Way back in May, Billy Gomila, of the LSU blog And The Valley Shook, and I did Q&A sessions with each other (my answers here; his here). With the game almost upon us, it seemed like a good idea to revisit where things stand halfway through the season. Moar questions!
You’ll find my latest batch of answers over here. Meanwhile, here’s what I asked Billy and what he had to say in response:
1. With a 5-1 start and two big upsets, I assume the local hot seat talk about Coach O has cooled considerably. To date, what’s been the most pleasant surprise about the team’s 2018 performance?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in covering college football and fan reaction over the years, it’s that people would rather be right than happy, especially online. There’s a percentage that never wanted Orgeron to get this job and nothing he does will ever change their minds on that. Success is only a temporary mollification, and whatever definitely of it hey have will change at each opportunity. The biggest games are always the ones you lose, and the wins don’t count.
The hot seat talk was never particularly serious in the first place — most people understand that this team would be playing a ton of freshmen and sophomores against a pretty brutal slate. Nobody that’s reasonable had expectations beyond some success and, hopefully, improvement towards 2019.
2. How, if any, has your perception of the team’s talent changed over the first six games? What are now the areas of greatest strength and of biggest concern?
Sadly, the depth along the line of scrimmage still isn’t where LSU needs it to be. Every offensive line can become thin with enough attrition, and LSU had that hit again very quickly with several injuries and an unexpected suspension. They’ve had a different starting lineup in every game this year, although that may change on Saturday with all of last week’s starters still healthy.
The running game has been a little bit better than I thought it would be, with Nick Brossette fitting this offense much better than he did last year. The receiving corps is still a little inconsistent but I think that’s a unit that’s improving. The big hit was losing K’Lavon Chaisson in week one. This defense still hasn’t really found a consistent pass rush since then.
3. I look at Joe Burrow’s stats and don’t see any improvement over what LSU had with Danny Etling last season. Am I missing something?
Well, Danny Etling was a good quarterback, so I think you’re missing that first point. Overall, Burrow has been steady and, outside of some crucial mistakes against Florida, he’s steadily improved overall. Honestly I’d say he’s exactly what I thought he’d be scouting him out of Ohio State. Not some elite playmaker, but a veteran manager type. He’s pretty good on the short/intermediate throws, and he has some nice mobility at times. His deep ball isn’t great — that was another Etling comparison as well. I think it’s possible that he can continue to improve and be one of the better quarterbacks in the league by year’s end.
He made some crucial mistakes against Florida, but he also converated a 4th-and-19 pass and threw too very nice passes that receivers dropped in the final minute of the game, both of which would have put LSU into Florida territory with enough time to take a few shots at the endzone.
4. I saw a snippy tweet the other day that was something along the lines of “Orgeron may not have liked Canada, but he seems to like a lot of Canada’s plays”. Again, the stats don’t really show it, but has LSU’s offense benefited from the change at offensive coordinator? And what’s Ensminger going to have to do Saturday to put the offense in a position to succeed against the Georgia defense?
I think the trust factor has made a big difference. Bottom line is that Canada had trouble getting along with Ed Orgeron and a lot of people that worked in LSU’s ops building. And let the record reflect that this is far from the first time that kind of issue has run him out of a job. As far as using “his plays,” LSU’s run a couple of jet sweeps, but not nearly as many as Canada did — and I don’t think he’s got that trademarked or anything. (this sounds like Dan Wolken’s particular brand of dumbass)There’s definitely fewer shifts, and I think the offense is relying a little less on deception and more on fundamentals. And so far, the scoring is up. Yards per play is slightly down, but trending in the right direction overall. And that’s with an offensive line that’s had a different starting lineup in every game this year due to injuries and suspensions.
As far as this Saturday, it’s not often that LSU finds itself at a talent disadvantage, but that’s the case here. I think they’re going to need to ugly things up a bit. Run the ball, try to keep the chains moving and keep the Georgia offense off of the field. Ensminger’s done a good job of attacking defenses, and he’s aggressive. But the key is going to be how the offensive line holds up.
5. When I asked you about LSU’s three toughest games back in May, Florida didn’t make your list. Given that Auburn and Miami did, was last Saturday more an aberration of where this team is at now, or an indication that cracks are starting to show up? What do you expect Georgia to have the most success exploiting this Saturday?
Well, I think that’s more a reflection of how much better Florida’s been and how they’ve recovered from the Kentucky loss. But I don’t think it was crazy to suggest that Miami, Auburn, Georgia, Bama and Mississippi State would be better based on most offseason projections. As I wrote after the game, it was a tight game that came down to a handful of plays that Florida was able to make and that LSU couldn’t. I’m not sure that there’s more to it than that. I’m not “big sweeping conclusions” guy after one loss, that’s just not how I get down.
If I’m Georgia, I stick with what brought me to the dance here and try to rely on the running game, with some calculated shots by Jake Fromm and the receivers. The strength of this defense is the secondary, and the front seven is struggling to make negative plays right now. If that continues, Georgia should be able to lean on LSU and pull away eventually.