LSU couldn't overcome another sluggish opening week performance as the Tigers dropped a week one outing to UCLA 38-27 on Saturday. The loss was another painful reminder of just how far this team still has to go to get back to where it was 20 months ago.
With two weeks until SEC play returns, here are a few takeaways from the Tigers' week one performance.
Max Johnson's Day Best Described as "Hot and Cold"
There were certainly positives and negatives to what sophomore quarterback Max Johnson showed on Saturday night. Toughness and the ability to make big throws in pressure and tight coverage were a few of the positive takeaways from his performance against the Bruins.
Coach Chip Kelly said as much after the game, calling him a warrior for the beating that he took at the hands of UCLA. He certainly took his fair share of shots throughout the night and at times it looked like the quickly collapsing pocket definitely threw off his timing.
Because of all the pressure facing Johnson, LSU had success with quick hitters like slant routes and short crossing routes to get some sort of flow with the run game non-existent. But at times he also looked uncomfortable, missing open receivers with time to throw and making questionable decisions like throwing a ball behind his back.
"I think I was trying to figure out where they were coming from," Johnson said. "There were probably 10 slants that we hit on the game and I think we should stick with it. We've gotta figure out the run game which we will so I think we'll get it figured out."
There were a few rushed throws, a few missed opportunities but at the end of the day, how much success Johnson will have in this offense will be dictated on how he handles pressure, something coach Ed Orgeron says is still a work in progress.
"I thought at times he handled it well," Orgeron said. "At times he was off. We made some great plays but we threw the ball in the dirt and missed some plays. He wasn't as consistent as we need an LSU quarterback."
Running Game Sours in Loss
The running attack was bland and predictable on Saturday against the Bruins as the Tigers just couldn't find anything that worked on the ground with Tyrion Davis-Price. With John Emery out for academic reasons, the bulk of the responsibility fell on Davis-Price, who picked up just 30 yards on 13 carries.
LSU wanted to hit the middle of the UCLA defensive line with its designed runs but just couldn't find any success early, practically abandoning it the rest of the game. Following the game, Orgeron said the biggest area to address on the ground is getting some more variety and improving on the run blocking schemes.
"We gotta look at the techniques we're doing, look at the personnel. Again I think for us in the run game we need more of a variety of runs, get our athletes in space a little bit more," Orgeron said.
LSU didn't really try much in the way of reverses or attack the edge like UCLA was so good at for much of this game. Breaking a few runs to the outside would've kept the defense a little more alert as opposed to trying to run it down their throats. That's likely the kind of variety Orgeron wants to see from this group over the next few weeks before SEC play picks up.
Coaching Staff Needs to Be More Creative Moving Forward
When Orgeron elected to go young with his coaching staff this offseason, it was thought of as a good move to potentially get the players to buy in and relate faster to what was being asked of each. Both Daronte Jones and Jake Peetz called their first college games as coordinators and there's plenty to learn from.
"The guys work hard, I think they're trying, I think that we were off a little bit," Orgeron said. "We couldn't put our players in better positions in a lot of places. When you don't play the way you want it goes down to one person, that's me, nobody else."
For Peetz, finding a way to get the run game going over the next two weeks will be the priority while Jones needs to shore up some of the run defense fits as well as getting the defensive players back in position communication wise. It's still early and there's time to fix the issues but LSU really can't afford to let Saturday's game become a trend.
Because it wasn't just the loss, it was the way UCLA dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage against an LSU team with experience and veteran leadership. It's certainly worrying that many of the same issues that plagued this team a season ago continued to crop up against the Bruins and the program needs to be quick with its corrections or this will be another lost season.