We sat down with ATVS’s head honcho, Billy Gomila to see what lies behind the surprising 7-1 start for the LSU Tigers, to learn more about them, and to see how these two SEC West titans matchup. As usual, their fine work is available at And the Valley Shook, and you can harass them on twitter at @valleyshook and @ATVS_ChefBilly. For that matter, you can plague the rest of the crew at @ATVSPoseur, @ATVS_JakeNazar, and @ATVS_PaulCrewe.
Thanks as usual, guys
1. LSU lies at the middle or near the bottom in every offensive category you can imagine (respectable PR & rushing-to-bad QB & KR numbers, etc.) yet has still put up a respectable 30.4 PPG. Are the Tigers capitalizing on that +14 TO margin to generate points? If not, where is the surprising scoring output coming from?
Turnovers and a great field position edge caused by some dynamite special teams are a big factor. Plus, basically they can count on scoring almost any time they cross the 35 thanks to the best kicker in the country, graduate transfer Cole Tracy. LSU has converted 92 percent of its red zone appearances this year, and that’s been a big advantage. It’s also worth noting that the Tiger offense is second in the conference to Bama in red-zone appearances this year. This group can move the ball, it’s just not all that flashy when it does it. An aggressive approach to fourth down has also played a role as well, and that’s something that doesn’t show up on some stat sheets.
2. Casual fans know almost nothing about the receiving corps that LSU will run out on to the field Saturday. Gave us the CliffsNotes version.
Not a particularly flashy group, and one that, frankly, we expected a little more of coming into this year. If I had to point a finger on some of the offensive struggles, they’d catch some of the blame (along with a ton of offensive line injuries/attrition). Sophomore Justin Jefferson is probably the No. 1 target. He’s not particularly flashy, but he’s a smooth route runner who understands getting open, and that has its uses. After him, there are some big bodies in upperclassmen Stephen Sullivan and Dee Anderson, a shorter speed guy in Derrick Dillon and a pair of talented freshmen who have had their moments in Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall. None have been as reliable as we’d hope, game-to-game. Although at least one has stepped up at different times this year.
3. Devin White is by far the leading tackler on the defense, but he doesn’t lead the team in tackles for loss, and he has generated almost no pressures or sacks: Grant Delpit and Michael Divinity are the leaders there by a wide margin. Given that both of those guys are healthy and playing, nothing really changes about the LSU defensive gameplan in the first half, right?
Man, y’all are really desperate to down-play that, huh? White is the leader of this defense, he makes the calls and keeps the unit on the same page. And then the ball is snapped and he’s also the best sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the country as well. A lot changes with him out. Jacob Phillips has a lot of potential and has shown well this year, but time will tell if he can pick up White’s slack in making the calls. Backups Patrick Queen and Micah Baskerville could become players down the road, but Florida definitely picked on both of them when LSU had to rely on them heavily in that loss in Gainesville.
4. Okay, we have to talk about it: Please tap into the ambient Devin White insanity and tell us exactly what #LSUFanHere is so unhinged about? Is this really more a preemptive meltdown than anything else?
Well, the best player on LSU’s defense was flagged, erroneously, for targeting after he gave Nick Fitzgerald a shove. It might’ve hit the roughing-the-passer threshold, but it damn sure wasn’t targeting. And it was not only called, it was upheld after a review that lasted less than a minute and a half. It was a joke, and a failure on the SEC’s part.
And don’t pretend y’all wouldn’t feel the same way if Mack Wilson had gotten the same treatment.
I do think Steven Ensminger knows how to scheme against this defense to get some guys open, but the question will be whether or not Burrow can hit the passes
5. On paper, Jake Burrow has been a 7-1 quarterback and little else. He’s only completed 60% or more of his passes once (Ole Miss); he’s gone over 200 yards twice (Auburn, Ole Miss;) and he’s chipped in just 6 scores in 8 games...
Buttttttttt, for all that, he is leaned on a good bit (almost 30 attempts a game) and hasn’t done anything to lose games for the Tigers. So, what is he doing well to win these close games? What are his greatest weaknesses?
Overall, he just makes very good decisions, for the most part. Even as simple as throwing a ball away or just eating it for a sack instead of taking a foolish chance. He’s definitely more the game-manager type. He’s not going to wow you throwing it down the field, but he can complete the short passes, and he’s a plus as a runner. And he’s improved overall, I think. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was near the 60-percent mark by the end of the season.
He projects a certain comfort and ease to his game, to the point that we’ve come away from a few games -- Georgia being a great example -- thinking he played great and being kind of surprised that the stat line didn’t reflect it.
6. Name an unsung star on this team: who’s the straw that stirs the drink?
Breiden Fehoko and Rashard Lawrence are two of the big leaders of the defense up front, and they haven’t had the flashy stats, but they can be a load to deal with. And they help to set up the linebackers a lot as well by taking on double teams. Divinity has been a very pleasant surprise as well. He was a big-time recruit back in the Miles/Chavis Era, but didn’t seem like much of a fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He’s come through with a nice season from the F-linebacker spot to date.
And of course, cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Greedy Williams have been incredibly steady, although the numbers don’t reflect that because quarterbacks avoid them so much.
7. What does LSU need to do win on Saturday night in Death Valley?
LSU’s DBs can hang with ‘Bama’s passing game for a little while, but it’s going to take more than that. A few stolen possessions and some field position will be needed on offense -- either turnovers, or something on special teams like a blocked kick or two. I do think Steven Ensminger knows how to scheme against this defense to get some guys open, but the question will be whether or not Burrow can hit the passes, or have the time to find the receivers. But the Tigers playing well by itself won’t be enough. They’ll need some help.