LSU UCLA Football

LSU cornerback Eli Ricks (1) holds the ball after intercepting a UCLA pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In the weeks leading up to LSU’s first game of the season, it wasn’t a secret that many fans expected it to be a victory.

Many factors contributed to that mindset, including their opponent, UCLA, being below-average in recent years under Chip Kelly, LSU’s strong outings to finish the season last year and a relatively strong offseason for the Tigers.  

High expectations, along with their No. 16 ranking to start the year, led to fans being incredibly disappointed when the Tigers got outplayed last Saturday against unranked UCLA. While the team remained competitive and in the game until the fourth quarter (technically), it’s easy to overlook that fact when the conclusion seemed so dire and telling.  

But it’s too early to write this team off, and there are a lot more factors that contributed to this loss other than LSU not being a good football team. Only time will tell whether or not this team can contend within the stacked SEC.  

One thing you have to remember is that LSU was without two players that are expected to be key contributors within the offense this year: running back John Emery Jr. and wide receiver Jontre Kirklin. It’s difficult to predict how impactful those players will be once they are back, but you can’t necessarily write this off as a non-factor.

Based on how poor the run game and blocking were against UCLA, there’s a chance Emery would not have helped much, but Kirklin could have.  

Kirklin’s spring game performance in April shot boosted expectations in him, and even though that is just a spring game, it did put the potential he has within the LSU offense on display. He hasn’t had a chance to shine yet, sitting behind the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, Justin JeffersonTerrace Marshall and others over his years as a Tiger.  

His inclusion could have limited the pressure that was on Kayshon Boutte and given Max Johnson another potentially strong target on the outside.  

Johnson targeted Boutte on 30% of his throws, and though other receivers had a vast number of targets throughout the game, none of them made as much of a difference, as not a single receiver surpassed 50 yards other than Boutte. With Kirklin on the field and on the same level that he was at in the spring, he could have been a solid target for Johnson when Boutte wasn’t open and even shifted some of the UCLA’s focus onto him.  

Only time will tell whether or not his presence would have made a difference, and it’s hard to say if he’ll even get his chance if he remains sidelined.  

Another thing worth mentioning is that UCLA might be a better opponent than we expected 

UCLA has kept a lot of their key pieces through years of struggle within the Pac-12, and both team and individual statistics have progressively gotten better each year. The team features a wealthy amount of experience as well, with the majority of starters on both ends being juniors or seniors and the team being near the top in returning starters 

The Bruins have gone from 3-9 in 2018, 4-8 in 2019 and 3-4 in 2020. On the surface that doesn’t look like progression, but the last season is where things get interesting.  

Three of their four losses came against arguably the three best teams in the conference (USC, Oregon and Colorado) and those losses were also by a single score. The only other loss they suffered was in double overtime versus Stanford.  

With most of their starters returning, it shouldn’t be a surprise if this team ends up being a strong contender for the Pac-12 title. This team has serious potential and in a couple of weeks, we could be looking at this loss a lot differently.  

With all that’s been said, there were still glaring flaws throughout the game that need to be fixed for this team to have successes that aren’t “could haves."

On the offensive side, the line was horrendous. The run game was nonexistent versus UCLA, with Tyrion Davis-Price having a troubling 2.4 yards per carry on 13 attempts, and the fact that Max Johnson managed to have an adequate performance was a miracle considering the pressure that UCLA was able to apply. 

This stalled multiple drives and turned potential touchdowns into field goals, points that could’ve given LSU a chance in the end.  

It’s worrisome considering how experienced this line is, with most of the starters being seniors. However, the recent departure of Dare Rosenthal, the recent signing of Brad Davis as the offensive line coach and right tackle Austin Deculus leaving early in the game with an injury could have caused some of the problems 

With that being said, this is worth keeping an eye on throughout the season, and is a justifiable cause for concern because it’s hard for an offense to function with a mediocre offensive line.  

And the defense was bad too. Really bad.  

Defense has consistently been LSU’s strong suit throughout the last decade, and it has not been up to standards over the last two years. It was a problem last year, and it is a problem now.  

You can mention the new coordinator all you want, but when you watch the highlights, it does not seem like all of his fault. Missed tackles were a common trend throughout the game and especially apparent on UCLA’s big plays and scores.  

It’s very difficult to win when you give up 38 points, and it’s demoralizing for a defense to give up big play after big playThe sad thing is that the talent is there, but there was a serious lack of effort and poor communication throughout this game, and problems like that can turn a talented defense into a mediocre one.  

The best thing that can come out of this is that this loss serves as a wake-up call for the team, and that Orgeron and the coaching staff can find the problems the team has and promptly fix them. Only time will tell whether this occurs, but it’s too early to lose hope.  

Load comments