TQ: What's holding back LSU?

Posted Oct 2, 2012

***ADVANCED TEAM ANALYSIS. Is this a case of the emperor having no clothes, no players to wear them, or is a young quarterback and patchwork offensive line merely taking a bit longer to gel? CFN's lead SEC Columnist Russ Mitchell examines this year's LSU offense by its parts in the hope of finding an answer.

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

In case you were living under a rock this weekend, the Colonial Athletic Conference made a guest appearance in Death Valley on Saturday night, and in the process just might have buried the LSU Tigers' season.

No, the Bayou Bengals didn't lose; at one point early in the fourth quarter they actually led the Towson Tigers 31 to 9. But the story of this game isn't so much the final score as it was LSU's inept, careless performance in nearly every facet, including a coaching staff that continues to struggle with answers, poor kicking, and a defense that missed as many assignments as tackles on Saturday.

But the poster child of LSU's 2012 struggles is once again its offense, and the game against Towson was a microcosm of everything that's gone wrong for the Tigers on that side of the ball this year – including the loss of yet another starter, fullback J.C. Copeland...a key contributor in LSU's run-focused offense.

As in the Auburn game the previous week, LSU found itself losing late in the second quarter thanks to its disjointed play and turnovers. However, this time it came at home against the FCS Tigers. We warned you last week that this Towson defense was one of the FCS's best, including sporting the FCS's best pass defense. But there are far too many "FCS"s in that sentence to miss the gravity of LSU's incomplete performance Saturday.

The Towson game continued several bad trends for LSU. Towson was able to get pressure on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, something it has not been able to do often in 2012 - though for the first time in 2012, this wasn't exactly the line's fault (more on that below). Its placekicking game was average and there were too many costly penalties and turnovers in the red zone. As a team, LSU has also dealt with a bevy of injuries and academic suspensions that cost it at least three more starters since Washington returned to Seattle with its tail between its legs – perhaps LSU's only complete game of the season.


LSU's defense hasn't surrendered as many points as it did to Towson since crushing Oregon to start the 2011 season. Towson racked up more points, more first downs, more total yards, and more rushing and passing yards in Red Stick than LSU surrendered the week before to SEC foe Auburn on the plains. And the first of Towson's two fourth quarter touchdown drives (12 plays for 64 yards) came against LSU's starters.

Moreover, back in August we cautioned how important losing Tyrann Mathieu would be for this 2012 LSU team; so far it's clear the Tigers lack some of the spark that the Honey Badger provided in 2011.

Still, LSU's defense is today ranked fourth best in the sport…so our focus naturally turns to the offense. To say LSU's offensive line has underperformed and injuries have hurt is both obvious and too simplistic:
At this point last season, LSU was fourth in the nation in turnover margin and it would finish second best overall. Jump forward a year and the Tigers are ranked 30 and moving in the wrong direction. Most of this is the fault of its offense, with many of these turnovers also coming in the red zone.

At this point last season, LSU's impressive offensive line was tenth in the nation in sacks allowed and would finish the year best in the SEC. Five games into 2012, LSU is tied for 81.

At this point, LSU has already failed to convert on more red zone opportunities than in all of 2011.
The Tigers entered August a favorite of many to run the table again in 2012, perhaps with even greater ease, and take care of unfinished business. This has led to even greater scorn now being heaved in the direction of Baton Rouge. As one of the SEC's premier brands of the past decade, it's worth trying to determine where and why LSU is struggling. In an effort to identify these, let's break the LSU offense down into parts...

READ MORE - Part Two, Mitchell: What's holding back LSU

Follow me @russmitchellcfb

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