After a thorough review of the LSU Tigers on film, here are some thoughts on Les Miles’ 8-4 squad heading into the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl.
COMING AT YOU
LSU employs a downhill running approach that is intended to bludgeon an opposing defense.
The offensive line features left tackle La’el Collins, a 6-foot-5, 321-pound senior who was named first-team all-SEC, and versatile 6-foot-7, 301-pound sophomore Ethan Pocic, who is expected to move from right guard to center against the Irish in place of injured Elliott Porter.
There’s also left guard Vadal Alexander, who is a mammoth 6-foot-6, 340-pound junior; Jerald Hawkins, a 6-foot-6, 309-pound sophomore right tackle, and 6-foot-6, 334-pound senior Evan Washington, who will fill in at right guard, where he has started two games.
The Tigers predominately run out of an I-formation with 5-foot-11, 229-pound senior fullback Connor Neighbors leading the way for 6-foot-1, 230-pound freshman locomotive Leonard Fournette. “Beast” is a term thrown around a bit loosely, but it definitely applies to Fournette, who made a great choice of schools to accentuate his skills.
This is downhill running at its best, usually out of 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end and two wideouts). Fournette has rushed for nearly 900 yards and 5.1 yards per carry. He will slam the line of scrimmage play after play and try to soften up that defensive front over four quarters.
It becomes a real mismatch once Fournette gets to the second level against the back seven. He’ll drop the shoulder pads and try to freight train anyone in his path. They’ll throw it to Fournette out of the backfield, too, creating a mismatch running a pattern up the seam.
One play stands out in the Mississippi game. Fournette, battling for extra yardage, literally gets his facemask ripped away from his helmet. It stays attached, however, and is flapping around as Fournette battles for extra yardage. Beast mode at its best.
Collins is considered LSU’s best offensive lineman, but they love to run to Pocic’s side (when he was playing right guard) with Neighbors leading the way. Pocic, when playing right guard, would duck under the edge seal block by Hawkins/tight end Dillon Gordon (a 6-foot-5, 295-pounder) and form a path for Fournette with Neighbors out front.
When Fournette needs a blow, the Tigers have two running backs that can pick up where he left off. When you see 5-foot-9, 217-pound running back Terrence Magee, you think more of a scatback. But Magee lowers his pads and powers his way through the line of scrimmage, as will 6-foot-0, 232-pound senior Kenny Hilliard, who has size and balance. Magee rushed for 626 yards as a backup to Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 1,401 yards, 6.9 yards per carry and 16 touchdowns in ’13.
The Tigers have run the football 583 times (compared to Notre Dame’s 433), which is an average of 48.5 carries per game (compared to Notre Dame’s 36). That means about 20 carries for Fournette, 12 for Magee, six for Hilliard and another eight-to-10 by quarterback Anthony Jennings, who will use his 6-foot-2, 216-pound frame to keep things honest on the edge out of the read-option game.
When LSU needed a touchdown to defeat Mississippi, 10-7, it put together a 13-play, 95-yard scoring drive that took 5:59. They did their damage on the ground.
The outcome of the Music City Bowl will be determined by the success/failure of LSU’s power rushing attack. If the Irish can put LSU in some 3rd-and-long situations, it will put pressure on Jennings, who is completing just 48.8 percent of his passes. Jennings steers his throws – almost as if he’s throwing a dart at a dartboard – which shows a lack of complete confidence in his accuracy.
LSU has a very young receiving corps, led by sophomore Travin Dural (37 catches, 20.5 avg., 7 TDs) and freshman Malachi Dupre (14 receptions, 22.7 avg., 5 TDs). Between Dural and Dupre, 12 of their 51 catches have gone for scores. The No. 3 receiver on the team is running back Magee with just 16 grabs.
ATTACKING THE DEFENSE
The fact that LSU is allowing 4.2 yards per carry in 2014 is news. That’s because the Tigers haven’t allowed as much as four yards per carry on the season since the 20th century.
Early in the season, the Tigers allowed 268 yards rushing to Wisconsin, 302 to Mississippi State and 298 to Auburn.
Since then, however, against more pedestrian rushing attacks than those three, LSU has not allowed more than 137 yards rushing to any Power 5 opponent spanning six games.
The Tigers held Florida 66 yards below its 189.4-yard rushing average, Kentucky 82 yards below its 153.1-yard average, Mississippi 30 yards below its 167.6-yard average, Alabama a whopping 114 yards under its 220.5-yard average, Arkansas 114 yards under its 209.4-yard average and Texas A&M to 58 yards below its 142.8-yard average.
None of this bodes well for the Irish, who regularly struggle against quality rush defenses. Notre Dame was held under its 150.8-yard rushing average in five of its 10 Power 5 conference games, most notably by Arizona State and USC down the stretch.
Based upon the way LSU’s run defense and Notre Dame rush offense are trending, it will be a real challenge for the Irish to reach the 100-yard mark. One thing that could help the Irish loosen things up on the ground would be the use of Malik Zaire in the read-option game. Auburn used a heavy dose of the read-option game to lead them to a 41-7 victory over LSU.
LSU DEFENSIVE PERSONNEL
The Tigers are long, athletic and deep up front on a defense that starts just two seniors. One of those seniors is 6-foot-3, 247-pound Jermauria Rasco, who leads the team in quarterback hurries (8) and sacks (4). The other end is 6-foot-6, 240-pound sophomore Danielle (pronounced duh-neel) Hunter, who paces the Tigers with 12 tackles for loss.
LSU is young but tough at the two tackle positions in the four-down front. Christian LaCouture (pronounced la-coo-chur) is a 6-foot-5, 300-pound sophomore, and Davon Godchaux (pronounced god-chaw) is a 6-foot-4, 298-pound freshman who impressed us in Chicago in the summer of 2013 at the Rivals150 All-Star Challenge.
Two linebackers are particularly impressive: Kwon Alexander, a 6-foot-2, 227-pound junior Will, and Kendell Beckwith, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound Mike. Alexander is very active, pacing the Tigers in tackles with 79 while ranking second on the squad in quarterback hurries with five.
Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis likes to send Beckwith on run blitzes and will get after the quarterback with both of these active, physical linebackers.
Chavis also likes press coverage from cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Tre’Davious White, both of which boast good size, particularly the junior Collins, who is 6-foot-2, 198 pounds. At least one of the corners is in press coverage on every snap unless it is short yardage.
The LSU defense has broken up and/or defensed an impressive 122 passes (compared to Notre Dame’s 92). The leader in this area is 6-foot-2, 220-pound strong safety Ronald Martin, who has 10 passes defensed and eight broken up. Martin, who is third on the team in tackles, made the game-ending interception against Mississippi and quarterback Bo Wallace in LSU’s 10-7 victory over the Rebels.
ODDS AND ENDS
Fournette also helps set the tone as the team’s kick returner. He has a long of just 40 yards on 22 returns, but it establishes what the Tigers want to do when they snap the football from scrimmage…The Tigers gave up two long punt returns to Florida, one of which went for a touchdown…White, LSU’s cornerback, is the Tigers’ punt returner. He is averaging 11.0 per return and had a 67-yard score versus Kentucky…Colby Delahoussaye (pronounced del-uh-HOO-say) booted a 42-yard field goal to defeat Florida, 30-27. But Gator fans will tell you they could/should have won the game were it not for a dropped pass in the end zone with less than a minute remaining. Delahoussaye has struggled of late on short field goals, prompting a look at Trent Domingue.