LSU football's defense looks same under new coordinator in loss to UCLA
PASADENA, Calif. - Former LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini can't be blamed for the No. 13 Tigers' 38-27 loss in the season opener to UCLA on Saturday night in front of 68,123 at Rose Bowl Stadium.
Pelini wasn't there because he was fired after an historically bad season on defense at LSU last year, but his 2020 defense looks like it has stuck around.
UCLA found wide open spaces in the run game and pass game to the tune of 476 yards. Tailback Zach Charbonnet rushed for 117 yards on 11 carries, while quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed 9-of-16 passes for 260 yards.
UCLA shredded LSU defense
New LSU defensive coordinator Daronte Jones was no match for UCLA coach Chip Kelly, who runs the Bruins offense.
UCLA's offensive line dominated LSU's defensive line throughout the game. The Bruins (1-1) either blew the Tigers (0-1) off the ball, or found gaping openings here and there for large chunks of yardage. Charbonnet had 70 yards on just seven carries in the first half. On a 20-yard jaunt, LSU tacklers just bounced off of him. Tailback Brittain Brown also broke a 19-yard run.
Then just when LSU got within 24-20 late in the third quarter, Charbonnet gashed the Tigers with a 44-yard run through what looked like an airline terminal to the LSU 16-yard line to help set up a touchdown for a 31-20 lead.
Thompson-Robinson put UCLA up 38-20 with 6:31 left on a 45-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kyle Phillips, who maneuvered through an LSU secondary desperately needing tackling drills. Even All-American cornerback Derek Stingley looked bad as he tried to make an arm tackle.
Kelly continually found creases and gashes when he needed, much like virtually every offensive coach who played LSU last season.
Offense lacked rhythm, pace
What made former LSU offensive coordinator Joe Brady's offense so effective in 2019 was quarterback Joe Burrow. But Brady also established a very fast and rhythmic pace with quick snaps that constantly kept opponents off balance.
New LSU offensive coordinator Jake Peetz may have worked under Brady one season as a quarterbacks coach with the Carolina Panthers in 2020, but he is not running the same offense. Quarterback Max Johnson is no Burrow, but Peetz never established a fast pace.
Johnson continued to milk the play clock down to the final seconds before snaps. LSU consequently seemed listless throughout the game in addition to Johnson spending most of the game running away from a consistently effective pass rush.
Johnson suffered under pass rush
Johnson managed to complete 28 of 46 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns despite constant pressure in the pocket and no running game to lean on. He was sacked only once, but usually had very little time to operate.
When he did have time, Johnson frequently threw behind receivers. Then he made a critical error early in the third quarter when he overthrew tight end Cole Taylor, who was just a few yards away. Linebacker Caleb Johnson intercepted and returned it 34 yards to the Tigers' 17-yard line. That set up a 14-yard touchdown pass by Thompson-Robinson to wide receiver Chase Cota for a 21-10 lead.
Johnson caught a break on a 44-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kayshon Boutte on LSU's ensuing possession to cut UCLA's lead to 21-17. Without umpire Rodney Lawary accidentally blocking defensive back Jay Shaw, that may not have been a touchdown.
Without a running game and with constant pressure, Johnson was uncomfortable and tentative throughout the game. Peetz needs to develop a quicker pace for his quarterback, which would help the offensive line, and he must improve the running game.
LSU running game was a disaster
The Tigers' offensive line was consistently dominated by UCLA's defensive line, which held LSU to three net yards on 12 rushes in the first half. LSU finished with 48 yards rushing on 25 carries.
Junior Tyrion Davis-Price was the Tigers' leading rusher with seven yards on seven carries at halftime and finished with 30 on 13 carries. LSU was without junior John Emery Jr. because of academic issues as well as freshman Armoni Goodwin. But had they played, it would not have made any difference. There was just not a lot of room to run.
LSU returned five offensive line starters, which sounds a lot better than it is in reality. It was an average offensive line most of the time last season, and has not improved.
Honeymoon is over
LSU coach Ed Orgeron is from Louisiana and he won a national championship two seasons ago. But he went 5-5 last season, and on Saturday this team looked like it will have difficulty losing less than five. That's a hot seat and could get much hotter.