…we basically fired Les Miles to hire a new version of Les Miles? Is that what you’re saying?

SP—We should never have fired Les Miles in the first place!

NT—We’re doomed.

Can Jimbo Recruit?

It was suggested to me that Ed Orgeron would be a better recruiter than Jimbo Fisher. Because of this, Orgeron should be the preferred candidate.

Orgeron is a great recruiter, having recruited pro-level talent at Miami, Syracuse, USC, Ole Miss, and now LSU. But I think recruiting, or at least overseeing recruiting, is one of Jimbo’s biggest skills.

Here’s Florida State’s recruiting track record from 2007 to the present.

Year National Recruiting Rank
2007 24
2008 13
2009 13
2010 (enter Jimbo) 7
2011 2
2012 3
2013 11
2014 4
2015 3
2016 2

Jimbo became the head coach of Florida State in January of 2010. If you look after 2010, the recruiting rankings go up considerably. They were in the top 5 every year but 2, and Jimbo even had them in the top three 4 times out of 7. Jimbo finished outside of the top ten one time. He effectively returned Florida State to the recruiting glory years under Bowden, and he did it almost immediately after he assumed the head coaching position.

This isn’t to say Jimbo is better at recruiting than Orgeron, but it’s pretty clear that Jimbo can recruit at a high level.

Who Has Coach O Beaten?

After a deflating loss, Ross Dellenger of the Advocate has reported that Coach O went from a very probable hire to a somewhat unlikely hire. If this is true, the loss to Florida may prove one of the most consequential games in recent LSU history, as it may significantly determine if Orgeron gets the job.

This new found hesitancy on Coach O offers the opportunity to ask the question–Who has Coach O beaten?

Under Orgeron, LSU is 4-2. Below, I’ve listed the four teams that Orgeron’s beaten and their records.

  1. Missouri (3-8)
  2. Southern Miss (5-6)
  3. Ole Miss (5-6)
  4. Arkansas (7-4)

There is only one team there that is guaranteed to play in a bowl.

When you look a little deeper into those teams, there’s even less encouragement for Orgeron supporters.

LSU may have looked great and set offensive records against Missouri and Southern Miss, but those teams are bad. Missouri has 1 win in conference, against Vanderbilt. And while LSU put up 42 points on them, others have done similar or worse–Kentucky scored 35, Florida scored 40, Middle Tennessee scored 51, and Tennessee scored 63. LSU’s defense looked great in those games too, but they always look great, even in the waning Miles’ years.

Southern Miss has 5 wins, including 1 against Kentucky. But they’ve lost to Texas San Antonio, Old Dominion, Troy, and Charlotte. I didn’t even know Charlotte had a college football team. LSU scored 45 on Southern Miss, but Old Dominion scored 35 and Charlotte scored 38 on them.

Ole Miss, a talented team that had high pre-season hopes, has not been good either. They have 5 wins, 2 of which are against Georgia Southern and Wofford. In conference, they’ve only beaten Texas A&M and Georgia, and managed to lose to Vanderbilt by double digits, albeit with Chad Kelly out. And it should be said that early in the season, Ole Miss did only lose to Bama by 5.

The Arkansas win is a good win. Arkansas is a good team, the game was there, and LSU beat them handily, there can be no disagreement on that.

But, the question remains, is this resume that impressive? Is it more or less impressive considering Orgeron’s experiences at USC and Ole Miss? Does it merit being given one of the ten, perhaps five best jobs in college football?

Pictures from Fayettville

This week, in an effort to better explain some things, I took some screenshots of LSU’s offense and defense. Here they are.


LSU dominated, with about 550 yards on offense and 35 minutes of total possession. One way they did this was by creating space for their running backs, something the Les Regime did so poorly.

Here is a picture of what the box looked like at times against Arkansas.

LSU in the I-Form, 2 TEs for a run play. Arkansas responds by putting 8 guys in the front.

So this is a pretty good example of the kind of play Les and Cam ran all of the time. It’s an I-Formation with all lots of blockers and few receivers on the sides to spread the field. These’s nothing wrong with these kinds of plays, and it was smart to call it on this down as LSU needed 2 yards for a first down. But in the Les-Era, this play was getting called too regularly, which led to these kind of results.

Arkansas blows up the block on obvious run play

This should look familiar as Alabama did this to LSU all night.

Arkansas knew what was coming, and was able to penetrated deep into the backfield, nearly tackling Leonard for a loss (he managed to turn this into a large gain).

To counteract this, the Coach-O regime has done a few things including more and more effective play action. Here’s a quick look at how open Dupre was on a play action pass, when the safeties and LBs were too busy watching Fournette.

Play Action Pass Results in Big Gain

This is Dupre waiting for the ball. He was actually a lot more open, and a deeper throw would’ve resulted in him walking into the end zone.

And another thing that the staff has done is get the RBs into space using the passing game. Before, Fournette caught some passes, but not enough.

On one play, LSU lined up 3 wides to the left, and ran them all deep. Then, Fournette ran a wheel route into the area where those 3 wides had been. When he caught the ball, this is how wide open the field was.

No Defenders Around

When the defense gets too focused on the run, there are simple ways to beat them. It is nice to see that the new staff has employed these more often and more effectively.


On several occasions, I’ve discussed Aranda’s use of multiple fronts, multiple and different blitzers, and a variety of other techniques designed to confuse the offense.

Here are some examples of what Aranda does.

Below, LSU brought 4 down-line men. The standing LB, 52, did not rush, though he faked it, probably causing the offensive line some confusion.

On this play 52 dropped back into coverage

Now, let’s look at an occasion in which LSU did bring their LB.

LB Sack

This time, LSU did bring a LB, who got the sack as the above diagram shows.

To do this, LSU used 4 down line men and an LB who lined up across from the center. All of these defenders lined up on a long horizontal distance, spreading  out the line of scrimmage and Arkansas’ blocking.

I think the plan here was for the D-Line to spread out the O-Line in this way, which would create gaps in the middle. If a gap appeared, the interior LB (I believe it was Riley) had the responsibility to blitz the gap and hit whoever had the ball. If no gap appeared, the LB would stick in coverage. The plan worked out great, as it resulted in a sack.


Lots of teams try this chicanery, but few can do it as well as LSU and Aranda. A lot of this is because of LSU’s speed, which is so difficult to pick up. Aranda does a great job matching up his fast players with their slow plays, which results in sacks and general confusion in the offense’s blocking scheme. Linemen may have quick hands and feet, but they are not quick enough to adjust to a linebacker with a full head of steam.

Two Random Defense Pics

LSU Interception–4 Defenders in the area!
This was a bootleg pass play on 3rd and goal. Arkansas had a guy open, and a TD pass to the front pylon area looked possible. But, Arden Key fought off the block, got his hands up, and broke up the play forcing a FG.

A very good win for LSU against a program that has soundly beaten LSU in the past two seasons. LSU hasn’t had this good of a win against Arkansas since 2011, when Bobby Petrino twice flipped out on Les Miles.

Notable Tweets

Here are a few more interesting bits from other sources.

The offensive line, which was demolished last week, was notably better this week.

In part because of that good blocking, Guice set an LSU record

And there was this missed call by the refs

Lastly, Derek Ponamsky, former radio host and now special assistant to Coach O tweeted out the Boots return to LSU. Perhaps the ugliest rivalry trophy there is.

It’s Simple

LSU’s loss to Alabama is simple to understand. Initially, in the first half and for some of the second half, both teams defenses’ dominated the line of scrimmage. Bama dominated using primarily their linemen, 4 guys or so. These 4 obliterated LSU’s 5 offensive linemen, and forced LSU to use 1 or 2 blocking tight ends and 1 running back in pass protection. This added help was necessary, but it still didn’t do much. There were times in which Bama’s front four were pushing the offensive line back into Leonard Fournette mere moments after the hand-off. Bama linebackers didn’t have to cover tight ends who weren’t going out for passes and they didn’t have to worry about offensive linemen coming down field. Consequently, the linebackers were free to sprint through holes and tackle Fournette right around the line of scrimmage. Regardless of how good Fournette’s vision is, he couldn’t have watched the penetrating defensive linemen and the incoming linebackers. And even if he could have, there would have been nothing he could have done.

When LSU attempted to pass, they were committing 5, 6, 7, and at times 8 players to block. Sometimes Bama was just using their 4 defensive linemen to rush, which left 7 defensive players to cover as few as 3 or 4 offensive receivers. At times, Bama kept all 7 of these players in coverage, which made it impossible for Etling to complete a pass and resulted in a few coverage sacks. At other times, Bama blitzed with one or more of their extra players, making Etling’s life in the pocket even more hellish.  Etling just doesn’t have the arm strength or mobility to deal with tight passing windows and consistent pressure. For Bama, this was all very simple, basic math.

While Bama dominated the line with their personnel, LSU dominated Bama’s offensive line and the line of scrimmage with scheme. In the past, Aranda had seen Bama, and gotten his defense blown off the field. The main reason for this was Bama’s inside power running, which Aranda’s Wisconsin’s defensive line and linebacker blitzes couldn’t stop.

At LSU, though, Aranda’s defensive line didn’t get pushed around, and did a good job on the whole. The interior linebackers run-blitzed perfectly, and were often hitting Bama’s running backs just as they were attempting to accelerate through the hole. The interior and outside linebackers pass rushed a lot too, and forced Hurts to throw quickly. Hurts is an inaccurate passer, and was forced to throw to receivers who were covered by LSU’s exceptional corners. There just wasn’t enough time for Bama receivers to get free, so vertical passing wasn’t possible.

Without the vertical, Bama went horizontal and attempted a lot of spread-type plays, passes in the flat, short passes, etc. The idea here was to achieve one-on-one advantages with their receivers being big and fast and capable of breaking a tackle and getting a big gain. But this didn’t work either. As soon as Hurts would turn his shoulders to throw, LSU’s linebackers and defensive backs sprinted to the flat. Hurts would turn his shoulders left, squaring up a throw to the far side line, and as soon as the receiver caught it, Jamal Adams was there.

Overall, LSU’s defense’s first half was the best they’ve played all year, and in my opinion the best any LSU defense has looked since 2011. It was a perfect game plan executed perfectly against an extremely talented offensive. The Tigers have now lost to Wisconsin, Auburn, and Alabama despite the defense limiting those 3 teams to a combined 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately, in the second half, LSU gave up some long runs to Hurts, and appeared to fatigue. Bama also got away with some plays, like holding and their egregious personal fouls that were wiped away with one LSU personal foul.

(Above, a widely circulated image on Twitter that featured arguably 3 holds by Bama. Hurts ran for his TD on this run.)

But, Alabama’s pass rush maintained their absolute dominance for the entire game, and LSU never looked likely to get a first down much less score. LSU had 29 passing plays, including the times Etling wanted to pass but was sacked. 18 of those 29 plays resulted in a sack, a pick, or an incompletion. Of their 51 total plays, LSU had 22 that resulted in a turnover, an incompletion, a sack, or a negative gain on a rush. In other words, almost half of all offensive plays gained 0 yards or worse. While the first half was somewhat reminiscent of the 9-6 game in 2011, the second half was reminiscent of the 21-0 championship game in 2011, the first loss in what is now a long line of dreadful games. Sometimes, though, you just aren’t as good as the opponent. Football can be that simple.