By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
- Everything was not the same
While the scoreboard flashed an all-too-familiar result, another double-digit loss to Alabama, LSU’s 24-10 defeat in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night came with some unmistakable signs of progress against the Southeastern Conference’s benchmark program.
For one, LSU covered the point spread against the Tide for the first time since 2012. Surely there’s a subsection of Tiger fans who were pleased with that potentially lucrative development considering the grim prospects of being a three-touchdown underdog for the first time since 1994.
But in the grander scheme of things, LSU actually played a more competitive game than the 24-10 score might indicate.
Let’s start up front, where Alabama has annually whipped the Tigers on both sides of the line. The Tiger front seven slowed the Alabama ground game, which nobody expected, and actually outrushed the Tide 151-116.
An offensive line starting two true freshmen opened some holes against the nation’s best run defense. Overall LSU outgained Alabama 306-299, picked up two more first downs (16 to 14) on the night and dominated time of possession by nearly 10 minutes.
“No, no I don’t,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron responded, asked if he believed in moral victories. “Here’s the deal man, we came here to beat Alabama. But I know our guys mindset in there, and we’re coming.”
At the end of the day, the difference in the game was singular. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts made plays out of thin air while LSU quarterback Danny Etling was presented with wide-open throws down the field and couldn’t convert.
As wide receiver Russell Gage bluntly put it, there were plays to be made down the field and LSU simply didn’t hit them.
“We could beat these guys. We knew we could,” Gage said. “So I’m not going to sit here and praise them. They’re a good football team, but if we hit those deep balls, we can beat these guys. We’re not just going to have a moral victory over not executing.”
It’s a frustrating reality for LSU, knowing an accurate throw or two could’ve made it an entirely different ball game, but the fact LSU was able to move the ball at all is a promising development.
Last year’s 10-0 Bama loss was technically a closer game on the scoreboard, but anybody who was there knows that game could’ve went on all night and LSU still would’ve have mustered a point. Etling’s numbers might’ve been worse last year, but he ostensibly had no chance. That wasn’t the case Saturday.
LSU being a good quarterback away from seriously challenging Alabama sounds like a rewind to 2012, but hey, it’s a step in the right direction after a series of listless blowouts.
More on where the quarterback position goes from here in thought No. 3.
- Credit the Coordinators
Having two weeks to prepare for Alabama paid major dividends for the first time in a long time. Given some of the mismatches in personnel, the game plans of Matt Canada and Dave Aranda were nothing short of brilliant.
Canada finally broke the monotonous insanity that was LSU lining up and running the ball into the teeth of the Alabama defense year after year. His patented jet sweeps opened up some room for Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, and when Canada dialed up deep balls, there were plays to be made.
Consider the winkle of using Williams and a Wildcat quarterback. He took a direct snap in the third quarter and barreled 54 yards inside the Alabama 10-yard line. The big back — who is earning himself some NFL money these past few weeks — cashed in LSU’s only touchdown a few plays later.
“We needed that, and it looks like we may need more of it,” Orgeron said. “Listen man, our guys busted their tails on the gameplan. We’ve been working on these guys for two weeks. I thought we had the right plays called. We just didn’t make the plays when we had to.”
Aranda deployed an effective spy on Hurts and managed to keep Alabama’s downhill running game from ever gaining traction. He brought pressure and got home, sacking the elusive quarterback four times.
At times Hurts escaped out the back door and made plays with his legs, but that’s what dynamic quarterbacks do. A guy that good is going to make some plays, but credit LSU for making sure nothing came easy for him.
If there was one let down for the LSU defense, it was in the secondary. Orgeron admitted he didn’t expect Alabama’s receivers to be able to beat his cornerbacks in one-on-one coverage, but at times they did.
“I thought we played very well on defense tonight,” Orgeron said. “I did not think their receivers would challenge us like they did. I thought that was the difference in the ball game. We could not cover their receivers man to man like we usually do.”
- About the quarterbacks
LSU yanked Etling in favor of Myles Brennan for the game’s final drive to get the freshman some meaningful snaps. Orgeron confirmed Etling wasn’t injured, but said his job isn’t in any immediate peril.
“We’ll have the same plan,” Orgeron said when asked directly about Brennan’s chances of taking over as the starter this season.
Brennan played about as well as he could considering the circumstances. He completed 3-of-5 passes for 18 yards before being rolled over by a pass rush that was able to pin its ears back and go after the quarterback.
“I thought he looked good. Obviously some pressure. Made some good decisions,” Orgeron said of Brennan. “Myles is going to have a chance to be our quarterback. I don’t know if he’s going to be our quarterback next year, but he has to get some experience and we just wanted to give him a shot.”
So why not make the full-time move to Brennan now that any hopes of winning the SEC West are toast? Why not turn full attention to the future, especially given how bad Etling was on Saturday night?
The answer can be found in LSU’s schedule. The Tigers will be heavy favorites in remaining games with Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M, two of which will be played at Tiger Stadium. LSU has been installed as an 18.5-point favorite over the Hogs, according to the Vegas Insider Consensus.
If LSU wins out, they’ll be 9-3 with some very desirable bowl destinations on the table in front of them. A 10-win season could even be in play, which would be quite the turnaround for Orgeron and Co. following the loss to Troy.
LSU only needs solid, steady quarterback play to win its remaining games, and like it or not, Etling is still the quarterback best equipped to lead them there. But that doesn’t mean Orgeron and Canada shouldn’t look for every opportunity they can to get Brennan some meaningful work.