When we did our Pre-Season Preview we tabbed LSU as the #4 team in the Nation. The Tigers quickly proved that they were more worthy than that as they beat three top 25 teams in their first four games and climbed to the top of the polls. Despite being without their starting QB, Jordan Jefferson, LSU responded and backup Jarrett Lee played great football at the start of the season. LSU easily dispatched Auburn, Florida and Tennessee to go 8-0 heading into the “Game of the Century” against Alabama.
The Bama game turned out to be some ugly football from an offensive and kicking standpoint but if you like hard-hitting agressive defensives then it was your cup of tea. LSU survived that game and finished up the season beating two good teams in Arkansas and Georgia to finish 13-0 and 8-0 in the SEC. LSU proved without a doubt that they were the best regular season team in college football but the National Championship Game still remained. Despite having already beaten Alabama, the Crimson Tide were clearly the second best team in the Nation and they got a re-match for the Championship. In the BCS NCG, Bama came in and did a great job executing their game plan. LSU didn’t and Bama took the title home 21-0. It was a very disappointing end to what had been a fantastic season. Where does LSU go now? We talked with Kris from the great LSU blog Saturday Night Slant to get his take on the 2011 season and a quick peak into 2012.
CFBZ: Obviously the season ended with a thud. What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
Saturday Night Slant: The wound from the BCS Championship game is still fresh, and it still hurts. A lot. The fallout from that game has been significant, and most Tiger fans are having trouble getting past it. LSU had a wildly successful regular season, and the trail of destruction that LSU left in its wake was significant. The only thing larger was the egg they laid in the BCS Championship Game.
However, time heals wounds. And once time passes, I believe the lasting memory of this season will be the incredible accomplishments of the first 13 games and not the disappointment of the last one. This group was faced with an incredibly difficult schedule and a number of distractions off the field, to include losing their starting quarterback just days before the season opener. But the team just became closer and picked up the slack. Third ranked Oregon? No problem. On the road in Morgantown? Blowout. Daunting SEC schedule? Cake. LSU even managed to go into Tuscaloosa and find a way to win. Only one team (Alabama) was able to stay within 13 points of the Tigers. At the end of the day, LSU defeated the following bowl champions in the regular season:
Music City Bowl (Mississippi State)
Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Auburn)
Gator Bowl (Florida)
Cotton Bowl (Arkansas)
Orange Bowl (West Virginia)
Rose Bowl (Oregon)
BCS Championship (Alabama)
The focus and resolve of this team, along with the incredible defense, will be the lasting impression once the dust settles. To close, I’d be wrong not to give Alabama a ton of credit for LSU looking so poor in the title game. LSU certainly did not play their best game. But it may not have mattered. Alabama was outstanding.
CFBZ: What would you have changed about the National Championship Game if you could have had some input?
Saturday Night Slant: The easier question might be what I would not change. The game plan was void of any creativity or imagination. It appeared that Les Miles tried to recreate the game from November. The problem is that even though LSU won that game, they scored just six points in regulation and struggled to move the football. It’s tough to blame Miles TOO much though. All season, LSU’s recipe has been to play outstanding defense, outstanding special teams, and to take care of the football on offense with a strong running game. The recipe worked…..really well. If the offense struggled, it was just a matter of time before the defense or special teams gave the offense a short field to get the ball rolling. As long as the game was within reach, which Miles believed it was at 9-0 and probably even 12-0, he was going to stay the course. Well, the big plays never came and time just maddeningly ticked away.
With a month to prepare, surely the staff could have come up with something a little more creative to try and move the football against Alabama. Some new plays. Some wrinkles. Anything. Once it became apparent that the running game just wasn’t going to work, it seemed necessary to back up Alabama’s defense with some passes down the field. That did not happen. LSU just kept banging their head into a wall.
A big part of the problem was at quarterback, so it seems logical to try someone else there. If nothing else, a quarterback change can often spark a team. But right or wrong, Les Miles considered Jarrett Lee a high turnover risk. That was in part because of the two bad interceptions Lee threw in Tuscaloosa in November. So as long as the game was somewhat within striking defense, he was going to stay the course and stick with Jefferson. It was maddening to watch but Miles was sticking to his plan, as flawed as it may have been.
LSU needed to mix things up on offense and throw the ball on first down some to create some balance. Alabama did this and had success. LSU did absolutely nothing that Alabama had not seen on film for the month leading up to the game. And they paid dearly for it.
CFBZ: Going into 2012, LSU is starting over at QB. Is Zach Mettenberger the guy?
Saturday Night Slant: Zach Mettenberger will certainly be the guy and LSU fans are relieved to finally have a season with a clear #1 quarterback that is talented. It has been four years since LSU has felt good about the position. And even though Mettenberger has never started a college game, the prevailing thought is that he brings more stability and play making ability to the quarterback position than anyone since Matt Flynn. He definitely had some learning and maturing to do during his first season in Baton Rouge, but he seems poised to step in and do a nice job for LSU in 2012.
The expectations are for him to merely stabilize things. LSU returns much of their team, and their recipe for success will once again be centered around the defense, special teams, and running game. Mettenberger will be expected to make teams pay when they bring up extra defenders to stop the run. And he will be expected to add more balance to the offense by passing a bit more to keep the defense off balance.
LSU ran the ball 68% of the time in 2011. Granted, they were way ahead in the fourth quarter of most games, but that’s still a pretty imbalanced ratio. By evening things out, LSU’s offense should have the ability to beat an opponent in more than one manner, and that will make them awfully tough to stop.
I would not expect LSU to start throwing the ball 30 times per game, but they’ll be much more effective when they do throw. It makes sense that LSU’s offense will look a lot like it did during the first eight games of 2011 when Jarrett Lee was the starter. You’ll likely see a lot of I-formation, a lot of two tight-end sets, and more of a pro style approach. With Mettenberger, you may also see some three and four wide receiver sets mixed in.
CFBZ: Looking ahead to 2012, which players are you most looking forward to watching?
Saturday Night Slant: The easy answer is Mettenberger for all of the reasons detailed above. On the same note, a pair of sophomore receivers have me very excited. Odell Beckham really broke out in 2011 as a true freshman, catching 41 balls as LSU’s #2 receiver. Beckham is a tad undersized but he has tremendous hands and is deadly after the catch. I’m excited to see what he can do as LSU’s top receiving threat. The other guy is Jarvis Landry. Most expected Landry to be the one to break out in 2011 but an injury in fall camp put him behind and he never really caught up. He caught just four balls, but was an absolute terror on kick coverage. He will get a ton of looks in 2012.
On defense, I’m looking forward to Anthony “Freak” Johnson stepping up into a starting role at defensive tackle that was vacated when Michael Brockers left early for the NFL. Freak has all of the physical skills you could want, and I suspect he’ll make a lot of big plays next year.
CFBZ: What do you see as the biggest issues heading into the 2012 season for LSU?
Saturday Night Slant: Even though most feel good about it, quarterback is still an unknown. The #2 quarterback will also be something to watch as redshirt freshmen Stephen Rivers and Jerrard Randall battle for the spot.
Wide receiver is a bit of a concern since LSU does not have a lot of experience returning. But they have talent there and should be OK, if not very good. Linebacker will also see a lot of new faces. Junior Kevin Minter was a part time starter in 2011 and he played very well. He’ll be the top guy in the middle and a number of guys will compete for time on the outsides including some true freshmen.
Overall, the team will of course have to develop some depth with some young guys stepping up. Part of what made LSU’s defense so exceptional in 2011 was their ability to rotate guys and not lose much. For 2012, the starting lineups look fantastic but some reserves and younger players need to step up if the Tigers want to have the same level of depth.
Otherwise, LSU’s returning roster is in really good shape for another fantastic season.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Big 12- Kansas Jayhawks