LSU has one of the most talented secondaries in the SEC. But, as a unit, they have only registered five interceptions between the starters. Is the team batting down/defensing passes more under Aranda's scheme or has the secondary somewhat underperformed in generating turnovers?
Pass break-ups are up slightly, and more than anything they're just swarming quickly and tackling on short throws. I do think LSU is missing that one true "ball hawk" type -- that player who just seems to find ways to get his hands on the ball. That said, this secondary has been executing really well and limiting big plays. But it would be nice to make a few more.
We've seen a more aggressive offense under Ensminger, particularly in vertical passing, and Danny Etling has had good success stretching the field. It seems to be the short and intermediate throws where he struggles with consistency. Is that a function of him missing his throws, being under pressure, or just lack of reps going through his progression when the deep ball isn't there, etc?
Etling has been a dramatic improvement on the short and intermediate throws as compared to Brandon Harris, but the deep ball hasn't really been his forte. He has great poise and footwork in the pocket -- whereas Harris' first move was usually to try and bail out of the back door and run into some pressure, Etling is really comfortable stepping up and just finding his protection read.
What's led to a lot of the diversity in LSU's passing attack isn't so much from a big change in the plays called, but a quarterback who is more comfortable throwing to this third or fourth read, as opposed to forcing it to his wide receiver.
The blocking and run schemes have definitely changed as well. LSU is working outside the tackles much more than at any time under Les Miles (including more passes to Fournette in the flats). Is this Ensminger's offensive philosophy or is it just the strength of this year's line?
The biggest difference has been a heavy shift towards zone blocking. LSU always used some of it, but since Cam Cameron's departure, they've skewed heavily towards using wide/tight zone plays, even mixing in more pin-and-pull type of plays out of the one-back look, something we discussed on the open date.
I chalk this one up to offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, who is much more active in game-planning with Ensminger, as are the other offensive assistants. Cam Cameron had been kind of an island to himself when it came to that sort of thing, to both his own, and LSU's detriment.
Arden Key has nine sacks going into this game, and is arguably the best athlete on the LSU defense. After Key, to whom does LSU turn when it needs to generate a pass rush?
Defensive ends Lewis Neal and Davon Godchaux have been the big beneficiaries, grabbing a couple sacks on quarterbacks that have been trying to escape from Key. Reserve end Tashawn Bower, who lines up as the other outside linebacker when LSU is in its base 3-4, has also started to come on a bit since battling some injuries. It wouldn't surprise me at all if LSU maybe got a little more exotic with some blitzes from inside linebackers this week, trying to funnel Jalen Hurts towards Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley.
Alabama leads the SEC and nation in sacks, with 32 (4.0 per game.) How will LSU scheme around a front seven that generates a pass rush from the inside, outside, and by bringing extra guys?
I think they key whenever you face a great pass-rush is to stay on schedule and avoid obvious, long-yardage passing situations. Cameron was notorious for eschewing that here because he wanted to try and force big plays in the passing game. Which require deeper drops from a quarterback and can therefore lead to more sack opportunities.
LSU needs to mix up their play-calling between run and quick passes on early downs, and try to stay in third and three or less as often as they can. Of course, that's easier said than done.
17-year Senior, Kendell Beckwith, with a nice form tackle on King Henry
As you know, All-American safety/punt returner (and defensive captain) Eddie Jackson has finished his Alabama career after breaking his leg in the win against Texas A&M. What can LSU do to take advantage of a reshuffled and younger secondary?
I think it's more the overall domino effect than just Jackson being out. Minkah Fitzpatrick probably takes his place at safety, or at least that's what I would imagine anyway, and that's not really much of a drop off at that spot. So you shift to the guy taking Fitzpatrick's place in the nickel, and so on.
Ensminger just needs to be smart in mixing things up without getting too greedy. Try and create easy throwing opportunities that allow Etling to get the ball out quickly to somebody in space, and just grab 3-5 yards consistently. Stay in standard downs and keep this pass rush from pinning its ears back. Force Bama to be a little more aggressive, and then you might have some big-play opportunities.
Switching gears, LSU is now into its toughest stretch of the season, finishing with three teams in the Top 10: Alabama, A&M, and Florida. What must this team do in order for Ed Orgeron to have the interim label removed? Win all three? Two-out-of-three? Just beat Alabama? Is he going to get a fair shot, or are Alleva's eyes set on someone else? In other words, tell us who your next coach is most likely to be (no pressure) or the most likely candidates. Who's an under-the-radar guy that could figure into the hiring decision?
To date, Orgeron has been conducting a master seminar in public relations. He's said all the right things and reached out to a ton of important stakeholders, from former players to even boosters who felt ignored by Les Miles. He's also opened up practice and been much more media-friendly, something that can only help him.
And as much as the wins have been, and will continue to be important, I think the fact that we've seen LSU play like the team we expected them to be has made a huge difference as well. Alabama's the better team here and should win this game. I don't think we harbor any illusions about that, so I think a good showing alone can certainly help Orgeron here. Obviously, a win will be huge, but the next three games will still matter. And of course, if this win streak continues, a chance at the SEC title is still a real possibility.
Overall, that's my hope, personally. And I think most of the ATVS staff feels similarly. Orgeron is easy to root for here. This is his dream job, and there's no question that he's changed a lot from his Ole Miss days. At a bare minimum, he offers a high floor, because he'll continue to recruit well and hire strong assistants. Even if he were to fail, he'd likely leave a very good situation behind. And I don't think that's a given with some other coaches. Wins and losses will matter, but so will continuing the style of play and laying out a good plan for any staff changes. A flashy offensive coordinator hire will almost certainly be necessary, even with the job Ensminger has been doing.
I know that Jimbo Fisher is still atop the list of a lot of people in positions of power, for the reasons that are obvious. The man has a national title ring and while some may say he should have achieved more at Florida State, he rebuilt them from the problems they had at the end of the Bowden years into a consistent 10-win team. Although I suspect a lot of the love for him is the idea of boosters spending the money to get the shiniest and flashiest hire.
Tom Herman's the other name we hear consistently. I do believe there's mutual interest but I think we all know he's waiting to see what happens in Austin with Charlie Strong. Steven Godfrey of The Mothership put out this list on Tuesday with some very depressing names on it. Speaking to the sources I have, I know that there's something to the Jim Mora talk, although I don't have the slightest idea why. Herman is a fine "chalk" type of hire. He seems to be the real deal, but I have to admit that his very short track record worries me a little.
I have more confidence in Joe Alleva than most LSU fans — it's the boosters, board members and other leadership that scares me. That means the best-case scenario here is that Orgeron wins enough games, and lays out a strong enough plan to claim this job for himself. After Fisher and Herman, it seems like any coach available would bring some major risk with him. In that situation, I say just take that risk on Orgeron.
Lastly, what's our final score and how do we get there?
I'm lousy at score predictions, but I imagine this game comes down to the final minutes again. Right now, it's really hard to imagine overcoming Alabama's depth in that situation. But I'd be very surprised if it wasn't another classic, hard-fought game.
Thanks to And The Valley Shook managing editor, Billy Gomilla, for dropping by. You can obviously visit them at ATVS, and follow Billy on Twitter at @ATVSchefbilly.