Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Tigers vs Tigers

I've been asked all week by everyone I work with and even passing acquaintances in the hallways who see me wearing Clemson or LSU gear which team I'm really pulling for next week or who I think will win. Well the orange in my blood is pretty thick and no one will be able to unseat Clemson as my first love, even though my time at LSU was quite memorable and I do sometimes wish I could go back.

Of course I watch each game of both teams and have for many years now, so I know them both pretty well, but I believe Clemson will win the game in the end. However, this is a tall order, for either squad. They match up quite well overall.

In every close game between two good teams, things like turnovers and special teams are obviously huge. It was with us and Ohio State, it was when we lost to Alabama in 2015 (thanks Jayron Kearse!), and it will be again. But I think the game will really come down to winning individual matchups. I don't think it'll be schemes from Venables or Aranda, from ScElliott or Brady, it'll be the Jimmies and the Joes. Can you line up and whip the guy across the line more often than he does you?

That's really it in football.

Looking back over this season, LSU has had "it" pretty much all year. You can tell by how the team gels and how they fight to win a game. Clemson showed me we had "it" back in 2015. I knew they were going to get there at the end. The story just didn't work out that year for Clemson, so now we have to make sure it doesn't work out for LSU this time.

LSU's offense is much like the West Coast offense, but run out of a spread formation and shotgun. It also emphasizes attacking the middle-of-field coverage vs ours, which is more of a perimeter attack. However, they do a great job spreading the ball to everyone on the offense, inside or outside, unlike ours. They run quite a bit of slants/dig routes over the middle with the TE Thaddeus Moss heading up the seam in the hook/curl areas and along the hashes. I've explained the WCO before back on the old site, and to put it simply, LSU uses the Option routes that the WCO has for the RBs, and the Run & Shoot used for the receivers. On an option route, the receiver looks at the leverage of the defender (inside him or out) and breaks his route based on that leverage, the other way. When run perfectly, with the QB and receivers on the same page, its pretty damned hard to stop.

The only way you can slow it down is confuse the QB with a look or zone blitzes that he hasn't seen, drop guys where he doesn't expect them, and get to him before he gets it out, or sufficiently confound the WRs on their pre-snap read as to make them break the wrong way. Tough to do with all 11 defenders, and even tougher when Burrow can make plays with his legs and has a Tom Brady-like ability to find an open guy and hit him in the numbers every time.

A lot of folks have made a big deal about how Auburn held LSU down. My recollection from that game was more that LSU couldn't get their shit together in the red zone. Kevin Steele was the most tenured defensive coordinator LSU played this year (even though Smart and Saban have tight reins on their own defenses) and he had a unique stacked linebacker scheme that LSU's front didn't adjust well enough to at times and didn't afford a good pre-snap read of who had who. Auburn's DL did give some problems and played well that day overall. LSU's defense actually saved them that day, stifling Auburn for much of the game. Burrow wasn't as on fire that day as some others, but they moved the ball all over Auburn between the 20s and I thought they should've won by 21. Saban and Smart both tried some similar schematic things and it didn't really stop LSU either.

The offense goes as Burrow goes, but they have good players everywhere. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire is short but he's a tough runner, and a very good quick outlet when Burrow can't find anyone open. He's not as scary as Etienne, but he is a better receiver. You'll often find him sneaking out of the backfield on a shoot route or little option route, much like Ricky Watters once did for the 49ers back in their heyday. As I've said, Thaddeus Moss (son of Randy) is a threat over the middle that Clemson needs at TE again, it would be nice if Galloway showed out for us.

Their 3 primary receivers are good, and Jefferson is a slot threat that we seem to be lacking with Renfrow in the pros and Rodgers not producing. In the end, I think our two main guys are more talented, but they have to do more than they did against Ohio State (which I believe did have the best secondary we've played since the good FSU teams, 5-6 years ago).

Frankly I havent seen anyone do more than slow down LSU's offense and I don't expect us to do it either. They will score and I expect a shootout. The team that wins up front likely wins the game. That team will be able to stop the other just a couple more times and force one or two more FGs, maybe get one or two takeaways, and that will be it.

Joe Burrow has had one of the best years I can remember any QB having in terms of being able to always find and hit someone. There is a hair's breadth of difference in terms of ability between he and Lawrence, and both trust their receivers to make plays. The only thing that comes to mind to me is that TL doesn't take the checkdown enough, and likes to go for the bomb a little more than Burrow. Neither turned the ball over much down the stretch and both will have 300+ yards passing Monday night.

As for the defenses, LSU is much like us schematically in terms of fronts, twists and stunts, but there is one word I'd use to describe them overall this year: inconsistent. Its not as good as what they've fielded in the past under Aranda. They did have a rash of injuries at times this year that affected defensive production, but there were several games where I thought it was just abysmal against an opponent that had no business moving the ball on them. Things like poor angles/tackling, inconsistent coverage and poor play from the front killed them against Florida, Ole Piss, and even Vanderbilt. Alabama was too equal to make any kind of statement on, both teams were good that day, and the score is likely the same if we'd played them instead of LSU. As guys got healthy, they did improve.

It certainly looked better against aTm, but if you had watched the LSU/aTm game last year, you'd have known there was no way the Aggies were not getting blown out.

Georgia was typical Georgia, and Kirby handing James Coley that offense was like giving a 9 year old the keys to a Ferrari. They did well enough to hold LSU back but without any offensive production there was no way they were going to beat LSU. Hence, 37-10.

Of course Clemson hadn't faced a good offense this year until Ohio State. A&M might have been, but Kellen Mond never got his head right after coming to our house in September.

In terms of personnel I think we're pretty similar. LSU's 3 down linemen haven't done all that much and neither have ours. I think Tyler Davis will be a high draft pick one day, but not today. Xavier Thomas has yet to play at the level I thought he would. LSU has two rush linebackers that they like to send, Divinity (out for most of the year for injuries and then "personal (cough-cough weed cough-cough) reasons") and Chaisson. The rest are similar to our guys. In the back end, Stingley is a great cover corner and a 1st rd pick someday, better than Kendrick to my eye but not as experienced and as smart a player as AJ Terrell. Grant Delpit at Safety is capable of being great, but I think he hasn't performed to his potential at all this year. I expected him to be Thorpe Award worthy coming into the year, though he was one of those hurt earlier.

None of them are as talented as Isaiah Simmons, who I expect will line up everywhere on D, but then again not many are.

But you're only as good as your weakest link. Our weakness is in matchups in the slot and not getting enough push from the down 3 DL. Simmons can't cover everybody all the time. A guy like Mark Fields would be really useful this week. Its when we walk back Muse at Safety and stick Nolan Turner on a slot guy that I get worried. However, I don't think LSU is strong in the middle coverage at LB or the other safety spot opposite Delpit, and their DL is equally star-starved.

Both teams run similar offensive tempo, both defenses blitz about as often, neither has truly been tested on special teams because they never see the field. LSU is better at FG kicking though, when they've ever had to do it.

In the end, things are pretty equal overall, so its hard to pick a clear winner on measurables alone. I hope we match their intensity at the kick and don't take a quarter to figure out what to do like Ohio State. If Etienne gets going though, I think Clemson wins outright. I don't think LSU will be able to run CEH all night on us, and we'll make them more one-dimensional like we did Ohio State after the 1st Q. I believe we'll get one takeaway and force one or two more FGs than LSU will as a result.

Either way, this has been a great season. Time to just finish it.

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