Wow. The LSU Tigers shocked the country, and they might have even shocked themselves, when they ambushed the Florida Gators in The Swamp this past weekend.
By Matt Zemek
More than any specific player or any specific facet of the team, what was most impressive is that the Tigers fought hard and played with desperation. This team easily could have packed it in and folded the tent on its season. The opt-outs, the injuries, the off-field news at LSU, and all the other depressing events which have enfolded this season, could have caused the Tigers to go through the motions… but no. They scratched and clawed and earned a very big win which immediately resets a sense of what is possible in 2021. LSU opted out of a bowl game but then treated the Florida contest as a personal bowl game. The pieces of the puzzle fit, and now Ed Orgeron has a lot more optimism about what he can achieve next year. No, the problems haven’t been solved in full, but at least there is reason for hope heading into the spring. A win over Ole Miss would be fantastic, but let’s stop and realize that the Florida win – regardless of what happens versus Lane Kiffin this Saturday – has already changed LSU’s attitude and outlook for the near-term future.
As for Ole Miss, let’s see what the Tigers can do:
1 – Max output
Max Johnson isn’t the second coming, but when pitted against Kyle Trask, a likely Heisman Trophy finalist, it was Trask who imploded and made multiple huge mistakes. Johnson, in marked contrast, avoided the crushing gaffe which could have obliterated LSU’s chances of pulling the upset. That performance is a very good model for what Johnson needs to do against Ole Miss. The overview really isn’t any different. If Johnson can replicate precisely that performance against the Rebels, Orgeron and the coaching staff will be very pleased. Johnson shouldn’t enter this game telling himself he has to score 47 points instead of 37. No, he needs to trust his teammates and just do what he can reasonably do to help his team win. That’s the right frame of mind for Johnson against Ole Miss.
2 – Secondary remains primary
The LSU secondary was depleted against Florida, but the players who took the field made great plays, including some improbable and balletic interceptions of Kyle Trask. Florida scored 34 points, which might seem like a lot, but when considering that Florida posted 51 on Ole Miss and has scored in the 40s on several other occasions this year, the LSU defense did just fine. It’s a lot like the Max Johnson angle illustrated above: If LSU’s secondary plays that same game (vs. Florida) this weekend versus Ole Miss, the LSU coaches will take it… and it could very easily be enough to win. It would mark real progress compared to where this team and defense have been at prior points in the season.
3 – Assignment defense
Lane Kiffin will throw a lot of eye candy at an opposing defense, giving players all sorts of reasons to get distracted. Sticking with assignments and lanes, and not overpursuing or directing one’s focus away from one’s proper area, will be essential in containing the Ole Miss offense. LSU won’t shut down the Rebels, but it can minimize damage, much as it did versus Florida.