Scooter Hobbs column: Could see it coming a mile away

Published 10:25 am Monday, October 4, 2021

BATON ROUGE — LSU never trailed Auburn until giving up the game-winner with 3:11 to play Saturday night.

So, Auburn 24, LSU 19.

But you could see it coming from at least three quarters away.

There’s a lot to analyze but sorry — bottom line — this one falls right in the lap of the LSU coaching staff.

Or maybe the mortgage for that 2019 championship season is going to take longer to pay off than anyone suspected.

But, as the rest of college football gets back to some sense of normalcy, the Tigers, under a coaching staff overhauled by Ed Orgeron in the offseason, doesn’t even look like LSU any more.

For most of this game Tiger Stadium — neutered for so long by attendance restrictions last year and walk-over opponents this year — made a near-full return, well-lubricated after a full day of tailgating.

It seemed right, it seemed like old times.

All for naught, it turned out, as Tiger football remains stuck in some sort of purple and gold parallel universe where up is down, the sun settles in the eastern sky and LSU … can’t … run … the … ball … at … all. Not a lick. Barely back to the line of scrimmage.

LSU we’re talking about.

And just to reiterate, quarterback is not the problem here.

Joe Burrow is not walking through that door. But for a guy with no running game and scant little protection, Max Johnson is doing about as much as he can.

Pray for him.

But remember how Les Miles frustrated fans with a stubborn love of 6-yard, off-tackle handoffs while never seeming to find somebody he trusted with a forward pass?

Maybe those days weren’t so bad after all.

This game figures to go down as the night Auburn quarterback Bo Nix was the rare targeted critter who won the 60-minute fox hunt.

Something called Georgia State got Nix benched last week. LSU, on the other hand, almost got Nix into the Heisman Trophy conversation — or at least a good handful of Heisman moments.

He’ll probably wake up and throw five interceptions next week against Georgia.

But the whole game changed late in the first half when, on fourth-and-2, Nix scrambled for 12 seconds, from one side of the field and back to the other while breaking five dead-to-rights tackles before slinging up a prayer that turned into a 24-yard touchdown pass.

You never saw anything like it — except it happened again and again. It was a Houdini act with multiple encores that figured in almost all of Auburn’s scoring drives.

“We told our tackles to bullrush,” Orgeron said. “We told our ends to contain and we put a spy on him.”

Tiger Stadium’s biggest noise explosions came for apparent sacks that turned into false alarms mid yell.

The Tigers bull-rushed like crazy, they kind of contained and they spied straight out of a John le Carré novel.

But it’s all in the details. Maybe the game plan should have added “tackle when you get there.” There’s only so many hours in the work week, you suppose. Can’t cover everything.

So Nix was never sacked despite, by my conservative count, some 287 perfect good opportunities.

But at least there was a game plan there.

Maybe you give Nix credit for a career night.

The coaching malfeasance was most evident on the offensive side.

Whatever Georgia State is, it also rushed for 262 yards against Auburn last week. LSU managed 33 yards in 25 attempts (and I must have missed some in both categories).

“We came in with a running plan,” Johnson said. “But it didn’t really go as planned.”

No kidding.

I’m not sure there’s a coaching work-around for nowhere to run, something that really comes in handy late in drives, like when LSU was leaving points scattered all over the red zone with four disheartening field goals.

And that’s not the worst of it.

Again, look up toward the coaching booth where offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas are either stricken with indecision or just taking their sweet time in that elusive search for the perfect play.

LSU does seem to go through a lot of bureaucratic red tape before they’re allowed the snap the ball.

Those fans who didn’t come home hoarse from cheering faux sacks may have come home cross-eyed from keeping one eye on the ball and the other on the play clock.

“One play is called based on the coverage and then we get a different play,” Johnson said. “We’re getting it with five seconds or so and then I have to try to change protections. We’re burning time outs because of that.”

Three of them, in fact, including one — after a three-minute TV time out — before the first play of their crucial, time-sensitive drive after Auburn took the lead.

And those wasted time outs don’t account for numerous times they had to rush to get off plays, killing any chance of rhythm or tempo.

Orgeron promised weeks ago to get that cleared up.

“We just weren’t well organized,”admitted Orgeron, who promised weeks ago to get that cleared up. “We just have to call the play and run with it … there’s no excuse for that.”

Certainly not five games into the season.

All they’re doing is haning a still-inexperienced quarterback out to dry.

We could go on and on.

But if you really want to grade Orgeron’s revamped staff thus far, try this.

Name one game this year, even in their three wins, when the Tigers seemed to get better, to figure things out, as the game went on.

I’ll hang up and wait on your answer.

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