There is always one golden rule about evaluating greatness in sports.
Stats never lie, but they do deceive.
The LSU Tigers rushing attack against TCU Horned Frogs is a prime example. The Tigers finished the game with 197 yards on 48 carries, which comes out to a respectable average of 4.1 yards-per-carry.
For evaluation sake, take out the two sacks and two kneel downs by LSU, which totaled 23 yards. Now LSU finished with 220 yards on 40 carries, which equates to an even better five-yard average.
But the numbers do not tell the entire story. A deeper look at the numbers and game film shows it was far from a typical Les Miles rushing attack.
Just under a quarter of those yards came on one attempt, a 52-yard touchdown scamper by Terrance Magee. The run was an isolated incident against a TCU defensive front that bludgeoned the line of scrimmage.
Magee's long run featured plenty of luck too.
LSU lines up in 21 personnel, with a running back, fullback and one tight end to the right of the formation. LSU wants to run the ball through the left side B gap, which is located between the guard and the tackle.
Off the snap, the hole looks too open due to a great initial punch on the left side. Left tackle La'el Collins gets a great push on defensive end Terrell Lathan. Left guard Vadal Alexander fires off quickly in an effort to block the linebacker. Alexander does not help center Elliot Porter double-team the nose tackle, trusting him to turn his man inside and away from the B Gap.
But Porter (No. 55) gets blown so far back that the designated play gets terminated. This forces fullback and lead blocker Connor Neighbors to cut an oncoming defender quickly. The initial hole in the B Gap is now filled.
But LSU gets lucky enough for a few things to happen. Because Porter was blown so far back, it forces Magee to bounce it to the outside quickly. The play side free safety (FS) Chris Hackett decides to take an aggressive line to the ball carrier, but it eventually turns into a horrible angle.
Hackett thought Lathan would stay outside of Collins. Collins (LC) sees his defender, Lathan, begin to turn inside as well. This opens up a massive lane for Magee.
Hackett's (FS) horrible angle causes him to whiff on Magee. Because Lathan chose to go inside of Collins, he has no chance to make a play while getting mauled. Cornerback Kevin White (No. 25) makes the fundamentally right decision to stay outside and not give Magee the sideline, as he believed either Lathan or Hackett would be there to make the play.
TCU blew up the play in the backfield, to the point that LSU center Elliot Porter almost tackled his own ball carrier. Magee was forced to bounce to the outside to avoid the contact. The play side safety and defensive end took a horrible angle for what should have been an easy open-field tackle. All Magee had to do from there was outrun a defensive end who was mauled by Collins.
So yes, it was a fluke run. The numbers back that up too.
The 52-yard run was the only run LSU had over 17 yards the entire night. If that run is taken out of the equation, LSU rushed for 168 yards on 43 carries. This averages out to a paltry 3.9 yards per carry, the exact number TCU allowed last year each game that led the Big 12.
TCU did a heck of a job of recognizing run plays early and staying aggressive. Head coach Gary Patterson had an excellent game plan. He instructed his defense to crash the line of scrimmage hard and attack the ball carrier when they recognized a run.
Patterson's main objective was to make LSU beat his team through the air. He trusted his secondary to lock down on the outside.
TCU accomplished both of these missions pretty well. But quarterback Zach Mettenberger was just too good. Mettenberger's accuracy was indefensible and left Patterson helpless. His ability to throw set up LSU's running game.
Michael Felder brilliantly pointed out that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's diverse game plan gave LSU a massive edge. Cameron not only threw out of formations that would tell a defense a run is coming, he also ran the ball on passing formations.
But it actually gets worse. A closer look at the style of running plays show that the Horned Frogs took LSU completely out of their comfort zone.
After charting every single running play, it became evident LSU could not run the football against TCU using basic, between-the-tackle runs. Cameron had to get creative. Miles takes pride in out-executing and wearing down opposing defenses with brute simplicity.
On the above table, there are three different categories. The first is "Traditional Runs," which means the quarterback, from under center, handed the football off to the running back. These type of runs are the foundation of the LSU offense.
The second category is "Non-Traditional Runs." This includes runs out of shotgun, reverses, quarterback scrambles and draws. This mainly features runs in which the defense had to respect Mettenberger's ability to pass.
When Mettenberger was in shotgun or ran a draw, it became more difficult for TCU to read the play before it began. The back seven took a step back and the defensive line rushed the passer, because the Horned Frogs had to respect his ability to throw.
LSU lines up in shotgun formation after a poor first down run by Kenny Hilliard. The Tigers have struggled in the red zone throwing the football. So Cameron makes the right decision in running out of a passing formation, especially since traditional runs up to that point averaged 2.5 yards per carry.
Mettenberger pauses for a second to make it look like he is about to pass. Instead, he hands it off to Blue for a simple inside draw. The defensive line, knowing 2nd and long is a passing down, begins to pass rush up field knowing Mettenberger's was on fire throwing the football. Yet the draw causes them to over-penetrate the play.
The linebackers are on their back foot in pass coverage. The offensive line moves swiftly to the second level and forms a solid line across the 10-yard line. Blue runs through a gaping hole.
Blue makes a nice, tough run. He eventually gets brought down right before the goal line. If Alexander had held his block longer on the second level, it would have been Blue's first touchdown of the season.
LSU will take yards anyway they can get them. But Miles will eventually want to get back to simple, ground-and-pound running plays.
Patterson and TCU deserve much credit. It was tough for LSU to run versus a stacked box.
But the 52-yard touchdown run from Magee showed one example of how the LSU offensive line got whipped at the point of attack. Offensive lineman getting blown backward by a defensive tackle off the snap has little to do with a stacked box. Porter and left guard Vadal Alexander could not get any push.
Yet, there were plays LSU blocked perfectly on traditional running plays, especially toward the end of the game. Hill and Magee could not break tackles to extend runs for extra yards. LSU was clearly without their best running back.
Hill was missed. While Blue and Magee put up respectable numbers, they did not perform to level of last year's leading rusher.
Blue and Magee ran hard. They fell forward on some runs after getting hit. But on 32 combined carries, they only broke one tackle cleanly. It was a simple one at that, as, midway through the first half, safety Elisha Olabode flew into the backfield and Blue evaded him.
There were some between the tackle runs that were blocked well. Blue and Magee had the chance to make safeties and linebackers miss, but could not do so. It was one hit and down for the duo.
LSU can still win games without Hill. They have won games in the past with running backs who were not elusive.
But broken tackles in the open field can turn great gains into explosive, game-changing ones. There is not much coaching to be done when it comes to elusiveness. It is something that comes natural. Hill can avoid tacklers on any type of run or catch. On the other hand, Blue and Magee have limited skill sets.
Blue and Magee did finish the game well on the final drive. The offensive line closed out the game strong with traditional, between-the-tackle runs. It even caught the attention of former LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert.
There are positives about struggling against a great team and still getting a win. It allows coaches to dissect plays and instruct players to do better, whether it be in the film room or at practice.
Offensive line coach Greg Studwara should let his unit know they can play better. La'el Collins had a spectacular debut at left tackle. But Collins and the rest of the line knows they still need time to gel and get better.
LSU did not pitch the ball on any play. The Tigers in years past have run their bread and butter Power play, but with a small toss instead of handoff. Do not be surprised if LSU gets back to pitching the football a few times a game.
Fans will want to see the air raid with Mettenberger in Tiger Stadium against UAB. Expect Miles to do the opposite and pound the rock repeatedly. The Blazers are not near the caliber of the TCU defense, but it will be live repetitions the Tigers desperately need to get better.
Miles also wants Tiger fans to know that the identity of his offense has not changed at LSU.
Update: Scott Rabalais of The Advocate is reporting Jeremy Hill will be allowed to play against UAB.
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