The Truth: How LSU Won the Aerial Battle vs. Ole Miss

by Cody Worsham
The Truth: How LSU Won the Aerial Battle vs. Ole Miss

Every Monday around here is ‘Tell the Truth Monday.’ Here’s this week’s version of The Truth, a weekly recap of Monday’s storylines through stats, film, and insights from LSU’s players and coaches. 

Break Out Performance

There’s no question about it: Joe Burrow is getting better every week, and his effort against Ole Miss was the best of his five-game LSU career.

The numbers, both in the box score and in deeper analysis, are superb: 18-of-25 for 292 yards and 3 touchdowns, good for a career-high 209.7 passer rating.

Burrow called it a “break out performance” for the entire offense, something he’s seen coming and feels is replicable. 

“I knew we had this game in us because we’re so talented,” Burrow said. “I’ve seen it in practice all summer and all camp, but we hadn’t really done it in a game yet. I think that’s because we were feeling each other out, chemistry wise, up front, receivers, me, Coach Ensminger. When you have a game like that, it really boosts your confidence going forward.” 

Credit starts with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, who did a really nice job of getting Burrow going with some higher-percentage throws. Nick Brossette and Foster Moreau each got short looks – a nice play action call for Moreau coming across the line of scrimmage – to get the passing game into a rhythm.

“I think you have to give Steve Ensminger credit,” said head coach Ed Orgeron. “I think this was his best game this year mixing it up.”

Then the junior dropped two dimes on back-to-back attempts – a crossing route to Stephen Sullivan off play action and a fade to Ja’Marr Chase for a score – where he showed off his arm talent. Both balls were placed perfectly, throws Burrow missed earlier in the year but put into ideal windows against Ole Miss.

Burrow also had his best game as a runner, with 96 rushing yards and the sixth-best performance by an LSU quarterback in total yards ever. Of those six, he easily had the most yards on the ground.

The designed run was a big part of that – Burrow’s touchdown run in the fourth-quarter was basic zone read – but I also liked the way Burrow used his legs to extend passing plays or turn drop backs into runs. His best throw of the game, I thought, was an incompletion to Dee Anderson on a scramble that Anderson dropped. Burrow had some issues in the first couple of games with deciding when to leave the pocket and when to step into it, but that wasn’t a problem at all Saturday.

“It’s always been in my game to run, to extend plays,” Burrow said. “I told you I’m not going to slide, but I will run out of bounds to take some hits off of myself.”

YAC Attack

Burrow finally got some help from his receivers after the catch Saturday, too.

LSU’s receivers entered the Ole Miss game with just 166 yards after catch all year (41.5 per game, 13th in the SEC). By comparison, Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf was the SEC’s leader in YAC among WRs through four games with 176, and Ole Miss’ receivers led the league with 458 yards after catch.

On Saturday, LSU’s wideouts had 116 yards after catch against Ole Miss, and the Rebels’ WRs had just 73 – well below their season average of 114.5.

In total, LSU finished with a season-high 124 yards after catch. 

“Best thing to see as a quarterback is to see receivers run 70 yards after the catch and get you more passing yards,” Burrow said. “That’s always good.”

“We have to make big plays,” said Justin Jefferson, who led the way with 58 yards after catch. “Especially if we want to keep passing the ball. Coach E has been giving us the opportunity to throw the ball. If we keep making these big plays after catch, we can keep throwing it.”

Some of that YAC boost was good play design – the Moreau play action above and this sequence to Racey McMath come to mind.

Orgeron said LSU’s receivers weren’t getting open earlier in the year, so they started working “more crossing routes, more mesh routes, more digs, more intermediate, three level routes, play action pass.” That variety was on display Saturday, as those receviers found plenty of space. 

Then, there’s studs being studs, like Terrace Marshall breaking off this play. I thought it was one of the biggest of the game – Ole Miss had just driven down for a score to cut LSU’s lead to 28-13, and it felt like LSU’s third-quarter slumps and inability to put teams away was rearing its ugly head again.

Marshall made that irrelevant, showing why he was a five-star signee and arguably the top prep receiver in the country coming out of Parkway High School last year.

On the defensive side, LSU did a great job keeping Ole Miss well below its usual YAC output. I thought Kary Vincent was especially good in the slot, holding A.J. Brown to just two catches for four yards when covering the potential first round draft pick. LSU’s game plan was to force the Rebels over the middle and limit the deep balls and big plays after the catch, and they executed it well.

Kristian Fulton also had a big day in coverage after an off night against Louisiana Tech last week. Ole Miss was 2-of-7 for 19 yards throwing his way, a meager 39.6 NFL passer rating.

“All our guys performed in the back end,” said Greedy Williams. “We rotate a lot of guys. With Coach Aranda, he knows how to adjust to his players and put them in positions to succeed.”

Numbers to Know

80.0: Joe Burrow‘s adjusted completion percentage, second in the SEC and eighth among Power 5 quarterbacks in Week 5.

91.0: Joe Burrow‘s grade against Ole Miss, according to Pro Football Focus, best among SEC QBs and fifth among Power 5 quarterbacks.

5: Greedy Williams had five run stops against Ole Miss, the most by any defensive back in the SEC in Week 5 and No. 2 among Power 5 defensive backs.

12: Ole Miss targeted Greedy Williams 12 times, tying the most any team has thrown at Williams in his LSU career (Syracuse, 2017).

66.7: Burrow’s completion percentage when throwing to Stephen Sullivan – best on the team.

Quotes of Note

“That touchdown by Jefferson, I had told him, ‘Steve, this is a statement drive. We have to make a statement.’ He said, ‘How do you like that statement?'” – Ed Orgeron on Justin Jefferson‘s touchdown

“We always say we never know who’s game it’s going to be. One game could be for me, one game could be for Dee (Anderson). We always have to be prepared.” – Jefferson on LSU’s depth at receiver

“It’s just like getting a free agent. He was not playing at wide receiver, and now we move him to a different position, he can be an excellent player.” – Orgeron on Racey McMath

“Joe is making progress every week. I believe that the passing game that you saw against Ole Miss is the one I expected all year. I totally believe in Coach Ensminger’s ability to get people open and make play, call plays.” – Orgeron on Burrow and the passing game