LSU rolled to a relatively easy and mostly uninspiring 41-14 win over North Texas on Saturday night. Watching the game in Tiger Stadium, I was aggravated for most of the game. I felt that the team played sloppy and lacked emotion. However, a look at the stat sheet shows a pretty dominating performance, especially on the ground. Here are some observations:
- Even though this game dragged on and the team lost interest at times, the first quarter, when the team was 100% into things, was pretty impressive. LSU led 21-0 just a few seconds into the second quarter and had already rushed for 133 yards on just 10 carries. Defensively, LSU held North Texas without a first down.
- LSU's offense rolled to 508 yards, the most in a game since LSU's victory over Louisiana Tech in 2007. Despite that, I think fans were hoping for a little more from the offense. In his debut, Zach Mettenberger was a respectable 19 of 26 for 192 yards, but many of his passes were quick receiver screens to the outside. Since I find it hard to believe that LSU would have called 15 + receiver screens, I imagine many of those throws were checks made at the line of scrimmage. I know the fans would have liked to see more attacking down the field but after repeated failures in pass protection, including one that got Mettenberger flattened, I think the coaches were content to just run the football, throw quick passes, and wrap things up. Once that strategy became apparent, the entire stadium, team included, was just going through the motions. I suspect the intensity, on all fronts, will ramp up considerably next week against a legitimate opponent.
- Would fans feel better about things if LSU scored 51 points instead of 41? LSU had two trips to the red zone where they came away with no points. One was due to a rare missed field goal by Drew Alleman. The other was a poor interception by Zach Mettenberger that was picked off at the one yard line. Had LSU converted those scoring opportunities, I suspect we'd hear a bit less groaning. In 2011, LSU avoided mistakes like this and had one of the top red zone scoring percentages in the nation.
- Both Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard rushed for over 100 yards, something that had not happened since the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M when Stevan Ridley and Spencer Ware accomplished the feat. Both Blue and Hilliard looked great, and LSU turned to Mike Ford late in the game to act as the "closer". He looked solid too. Spencer Ware was out nursing a mild leg injury, but he'll be deadly as a late game closer too. In fact, it's almost not fair if Ware is used in that role.
- The most disappointing thing to me about Saturday night was that the defense failed to log a single sack. LSU was very basic in their blitz packages, and they did little to no stunting from the defensive line. But with both defensive ends getting All-American hype, you would have liked to see a sack or two. LSU did manage some pressure at times. Some of this was by design on the part of North Texas. They rolled out their quarterback a decent amount and otherwise got rid of the ball very quickly.
- The second most disappointing thing to me was the pressure that North Texas put on LSU. Mettenberger got hit way too often for a game like this. It seemed that most of their pressure came from extra blitzers that LSU failed to pick up, so I believe the correction to this issue is more mental than physical; however, LSU's offensive line is not completely without fault. They had some issues too.
- I thought Anthony Johnson played a great game at defensive tackle. He had a big time pass rush in the first quarter where he blew through the offensive line and rushed the quarterback into a poor throw. Later, he deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage. He also logged half of a tackle for loss at one point. He's a guy that LSU needs to have step up this year, and it was encouraging to see him play well in Week 1.
- I thought LSU's freshman cornerbacks, Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins, performed well in their college debut. North Texas made it a point to attack them, and they held their own.
- Jarvis Landry may have been the most impressive player on the field Saturday night. He grabbed eight catches for 82 yards, and two of those receptions were of the circus variety. He's also LSU's most physical receiver. Landry is going to be a lot of fun to watch this year.
- I loved what I saw from freshman linebacker Deion Jones. He looked good as a blitzer and completely blew up an end around attempt by North Texas. He showed some serious closing ability on that play, and he has a very bright future at LSU. He was also a mainstay on special teams.
- This game reminded me a bit of the opener in 2007 when LSU went to Starkville and posted an uninspiring 45-0 victory, if you can do such a thing. I remember hearing lots of concern over the offense and how flat the team looked. Then, a week later, the same team turned in the most impressive performance I've ever seen in a complete demolition of Virginia Tech. The point is not to draw too many conclusions, good or bad, from a game like this.
- LSU's next opponent, Washington, struggled a bit offensively in their opener. They defeated San Diego State by a meager score of 21-12, and one of those touchdowns was from the defense. If one game is any indication, the Huskies really miss running back Chris Polk, who had been a fixture for them the last three years. As a team, they rushed for just 106 yards and 3.4 yards per carry. Their top back, Bishop Sankey, rushed 22 times for only 66 yards. Based on that, it's tough to see them having much success on the ground against LSU. Of course, the passing game is where they really hurt people. But if they can't find any balance at all, then you have to like LSU's chances.
Tracking The Stats
- I believe that starting field position has been a huge key to LSU's success the last two seasons, and it's something I'm going to track again this year. In 2010, LSU's average starting field position was their own 40 yard line while opponents started, on average, from the 27. Last year, those numbers were 37 and 26 in LSU's favor. I suspect that the change in kickoff rules which brings touchbacks out to the 25 yard line will negate this advantage a bit for LSU this year, but we'll see. No real surprise that LSU had a big edge in their game against North Texas. LSU averaged a start from their own 32 yard line while North Texas averaged a start from their own 22.
- Another stat I like to track is rushing differential, which is simply rushing yards gained minus rushing yards allowed. Only three times since 2000 has LSU achieved a rushing differential of +100 or greater. Want to guess the years? 2003 (118.71), 2007 (108.07), and 2011 (112.5). Some pretty good teams that all played for a national championship. In the opener, LSU outrushed North Texas 316 to 76 for a differential of 240. So yea...off to a good start.
Once we get into the heart of the season, we'll be tracking a few more things. The data simply isn't there at this point.
Though I am a tiger fan, I have to say that enough credit was not given to North Texas for their play on the field (I have to go there, my son is a member of the team). Even though they seemed to crack under the pressure of being in Death Valley, had special teams not flopped, that score could have easily been 27-21.