On a rainy, messy Saturday night on the tail end of Thanksgiving weekend, LSU and Texas A&M wallowed through an alleged Southeastern Conference football game that was as yucky as the conditions.
One-loss A&M, ranked as the No. 5 team in the nation since poll voters apparently can’t find any other squad worth a hoot in the COVID-19 season of no reason, looked like a collection of individuals that hadn’t played since November 7 because of coronavirus quarantine.
While LSU’s defense showed up for the first time this season and finally gave the Tigers a chance to win, LSU’s offense appeared only when it was time to leave for the night.
It was as it has been most of the season – freshmen quarterbacks who didn’t have enough time except to throw slant routes that were always a yard short on first downs in third-down situations and a non-existent running game with backs having no holes to run through.
In an extraordinary display of inept offensive football for both teams with the game’s only offensive TDs in the last minute of the first quarter and in the final minute of almost four hours of eye torture, A&M claimed a 20-7 victory to drop LSU to 3-4 as the Tigers continued their loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss tango.
The game was even in its awfulness.
Both teams gained 267 yards, both were 2-of-16 in third-down conversions, both had 56 tackles including 28 solos each, both had 7 3-and-outs. The number of offensive snaps were almost dead even (72-71 LSU), the miniscule average yards per play almost the same (3.8-3.7, Texas A&M), number of punts (12-11, Texas A&M) and first downs (16-14, Texas A&M).
It was such a strange game that the coordinator of the 112th worst defense in the FBS (Division 1) was actually complimented by his boss for sticking it to the Aggies, who were supposedly hellbent of revenge for last season’s LSU 50-7 beatdown of A&M in Baton Rouge.
“Give Bo Pelini and the defensive staff credit, give our players credit,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “We played very well up front. We gave up too many yards on (running back Isaiah) Spiller, but for the most part we played well.”
The Tigers got some help from A&M’s curious offensive game plan and play calling. For the first time this year, an opposing quarterback was brazen enough to keep challenging LSU all-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
For some reason, A&M QB Kellen Mond kept going at Stingley. Mond was just 11 of 34 for 105 yards and Stingley was credited for three pass breakups.
LSU’s offensive game plan was nothing to write home about, even by Orgeron’s admission.
“I think we’ve got to call better plays, we’ve got to have a better plan,” Orgeron said. “I was disappointed in our plan. . .it starts with protection. We had some (A&M) guys free hitting the quarterback, we were getting beat off the edge. Obviously, we want to get a lot of guys out (in pass routes), but maybe we should have kept more guys in (for pass protection).
“They (A&M) had a good plan for our protections and we didn’t adjust to it. I thought we were going to catch fire on offense, but we never did.”
Last season in the Tigers’ 15-0 national championship season, LSU’s Joe Burrow-led offense was an out-of-control wildfire, like scoring TDs on its first four possessions vs. Texas A&M.
This year, especially since starting QB Myles Brennan went down for the season after tearing abdominal muscles vs. Missouri in game three, LSU’s offense has been like watching Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway” trying to create a spark cracking two rocks together.
Just twice in the last four games – and it happened both times in the win over South Carolina – LSU has scored TDs on consecutive possessions.
It’s the result of being forced to use two true freshman quarterbacks – TJ Finley and Max Johnson – who don’t have the luxury of having a great rushing game, a protective offensive line and a lights-out defense to take the pressure off of having to be virtually perfect.
Finley has started all four games since Brennan got hurt. He has blown hot and cold, often in the same game and even in the same series and it’s to be expected for someone learning on the fly.
His 9-of-25 for 118 yards and two interceptions vs. the Aggies, including a Pick 6 that earned the sideline wrath of Orgeron, was aggravating because LSU’s defense kept the Tigers within striking distance all night.
Against A&M, Johnson saw his most extensive action to date and performed admirably. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 113 yards, including 8 of 12 for 77 yards and 3-yard TD to Terrace Marshall Jr. on LSU’s last possession.
Was that enough to earn him a start next Saturday when No. 1 Alabama’s St. Nick makes a trip to Baton Rouge 20 days ahead of the original St. Nick?
It doesn’t seem if it matters who will be LSU’s starting QB, because the Crimson Tide are going to thoroughly hammer the Tigers. Yet from a standpoint of mobility and which freshman can run for his life faster escaping a pass rush and making plays on the run, then Johnson might be the choice to get his first college start.
Again, it probably doesn’t matter, and it won’t in the final three games. Unless Alabama next Saturday and Florida on Dec. 12 in Gainesville show up bored to play LSU and with wandering focus – something that’s not likely because the Tide and the Gators want to clinch SEC Championship game berths – the Tigers are destined for their first losing season since 1999.
It had to happen sooner or later. You just didn’t expect it after the greatest season in LSU football history. And there’s no way you could predict the 2020 Tigers would look so embarrassingly inept too many times against inferior talent.
The last three games, including the Dec. 19 Tiger Stadium finale Ole Miss, probably won’t change anything about this season.
But the way LSU competes or doesn’t compete will speak volumes about where the program will be in 2021 when our world hopefully will be headed back to normalcy with full stadiums and genuine excitement.