Pokes, Tigers, And Saints
Three words come to mind regarding the three aforementioned football clubs so early in the season.
Patience. Transition. Expectations.
I will give you a few seconds to couple those three words with the correct team.
Done? It should be a pretty easy task.
After two blowout losses to Montana State and Rice (the Lagniappe deadline came before the home opener against Alcorn State) McNeese is facing a laundry list of clean-up tasks if they hope to ever win a game this season.
Rest easy, they will win more than a few games. That’s where patience comes in.
I’m not ready to toss in the towel on the Cowboys just two games in, primarily because I had Montana State and Rice as two road game defeats. The 40-17 loss to the then fourth-ranked Bobcats went as I expected. I did think first-year head coach Gary Goff’s Air Raid offense would have a bit more Air in it. But the final margin was where I thought it would be.
Now the debacle at Rice was not what I expected. The old adage in football is there is noticeable improvement from the first game to the second. McNeese blew up that theory from the opening snap.
The Space Cowboys, the offense, that is, played as if their heads were in the clouds, as the defenders’ feet were firmly planted on Rice stadium’s new turf.
The Owls feasted on five McNeese turnovers, four of them in the first half. These led to a 31-0 halftime hole that buried the Pokes en route to an embarrassing 52-10 blowout loss.
Rice is an FBS team from Conference USA with a significantly larger roster of players and resources in the bank account. But there should not have been a 42-point difference between the two.
One letter separates the two football divisions, and in the case of Rice it isn’t worth 42 points.
But on that night in Houston it was, because the Cowboys offense put forth the worst 30 minutes of execution I have seen from the Blue and Gold in my decades of covering this team.
“Poor execution from the entire game” was how Goff described it, adding, “I didn’t see that coming.”
What he will see after reviewing the two game tapes is an offense that is floundering, going 3 for 18 on critical third downs over the first two outings; 9 turnovers; numerous dropped passes; a ton of sacks; and two FBS transfer quarterbacks who can’t seem to put together two straight successful plays.
The by-product is an offense with no rhythm, tempo, continuity or fear factor.
“I don’t have the answer and I know I’m the guy who has to find the answers,” Goff said after the Rice loss. Give him credit for honesty.
The McNeese defense has held up fairly well, despite giving up 1,028 yards over two games. They’ve been on the field the majority of the game, gasping for air in oppressive heat. The defensive line hasn’t had enough quarterback pressure. But all those offensive turnovers meant short fields and wide open playbooks for both Montana State and Rice.
Considering all of that, the McNeese secondary, a concern of mine coming out of August camp, has held up well, with little time to catch their breath at times.
So, going into the much-hyped season home opener against Alcorn State and three straight home games with the return to the 7 pm kickoff, Goff has more than enough problems to solve.
I think he has enough patience to attack them one at a time. And the level of competition with Alcorn, Mississippi College and Houston Baptist should help the Cowboys find their footing and balance.
I think the offense shouldn’t worry so much about firing the cannon. Just get some third down conversions and give the defense some rest.
Clearly the transition to Brian Kelly from Coach O had more than enough off-season pot holes and missteps. But the biggest gaffe was the season-opening 24-23 loss to Florida State.
LSU’s special teams were anything but against the Seminoles, as you well know by now. The disaster that included a blocked field goal and PAT, shanked punts and penalties was a complete affront to Kelly’s structured, player accountability and disciplined approach to the game.
I know Ed Orgeron loves LSU, but he had to get one of his patented deep gut chuckles over the discipline issue while watching Kelly pace the sidelines in the SuperDome.
Smooth transitions don’t happen overnight (ask Gary Goff), but they are made easier when you tack on a 65-17 home win over Southern to put everyone in purple and gold in much better moods.
On that note, why on Earth did it take 106 years for LSU and Southern University to finally play a football game? The Tigers have played every other smaller in-state school numerous times except for Grambling. Someone will have to explain that to me.
Kelly isn’t the only aspect of LSU that is transitioning. The Tigers are figuring out how to block and play with a true dual threat quarterback in Jaylen Daniels. The offensive line is shuffling its way with at least four new starters, and the secondary has seen a complete reboot. And that’s not to mention an entirely new coaching staff (minus OL coach Brad Davis).
LSU has too much talent in the defensive line, receivers and linebackers not to be competitive in the SEC West.
Kelly may have a problem with reporters being late for his weekly press shindigs, but he doesn’t have a talent shortage problem. His job is to find the right combination of players and give them the best schemes to take advantage of their skills. He and his staff failed in that regard against Florida State and we really couldn’t tell much from the Southern game for obvious reasons.
College football may be turning into more of a business with NIL, but it’s still played by emotionally charged young men. Ask Jimbo Fisher about that.
And transitions are at times bumpy. Ask Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman about that.
Kelly’s mettle and system will be tested to the max from here on out as LSU begins to take up its SEC gauntlet. He didn’t shy away from wanting to play the best when he took the LSU job. So now Kelly has to prove he is up to the task.
Of the three teams I’m looking at, the expectations for the New Orleans Saints are by far the greatest. I have them picked to win the NFC South, which goes against the majority of the national media, which is opting for Tom Brady and the Bucs.
I don’t think the weight of those lofty expectations weighed heavy on the Saints as they struggled for three and a half quarters before finally coming alive to squeeze out a 27-26 win at Atlanta.
From my vantage point, the Falcons simply won the line of scrimmage, and had a more creative and efficient offensive game plan going before Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael finally figured out the right tempo and play calls.
If anyone might be feeling a bit more pressure than usual, that would be the bespectacled Mr. Carmichael.
He spent 15 years as the team’s “official” offensive coordinator in the large shadow cast by former Super Bowl-winning coach Sean Payton. Everyone knows Payton designed the game plans and called the plays. But Carmichael was a big part of the process. That’s why first-year head coach Dennis Allen handed the baton and the offense over to him.
Clearly Carmichael has to get better at designing the game plan and calling plays as the season progresses. Jameis Winston took too long to find receivers and took too long to get Michael Thomas into the game. And Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave were nonfactors until midway through the third quarter.
The shocking halftime stat of minus 2 yards passing was not a misprint.
As good teams normally do, the Saints made the needed adjustments at the half, and Winston, Thomas, Landry and Olave finally got on the same page with the help of Carmichael.
Allen, who still makes the defensive calls, also needs to go to the drawing board and get more pressure on the quarterback. Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota is shifty and mobile and was able to elude pressure. But the Saints can ill afford to have upcoming opposing quarterbacks like Brady, Baker Mayfield, Kirk Cousins, Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray have that much time and be that comfortable.
If the first week of the NFL season is any indication, no team is immune to ineffective game plans, trouble in the trenches and falling victim to an upset.
The Super Bowl champion Rams lost — granted not by an upset — to the strong Buffalo Bills. Burrow’s Bengals, Super Bowl losers to L.A., were upset by Pittsburgh in overtime. The NFC contending 49ers were dropped by the lowly Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers dropped their season opener for the second straight season.
It took Winston and the rest of the Saints three and a half quarters to look like the contenders they are expected to be, and a Wil Lutz game-winning field goal did the trick.
In the NFL, the only thing that really matters is getting the W. And for the Saints, those will be harder to come by if their game day blueprint resembles anything like the one used in Atlanta.
Catch Rick Sarro’s commentary and latest opinions on Soundoff on CBS Lake Charles Tueday and Thursday nights at 10:05 pm and again Saturday at 11 pm and Sunday at 10 pm. Follow Rick on Twitter @ricksarro.
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