The LSU Tigers are not a sleek, efficient juggernaut… but who cares? They have only two losses. They are currently headed for a New Year’s Six bowl. They have exceeded most pundits’ preseason expectations.
By Matt Zemek
They don’t need to care about the opinions of others. They’re doing just fine, thank you very much. There is only one game this season in which they truly underperformed: at Florida. Their win over Arkansas this past weekend was hardly pretty, but the Tigers suffered multiple injuries in that game, coming off the annually draining game against Alabama. The point of concern for LSU after the Arkansas game is not so much its level of play against the Hogs, but the health of the team going into College Station for the regular-season finale against Texas A&M.
Scheduling a game like Rice at this point in the season is meant to create both a physical and mental buffer between important late-season SEC West games. Playing A&M this week would have been a real chore for a beaten-up roster. Getting Rice in a low-stress situation will allow players and coaches to decompress… assuming they handle this situation well. This is a game which needs to be managed effectively, so that the Tigers are in a better position to play A&M than they were before kickoff against Rice. LSU needs to be able to say after 3.5 hours of play that this glorified scrimmage against the Owls improved their odds against A&M.
1 – MASHED RICE
The image of mashed rice might not be appetizing, but LSU’s offensive linemen need to eat in this game. This is a time to run the ball even more than in previous weeks, to insist on a physical offense and a basic game plan more than other weeks. If LSU passes the ball no more than 10 times, this will be a good outing. A very low-pass, high-run play selection balance will shorten this game, thereby putting less pressure and strain on a team which needs to heal up and become whole (or at least closer to it) for the A&M finale. The saying, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” applies on multiple levels to LSU in this game.
2 – SIMPLIFIED DEFENSIVE SCHEME
The prevalence of backups on the LSU defense should lead to a less complicated defensive approach in which players have very clear assignments and don’t have to overthink. This is a game in which LSU can get around with a scaled-down approach in which defensive players are encouraged to simply run around and make plays. Moreover, there is very little point in giving A&M coach (and former LSU offensive coordinator) Jimbo Fisher any alignments or nuances he can pick apart in film study. Being able to win this game without the use of much complexity is a core reason such games are scheduled instead of more challenging games which, if won, would greatly improve a national ranking or raise a program’s profile.
3 – LEARN WHAT YOU HAVE
To the extent that Ed Orgeron can do this (meaning within the constraints of the four-game redshirt rule and other relevant parameters), he needs to see what his younger and less experienced players are capable of. Gain information before bowl practice sessions.