The easy judgment of LSU’s 9-6 overtime victory was that the Crimson Tide’s top-ranked defense and the Tigers’ third-ranked defense were simply immovable objects. Both units dominated play, and for LSU it was the third effort in which its defense allowed six points or fewer.
The defenses are outstanding, but the inconsistent quarterback play, both Saturday night and as a whole in the SEC this season, should not be overlooked. The nation’s toughest conference has stout defenses and rumbling run games, but stellar quarterback play is lacking, as illustrated by LSU. The Tigers are the No. 1 team in the nation, but they can’t seem to decide if they really like Jordan Jefferson that much more than Jarrett Lee.
When you’re waffling at quarterback, and one of the candidates had two interceptions in seven attempts, as Lee did on Saturday, you’ve got some issues.
The missed field goals get a lot of the attention, but the bigger story of the game was the missed throws. Wide-open receivers were ignored so Lee could throw into double coverage for a pick. Throws to clean-running receivers downfield were yards off the mark. Obvious, undisguised blitzes went unrecognized, unblocked and without checking off routes.
It was the sort of stuff the defense wouldn’t have gotten away with aganst Luck or any of the pro-ready Big 12 quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III or Brandon Weeden.
This hadn’t cost the Tigers or the Tide before Saturday. Every team they have faced either had a quarterback overmatched by their defense or a defense overmatched by their rushing game. Oregon put up 27 points against LSU, but LaMichael James got hurt and Darron Thomas couldn’t execute the read option, which LSU’s defense is specifically designed to stop. West Virginia had the speed, but not the size, to contend with LSU on both sides of the ball. Alabama destroyed Arkansas, which had a terrible defense and a nice quarterback, but Tyler Wilson is no Luck.
Stanford, though, could be the type of team LSU (or Alabama, which still shouldn’t be completely ruled out) can’t have its way with. The Cardinal’s 18th-ranked defense may not have much success slowing LSU running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, yet judging by all the coverages the Tigers blew against ‘Bama, Luck might take the Tigers’ rush game out of the equation altogether if he builds a big enough lead.
Even the big plays by LSU’s defense looked ugly on replay. Eric Reid‘s goal-line interception appeared to come only because the underneath receiver he was covering ran a lazy drag route that failed to command Reid’s attention, allowing Reid to float back in coverage and wrestle a pass away from tight end Michael Williams. It was a bit of freelancing that worked out well, but a quarterback like Luck will see that on tape and exploit it.
The Tigers may not have to worry, however. With Oklahoma State’s win over Kansas State, the Cardinal will likely be no higher than third in the BCS standings, and that’s reasonable. If both LSU and Oklahoma State win out, they should be the BCS national championship game participants. Even Alabama could have a shot at a title game berth if it wins the rest of the way, due to its stronger schedule.
Stanford needs a few things to wiggle the right way to get into the title game, so nobody should be saying the Cardinal deserves that berth quite yet. If they get there, though, there could be fireworks, and the vaunted defense might not like it.