10/12/15 6:05 am CDT
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
I’m happy to start this report with some great news on the recruiting front: Late last night, LSU picked up a big commitment from the state’s top linebacker, Michael Divinity (6-2, 225, John Ehret). After not signing a single linebacker in February, this was the biggest position of need for the 2016 recruiting class, and with Divinity on board the Tigers are now well on track to meeting their needs. Divinity, the No. 5 overall prospect on our list of Top Louisiana Football Prospects for 2016, and an Under Armour All-American selection, chose LSU over Oregon, Texas A&M, Florida State and a long list of other offers. With his pledge, LSU’s 2016 commitment class contains 19 commitments and is No. 2 in the nation, right behind Ohio State, in 247Sports team rankings. If you’ve got a minute to spare on this Monday morning, check out Divinity’s highlight video to see what a great get he is.
After LSU’s impressive 45-24 win over South Carolina, the Tigers climbed one spot to No 6 in the AP Top-25 and remained at No 5 in the Coaches Poll. LSU’s next opponent, the Florida Gators, climbed to No. 8 in the AP and No. 11 in the Coaches poll after a 21-3 win at Missouri. Other SEC teams in the Top-25 of the two polls include Texas A&M (9/10), Alabama (10/9) and Ole Miss (13/12). For a look at the complete rankings, click here.
It was extremely encouraging to see LSU’s passing game come to life against South Carolina, especially since LSU will be facing the No. 2 rush defense in the SEC this Saturday when they take on the Florida Gators. That game is scheduled to kickoff at 6 p.m. in Tiger Stadium and will be televised by ESPN. According to LSU Athletics Director of Digital Media, Todd Politz, Saturday’s game will mark only the ninth time in school history that two undefeated AP top-10 teams battle it out in Tiger Stadium. In case you’re wondering, LSU has opened as a 7.5-point favorite, according to VegasInsider.
We’ll have much more on the Florida game later this week, but today we’ll proceed with our normal order of business by “rewinding” and discussing a few topics from Saturday’s game that a lot of you asked about. Here we go…
Monday Morning Rewind - South Carolina Edition
Balance, Improvement in Passing Game
The biggest positive from Saturday’s game was the emergence of a potent passing game. Heading into the game, an 18-of-28 passing line for 228 yards and two touchdowns seemed hard to fathom. Through the first four games of the season, LSU had attempted an average of 15.75 passes per game, and 62% of you who voted in my poll Saturday thought Brandon Harris would not eclipse the 19 attempts mark. What LSU did on Saturday by coming out throwing and attempting 23 passes in the first half alone will go a long way in serving notice to future opponents that they had better think twice about loading the box. Equally impressive as the number of passing attempts was the number of Tigers with receptions (7).
There are a lot of things Harris and the wide receivers did well in the win against South Carolina. The fade in the end zone was undoubtedly Harris’ best throw. On his first touchdown pass of the game, Harris dropped back from under center to loft a beautifully timed fade pass to Dupré. Harris has hit that pass time and time again throughout his young career, and if he can keep efficiently throwing it, LSU will give teams fits in the red zone. And while the Tigers carved South Carolina up on the ground, LSU mixed in some passing to throw off the rhythm of the Gamecocks’ defense. One example of this was on a dig-route in the I-formation. South Carolina concentrated on stopping Leonard Fournette by loading the box, while Harris dropped back to pass and hit Dural in the hands as he came back to the ball. Last but not least, Harris showed a lot of poise by leading a quick scoring drive with a little over a minute to play in the first half. We got on him a little bit in last week’s MMR for not checking down in the passing game, but that’s exactly what he did on that drive, and he got his team a field goal despite only having one timeout to drive the field.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, J. D. Moore suffered an injury to his left knee on the first drive of the game. The good news is that Les Miles doesn’t believe the injury to be serious. Hopefully we’ll get an update on Moore’s injury when Coach Miles addresses the media today for his weekly luncheon. A lot of you commented to me that Leonard Fournette didn’t look as impressive without Moore in the game (I think someone described him as looking downright mortal), and I agree to an extent. It did take LSU a few series to get its rushing attack going in his absence, and that speaks volumes about the chemistry between Moore and Fournette, but obviously it did get going as the Tigers racked up 396 yards on the ground. Two other things to note about Fournette’s less impressive first half numbers (he had 49 yards at halftime) is that South Carolina was selling out against the run, putting as many as 10 men in the box at times, and LSU played a portion of the second quarter without starting left tackle Jerald Hawkins who suffered an apparent knee injury and took a trip to the locker room before returning just before intermission.
With Moore out of action. freshman fullback Bry’Kiethon Mouton saw a lot of action. On the first play of the second drive, Mouton hit linebacker Jonathan Walton and didn't move him at all. Fournette followed and bumped into Mouton before reversing field and suffering a loss. Mouton rebounded from that play and went on to have a very impressive game considering it was his first significant action.
Big Plays Allowed on Defense
A lot of you have inquired about LSU’s defense giving up big plays, so let’s take a look at what happened in Saturday’s game. Most of the big plays on defense resulted in bad match-ups on Pharoh Cooper. Cooper is one of the best wide receivers in the conference, and leaving Dwayne Thomas one-on-one with him in the first quarter created a long reception that set up the field goal on the drive. Jamal Adams was a little late coming over to help Thomas, and a great player made a big play. On the second touchdown of the game by the Gamecocks, a circus catch was made (not much you can do about that as Kevin Toliver had tight coverage) before a 4th-and-8 conversion went for a touchdown. The Gamecocks threw to their tight end against a zone defense that saw a missed tackle by Adams on the tail end. I’m pointing out Adams here, but I am not at all down on him. Adams is one of LSU’s best defensive players, and these miscues don’t usually come often from him. On the third touchdown of the game for South Carolina, Cooper was lined up in the slot with a mismatch against Rickey Jefferson, a safety. It proved to be a huge blunder to have Jefferson holding Cooper without any safety help. Cooper ran a slant, caught a pass and went 43 yards for the score. As implied in our “morning after” report, getting safety Jalen Mills back will be a big help, and that could come as early as this Saturday against Florida.
Special Teams Must Be Fixed
LSU’s opening kickoff by Trent Domingue gave us a precursor of what was to come, as it bounced out of bounds and give South Carolina great field position on an eventual field goal-ending drive. Cameron Gamble came in to kick the next two kickoffs. The first one was a beauty that landed in the end zone for a touchback, but the next one landed on the 4-yard line and was returned for a touchdown. It appears that poor discipline of staying in the lanes (“lane integrity”) by LSU players allowed a huge hole for South Carolina’s returner. One thing to note, though, as pointed out in Ross Dellenger’s film study, is that the large majority of Tigers on the return team were grouped on the left side of the field, as if the kick was intended to go in that direction. Gambles’ kick was driven right down the center of the field, giving South Carolina’s returner a gaping hole on the TD return. The next three kicks of the game came from Domingue. Two were pooch kicks that gave the Gamecocks great field position, and the final one went to the 3-yard line and was returned to the 25.
Because of LSU’s kickoff and kick return coverage problems, South Carolina had a short field to work with all day. In fact, none of the Gamecocks’ scoring drives was more than 62 yards.
If one of LSU’s kickers could kick the ball into the endzone with consistency, that would go a long way toward alleviating the problem, but there’s no excuse for the lapses in coverage we’ve seen with the caliber of athletes LSU has on the coverage team. LSU has got to get its special teams problems fixed, and fast. The Tigers simply can’t afford to give away so many hidden yards against Florida this week, or against any future opponent for that matter.
Today’s bottom line: Sure, LSU still has some work to do, but I’m very pleased with where the Tigers are at this point. What LSU accomplished on Saturday with the passing game was exactly what was needed, and it came at the ideal time with Florida looming large. We’ll have a much better idea of just how special this Tiger team is in five days, and I can hardly wait. It’s a great time to be a Tiger!
In closing, it’s time to share with you the results of our Week 6 Louisiana High School Pickem Contest. Last night we analyzed the picks, crunched the numbers, and found that the winner of this week contest is user Lawrence Ward (L Ward). Mr. Ward correctly picked an incredible 46 out of 50 games (92%!). You might recognize Mr. Ward’s name, as he was a weekly winner in 2013 during the first year of this competition. I’ll add Mr. Wards’ bio to our list of Weekly Winners later today, and I’m shooting to mail out DandyDon.con bumper stickers and koozies to all of this year’s weekly winner later today or tomorrow. Voting for this week’s games is now open and we hope many of you will decide to join in the action. Please note that it’s never too late to join our Pickem Contest as we’ll be announcing each week’s winner.