SLU has struggled on all aspects of the game at some point this season, and if you watch the on-the-field product, it’s not a shocker that this team is winless and likely already out of the possibility of making the playoffs. There are some notable issues and with this team, which has started out 0-5. After watching the two home games in person and three road games on television, I have five takeaways for this team’s overall performance:
1. The quarterback room has regressed from 2022:
Last season, and in seasons before, SLU has run the two-quarterback system and found success. This year, the quarterback room has struggled, and it could be due to a number of things. My guess is that a lack of consistent playing time has stunted the development Eli Sawyer, who played under 50% of snaps in weeks 1 and 2, and saw way fewer against EWU in week 3. After playing all but around five snaps in week 4, it seems as though Sawyer’s lack of time on the field has caused Sawyer to make more mistakes. It seems as though the amount of overthrown passes has increased drastically from last season. His completion percentage has dropped by around a percent-and-half from last year, but it appears as though more incompletions aren’t finding their target, as in more throws are off-target and the receiver cannot attempt to make a play. Sawyer has also thrown 2 interceptions against 3 touchdowns so far in 2023. Last season, he was able to maintain a 10-1 TD/INT ratio. Sawyer’s biggest strength is his accuracy and ball security, and while one interception was off a tipped ball, the other was a terrible pass that was intercepted at the line of scrimmage for a pick-six.
Zachary Clement has had an up-and-down season. His time on the field has fallen off drastically, and when he’s been on the field the last two weeks, it’s almost always either a bootleg or an inside handoff. Very predictable. The team is trying to play into his strengths, but taking time away from Sawyer to run a few times a game. Neither quarterback is seeing the results they should be, so something needs to change. One of these quarterbacks needs to play an entire game so a fair assessment can be made.
2. Bauer Sharp is the best offensive weapon the Lions have:
The coaching staff seems to have taken the Saints’ Taysom Hill scheme and implemented it into their own offense with Bauer Sharp. Sharp has seen a spike in touches as the season goes on. The one thing Sharp doesn’t do that hill does is pass, but Sharp is more than capable of taking direct snaps in short-yardage situations and also catching passes. He has also made two of the most impressive catches this season for the Lions, and looks more electric out there than Ivan Drobocky and Jacob Logan. Not only is he the Lions’ best tight end, he’s their best short-yardage runner as well. The coaching staff needs to find a way to use his versatility more often.
3. When the defense plays well, the offense can’t move the ball, and vice versa:
This is especially true for the Lions’ week 5 loss against TSU. I’m going to exclude the Week 1 and 2 losses, since those were against FBS teams. In week 3, the Lions showed some semblance of offense. However, the defense couldn’t stop the EWU offensive attack and the Lions lost by 11. When returning home for week 4, neither unit on the team performed anywhere near expectations. Finally, in week 5, the defense was able to hold Tarleton to around 200 yards and 7 points, as Sawyer gifted Tarleton the other 7 on a pick-six. In fact, the 7 the defense gave up was on a short field after an interception. It’s quite possible that the Lions shut out Tarleton without the turnovers. In response, SLU could not drive the ball, only putting up 13, and wasting an all-time great defensive performance.
4. The departure of several star players has drastically hurt the roster:
Gage Larvadian and Zy Alexander’s departures have hurt this roster more than everyone thought they would originally. Alexander locked down defenders all season in 2022, and is starting at LSU, looking solid but not great over in Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, SLU has failed to replace him in the slightest, in a cornerback room that is the deepest position group on the roster. The secondary been the weakest position group on the roster from what I’ve observed. There have been some key impact players, such as Victor Tademy, Tyrone Legette and Ian Goodly, but overall, this group has struggled.
Up in Ohio, Larvadian is averaging 24 yards per reception, and leading the Miami University Redhawks in receiving yards. Darius Lewis has been solid as the new number one receiver, but is limited due to his size. Having a receiver like Larvadian on the roster would open up the possibilities for the Lions, as allowing Lewis to play a more specialized role at the No. 2 receiver would play into his strengths and give Sawyer/Clement a weapon more reliable and experienced than anyone else in that receiver room. This issue would potentially be fixed if presumed No. 1 wide receiver Maurice Massey was available. He hasn’t appeared in a game this season
5. There is a lack of in-game adjustments this season (mainly offensive):
The offensive playcalling has been stale and basic, with very simple inside handoffs and a lot of short out-routes and slants being the majority of plays called. This offense doesn’t seem to adjust, and comes out running the same plays, whether in a close game, or in a blowout. I’m not sure if the skillset for this roster is limited, but there seems to be no creativity or urgency. It’s some of the same on defense, with playing too soft and calling the same coverages that allow the opposing offense to find open receivers repeatedly.