“Reason to smile”

Sophomore Kenny Hilliard rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns against North Texas. PHOTO BY CHRIS GRAYTHEN / GETTY IMAGES.

BATON ROUGE — As is the case with most football games involving LSU, Tiger fans can be quick to judge individual games and even single plays out as catastrophic microcosms of things to come for the LSU team.

While things went relatively smoothly last season in that department until the return of Jordan Jefferson as starting quarterback for the Western Kentucky game, 2012 looks like it may be business as usual in Baton Rouge.

No. 1 LSU did not play like the Coaches’ Poll’s top-ranked team Saturday night in whipping North Texas 41-14. But then again, when you’re in the midst of experiencing the best run of LSU football in school history, it is easier to notice the negatives.

Like Eric Reid, a preseason first-team All-American, being to blame for the two North Texas touchdowns.

Or the seeming lack of focus by the Tiger offensive line as quarterback Zach Mettenberger was under pressure all night and even had to leave the game and field after a vicious hit by Mean Green cornerback Hilbert Jackson on a third-down play late in the first quarter.

Or the string of careless penalties, two of which wiped touchdowns off the board.

Or the fact that LSU didn’t in fact throw for 736 yards in Mettenberger’s debut. (However, Sam Durley of Division III Eureka did, breaking a twelve year old NCAA record).

It is easy for Tiger fans on message boards to harp on the negatives because, quite frankly, they are spoiled. Spoiled by a dominant program that will be every bit as capable of defending their SEC championship as was expected before Saturday night.

Safety Eric Reid didn’t have his best game as a Tiger Saturday night, but expect that to motivate him going forward. PHOTO BY CHRIS GRAYTHEN / GETTY IMAGES.

To be fair, it is not all fans. Most fans see the following silver linings:

Yes, Eric Reid got burned for both Mean Green touchdowns, but it’s Eric Reid, arguably the best defensive player on the team, one who scored an incredible diving interception earlier in the game. One of his jobs last night was to nurse into action two freshman cover corners, and he played more man-to-man in the slot than he will once defensive coordinator John Chavis implements more of his nickel packages. The abundance of conventional 4-3 last night was a result of Chavis trying to break in his phenomenal crop of new linebackers, including star in the making Debo Jones. Play nickel and you’re allowing Reid to play his normal position of safety, but you’re also taking out one linebacker from the mix, meaning fewer reps for the young pups.

Yes, there were 10 penalties for 55 yards, and several scoring opportunities were erased. But one was a punt return by Odell Beckham Jr., Tyrann Mathieu’s replacement, and the other was on a perfectly set up lob pass to Russell Shepard after the North Texas cornerback bit on the slant the Tigers had been running all night. It was maybe the prettiest play of the night and is an indication of what this team can do when it cleans up the sloppiness.

And while Mettenberger didn’t throw for 736 yards, he did throw for 192 on 19 for 26 passing. That, along with the 316 rushing yards LSU amassed, combined for 508 total yards, the most for the Tigers since the 2007 national championship season when they went off for 595 against Louisiana Tech.

Head Coach Les Miles is a coach that sees the negative but chooses to focus on the good.

“Imperfect,” he said, “but with reason to smile.”

That leaves the fact that Mettenberger was under pressure all night long. And I’d be hard-pressed to find reason not to be at least a little worried about that, especially with that glassy look he had in his eye the rest of the game.

Even Miles agrees with that one.

“Mettenberger took a punch in the mouth, got up and went to playing. [I don’t like] the punch in the mouth. I’d prefer that we protect our quarterback. But that being said, it’s one of those things you have to learn to get the ball out and to recognize the defense that’s being played.”

At the end of the day, it was a 41-14 victory and had all the potential to be so much worse. The question Tiger fans have to ask themselves, though, is how much is enough? Would a West Virginia type score of 69-35 satiate LSU fans’ tastes? What about an 84-0 type game like Oklahoma St. put on Savannah St.? Or Notre Dame scoring late just to hit 50?

Know that there is nothing respectable nor is there anything that can improve a team when they continue to throw the ball for touchdowns even when they’re up by 60.

“It was kind of like offense, defense, and special teams had an opportunity to be dominant at times, but just really had some sloppy play in an opener. And that’s kind of how I look at it.”

Indeed. It’s how Tiger fans should look at it as well. This team is good, but they didn’t play so perfectly as to feel like they don’t need the firm coaching that will inevitably come their way this week. And that will make them much better going into the Washington game next Saturday.

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6 thoughts on ““Reason to smile”

  1. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but those “fans” who came into the game thinking ZM was going to throw the ball all over the field 30-40 times are squirrels. Your team was averaging 7 yd/rush, and had two backs rush for over 115+ and a FB who rushed for 30. Why shoot 3’s when your post men are making layups? I like the hurry up style with the experienced O line and the huge stable of RB’s; will also help set up PA passes as well as wear down opponent defenses. Yes they O line needs to keep the QB clean, and the D line needs to get more consistent pressure on QB’s without relying on blitzes. I think the playbook is not even close to being opened yet, and that they play caling was for the most part vanilla. I don’t seem much game planning changes for Washington. San Diego St. gained 199 yds on 40 carries (5 yd/rush), and only threw it 19 times completing 10 for 128 yds. SDSU also gave the ball to Washington 3 times on turnovers, and the Huskies only gained 222 yds in the air on 25-35 passing. They managed only 106 yds rushing on 31 tries (3.4 yd/rush), and were sacked 3 times. I would like to think that LSU would have much better offensive #’s, and surely could make the Huskies one dimensional offensively. In addition, if the temps stay as they have been don’t think the weather won’t start to wear on UW as well.

  2. Here’s my 2 cents for what it’s worth…

    First, the Bad:

    1. Penalties – 10 of ’em….several commited by returning players who should know better, i.e. Jarvis Landry block in the back, Josh Williford inelligible receiver…Two of those penalties cost us TD’s….First game jitters? Lack of focus? Good thing is they are usually easily correctible in practice.

    2. Pass Protection – or lack of….O-line is not entirely to blame. Mettenberger should have picked up on that CB blitz off the right on the play he got knocked out on and audibled into a different protection scheme. Also, RB’s held in as blocking backs on passes failed to pick up the blitz more often than not. I expect this to be much improved against Washington. This is one of the reasons that we saw so many screen plays but I’ll touch on that later.

    3. The interception – I think Mett got a little overconfident in his arm strength and overestimated his ability to “zip” it into such a small window, i.e. he tried to force it. Also, that play call was kind of “meh”….I can see where Stud thought that maybe N. Texas was expecting run but on the flip side when you’re inside the red zone with such a short field that area becomes really crowded with DB’s and LB’s…not much room to work with in that situation…Should have pounded the ball in anyway, even if NT was expecting it as they were unable to stop the run all night.

    4. Blown coverage – i.e. NT’s 2 TD’s. Blame on Reid? Maybe…was he being greedy and going after the ball instead of just playing coverage? Was he trying to compensate for inexperience and blown coverages by the younger DB’s causing him to be out of place during those particular plays? I’m thinking the NT OC observed Reid playing out of position consistently (for whatever reason) and took advantage of it.

  3. Second, the Good:

    1. Run blocking – this is where the O-line shined Saturday. Numerous pancakes and holes big enough that my even my slow butt could have run through before they closed back up.

    2. And speaking of running – Who can be upset by 300 yards rushing? Blue’s an animal and Hilliard is a beast…Sure the running game is boring, but guess what? It works!

    3. A greater than 70% pass completion rate – When’s the last time you saw that in the past 4 years?

    4. Linebacker play – This linebacking corps is better than what people are giving them credit for. Muncie and Barrow both played extremely well. The freshman, especially Debo Jones, also played exceptionally well for it being their first game. LSU will be very strong at LB for the next several years.

    5. Special teams – ODBJr is the real thing. Two consecutive punt returns for TD’s (even though one was called back). The Honey Badger didn’t even pull that feat off last year…I expect we’ll see several more of these before the year is over.

    6. Jarvis Landry – expect to see his name called several times this year. What an amazing one-handed catch he made!

  4. Everything else…

    1. Run first, pass second – 46 rushing attempts and 26 passing attempts….hardly the 50/50 “balance” that we were expecting but I’m expecting this gap to close as the season progresses. I think some first game issues with Mett is why LSU stayed so heavy with the run.

    2. “Vanilla” play calling – Old adage in football is to take what the defense gives you…constant blitzing/stunting and lack of effective pass blocking dictated outside runs, short slant passes and screens. May not have been what some people were expecting, or even wanting to see, but it’s hard to argue with 500+ yards. LSU averaged almost right at 7 YPC Rushing and 10 yards per reception (tell me that’s not an improvement).

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