LSU UCLA Football

UCLA running back Brittain Brown (28) runs past LSU cornerback Cordale Flott, center, and linebacker Damone Clark (18) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

After the final score of their opener against UCLA, it was evident that the Tigers were never fully functional on offense and could neither match the adjustments made from their opponent nor maintain or elevate the level of intensity needed on the line of scrimmage, which was their downfall Saturday night.

Chip Kelly and his staff outcoached Ed Orgeron's new assembly of coaches. For example, early in the game on the 3rd and 9, the Bruins were giving an exotic six-man front at the line of scrimmage. Since Bruins have tons of speed, detecting who is blitzing or dropping in pass coverage becomes taxing. After the ball was snapped, Max Johnson felt immense pressure as the pocket collapsed around him. He couldn't run because the Bruins kept a spy if he scrambled the pocket, which almost caused a fumble. When an offense faces a third and long, it can make its playcalling lackluster, and the blame goes on the coaching staff for plays like this.

Another mistake on the part of the coaching staff was clock management. Most of the problems consisted of running down the clock to read the Bruins defense because of the unfamiliar pre-snap formations. The majority of their attention should have been on staying true to their fundamentals on the line of scrimmage, like picking up the closest players and knowing the alignment when it comes to running in short-yardage versus first-down running. Offensively, LSU has not changed much from last season, and if that remains the same, they may come across the same issues as last season.

The Bruins offense was very zone-run heavy and consistently picked up on the Tigers' defensive schemes. Thompson-Robinson performed with more energy compared to the opener against Hawaii. He completed nine of 16 passes for 260 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Play-action passes led to a big touchdown early in the second quarter to tight end Greg Dulcich for a 75-yard score to tie it at seven. This play worked because UCLA previously called 12 consecutive zone runs — LSU was expecting another running play. This is why the LSU box safety walked down as if it were a run play. The alignment of LSU's safeties was incorrect and left a wide-open seam for the Bruins to connect on this play.

The most impactful players of the game were in the backfield at the running back position: Zach Charbonnet had 11 carries for a total of 117 yards and a touchdown. Brittain Brown chipped in 78 yards on 14 carries, including a late-game touchdown. The UCLA offensive line set a tone all game that was just unmatched in the realm of intensity from the LSU front seven.

Saturday night was sloppy coaching from the standpoint of adjustments. So what must LSU do to improve?

One: Get in game shape to run the adjustments needed to counter teams on both sides of the ball. If LSU is expected to be contenders, they have to get in-game shape and cannot look gassed going into the fourth.

Two: Expect more from this coaching staff, new hires or not. Offensive Coordinator Jake Peetz must become more creative in obvious third-and-long downs where punting situations are likely. On plays like the one described earlier where Johnson has no route runners in the flat, an easy outlet pass that can relieve the pressure on the offense must be inserted. Taking what the defense is giving will help Johnson's confidence, and he can then begin to stretch the defense and use inches of grass on the field.

Three: Increase tempo and improve cock management. This is going to be crucial for this offense to succeed.

Defensively, the Tigers need to communicate more in the linebacker, and defensive back groups and overall have to make adjustments, then be aware of those adjustments on situational downs. The linebackers must be more reactive and cut out false steps when making reads on the field. This defensive unit is still learning and doesn't have the best chemistry yet.

LSU must build off the strengths they have and try not to overcomplicate things. The Tigers have a veteran o-line, promising edge rushers and defensive ends who could impose their will on the teams in front of them. However, suppose communication, chemistry, and in-game awareness are not emphasized after this loss. In that case, it may be challenging to picture this year's Tigers as contenders by the end of this year.

LSU will have a couple of games against McNeese State and Central Michigan, where I expect them to sharpen their iron before going against in-conference rivals Mississippi State and Auburn. This could become a make-or-break season for Orgeron when he finally tests his coaching chops.

This team will get better as the season goes on, but being championship contenders is not a status I see this season.

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