LSU Aftermath: Hitting the Glass Ceiling
That could have gone better. It could have gone a lot better. Oregon lost with a final score of 40-27 in a tale of two halves. In the first half Oregon looked like an equal. Holding the LSU offense to less than a hundred yards. Oregon was getting in to a groove on offense and looked poise for a breakthrough, one that would never come. After a few hours of thinking and putting up with tourists on Addicted to Quack, I’m thinking clearly now on the game that just finished.
The turning point in the game was the two fumbles by De’Anthony Thomas. After a LSU touchdown pushing the lead to ten, De’Anthony Thomas fumbled just inside our forty. LSU went on to score another touchdown, now leading 30-13. On the ensuing kickoff, De’Anthony Thomas fumbled at the end of a great return, and the result was an LSU field goal, making the score 33-13, a lead too large for Oregon to make up. Oregon’s defense had to defend for almost an entire quarter, and when the team needed to make stops in the fourth to get the ball back they were just too gassed. Holes that got LSU only two yards stayed open for a little longer and gashed for eight yards at a time. Jarrett Lee only had to throw for 98 yards to get the win.
Turnovers, with the help of penalties, did Oregon in. The two consecutive turnovers cracked Oregon’s armor and then LSU’s offensive line put a 320-pound lineman through it with running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford close behind. Then Kenjon Barner’s fumble on the punt return that got returned for a touchdown is inexcusable.
Penalties killed Oregon’s drives. How many leg whip calls have you ever heard before? None. The 2008 Holiday Bowl is almost famous for the “sweep the leg” play by Max Unger on a screen pass. Oregon outgained LSU by 82 yards, and should be enough yards to win by, but the 95 yards in penalties and the -3 turnover margin was crushing.
The game was won and lost in the trenches in its most basic form. The defensive line for Oregon is fast, really fast, but that doesn’t help with a downhill running style and 320 pound buffet busters. The offensive line couldn’t get any push and it took a long time for some holes to develop. This is largely due to the talent levels of both teams being very far apart, but more on that later.
The offense has significant issues. LSU is the best team Oregon will play all year, and the fastest, so I don’t see many of this problems carrying over to PAC-12 play. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner were incredibly hesitant when hitting the holes in the line of scrimmage. They waited so long for the holes to open in the backfield that linemen weren’t able to hold their blocks long enough. Against a defense like LSU’s you almost have to hit the line of scrimmage and expect a hole to be there. It looked like they were jogging in the backfield taking the handoff, and even after the defensive end had stayed at home, the end still caught up to them and made the tackle from behind. I thought it was just because holes weren’t there, but then I see freshman running back De’Anthony Thomas hit the hole hard and sprint for five to six yards and its clear he’s going for broke and hitting the holes as they form.
Thomas looked very inaccurate at times (although made all the right reads on quarterback options). There were not many balls that were on the numbers and he forced a young receiving group to have to make some tough catches. The receiving group wasn’t great either because of how much speed they lack. There was no separation whatsoever from the fast LSU defensive backs. The defensive backs were able to play man defense, loading up the box, and have a four-man rush take care of the running game. The best receiver today was De’Anthony Thomas.
There are a few positives to take away form the game. First, De’Anthony Thomas is f*****g legit. He came in as a running back deep in Duck territory and carried the rock hard between the tackles. He had a killer kick return until the fumble. He lined up in the slot and showed the best hands and the best abilities at getting separation amongst all the wide receivers. Huff appeared to still be hurting from a previous injury. Some thought he wouldn’t get more than five touches, but he got double-digit touches easily. He made the true freshman mistakes of carrying the ball like a loaf of bread and lost the ball twice. He’ll remember those mistakes and learn from them. I thought that next year he’d be great, but he’s ready for the big time this year.
Anthony Gildon is going to be great opposite Cliff Harris. Terrence Mitchell did well filling in for Harris, but it’s clear that there’s a drop-off after the to two defensive backs on the Ducks’ depth chart. He broke up passes and didn’t get cleanly beat once against a fast wide receiver group.
The biggest factor that became evident is that Oregon is not a tier one team. These are the Florida’s, Alabama’s, and Ohio States; teams that are in the national title hunt every year. I thought Oregon was going to reload but they have to do a fare share of rebuilding. The biggest difference, at its core, is the type of players these teams bring in. They are routinely getting ten guys who are four or five star players. Florida had over nine, five star players in one recruiting class two years ago. LSU has been ranking in recruits for years. They lost a starting guard seven days before the game and you could barely tell. LSU lost its top receiver, and his replacement was the number one receiver out of high school a year ago and saw time playing last year. We lost Cliff Harris and Terrence Mitchell struggled against the bigger receivers (but in fairness to him he’s a redshirt freshman getting his first playing time and the receiver who he was guarding had a significant height advantage). The SEC is better than every other conference in the country right now because of their lines. Their offensive lines are mobile and all tip the scales at 310 pounds. Their defensive lines are 270-pound ends and 310-pound tackles who are extremely fast and athletic. Oregon’s lines are just fast but lack size, and it showed when the offensive lines had troubles opening holes and couldn’t push the line in to the second level of the defense. The last great line Oregon had was in 2008, which featured two NFL players including Max Unger. Until we get NFL-caliber lines we will keeping getting as close to possible as winning it all without ever doing so. We’ve essentially hit a glass ceiling that we can’t get through without some more weight, speed, and better technique along the lines. What I’m feeling is probably what women in the work place feel when they hit the glass ceiling, I know what the problem is that is holding me back and I’m so close to making it but just can’t.
The recruiting problem will get better, it already has. De’Anthony Thomas is supposed to be one of the best recruits ever out of Los Angeles, and that includes Reggie Bush. Blackmon was an Under Armour All-American. In Kelly’s third year with the program the team is becoming more and more what his ideal team his. He’s still playing with a few square pieces and trying to fit them in to round holes (It makes me wonder if Sumler and Blackmon may start playing more since they can get separation). The biggest changes need to happen up front. We need to get big and fast linemen. That’s the difference between national championships and conference championships. National champions are strong at every position and have depth, which is what Oregon is missing.
Now PAC-12 play lies ahead, and the national championship is out of reach unless we have another season like 2007 (which is possible after watching almost every college football game that was played this weekend). The goal is to win the PAC-12, anything extra is gravy (and I’ve said this for years). The critiques above are made in the context of a national championship team. Oregon will do well against every other team in conference, and I’m including Stanford and their slow defense. I still think Oregon will undefeated in conference and think they’ll win handily. Last season I said the season was a little boring because Oregon blew out everyone and there wasn’t a single game, other than when Stanford visited, that had me thinking Oregon wouldn’t pull it off. With our potential 12-0 record gone the Ducks’ sights are now set on making it to the Rose Bowl. One thing is for sure, this season is about to get really exciting.