Late Mistakes Doom LSU


That was rough.

After a nearly four-hour slugfest, LSU finally cracked against Alabama. For three quarters, the Tigers had controlled the game in Tiger Stadium, forcing Alabama into 3-and-out situations 8 total times (one ended after two plays due to Yeldon’s fumble).

Save for back to back drives in the second quarter that saw Alabama score 10 points, the LSU defense shut down the Crimson Tide offense. Blake Sims never found comfort against the LSU pass rush. Once again, it was apparent the reinvigorated Tiger Stadium was having an effect as Alabama continued to have communication issues the entire night.

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Not coincidentally, Alabama’s best two drives saw their running game be effective. For some reason, Lane Kiffin’s play calling never leaned on the running game heavily. The LSU secondary played tight coverage on the Tide receivers with lots of success as Alabama continued to favor the pass over the run. Amari Cooper had a successful first half, but once LSU decided that they weren’t going to let Cooper line up on anyone but Tre’Davious White he became less effective. White did a great job, especially later in the second half, of shutting down Cooper.

LSU kept the game close in the first half largely on the back of the defense shutting down the Tide. The LSU offense was generally unable to muster anything sustained. Their lone scoring drive only had to travel 41 yards, with no other drive going longer than 24 yards in the half.

Most of that was because of Anthony Jennings being mostly miserable. Jennings completed only 2 of 10 passes. Not that his receivers helped him much as they battled drops the entire game, but when LSU would get stoned in the running game they couldn’t do much through the air. There were a couple of nice short passes, including a quick hit to Magee that netted 17 yards, but anything deeper was just not there. The long ball to Dural has been shut down for weeks and wasn’t ever open against the Alabama secondary.

The running game was effective in the first half, but Alabama is too good of a defense to simply forego the pass against. Jennings’ inability to throw at all made the offense no threat to the Tide defense.

The second half was a slog. The LSU defense continued to completely smother Alabama. This defense is completely different from the one in the beginning of the year. Alabama has the most powerful, balanced offense in the SEC and they couldn’t move the ball at all against LSU.

The offense was still largely ineffective, but Jennings was able to connect on more short throws and the ground game moved the ball just enough to engineer some time-consuming drives. Those drives netted little yards, but they had the effect of keeping Alabama’s offense off the field, which even if they had found success they wouldn’t have been able to gain any momentum across drives.

Nov 8, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) is grabbed by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jarran Reed (90) during the first quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, it was LSU exerting their will on the game. You could see LSU’s pound-away attitude begin to have some effect, coupled with their offense’s issues moving the ball. LSU never could quite break through, because there was no passing game to get any large chunk of yardage. Pound away, pound away works, but after 10 minutes of game time, it will run out of steam if there’s no big breaks. LSU’s drives never got any big breaks.

Now, the portion of the game that changed the complexion of the entire affair. After back and forth for seemingly hours, punter Jamie Keehn landed a fantastic 9-iron on the one yard line. Two plays later, T.J. Yeldon coughed up the football when Lamar Louis tackled him, injuring Yeldon’s ankle in the process. The big break had finally come, right?

The coaching staff will catch a lot of heat for what happened next, but things that occurred on the field caused those questionable decisions to be made. LSU was on the 6 yard line with just over 1:30 left to play. A quick run up the middle led to pushing and shoving on both sides, but Vadal Alexander was the guy who got the last push in and was flagged for the personal foul. Now, LSU was backed up outside of the shadow of the endzone and out of comfortable field goal range.

I think, had Alexander not been fouled, LSU was playing for a touchdown. Because of the penalty, though, Les Miles and his staff decided it was not worth the risk to pass it (given Jennings shaky performance all night) and played to set up the field goal. At that point, the game situation called for it. There was under 1:30 to play, you have the ball, set it up for a field goal to win it.

Had what transpired next not occurred, I don’t think anyone would be criticizing the offensive coaching staff for playing conservatively there. Unfortunately, the bone-headed plays were not over with.

On the ensuing kick off, Trent Domingue inexplicably kicked the ball out of bounds when trying to squib it. Now, Alabama had the ball at their own 35, just needing a field goal to tie. You could feel momentum begin to swing the wrong direction at this point. LSU had positioned themselves for the win, but the mistakes to put Alabama in good position began to pile up.

That 10-15 yard difference in starting field position totally changes a team’s play calling. Instead of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin trying to throw it down the field, which they had not been able to do to any success all night, they were able to throw quick underneath routes to the sidelines to slowly move the ball up into field goal range. By then, it was just a matter of getting close enough to get the 3.

By this point, the momentum had totally swung into the Crimson Tide’s favor. They quickly scored a TD in over time on some clever play calls that had LSU out of sorts.

The LSU receivers had been plagued by drops all night. The first play in overtime for LSU sealed the loss. Cam Cameron called a great play, a quick throw to the full back in the flats. Alabama was looking run, as LSU had started drives all night and the short passes had been there in the second half. The ball hit Melvin Jones hands and fluttered to the ground.

There are a lot of directions to go on second down at that point and none of them are inherently wrong. The other pass play that had worked, a fade route to Malachi Dupre which had resulted in a touchdown earlier and nearly resulted in a second, was dialed up and Alabama was ready for it. At 3rd and 10 there really was no hope because asking Anthony Jennings to be successful on a pure passing down wasn’t going to work.

“That,” coach Les Miles said, “was a tough one.”

In the end, LSU was done in by the lack of a passing game (a problem that really should not be a fixture in 70% of Les Miles seasons) and a couple of ill-timed mistakes on the field. I thought the LSU coaches did a great job for the majority of the game before it unraveled. When it did, they didn’t make bad decisions, but their decisions weren’t executed with any accuracy.

This team is not the same one we saw in the first few games this year. The LSU defense is one of the best in the country and the Tigers can run on nearly anyone. They’ve improved markedly over the course of the season. The ball didn’t bounce LSU’s way late Saturday night after playing one of their best games of the entire year and now we’re left feeling like it’s 2012 all over again.

There’s two winnable games on the road left, but they won’t be easy. If there’s any sort of hangover, this team won’t find a hospitable atmosphere in Fayetteville next weekend.