As ugly victories go, this one was a beaut.
LSU fans can finally exhale after waiting a long off-season to see if the program’s downward trend would continue. The Tigers 33-17 victory – equally convincing and worrisome – over Miami at JerryWorld, screams that the Tigers are back, and in need of major work.
I’m not saying LSU belongs back in the elite with Alabama and Clemson, but the program’s fall has not been as precipitous as perceived nationally. That said, this team looked like it’s somewhere close to last year’s 9-4 club, but still may be a due a double digit rise in the polls from No. 25.
The victory eases the pressure somewhat on Coach Ed Orgeron and gives LSU a good launching pad against a rough schedule ahead.
The newly unleashed offense looked only half unleashed and transfer/savior quarterback Joe Burrow looked a lot like Danny Etling. But the 33-3 third quarter lead seemed to come so easily, with Miami’s help, there seemed no point to get risky, especially with the way the defense was playing.
About that defense, it came up with two turnovers and a touchdown of its own that really broke the game open. Jacob Phillips’ 45-yard return of an interception is the type of big play that was lacking last year. LSU’s front-line rotation shut down the Miami running game and the intense pass rush registered four sacks and five hurries.
And don’t leave out special teams for its role in propping up the offense. Cole Tracy looks as good an acquisition as Burrow, hitting all four field goal attempts, including a school-record tying 54-yarder that skipped off the crossbar. The punting and coverage was up to standard.
All in all, it was a major accomplishment considering the hype around the game and the opponent. Miami may not have been worthy of a top 10 ranking but it was still a huge challenge for LSU.
Burrow is going to be better than Etling when he starts getting the protection. He maintained his poise under constant pressure and showed his moxie with key audibles on Nick Brossette’s 50-yard touchdown run and a key fourth-down conversion that led to a field goal before halftime. For a guy who showed up in June, he looked like he was confidently in charge. One of his biggest plays was a third down scramble for a first down when Miami was starting to gain life in the fourth quarter and the Tigers were backed up near their goal line.
Burrow completed 11 of 24 throws but was generally on target with two drops and nothing close to an interception. The fact LSU did not turn the ball over was a credit to him.
The running game was actually better than the passing game. Brossette had difficulty finding running room on a regular basis but made some key runs and showed excellent vision.
It’s hard to judge the wide receivers, but Ed Orgeron wasn’t lying about sophomore Justin Jefferson. He led the team with five catches, which means he was getting open, and outshone the two higher touted freshmen Terrace Marshall and Ja’Marr Chase.
Nothing is going to happen unless the offensive line makes some drastic improvement. LSU was outgained 342-296 and was three-of-16 on third down conversions. Miami had eight tackles for loss and LSU averaged 3.8 yards per rush. The O-line had its moments but was generally a mess, and it will be facing a much better defensive line in two weeks at Auburn.
Until that offensive line comes around, the Tigers are going to bank on defense and special teams. I liked the energy the defense showed. The front seven was nearly flawless, the pass rush relentless and the tackling solid. If the defense has issues, they are in the secondary. Kristian Fulton’s talent is obvious but so was his lack of experience at times. He had two of the team’s four pass breakups but his back-to-back pass interference penalties fueled a Miami scoring drive.
As the offense improves, expect the it to become more daring. Until then, expect a lot of field goal attempts. I know LSU fans were frustrated watching the Tigers pass on a chance to deliver a knockout blow by trying to work the clock in the middle of the third quarter. That was smart coaching. Better days should be ahead.
Orgeron vindicated himself with this victory although for a while, in the first quarter, he looked like a screaming maniac as LSU used all three timeouts because of serious communication issues. Those should be ironed out. A lot was new on Sunday and the staff has a template to work from.
I thought it interesting what Burrow said on the post-game television interview when he said he’d heard LSU for a 7-5 or 6-6 program. But upon arriving at LSU he saw it wasn’t 6-6 talent. What it said is that LSU is back but it was never actually gone. This Tiger team has the talent to compete for the conference title, as it has for the past several years.
For Orgeron to keep his job, he’s going to have to build on it. Sunday’s victory was a good starting point.