As upset as I was after a win over ULM, I was almost proportionally pleased despite our loss to LSU on Saturday. I can't ever remember taking a loss this well, especially when it all but eliminates us from SEC West contention. Despite a loathsome performance by our offense, what we were all concerned about, got answered with clarity. We CAN stand toe to to with the elite in the SEC, and we DID show some toughness on defense.....FINALLY.
Did LSU play sloppy? Yes they did. Was Mettenburger plodding and inefficient guiding the LSU offense? Yes, he was. Thats not new though,....especially in this series. The LSU game is almost always a 15 round title fight, where both teams pound each other on both sides of the ball for three solid hours. Surviving the game without a series of major injuries is almost as important as winning the game itself. The crowd noise in these games is also a major factor, and can force as many mistakes as the opposing team. There isn't a whole lot you can do to prepare for what eventually happens in these monumental slugfests, you just have to be ready to take a beating while administering one as well. What happened last year though, was that we threw in the towel with 5 minutes left, in the 1st half and got embarrassed the rest of the way. It was the first three such quivering beatdowns we suffer last year. With that memory still fresh in many minds, only the staunchest, blindly loyal, Auburn homer, came into this game thinking we had a reasonable chance to compete for the vicory. The most important thing that most of us were looking for was for our Tigers, to give their Tigers a battle and make them earn a win. Well, up until the last minute the game was in doubt. In fact, had we not blown a timeout when Erique Florence got a shoulder stinger.....and HAD allowed Khiel Frazier to take shots at those ENORMOUS holes in LSU's prevent defense, we probably could have made LSU pay dearly for missing that 34 yard field goal attempt with a minute left.
Unfortunately, as was the case all night, Scott Loeffler made bafflingly poor play calls and Frazier forgot that he had to get rid of the ball in 4-5 seconds as opposed to 12-15. LSU's defense is good....really good. Really good and REALLY fast. One of the reasons I hate the spread offense is its totally ineffective against, strong, fast defenses that inhabit the top tier of the SEC. We showed again that when you go east and west against a defense like LSU, you end up losing yardage, not gaining yardage. For some reason, Loeffler was convinced that if we put Onterrio McCalleb in motion for the jet sweep one more time, certainly he would take it to the house. Well, it didn't work all night except for getting the final two yards on Auburns only touchdown drive. The rest of the night was spent going backwards on 1st down as we continued to lose our challenges to LSU's perimeter defense, running sweeps into a host of defenders that were hugging the line of scrimmage. Given we were in second and third and long all night, you can pretty much guess how well Kiehl Fraziers night went. Surprisingly, when Frazier was allowed to push the ball downfield he did pretty well. The line gave him enough time and he made some very nice throws to Blake and Lutzenkirchen in the first half. As the game went on though, Loeffler went back to more ineffective screens and short passes that were easily defensible. At that point, Frazier lost his downfield touch and began sailing the ball again when he was put in obvious passing downs. Of course, this was not totally unexpected. I don't think anybody went into this game thinking that our best chance to win was on the arm of the inexperienced sophomore. The key was going to be whether we could run the ball or not. Unfortunately, Loeffler just would not do what was neccessary, and that was run Mason and Blakely behind Prosch between the tackles. When we WERE successful running that ball it was primarily with Mason and normally with Prosch leading the way. Unfortunately those plays were few and far between since Loeffler kept up his Quixotic quest to attack the edge against LSU, without attempting to take what LSU was wlling to give us. That philosophy is fine if you intend to set up the defense for somethink else, but we kept jabbing without ever throwing the right cross. If we are going to evolve as an offense you have to get Quan Bray and Sammie Coates more involved by stretching the defense and making the defense respect the pass. This is elementary stuff. Frazier will never develop if he is always facing eight defenders in the box and we don't throw the ball downfield. I've seen enough of Frazier to know that the kid has everything but the experience and the confidence to make us a winner. All we need to do is let him grow up. Its time to take the training wheels off and ride. We are going to bust our ass a few times but the reward will be worth the pain.
On defense, what a difference a week makes. A week ago I said this team had zero toughness. Well, toughness must have had an instant rebate coupon on it at Costco because this week we had it in bulk. In fact they were downright chippy. The Dtackles weren't great but they held there own and even made some plays. Gabe Wright, might actually turn into our next great lineman. Angelo Blackson played with ferocity, even though he still got pushed around a bit. The important thing though was that the didn't give Mettenburger to step up in the pocket when Ford and Lemonier came blasting in off the edge. That makes a big difference when you are facing a a standard pocket passer;. LB play was OK, but not the abject failure it has been. Holland still finds himself out of position too many times leaving GAAAPING holes in the middle, contributing to some monster runs by LSU's Ware. Bates played well and really tagged some RBs at the line when it mattered. The secondary GREATLY beneffitted from the return of Robeson Therezie and Erique Florence. Those guys flat out busted some heads. And finally BVG took away the nine yard cushion he had been giving receivers and the DB's were up to the task. Mettenburger was far from sharp but our guys were making plays too, it was a HUGE improvement.
Now, all that being said, I don't have any delusions that we have turned a corner....we just showed up for a big game. LSU's offensive style plays into what BVG knows how to defend and he did a good job. He still hasn't shown if he can stop a spread attack or a "fling it all day" attack like they will face with Tyler Wilson and Arky. If we play with the toughness and intensity at 11am that we did at 7pm, we will be alright...but that remains to be seen. The good news is the sky isn't falling in chunks anymore but somebody needs to start doing the hardwork of climbing that tall ladder and putting it back in place and it needs to start against the Hogs.