By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Every week, Tiger Rag will post ten plays that help tell the story of LSU’s most recent game. Some of the things, we like. Others, we don’t. Here’s the recap of the Tigers’ 34-13 win over Jacksonville State.
1. Like: The Harris-Dupre faltering connection
Malachi Dupre and Brandon Harris forged a quick bond when they both arrived as much-heralded freshmen in 2014. That was true both off the field and on it. They worked out together in California before their freshman seasons, forming a quick chemistry come fall. Though Anthony Jennings got most of the reps in 2014, Dupre was at his best with Harris. The two connected on eight of Dupre’s 14 receptions (57%), 190 of his 318 yards (57%), and four of his five scores (80%).
It’s no surprise Harris looks to Dupre in tight spots. So far, that’s been a hindrance in 2016.
For whatever reason, Dupre has struggled early in 2016. Maybe it’s having three position coaches in three years. Maybe it’s a lack of development coming from a run-heavy high school offense to a run-heavy college offense. Maybe it’s something else entirely. But Dupre’s yet to hit the heights many expected of the former No. 1 prep prospect at his position.
Here, in the first quarter, Harris is facing a 3rd and 2 after a questionable false start call on Will Clapp. Jacksonville State blitzes five and plays Cover 1 — man across the board with one deep safety. The safety starts on Dupre’s side, but at the snap, sprints to the middle of the field.
If Harris wasn’t going to Dupre before, he definitely is now — even if DeSean Smith in the slot probably has the best matchup and does create separation.
Dupre doesn’t. He gets jammed up through his entire route, and while it might have been a penalty on the corner, you’d expect more from a projected first round choice.
Compare that to Jarvis Landry as a junior, who was an automatic third down conversion machine for Zach Mettenberger because he would physically win every battle with cornerbacks.
Harris, if he returns, could really use a Jarvis Landry. Right now, he doesn’t have one, and it makes his margin for error that much smaller.
2. Dislike: Max protect passing
I’m on the record as saying a good bit of LSU fan complaints regarding the playcalling is overblown. Yes, LSU’s offense is arcane. No, they don’t follow the modern rule of successful college football offense: get athletes the ball in space. The sooner you accept that, the better.
But when LSU’s quarterback is accurate, as Danny Etling was in the second half, the offense tends to work. The engine, as Les Miles said famously last November, is fine.
This, however, is a prime example of where LSU fans are exactly right.
On second and 7 from their own 8, Cam Cameron dials up a play action pass from the two-tight I-formation, sending just two receivers — wide out Travin Dural and tight end Colin Jeter — on routes over the middle of the field. Their routes end up so close that one defender could cover both.
Except Jacksonville State has three back there. And two more linebackers in front of them. Because they rush just six, the Gamecocks have five defenders to cover two receivers.
Harris tries to hit Colin Jeter, the best of two terrible options, but can’t get the ball up and down with the right touch. Jeter wasn’t really open anyway. The best Harris could have done was try to scramble for a few yards or just throw the ball away. It’s a terrible play called at a terrible time.
LSU has run this play hundreds of times over the last three years. As Miles said after the game, “it was just exactly the same offense that we have been running for as long as I can remember.”
The real problem with this play — besides running just two routes, and essentially running them into the same throwing window — is how hard it is on a quarterback. There are NFL quarterbacks who would struggle with this concept. Jimbo Fisher wouldn’t ask Deondre Francis to make this throw, and certainly not if he were lacking for confidence. Dabo Swinney wouldn’t ask Deshaun Watson to make this throw. LSU is asking Harris to make an NFL throw when he’s struggling with high school throws. That’s a tough ask, to say the least.
(Note: Etling’s interception in the second half also came from this same max protect play action pass concept.)
3. Like: Donte Jackson’s photo finish
The kick return was special, flag excluded. (By the way, LSU still hasn’t return a kick for a touchdown in Tiger Stadium since 1981.)
The finish was great. Jackson’s a track guy, and he looked the part both hitting the hole and crossing the end zone.
4. Like: Etling’s accuracy
All eight of Etling’s first half throws were right on the money. His first was a strike to a well-covered Colin Jeter that was a risk worth taking. The second, Dupre dropped. After a check down and a screen to Darrel Williams, he fired this gem to DeSean Smith for a touchdown.
Etling stares at the safety, keeping him in the middle of the field. He recognized pre-snap Jacksonville State would be in a man and realized Smith’s man had no chance of keeping up with him.
Great read. Great throw. Great execution.
5. Like: Tre’Davious White as The Honey Badger Reincarnated
This. Is. Insane.
Tre'Davious White. Wow. pic.twitter.com/0yJ2k92b1D
— Tiger Rag (@Tiger_Rag) September 11, 2016
6. Like: Arden Key with a hand in the dirt
He’s still adjusting to outside linebacker, but when Key gets a hand in the dirt and pins his ears back on third down, he’s a monster.
7. Like: Two tailbacks
Darrel Williams and Derrius Guice partnered up here for what could’ve been a big play. Etling steps up almost too much in the pocket, and can’t properly step into the throw, but it’s a pretty good toss and a catch Guice nearly makes. This look should be especially dangerous with Guice and Fournette.
8. Like: Kickoff coverage improvements
Credit to Cam Gamble for pinning JSU in the corner on just about every kick. The kickoff was a liability last year. Now there are some athletes on the coverage team and Gamble’s finding some consistency with that skied, placed kick into a corner. Jacksonville State’s average starting position was its own 25, a 10 yard improvement for LSU from last week.
Nice tackle by Russell Gage, too.
9. Like: Rashard Lawrence’s swim move
Kid’s a monster.
10. Dislike: Harris’ quick departure
After every home game, LSU gathers in front of the band to sing the alma mater.
Harris decided not to participate Saturday.
Damn, even Mike the Tiger stuck it out longer pic.twitter.com/WiRCW8PeJH
— Michael Cauble (@Cauble) September 11, 2016
Add in Harris’ Tuesday antics on Twitter, and boy is his stock down.