After ending 2018 on a high note and starting 2019 with high expectations, the marquee matchup of Week 2 will also tell much of the story of whether or not Texas is back. Can they go toe-to-toe with a talented squad that’s looking to make a statement of its own?
To get some insight into the Tigers, we asked Zachary Junda (@ZacharyJunda) of And the Valley Shook to help us get some insight into the Tigers.
Burnt Orange Nation: There was a lot of talk this offseason about LSU changing its offensive philosophy to more of a “true spread” and against Georgia Southern Joe Burrow looked good running it. Is it more a product of Burrow’s development or his fit in the scheme?
And the Valley Shook: I’d say Burrow’s development is the biggest reason the offense looked as good as it did Saturday. Remember in three years at Ohio State, Burrow only played in ten games and threw 39 passes. They say a player’s biggest jump in development is year one to year two, and I’d say the same applies to Burrow going into year two as the starter in Baton Rouge. It’s common knowledge here, but Burrow’s only taking online classes this year, so much of his time is being spent in the football facility watching film, and it looks like that’s paying off. I think Burrow’s career is mirroring Zach Mettenberger’s in one specific way: After putting up pedestrian numbers his first season as a starter in 2012, the light finally seemed to click for Mett against Alabama and he ended the season throwing for 250 yards in three consecutive SEC games, the first time an LSU quarterback had done that since 1989. For Burrow, his Alabama game was the Fiesta Bowl against UCF. In his last six quarters of football, Burrow’s thrown for 672 yards, nine touchdowns and completing 72 percent of his passes. Much is being made about passing game coordinator Joe Brady bringing LSU out of the stone age, but Burrow’s the one making the throws.
BON: Conversely, LSU did not seem as potent on the ground as they have been in years past, with 122 rushing yards on 33 carries. Is this another product of the new offensive philosophy or a product of playing your backups for a big chunk of the game?
ATVS: Yes the YPC wasn’t great for LSU last week, especially for a team that’s been able to run on virtually anybody they’ve wanted to. But there’s a couple of factors that need to be considered. First, if you don’t include the yards and attempts from Joe Burrow and backup quarterback Myles Brennan, the Tiger running backs averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Still not the best number, but it’s better than the cumulative 3.3. Second, LSU was without starting left tackle Saahdiq Charles, though the offensive line still pass protected very well. LSU also used a running back by committee approach instead of feeding starting back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Edwards-Helaire got nine carries for 45 yards, but after that we saw the drop off. Lanard Fournette isn’t close to the running back that his brother is. John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price are both true freshen and Chris Curry is a redshirt freshman. I think LSU will want to stick by the committee approach because while you may be sacrificing a little in the production, LSU can be constantly rotating in fresh legs to put away worn down defenses. Also the backs combined to catch 12 passes for 96 yards, which was unheard of prior to this year.
BON: Defensively, the Tigers completely bottled up the Eagles, holding them under 100 yards and surrendering just eight first downs all game. What was the key for the Tigers success Saturday?
ATVS: This can go a lot of different ways. Some would owe the success to nose tackle Tyler Shelvin finally getting his conditioning right and eating up blocks to let the linebackers run loose; K’Lavon Chassion returning to the field and giving Dave Aranda that true pass rusher is also a key ingredient to the Tiger defense. But I would say Jacoby Stevens playing the Tyrann Mathieu role is what puts the defense over the top. With Grant Delpit, Kristian Fulton, Derek Stingley Jr. and Todd Harris, LSU has a strong enough secondary for Stevens, the safety/linebacker hybrid to roam the field and create havoc. Now, Stevens isn’t the turnover machine that Mathieu was, but with his size and speed he can be the queen on Dave Aranda’s chess board that he can be deployed anywhere.
BON: From the one time you’ve been able to see them on the field, what was the most-impressive aspect of the Tigers’ game and what is something that is potentially concerning?
ATVS: LSU’s always had really talented skill position players, but you wouldn’t know that based off the scheme the Tigers have been running for the past ten years or so. But now that Joe Brady’s joined the staff, the depth at receiver and running back is finally being brought to light. Consider this: Against Georgia Southern, 14 different players caught a pass. Last year, 14 different players caught a pass in all of 2018. Five different running backs caught a pass Saturday night, four running backs caught a pass all of last season. Brady’s got playmakers everywhere and Saturday night he made sure opponents had to prepare for all 14 different options Burrow can throw to.
Now, that said, the offensive line still gives me pause and could be the one thing that derails LSU’s season. LSU didn’t give up a sack despite missing its starting left tackle, but like we talked about the yards per carry left a little to be desired. Alabama’s defensive front has laid waste to LSU’s line the past few years and that could still be the Tigers’ undoing.
BON: What is one matchup you are watching Saturday?
ATVS: As much as I gassed up the LSU secondary, it was against a Group of Five team that runs the triple option at home. Playing a top-10, spread offense team in their building is an entirely different animal. I’m not worried about Kristian Fulton, but I think everyone on Earth knows Sam Ehlinger will be going after true freshman Derek Stingley Jr. Saturday night. He was an early enrollee and he’s been compared to Patrick Peterson, but we won’t know if those lofty comparisons are valid until Saturday. The same worry can be applied to first-year starting safety Todd Harris. The junior has logged plenty of game experience, but taking over as the starter for John Battle is an entirely different challenge.
BON: If you were in Austin for College GameDay, what would be your GameDay sign?