Scooter Hobbs column: LSU’s Air Raid defense finally worth a dime

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, September 26, 2021

So you were expecting … what, exactly?

LSU was in Starkville Saturday, a Southeastern Conference outpost not renowned for artistry or high-brow entertainment.

So the Tigers beat Mississippi State 28-25 and got out of the Starkpatch before a stray cowbell whacked them. Style points? Try gymnastics.

A masterpiece?

Go to the museum.

Precision?

Try your local watchmaker.

LSU was just trying to win a football game, one the Tigers — and perhaps head coach Ed Orgeron — desperately needed.

Didn’t matter how.

This wasn’t about polishing up some defects for the future. That will come soon enough — and you wonder if anything the Tigers accomplished really translates to the rest of the SEC schedule.

But, for now, you don’t quibble with the aesthetics.

Even on offense, every time you’d just about doze up, somehow, out of the blue, the Tigers would dial up a 64-yard touchdown pass, a 58-yarder, a 41-yarder.

No explanation really.

But LSU did what it had to do.

Never mind that, given a year to ponder its 2020 defensive futility against State’s silly Air Raid offense, as brilliant plans go, it was unquestionably the most brutal thing to watch you ever saw.

But it was genius — a defense designed to give up yards, almost on purpose.

In the end, getting bent turned out to be a lot better than getting burnt.

Wonder if Bo Pelini saw it, from whatever football purgatory he was exiled to after the flop of a plan he came up with last year, the one that tried to use LSU’s talent edge and held the Bulldogs to 627 yards passing.

Technically, the X-and-O junkies might call it a 3-2-6 alignment.

Translation: At most snaps, LSU didn’t have more than four of five players show up on your TV screen.

But this contraption LSU unveiled Saturday could be the LSU TOP SECRET/Team Eyes Only: “Don’t Take The Cheese” Defense.

Linebacker Damone Clark said that’s what Pelini’s replacement, new defensive coordinator Daronte Jones, told them all week.

Translation: Don’t bite on it when the Bulldogs complete pass after short pass. Just keep it in front of you and try to tackle well.

State might even convert 12 of 18 third downs (as it did) — pay it no mind. Part of the master plan. Soon enough the Bulldogs will get bored, frustrated, or both, and step in something (never a good idea in Starkville).

It was designed to let the pass-happy Bulldogs dink and dunk all afternoon, all up and down the field while dominating time of possession with excruciating monotony … mostly for naught.

It was a football version of Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope ploy against George Foreman.

The Bulldogs finished with a very good 486 yards of offense and the Tigers could care less.

None of it really matters if it doesn’t end up in the end zone, which for most of the game, before a late rally, it didn’t. Mississippi State had 207 yards at the half — and three points.

The Bulldogs had to be pulling their hair out.

Oh, it wasn’t for the casual fan, the wiseacre who knows “up the middle” is coming on every offensive play and blames every opposing completion on “nooooo pressure.”

In this plan, LSU’s defensive strength, its pass rush, was just window dressing, bordering on being innocent bystanders.

The Tigers did get one sack, but it almost seemed like an accident and they all but apologized for it.

“When you lead the nation in sacks,” Orgeron said, “it’s hard to just rush three.”

But they stuck to it, even when things got a little dicey in the fourth quarter.

If it was hard to watch, not to worry. You’ll not likely see it again, at least until next year when the Bulldogs bring their shenanigans to Tiger Stadium.

Now, if the Tigers can just whip up an offense that only needs three offensive linemen.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com