Three Observations: LSU Shows Signs of Rapidly Improving Team in Central Michigan Win

Kiner and Johnson star, defensive line figures out issues with run defense
Author:
Updated:
Original:

This was a tremendous step for the purple and gold in the right direction for a number of reasons. The play of the freshmen wide receivers is a story all in itself but there were other prominent takeaways from this performance. 

Tigers Front Seven Dominates Line of Scrimmage

Heading into the game, the Chippewas had built an identity on offense through the running attack. Central Michigan had averaged 230 yards on the ground in its first two games, with Lew Nichols accounting for 214 yards on his own. 

As for LSU, this defensive line still had plenty to prove after a disappointing first game where it allowed UCLA to rush for 223 yards. But three quarters into Saturday nights game, the defense had allowed just 10 yards on the ground, being a major reason for the Tigers holding the Chippewas to 167 total yards and seven points. 

The defensive front seven absolutely controlled the line of scrimmage, consistently breaking into the backfield and hitting the appropriate gaps. Linebackers Damone Clark and Micah Baskerville as well as defensive linemen Neil Farrell and Maason Smith all took significant strides in the right direction. 

"We stopped the run and they were able to run on some people," Orgeron said. "For the most part we played well. I thought our guys played well in space, tackled well, broke on the ball. They had a good rushing attack but I'm still disappointed in the missed assignments.

"We were hitting guys, knocking them back, we were in the right gap and adjusted the formation. Just played with an attitude. Linebackers played well, we worked on tackling all week and I thought our guys did a great job making open field tackles."

Max Johnson Turns in Best Performance to Date

Johnson was terrific throughout the evening in terms of his decision making and accuracy in the face of pressure and when he had time to throw. he completed 26-of-35 passes for 372 yards and five touchdowns, to go along with one pick six on his final drive which dampened the performance slightly. 

He delivered some perfect throws to Deion Smith, Jack Bech and Brian Thomas down the sidelines throughout the course of this game and said he is playing with more confidence than ever before. Johnson also became the third LSU quarterback to throw five touchdowns in a game, joining Zach Mettenberger and Joe Burrow.

"I think I've grown a lot of confidence in my guys," Johnson said. "I think they've done a great job of getting open and making a lot of great catches. I think I've grown a lot of confidence in coach Peetz, I think he's doing a great job of calling the game."

It was a concerted effort to speed up the tempo in this game and there were far less long looks over to the sidelines and because of that, the offense was able to get into a rhythm. Johnson also said moving Kayshon Boutte to the slot allowed a number of the other receivers to eat on the outside.

"We started with the motions and the jets to give them some eye candy and then we upped the tempo, took some shots and had some fun," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of great athletes and they made plays."

Corey Kiner Makes Strong Case to Earn Starting Role 

For much of the game, it was difficult for LSU to get anything going in the run game. LSU tried Tyrion Davis-Price early and the explosiveness just wasn't there for the junior, who's been in and out of camp withn nagging injuries.

When the run game failed in the first quarter, LSU went with freshman Corey Kiner in the second quarter and into the second half, the offense added another dynamic that had been missing. Kiner rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries for the afternoon, stiff arming, bulldozing and spinning his way to LSU's best rushing effort of the season. 

"It gives us an identity. He's a strong runner," Orgeron said. "Can break tackles, can run inside, can run outside and he's got a spark about him. As a person he's a lot like Clyde [Edwards-Helaire]. He's a big man, has a great attitude and has the same energy."

Orgeron said that the Tigers are going to need Kiner, Armoni Goodwin and Davis-Price to play well come SEC play. With no Goodwin or Kevontre Bradford, Kiner stepped up when needed and did a phenomenal job bringing a spark to this rushing attack. 

What Kiner has shown in the first three weeks is to be a shifty runner who has power and speed to get to the outside and make a difference once reaching the second level. And he's earned the right to start because of it.