LSU Tigers: LSU Tigers

LSU freshman tracker

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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Terrence Magee and the defense were the stars of LSU’s 41-3 win against Kentucky on Saturday, but several of the Tigers’ true freshmen still played key roles in the victory.

Here is a recap of some of their performances:

S Jamal Adams
What he did:
Statistics don’t adequately explain the ways Adams impacts a game, but he had his best statistical performance against Kentucky. He finished with eight tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss and also starred on special teams – particularly with a bone-crushing block on Tre’Davious White’s 67-yard punt return for a touchdown.

What it means: Adams continues to play a valuable role when the Tigers bring extra defensive backs onto the field and is developing into an exciting playmaker. Coach Les Miles described him as "electric" after the game. He still hasn’t started a game yet, but it seems clear that he’s a future star for the LSU defense.

RB Leonard Fournette
What he did:
Fournette ran nine times for 31 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter alone, but took off most of the second half with the game well in hand and Terrence Magee (9-127, 2 TDs) running the ball effectively. Fournette finished with 15 carries for 40 yards.

What it means: After he ran 27 times last week against Florida, LSU seemed prepared to hand Fournette another heavy workload on Saturday. Once the Tigers easily took command in the second quarter, it became unnecessary to feed Fournette, and the Tigers were able to save their star freshman for next week’s showdown with Ole Miss.

DT Davon Godchaux
What he did:
Godchaux started for the fourth straight game -- and fifth time in six games -- and posted two tackles.

What it means: Another freshman whose stat line isn’t a great indicator of his value, Godchaux continues to progress as an interior lineman. There is a correlation between his improvement and the Tigers’ effectiveness up the middle. Let’s see what happens against Ole Miss, though, before we declare the Tigers’ problems solved.

QB Brandon Harris
What he did:
Harris entered the game with a little more than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and LSU up 41-3. On his first drive, Harris floated a pass to John Diarse that Marcus McWilson intercepted in the end zone, and the Tigers ran repeatedly to milk the remaining time on the clock on his second drive. The interception was Harris’ only pass attempt, and he ran once for an 8-yard gain.

What it means: Harris didn’t play last week against Florida and only entered the Kentucky game once it was well in hand. It’s obvious which way LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been leaning since Harris’ disastrous starting debut against Auburn. Anthony Jennings has not been particularly effective as the starting quarterback, but it’s obviously his job for now.

RB Darrel Williams
What he did:
Williams got most of his playing time in the fourth quarter and ran 10 times for 61 yards as the Tigers worked to run the remaining time off the clock in their blowout win.

What it means: Prior to the fourth quarter, Williams had only one carry for 5 yards. He did a nice job with his garbage-time carries, running nine times in the fourth quarter for 56 yards, but he’s obviously on the lower end of the tailback pecking order.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's punt coverage team surrendered 59 return yards in the entire 2012 season. That total dropped to 47 yards last fall. In fact, LSU's punt team hadn't allowed 100 return yards in a season since 2008.

The Tigers' streak ended last Saturday, however, when Florida's Andre Debose scorched LSU for 115 yards on two punt returns -- one of which went for a 62-yard touchdown.

That begs an obvious question: Was the problem simply that LSU was trying to corral one of the best return men in SEC history -- Debose is tied for third in the conference's career record book with five kick returns for touchdowns -- or was something lacking on the coverage units?

[+] EnlargeFlorida's Andre Debose
Rob Foldy/Getty ImagesAndre Debose has 115 punt-return yards against LSU, including a 62-yard touchdown.
“It was a combination of both,” said LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White, one of the Tigers' punt coverage team members. “He's a great returner, not to take nothing away from him, but watching film there were definitely some things that we did wrong. There were some wrong angles that we took and did some things that we need to clean up.”

As White mentioned, the Tigers' issues were twofold. Punter Jamie Keehn accepted some of the blame for Debose's long returns, saying that he should have kicked the ball higher in order to give his teammates more time to sprint downfield. But White and fellow coverage man Deion Jones admitted that the group should have done a better job of defending the areas they were assigned to cover.

“It was just the little things about our lane integrity, and stuff that we worked, but we didn't really stress, and it wound up showing when we took the field,” Jones said. “We saw this could hurt us, and it almost did.”

The Tigers still managed to win 30-27 despite Debose's two long returns, but those runbacks were a blow to the collective ego of an LSU punt coverage team that hadn't allowed a touchdown since Ole Miss' Marshay Green's 44-yard score in 2007.

“It hurt us. We didn't know what it was at first,” Jones said. “We'd been getting by with it each week and then somebody exposes it and it's like, ‘Oh, this is what it was.' ”

As for Keehn, his numbers are actually up from last season, when he averaged 41.0 yards per punt and the Tigers ranked eighth in the SEC in net punting (punting average minus opponent return average) at 38.1 ypp.

After Debose's long returns inflated opponents' punt return average against LSU from 1.47 yards per return to 4.0, the Tigers are currently the only SEC team to have surrendered at least 100 punt returns yards in 2014 (177 yards on 44 punts). LSU ranks fourth in the league in net punting, however, at 41.1 ypp and Keehn is third in the league with an average of 45.6 ypp.

“We have got a weapon there, we've just got to make sure that our guys recognize their responsibility to cover,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

Keehn said he should have punted the ball higher against Florida, but in his defense, LSU was backed up against its own end zone on both punts that Debose returned. LSU's offense stalled at its own 10-yard line before Keehn launched a 52-yard punt that Debose returned for an early touchdown, and LSU was on its own 11 when Debose later returned a 51-yard Keehn punt to the Tigers' 9.

Those are hardly ideal circumstances when punting to one of the conference's all-time most dangerous return men.

“The direction was good, distance was good. [We needed] a bit more hangtime from me, give my guys a little more of a chance to get down there,” Keehn said. “The hangtime probably didn't match the distance. I probably outkicked the coverage a little bit there, but when I'm backed up in my own end zone, I'm trying to hit the biggest ball I can and trying to flip the field.”

Nonetheless, LSU is typically the team that creates huge momentum swings with explosive returns, not the one that surrenders them. Those lapses caught the Tigers off guard, and were the focus of extra attention when they returned to the practice field on Monday.

Saturday's opponent, Kentucky, isn't nearly as dangerous in the return game -- the Wildcats are 10th in the SEC in punt return average at 8.4 -- but the Tigers know they can't afford to remain sloppy while defending their coverage lanes.

“I feel like going into Saturday, it'll show because we practiced it hard [Monday],” White said. “Debose, he's a great returner, not to take anything away from him, but I feel if we do those things right that we did wrong, it could have probably limited some of those yards that he got.”

LSU midseason review

October, 14, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. – Since we’ve just passed the midway point of the season, our college football blog team assembled midseason awards lists for all of FBS football as well as the individual conferences.

Let’s get even more specific and break down the good and bad for LSU (5-2, 1-2 SEC) now that the Tigers are halfway through the 14-week regular season.

[+] EnlargeLSU's Travin Dural
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty ImagesTravin Dural has sparked LSU's offense this season with numerous impact plays.
Offensive MVP: Travin Dural. LSU’s offense has had its ups and downs, but Dural has been a consistent playmaker. The sophomore receiver has 24 receptions for 626 yards and six touchdowns, and he has been one of the SEC’s top home run hitters. He logged a school-record 94-yard touchdown catch against Sam Houston State, caught an 80-yard scoring bomb against Wisconsin and also has catches of 49, 41 and 40 yards. His 41-yard grab against Florida came on a third-and-25 situation in the fourth quarter and set up his one-handed, 11-yard touchdown catch that gave the Tigers a 27-24 lead. Dural leads the nation in yards per catch (26.1) among players with at least 20 receptions.

Defensive MVP: Kwon Alexander. In his first season as the Tigers’ starting weakside linebacker, Alexander has been one of their most consistent tacklers. His 10-tackle performance last Saturday against Florida marked the fourth time he either led LSU in tackles or tied for the team lead (the others were eight against both Wisconsin and New Mexico State and 13 against Mississippi State). He stripped Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott early in the third quarter of that game, creating a fumble that defensive end Danielle Hunter returned for a touchdown and has a team-high two forced fumbles. Alexander leads the Tigers with 46 total tackles – his average of 7.7 tackles per game is tied for ninth in the SEC – and is second on the team in tackles for loss (3.5) and quarterback hurries (four).

Biggest surprise: Offensive line play. Last Saturday’s 30-27 win at Florida was probably the offensive line’s most consistent performance of the season, with the Tigers rushing 50 times for 195 yards – their best rushing output thus far against a Power 5 defense. Overall, though, LSU’s veteran offensive line has sometimes struggled to impose its will the way we might have expected prior to the season. They’re second-to-last in the SEC and tied for 73rd nationally by allowing 2.14 sacks per game (15 in seven games). And nine SEC teams have a better yards-per-carry average than LSU’s 4.4. The Tigers’ quarterbacks could take some heat off the line by throwing the ball more consistently, forcing defenders to reconsider loading the box, but that hasn’t happened much yet. Until it does, LSU’s line and running backs share the burden of carrying the Tigers’ offense.

Biggest disappointment: Run defense. Prior to this season, it has been highly unusual for opponents to successfully run it right up the middle against John Chavis’ LSU defenses. That has been a successful formula for several teams this year while the Tigers struggled to identify consistent performers at defensive tackle. Out of four Power 5 opponents this season, three (Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn) have run for at least 260 yards against LSU, with State posting a season high against the Tigers with 302 yards on 49 attempts. Another bright spot from the Florida game was that LSU handled the run better than it had in previous games, with the Gators running 32 times for 123 yards. The Tigers are going to face several more teams with powerful rushing attacks, so this will remain a story line worth watching in the second half of the season.

Newcomer of the year: Leonard Fournette. Receiver Malachi Dupre deserves some attention for his outstanding play in a couple of games, but tailback Fournette is the obvious choice here. Fresh off a 27-carry, 140-yard performance against Florida, Fournette leads the team with 504 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 93 attempts (team-high 5.4 yards per carry and 72.0 yards per game). Fournette also handles kickoff returns and has 16 runbacks for 368 yards (23.0 ypr). His average of 136.9 all-purpose yards per game ranks third in the SEC. He got off to a quiet start against Wisconsin, but Fournette has been the Tigers’ leading rusher in each game since and seems poised for a big second half.

Game of the year: Tie, Wisconsin and Florida. Take your pick. The Tigers’ comeback for a 28-24 win against Wisconsin – after trailing 24-7 early in the third quarter – was a great way to start the season. The defense shut down the Badgers after their third-quarter touchdown and generated multiple turnovers to pave the way for a comeback. But the Florida win feels like a more important victory at this point of the season. The Tigers desperately needed to stop the bleeding after dropping their first two SEC games, and winning at The Swamp is almost always a challenge – even when the Gators aren’t the Eastern Division force that they were a few years back. The Tigers trailed 17-7 in this one before rallying behind three defensive takeaways and the power running from Fournette. They can achieve bowl eligibility and get back to .500 in SEC play by beating Kentucky on Saturday.

Biggest games of the second half: LSU vs. Ole Miss (Oct. 25) and LSU vs. Alabama (Nov. 8)
Give Anthony Jennings credit for this much: The guy has been a good closer.

LSU's sophomore quarterback has endured plenty of criticism this season because of his inconsistent play, and his first three quarters in Saturday's win against Florida gave his detractors additional fodder. But Jennings made a couple of crucial throws in the game's closing minutes -- most importantly a third-and-25 connection with Travin Dural that went for a 41-yard gain and an 11-yard fade where Dural made a one-handed touchdown grab -- that made the Tigers' 30-27 win possible.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Jennings has been clutch for the Tigers in the fourth quarter.
"He's come through on some huge plays. If you remember that Arkansas play, he threw a deep ball," LSU coach Les Miles said, referring to Jennings' game-winning 49-yard touchdown pass to Dural with barely over a minute left in a 31-27 victory last season. "What we've got to do is get him comfortable throwing some of those intermediate balls that we would have liked to have him throw in there."

For most of the Florida game, Jennings didn't display much touch on any of his throws. Entering the final period, LSU was clinging to a 20-17 lead and Jennings was 6-for-12 for 37 yards, while Leonard Fournette and the Tigers' running game had essentially provided the Tigers' only offensive spark.

But with the game on the line -- as was the case last fall against Arkansas and in the Tigers' season-opening win against Wisconsin -- Jennings displayed a strong finishing kick.

He went 4-for-9 for 73 yards in the final period on Saturday, connecting with Dural on the Tigers' two biggest passing plays of the evening.

The 41-yard bomb to Dural looked highly similar to the Arkansas play, although Miles pointed out after the game that the Florida pass went down the right sideline instead of the left like the Arkansas throw. Either way, the result was nearly the same. Jennings and Dural got the Tigers out of a hole with the long pass and then connected again two plays later for a touchdown that helped LSU go back ahead 27-24.

"[I was] just going through my reads," Jennings told ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor of the big plays to Dural. "I have the utmost confidence in that guy."

It was not Dural, but redshirt freshman John Diarse who was the target of a key Jennings throw against Wisconsin. Diarse caught an intermediate throw from Jennings on third-and-21 early in the fourth quarter, then blasted through a host of Badgers defenders on the way to the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown that helped cut Wisconsin's lead to 24-21.

The Tigers relied on the run for much of its comeback in that game en route to a 28-24 win, but Jennings was 2-for-3 for 63 yards in the fourth quarter, including the big touchdown pass to Diarse.

In the four games where Jennings has appeared in the fourth quarter, he is 10-for-23 for 235 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions on fourth-quarter passes. Half of his completions went for gains of at least 20 yards and eight of them achieved a first down.

His fourth-quarter passing efficiency score of 158.0 ranks 23rd among FBS quarterbacks, which is considerably better than his 130.5 score for all four quarters that ranks 69th nationally according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Of course, none of this resolves LSU's quarterback quandary between Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris. Harris didn't play against Florida after falling flat and injuring his ankle while making his first career start the previous Saturday against Auburn. Afterward, Miles hesitated to predict how much Harris might play when LSU (5-2, 1-2 SEC) hosts Kentucky (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday.

Jennings hardly gave a standout performance against the Gators -- his final passing line was 10-for-21 for 110 yards and a touchdown -- but Miles defended LSU's quarterback decision after the game.

"We'd like to have gotten Brandon Harris in the game," Miles said. "That was certainly something that we thought about because he does give us a very explosive piece and his talent there is pretty special. But in a game like this, we just couldn't miss serve and we felt like Anthony Jennings was the guy to stay with."

On this occasion, at least, Jennings and Dural combined to reward the coaches for their patience.

LSU freshman tracker: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12
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With the obvious exception of tailback Leonard Fournette, whose 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns were key elements in the victory, LSU’s true freshmen didn’t make as big an impact as usual in Saturday’s 30-27 win against Florida.

Here’s a recap of some of the key contributors’ performances:

WR Malachi Dupre
What he did:
Dupre came off the bench to catch just one pass for an 8-yard gain against Florida, although he played an active role in the receiver rotation. It was the first time since he was held without a catch by Louisiana-Monroe that Dupre failed to have at least 52 receiving yards in a game.

What it means: LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings completed just 10 passes, so we shouldn’t read much into Dupre’s lack of productivity against the Gators. Nobody had a breakout night in the passing game

RB Leonard Fournette
What he did:
Fournette started for the first time against Florida and received far and away the most touches of his young college career. He led the Tigers with 27 carries for 140 yards and scored touchdowns of 12 and 2 yards. He also returned four kickoffs for 85 yards.

What it means: Fournette has led LSU in rushing each week after a quiet opener, but this was the first time that he got a heavy workload. Obviously it paid off pretty well. But does this mean LSU will move away from its four-man backfield timeshare so that Fournette is the feature back? It’s too early to say.

DT Davon Godchaux
What he did:
Godchaux also started, but that is becoming a common thing. This was the fourth time in five games that he was in LSU’s starting lineup. He tied with senior defensive end Jermauria Rasco for third on the team with five tackles against Florida.

What it means: LSU desperately needs someone aside from Christian LaCouture to establish himself at defensive tackle. Godchaux continues to rank as one of the Tigers’ top options at the position -- a sign that the coaches believe he can be that guy.

WR Trey Quinn
What he did:
LSU’s third true freshman starter, Quinn was second on the team with three catches and 31 receiving yards with a long of 13 yards. He has caught at least one pass in every game this season.

What it means: As with Dupre, we can’t read much into Quinn’s stats from Saturday. For the most part, this wasn’t a stats game for receivers. Both freshman wideouts are still among LSU’s top options at their position.

RB Darrel Williams
What he did:
Williams carried the ball twice for a total of 4 yards against Florida -- tying for his fewest touches since he failed to play in the opener against Wisconsin. Saturday’s game also ended a three-game stretch where he caught at least one pass.

What it means: LSU had split carries more evenly between its backs prior to the Florida game, but nobody got many carries except Fournette. Terrence Magee ran six times for 50 yards and fellow senior Kenny Hilliard got four carries for 15 yards and a touchdown. Williams is still in the rotation, but this might have been Fournette’s coming-out party.

Key factors in LSU-Florida game

October, 10, 2014
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Florida (3-1, 2-1 SEC) and LSU (4-2, 0-2) might not be ranked, but Saturday’s meeting at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is still a key conference game -- particularly in the SEC East, where Florida is still in the running for a division title.

With an assist from ESPN’s Stats & Information database, let’s examine some key factors in Saturday’s game.

Defending the run: Stopping the run will be a key for both teams in this game, but it has only been a problem for one of them.

LSU ranks 89th nationally and last in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 184.3 yards per game. This on the heels of surrendering 298 rushing yards in a 41-7 loss to Auburn, which was the third time in three games against Power 5 teams that the Tigers gave up at least 260 yards on the ground.

Thus, slowing down Matt Jones and Florida’s rushing attack will be the Tigers’ first goal Saturday. Jones is one of the SEC’s better running backs (he’s seventh in the league with 93 rushing yards per game), but the Gators have hardly been consistent in any aspect of their offense. They’re eighth in the SEC in rushing offense (189.8 ypg) and 11th in passing (215 ypg), so if LSU limits Jones’ impact in the running game, the Tigers have to like their chances.

On the other sideline, the Gators have been impressive against the run. They’re 15th in the nation and fourth in the SEC in rushing defense (103 ypg) and held Tennessee to 28 yards on 29 attempts last Saturday. Opponents are running for just 2.78 yards per carry against Florida, which ranks ninth nationally and trails only Alabama in the SEC.

Regardless of who plays quarterback for LSU on Saturday, the Tigers will likely stick with their run-first mentality. If they can’t move the chains more consistently on the ground than they have lately, this will be a tough game for the Tigers. There were times when they ran effectively against Auburn, but short yardage was generally a mess. They ran seven times in two-tight-end/two-back sets against Auburn and picked up just 9 yards, and on their 20 runs when the quarterback lined up under center, they totaled 55 yards.

Freshman Leonard Fournette (60.7 ypg) has led the Tigers in rushing in each of the last five games, but he’s averaging only 11 carries per game. In LSU’s two SEC games, he had seven carries for 38 yards against Mississippi State and 10 carries for 42 yards against Auburn.

Quarterback shuffle: The reason the running games are so important is because of the teams’ inadequacies at quarterback. Florida hoped this would be Jeff Driskel's breakout season, but he continues to struggle. Gators coach Will Muschamp removed him from the Tennessee game and freshman Treon Harris led the Gators to all 10 of their points in the 10-9 win.

But with Harris now suspended following a sexual assault complaint, the Gators are stuck with Driskel again. He ranks 103rd nationally in ESPN’s Total QBR metric at 40.8, just a point ahead of LSU’s Anthony Jennings (39.8), who was booed off the field by Tigers fans in his last start two Saturdays ago against New Mexico State.

Driskel’s QBR against Tennessee was an abysmal 14.3 after he went 11-for-23 for 59 yards and three interceptions. Unfortunately for LSU, its starter last week, Brandon Harris, was nearly as bad. In going 3-for-14 for 58 yards, Harris logged an 18.4 QBR against Auburn and Jennings replaced him late in the third quarter.

Since the quarterback position has been a problem throughout the season for these teams, Saturday’s outcome might rest on which club can get something approaching competence from its signal-caller.

Big-play vulnerability: From play to play, LSU’s defense hasn’t been awful this season. The disconcerting problem for the Tigers has been their vulnerability to explosive plays. The Tigers have already surrendered 26 plays that covered 20 yards or more, which is more than every team in the SEC except Mississippi State (26), Vanderbilt (29) and South Carolina (34). LSU opponents already have five touchdowns that covered at least 45 yards.

That said, Florida isn’t exactly a big-play offense. The Gators’ longest passing play against Tennessee came on a 15-yard grab by Demarcus Robinson. Their only run of 20-plus was a 32-yard Jones burst. Overall, the Gators have 13 plays of 20 yards or more, but six of them came in their season-opening 65-0 rout of Eastern Michigan.

One of the few areas where LSU’s offense has been consistent is in producing big plays. The Tigers have 37 plays of 20 or more yards, which is tied for ninth nationally. That includes touchdown passes of 94 and 80 yards to Travin Dural, who is third in the SEC with 95.7 receiving yards per game.

Considering how it has one of the best cornerbacks in the nation in Vernon Hargreaves III, it seems somewhat strange that Florida has already given up 17 pass plays of 20 yards or more, covering a total of 618 yards. Alabama alone hit the Gators for scoring passes of 87 and 79 yards as quarterback Blake Sims passed for 445 yards that day, averaging 13.5 yards per pass attempt.

Turnover turnarounds: Both of these teams are accustomed to winning the turnover battle, so that could become a deciding factor Saturday.

Florida leads the SEC and is fifth nationally with a plus-eight turnover margin. The only way it stayed in the Alabama game -- at least for a while -- was because it generated four turnovers and Keanu Neal scored on a 49-yard fumble return.

Only Florida (15) has generated more takeaways than LSU’s 13 among SEC defenses, which helps the Tigers rank fourth in the league and 16th nationally with a plus-five turnover margin.

Both defenses have scored twice off turnovers this season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Saturday’s game swing on a similarly opportunistic play.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU fans who watched Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne combine for 245 rushing yards might not believe it, but LSU linebacker Lamar Louis says it's true. If not for a sound game plan from defensive coordinator John Chavis, Auburn might have run for even more yards than it did in Saturday's 41-7 win over LSU.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLSU believes Auburn's Nick Marshall, who combined with Cameron Artis-Payne to rush for 245 yards, could've had an even bigger day if not for the Tigers' defensive game plan.
"We still believe in the game plan that we had for Auburn," Louis said. "We looked at film after the game and the game plan was correct. They just made some good plays, some good play calling and they got momentum and they ran with it.

"If you look at it, without the game plan that we had, Nick Marshall could have ran for a lot more yards if we didn't have certain things put into the scheme and whatnot. Besides a couple long runs by Artis-Payne, I think we did OK against him, too. But we're going to remain confident as a defense. We know we can stop the run."

Knowing they can do it and actually doing it are two different things. Thus far, the Tigers (4-2, 0-2 SEC) absolutely have not stopped the run -- which will be their No. 1 objective when they visit Florida (3-1, 2-1) on Saturday.

Chavis' defenses have long been known for their stinginess against running teams, relying on typically powerful defensive fronts to shut down opposing ground games. This season, however, LSU's turnover on the interior defensive line and players manning new roles at linebacker have left the Tigers vulnerable in the middle at times.

There were times when LSU linebackers were too slow to read and react properly, Louis said, and that led to big plays for opponents.

"When you're outside and you're reading the line and reading the backfield, you have to read it real fast," Louis said. "You don't want to leave a receiver wide open, but at the same time, you don't want to leave a gash in the line. That's something that weighs heavily a lot on outside backers and that's one of the downfalls of the outside backers."

Both Mississippi State and Auburn exploited those weaknesses with runs straight up the middle. For instance, Auburn rushed for 199 yards between the tackles -- 163 of which came before contact with a defender -- and broke eight runs of 10 yards or more.

It was the fourth time in six games that LSU surrendered at least 100 yards between the tackles. The Tigers' defense had only two such games in the entire 2013 season.

"I wouldn't say it's not embarrassing. Embarrassing is a word that comes to mind when you think about the run game and stopping the run," Louis said. "But like I said before, we still as a defense, we know what we can do. We've just got to play the calls that we're given. We trust Chief [Chavis] to give us the right game plan, give us the right call."

With a game against Florida and its somewhat-similar running game approaching, the question is whether the Tigers will improve. The Auburn game got out of hand early, but they made strides defending the run as the night progressed.

And let's be clear, while it is also a run-centric spread offense, Florida's is nowhere near as explosive as those of Mississippi State and Auburn. And the only similarity Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel has to State's Dak Prescott or Auburn's Marshall is that he's also a somewhat-mobile quarterback.

"I heard he can run the ball pretty well," LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. "We've just got to do a good job containing him and taking away all the running lanes."

Saturday's visit to The Swamp is a much more manageable challenge for the Tigers' defense, so long as it proves it can handle running backs Matt Jones (372 rushing yards, 93.0 per game) and Kelvin Taylor (144 yards, 36.0 ypg).

Faring better against against Florida will require more consistent play up front from the defensive line and then the Tigers must do a better job of making the tackle once they arrive at the ballcarrier.

"We were in position to make plays on defense and we didn't make them," safety Ronald Martin admitted.

Then it comes down to the mental part of playing defense that Louis described. Spread offenses work in part because they force defensive players to diagnose what is happening in front of them, rather than relying on brute force to overpower an opponent. The Tigers have been caught out of position a lot in their first two SEC games, and that can't happen if they are to handle Florida's running game better than they did Auburn's and State's.

"We've got to adjust to all these spread teams that we have now. I think that's what's transitioning from maybe the mid-2000 LSU teams until now," Louis said. "Long ago, if you could just play hard-nosed football and plug the holes, you're a great defense. But now you've got to account for the run and worry about the pass at the same time and all these teams being spread offenses, it's a little bit more tricky.

"I think that's what is [happening when] people are like, 'The dominant defenses are changing.' No, you still have the same players with the same capability. You just have a lot more mental aspect of the game is getting installed."

LSU freshman tracker: Week 6

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
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Brandon Harris used words like “terrible” and “nightmare” when describing his first career start against Auburn on Saturday, but those descriptions actually applied to his entire team’s performance in a 41-7 defeat.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLeonard Fournette was a semi-bright spot on a dark Saturday for LSU against Auburn.
Harris played like a freshman quarterback against Auburn before giving way to previous starter Anthony Jennings in the third quarter. The night wasn’t particularly memorable for LSU’s other true freshmen, either, but here is a recap:

S Jamal Adams

What he did:
Adams didn’t start Saturday, but he played plenty in place of injured utility man Dwayne Thomas, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against New Mexico State. Adams made a career-high seven tackles against Auburn, which tied for third on the team.

What it means: With Thomas out of the picture, expect to see Adams contribute in his old rushing and coverage roles in LSU’s nickel and dime packages. He was one of LSU’s most coveted defensive signees in this class and should get lots of playing time down the stretch.

WR Malachi Dupre

What he did:
Dupre started at receiver and made one catch for 52 yards late in the first quarter to set up LSU’s only touchdown of the night. He led the Tigers in receiving yardage against Auburn thanks to that single grab.

What it means: Saturday’s game marked Dupre’s second straight start at wideout, so he is obviously one of the Tigers’ top options at the position now. The passing game never got on track against Auburn, but expect to see plenty more of Dupre moving forward.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did:
Fournette didn’t get his first carry until late in the first quarter, but he led the Tigers with 41 rushing yards on 10 carries. He also returned a pair of kickoffs for a total of 44 yards. LSU hoped it had turned a corner in the ground game with a productive outing against New Mexico State last week, but Fournette and the Tigers generated just 138 rushing yards on 36 attempts (3.8 ypc) on Saturday.

What it means: It doesn’t mean a lot, but Fournette quietly led LSU in rushing for the fourth straight game. The Tigers have a long way to go to become a good rushing team, but Fournette has done fine on the occasions where he has had room to run.

QB Brandon Harris

What he did:
Harris’ starting debut couldn’t have gone much worse. He was 3-for-14 for 58 yards and directed LSU’s offense to one of the least competitive performances in Les Miles’ decade as the Tigers’ coach. Harris left Jordan-Hare Stadium with his right foot in a walking boot after injuring his ankle late in the second quarter.

What it means: Assuming Harris’ ankle is healthy enough to play, it will be interesting to see whether LSU’s coaches let him start again Saturday in yet another difficult road venue: Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators aren’t nearly the team that Auburn is, but putting together a productive outing against Florida’s defense in The Swamp would be another tall order for Harris.

RB Darrel Williams

What he did:
Williams actually carried the ball before fellow freshman Fournette on Saturday but finished with just four rushing attempts for 19 yards -- 14 of which came on one carry. He also caught two passes for 6 yards.

What it means: It was a bit of a surprise to see him carry the ball ahead of Fournette, but Williams’ role seems largely unchanged. He remains part of LSU’s backfield rotation alongside Fournette and seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, but is not playing a leading role.

Three key factors in LSU-Auburn

October, 3, 2014
Oct 3
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Nick MarshallAP Photo/Butch DillContaining Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will be one of LSU's main tasks this week.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- This will become a familiar scenario for No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) for at least the foreseeable future. Entering Saturday's game against No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0), LSU probably can't afford another division loss if it wants to remain in contention in the SEC West -- much less a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

That's a tall order this weekend, considering Auburn hasn't lost at Jordan-Hare Stadium since Gus Malzahn became coach last season (11-0) and LSU will have a true freshman quarterback, Brandon Harris, making his first career start.

LSU has won six of the past seven games in this series, but getting a win Saturday will be a major challenge. Let's look at three key factors as kickoff approaches, with some help from ESPN's Stats & Information group:

Who can run and who can stop it

Both starting quarterbacks -- Harris and Auburn's Nick Marshall -- are understandably getting plenty of attention ahead of this game. But it's the teams' respective running games -- and whether the defenses can slow them -- that might be the most important factors.

Auburn ranks 17th nationally with 260.5 rushing yards per game and boasts two of the SEC's most productive runners in Cameron Artis-Payne (86 carries, 468 yards, 5 touchdowns, fourth in the SEC with 97.2 YPG) and Marshall (42 carries, 273 yards, 2 touchdowns).

Meanwhile, LSU has struggled against the run, ranking 12th in the SEC and 70th nationally by allowing 161.6 rushing YPG. Coordinator John Chavis' defense is thin at defensive tackle, and its problems there were evident against Mississippi State, which rushed for 302 yards against LSU two weeks ago. Wisconsin also rushed for more than 250 yards against LSU.

Auburn is 13-0 when it runs for at least 250 yards under Malzahn and 3-2 when it does not.

On the other side, LSU's struggling run game got a boost last week when it picked up 363 yards on 54 attempts against New Mexico State. LSU is sixth in the SEC with 226.2 rushing YPG, but Auburn has been stingy against the run (third in the SEC with 90.8 YPG). If coordinator Ellis Johnson's defense is able to shut down Leonard Fournette (LSU's leading rusher with 322 yards on 56 attempts, 64.4 YPG), Kenny Hilliard (57 carries, 298 yards, 59.6 YPG), Darrel Williams (33 carries, 165 yards, 41.2 YPG) and Terrence Magee (34 carries, 144 yards, 28.8 YPG), that will place even more pressure on Harris' shoulders.

Defending the zone read/QB run

Let's dig a little deeper into the running game. To have any chance on Saturday, LSU must contain Marshall and Auburn's option runs.

Auburn has been one of the nation's most effective teams at using the zone-read run since the start of last season. It is averaging 144.39 rushing yards and 6.8 yards per carry in those games.

It's worth noting, however, that Kansas State kept itself in the game against Auburn two weeks ago by slowing Marshall and the zone-read runs. The Wildcats held the Tigers to just 62 yards and 3.1 yards per carry off the zone-read, holding them below 200 total rushing yards for only the second time in Malzhn's tenure as Auburn's coach.

LSU was atrocious against the zone-read in its 34-29 loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago. The Bulldogs ran 20 times for 192 yards from that look, averaging 9.1 yards per carry and breaking five runs of at least 10 yards.

The key element here is slowing Marshall, but LSU has struggled to do that against mobile quarterbacks. LSU has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks (56 carries for 260 yards) of all FBS programs this season. That includes a 79-yard touchdown last week against New Mexico State and a 56-yard run by Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.

Marshall has 1,341 rushing yards since the start of last season, which ranks third among active FBS quarterbacks.

Harris vs. Auburn pass defense

This subject has been beaten to death all week, but Harris is in rare air for an LSU quarterback. He's the first LSU true freshman to start at the position since Jordan Jefferson in 2008 and the first since Jamie Howard in 1992 to start by Game 6.

He clearly outplayed Anthony Jennings against Mississippi State and New Mexico State, but both of those outings were off the bench. Making his first road start against a better-than-average Auburn defense -- Johnson's defense is fourth in the SEC in total defense (313.2 ypg) and sixth in scoring defense (16.2 ppg) -- won't be easy.

However, Auburn has yet to face a prolific passing team. Its opponents thus far rank 107th nationally (Arkansas, 167.8 ypg), 62nd (San Jose State, 243.0), 59th (Kansas State, 246.3) and 55th (Louisiana Tech, 248.4) in passing offense and yet Auburn still ranks seventh in the SEC in pass defense at 222.5 ypg.

We'll see whether Harris can settle his nerves enough to exploit it, but Auburn is vulnerable against the pass -- especially if veteran safety Jermaine Whitehead remains on suspension for a third straight game.

LSU offense more productive with Harris

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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video
BATON ROUGE, La. -- As is often the case after a disappointing loss, many callers were on the warpath last week during LSU coach Les Miles’ radio show.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertNo matter the formation, Brandon Harris has been a more effective quarterback option than Anthony Jennings.
The most common criticism? That LSU’s offense had grown too predictable in the previous weekend’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State -- particularly before freshman quarterback Brandon Harris replaced Anthony Jennings and nearly engineered a miraculous comeback win.

When one of the more pleasant critics encouraged Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to limit their use of I-formation/two-tight end sets, Miles predicted they would sprinkle in more spread formations in the future.

“I can tell you that we do look forward to expanding the use of spread for both quarterbacks,” Miles said. “That’s a direction that we’re going in. It’s just that right now a personnel group that’s very, very strong for us, especially on the running end, is the two-tights.”

LSU used more shotgun sets with multiple receivers in last week’s 63-7 win against New Mexico State. The Aggies were not a formidable opponent, but that might be a sign of things to come with Harris taking over as the starter this week against Auburn.

“I think Brandon’s more comfortable like that,” running back Leonard Fournette said.

Harris played in a spread offense in high school, so that makes sense. And while Harris said he is also comfortable taking snaps from under center, spreading the field was the best way to attack NMSU's defense.

“You’ve got to go with things that make us successful,” Harris said. “I was comfortable with that in high school, and we tried to come out this week and spread people out and just run the football.”

It wasn’t so much that the Tigers changed their offensive philosophy against NMSU as that they enjoyed much more success once Harris entered the game -- continuing a recent trend.

Using the tight ends

Does LSU use the tight end-heavy package more than most teams, as some callers insinuated? Absolutely.

The Tigers have run 89 plays with at least two tight ends and two running backs, which is the most of any team in the nation. The next-closest teams are Pitt and Boston College, both of which have run 77. Only B.C. (314 plays) utilized that look more than LSU (228) in 2013.

Is that a problem? Miles doesn’t think so -- not when the Tigers’ offensive identity is built upon the running game.

“We have the opportunity to take advantage of people in both two-tights and in spread,” Miles said. “And we have two very, very talented tight ends and it gives the opportunity of running lanes for I-back style of backs, which Leonard Fournette and Kenny Hilliard and those guys are.”

That said, the Tigers actually used the two-tight formation less against NMSU than they had in previous weeks. LSU averaged 20 plays per game using at least two tight ends and two backs through the first four games, but used that look just nine times against NMSU.

It helped that LSU was rarely in short-yardage situations, so the blocker-heavy lineup was not necessary. Rest assured that it will remain part of LSU’s arsenal.

“Obviously everybody knows we have a powerful running game, so it’s something to kind of expect,” receiver John Diarse said.

Multiple receivers

As previously mentioned, LSU didn’t shift to an entirely new scheme with Harris. The Tigers were simply more productive.

The Tigers ran 30 plays, gained 287 yards and scored four times on plays where there were at least three wideouts on the field against NMSU. In the first four games, they averaged 27 plays per game with three wideouts and 163.5 yards per game.

“Every receiver enjoys going out in a three- or four-wide set,” receiver Travin Dural said. “As the game went on, you could tell the receivers went from kind of being mad and frustrated to having more smiles on their face.”

Shotgun

Harris played almost exclusively in mop-up duty prior to the NMSU game, but LSU’s offense has been more dangerous in nearly every way with him at quarterback.

He is 15-for-20 for 316 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while passing out of the shotgun (an average of 15.8 yards per pass attempt) compared to Jennings’ 27-for-52 for 327 yards, two touchdowns and two picks (6.3 ypa). Harris has nine completions of 20-plus yards from the shotgun compared to just four for Jennings.

“We came out in a couple of three- and four-wide sets when [Harris] was in the game, given the situation, and he made some plays,” Dural said. “He made some great throws and did some great things on the ground and he helped us out tremendously.”

LSU has also rushed the ball more effectively out of the shotgun with Harris. The Tigers have 24 runs for 155 yards (6.5 yards per carry) out of the shotgun with the freshman compared to 47 for 205 (4.4 ypc) with Jennings.



Under center

Boosted by his school-record 94-yard touchdown pass to Dural against Sam Houston State, Jennings is actually averaging 13.1 yards per pass attempt after taking snaps from under center. He’s 15-for-31 for 407 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in that scenario. Meanwhile, Harris is 7-for-10 for 78 yards (7.8 ypa), three touchdowns and no interceptions.

LSU has run the ball 115 times and gained 457 yards (3.97 ypc) with Jennings taking the snap from under center compared to 51 attempts for 312 yards (6.12 ypc) with Harris under center.

It’s anybody’s guess whether those trends continue with Harris as the starting quarterback, however. The Tigers might spread the field more now, but power-run formations will surely remain part of LSU’s scheme.

Diarse predicted that Cameron’s philosophy will still change each week based on personnel matchups.

“I think as an offensive coordinator, you kind of look for what works and it just so happened that spreading those guys out from New Mexico State worked for us,” Diarse said. “We kind of stuck with it and it lasted us the whole game. Each and every week, Coach Cam is unpredictable. He’s not a predictable coach at all. He can throw anything at you.”

LSU freshman tracker

September, 28, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. – Plenty of true freshmen played in LSU’s 63-7 rout of New Mexico State on Saturday, but it was Brandon Harris' night.

The young quarterback led the Tigers’ offense to touchdown in all seven of his possessions after replacing a slumping Anthony Jennings. At this point, it will be a major upset if Harris doesn’t make his first career start next Saturday at Auburn.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesBrandon Harris' performance Saturday might have made him LSU's starting quarterback for good.
Let’s take a quick look at the night for Harris and some of the Tigers’ other top freshmen:

S Jamal Adams

What he did: Adams played significant minutes off the bench at safety and tied for fourth on the team with five tackles. He also made a nice pass breakup on a second-and-2 pass near midfield in the first quarter.

What it means: Adams already seemed to be gaining his coaches’ confidence in recent weeks. If defensive back Dwayne Thomas is out for any extensive length of time -- he left Saturday’s game with a right knee injury -- Adams’ role might grow even more.

WR Malachi Dupre

What he did: Dupre made his first career start and led the team with 54 receiving yards on three catches. He caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Harris in the second quarter.

What it means: Dupre’s role in the offense continues to grow. He and Harris clearly have developed a rapport -- Saturday’s touchdown was already their fourth scoring connection -- and that should give the Tigers a strong second option alongside leading receiver Travin Dural.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did: Fournette ran 18 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns, setting new career highs in all three categories. He scored on a 17-yard run and plowed into the end zone for a 5-yard score in the second quarter. He also went 33 yards on his lone reception.

What it means: This was the fourth straight game that Fournette has led the Tigers in rushing, although this was his first 100-yard game. With 322 yards on 56 carries, Fournette is quietly emerging as the Tigers’ top tailback.

DT Davon Godchaux

What he did: Godchaux started for the second time in the last three games and recorded four tackles. His biggest play of the night came when he jarred the ball loose from New Mexico State’s Marquette Washington at the end of a second-quarter run. LSU safety Jalen Mills recovered Washington’s fumble and returned it 36 yards to the NMSU 3. The Tigers scored on the next play to go up 42-7.

What it means: With Quentin Thomas out of the lineup for the time being, Godchaux’s role is playing an important role on the interior of the Tigers’ defensive line. That bunch got shoved around by Mississippi State last week and will face a huge challenge next Saturday from Auburn. LSU needs Godchaux and Christian LaCouture to hold up in the middle of the line in order to have a shot at a road upset.

QB Brandon Harris

What he did: Harris likely settled the questions over who should start at quarterback on Saturday. Jennings had turned the ball over three times and the Tigers led 14-0 when Harris took over in the second quarter. They were up 63-7 when he left the game in the fourth quarter. Harris finished 11-for-14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns, plus he ran five times for 36 yards and two scores.

What it means: Although it seemingly took forever for LSU’s coaches to make the move -- as LSU’s booing fans clearly noticed -- Harris provided an instant spark when he entered the game. The level of difficulty is about to increase exponentially, but he is an obvious choice to start next week even if LSU coach Les Miles made no such public declaration after the game.

RB Darrel Williams

What he did: Williams continues to produce when he gets the ball. He was second on the team behind Fournette with 10 carries and finished with 59 rushing yards. He also caught a pass for an 11-yard gain.

What it means: Everybody got their yards from the Tigers’ backfield on Saturday -- seniors Kenny Hilliard (seven carries, 53 yards) and Terrence Magee (8-62, TD) were also productive -- and we can expect to see Williams remain as a regular contributor in LSU’s backfield timeshare.
BATON ROUGE, La. – The topic du jour at Les Miles’ three Q&A sessions on Wednesday concerned his quarterbacks. Specifically, what will be LSU’s next move in the battle for playing time between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris?

Who will be the starter in Saturday’s game against New Mexico State? It most likely will be Jennings, Miles said on the SEC’s weekly coaches teleconference.

Has Harris – who starred in last Saturday’s fourth-quarter comeback against Mississippi State after Jennings’ dismal outing – made up ground in the race? “Some,” Miles told reporters in his post-practice interview.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsIt appears LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings will get another shot to start after a tough night against Mississippi State.
Will Harris get more than the garbage-time snaps he mostly received to this point? “Look forward to him getting a little bit more playing time. He certainly was deserving,” Miles said on his weekly call-in show.

The problems that revealed themselves in the Mississippi State loss are much greater than simply which player is behind center, but we’ll start there in this week’s storylines for Saturday.

Third-down inefficiency: LSU has been mediocre in nearly every offensive category, but its decline on third down has been striking. That had to be expected with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham all departing from a 2013 offense that led the nation by converting 57 percent of its third downs.

It has been a problem this season, particularly with Jennings at quarterback. ESPN Stats and Information reports that LSU ranks 70th nationally in third-down conversions (41 percent) and has only converted on 38 percent of its third downs with Jennings at quarterback, compared to 63 percent with Harris.

During the last two seasons, Jennings led LSU to a 30-percent conversion rate on third down, while Mettenberger converted 54 percent of the time. The differences are also huge when comparing Mettenberger and Jennings’ Total QBR (97.2 to 37.1), yards per attempt (10.9 to 6.2) and passing touchdowns (nine to two) on third down.

These comparisons are unfair, of course. Mettenberger was a fifth-year senior who ranked second nationally behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston on both third-down QBR and third-down conversions. Meanwhile, Jennings just made his fifth career start. Nonetheless, the dropoff has been substantial and is one of the contributing factors in LSU’s offensive slowdown.

QB comparison: Let’s shift from one comparison that doesn’t look pretty for Jennings to another. Again, different sample sizes paint an unfair picture for Jennings, but the Tigers’ offense has been more productive with Harris at quarterback.

LSU scored a touchdown on two of its three drives against Mississippi State with Harris at quarterback compared to one in 12 with Jennings. Of course, Jennings played against the starters and Harris did not face the Bulldogs’ full defensive arsenal when he entered the game with less than four minutes to play and Mississippi State ahead by double digits. But he was clearly the more productive quarterback last Saturday, leading LSU’s offense to 159 yards in just 12 snaps.

We could make similar statements about the other games in which they appeared. Jennings took the starters’ best shots in the first four games and Harris came on in relief, typically in the second half. But in his smaller sample size, Harris has led the Tigers to more yards per play, a greater percentage of touchdowns per drive and a significantly higher percentage of third-down conversions.

Stopping the run: We discussed this in a post earlier this week, but LSU must shore up its issues defending runs straight up the middle. On designed runs between the tackles, Mississippi State ran for 286 yards – the most allowed by an SEC defense in the last two seasons – averaged 8.2 yards per carry and broke nine runs of 10 yards or longer.

In the first three games, LSU allowed just 52.3 yards on designed runs between the tackles, 3.5 yards per carry and just one run of 10-plus yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Opening it up? With the bulk of the SEC schedule still ahead, this seems like a good week for LSU to work on opening up its offense a bit if it will, in fact, spread the field in future games. But that doesn’t exactly jibe with what works best against New Mexico State’s defense.

The Aggies have been atrocious against the run, surrendering 299.3 rushing yards per game and ranking 123rd out of 125 FBS teams. So perhaps we’ll see plenty of Kenny Hilliard, Leonard Fournette and LSU’s power running game early and the Tigers can work on the passing game once they build a lead.

Dural, then who? If LSU puts the ball in the air more frequently, Travin Dural (18 catches, 494 yards, 4 TDs) is a given as the first option. But then who?

Maybe it will be Malachi Dupre, who delivered a breakout performance last Saturday night against Mississippi State. Fellow freshmen Trey Quinn and John Diarse are also possibilities. After Dural, the Tigers’ next three receivers have only connected with their quarterback for a completion on 19 of the 37 passes in which they were the intended targets.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- In the first, second and fourth quarters last Saturday, Mississippi State’s offense converted just one out of nine third downs. But in the Bulldogs’ key third-quarter run – a stretch where they pushed their lead from 17-10 to 34-10 – State’s offense didn’t just convert on third down, it made some of its biggest plays of the entire game.

The Bulldogs converted four out of five of their third-down situations in that third quarter and averaged 30.8 yards per play. That included a pair of long touchdowns -- a 56-yard run by quarterback Dak Prescott and a 74-yard pass from Prescott to Jameon Lewis -- where the Bulldogs exploited huge holes in the LSU defense.

[+] EnlargeJameon Lewis
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsLSU defenders say that many of Mississippi State's big plays last Saturday -- like Jameon Lewis' TD reception -- were the result of mental breakdowns.
“We had the momentum at the start of the third quarter,” LSU middle linebacker D.J. Welter said, referring to the Tigers’ defensive touchdown on the first play of the second half. “That kind of hurt us throughout the whole second half was not getting off the field on third down. And when they started moving the ball, it kind of got their momentum back and it really hurt us.”

We examined Mississippi State’s third-down success during the quarter in a post earlier this week. Today let’s look at it from an LSU perspective. Prescott’s improvisational skills and his running ability were key factors in several of those big plays, which is relevant since the Tigers will soon face other quarterbacks with similar run-pass ability.

If there is a silver lining to the many big plays LSU surrendered in the game, it’s that player after player insisted that their biggest problems against State – like aligning improperly or failing to make the proper pre-snap adjustments – were correctable mental errors instead of physical issues.

“I’m not taking anything away from Dak as a quarterback. The dude’s impressive, he’s a good athlete, you see him on film and he makes big plays,” Welter said. “But [if] we definitely played our techniques, it could have helped us out a lot in that game in not giving up those big busts that he had. When we gave it to him, he took it from us -- and give props for that -- but it definitely was a mistake in our technique.”

Take Prescott’s long touchdown run, for example. The Bulldogs spread out LSU’s defense with five receivers and Welter oddly lined up in a gap between right defensive tackle Davon Godchaux and right end Tashawn Bower, leaving nobody in the center of the field. When Prescott broke through a hole between defensive linemen Christian LaCouture and Deondre Clark, State’s quarterback needed only to break a tackle attempt by safety Jalen Mills in order to find himself with acres of running room on his way to the end zone.

On several of the Bulldogs’ other third-quarter conversions, defenders showed their concerns about State’s running game by either chasing Prescott or biting on run fakes, which created holes for the Bulldogs to exploit.

“Most of the key third downs, it wasn’t so much what they did, it was so much things that we didn’t do well,” cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “They played a great game – not to take things away from them – but if we just do the little things, the things that we’re taught to do, we don’t put ourselves in that position.”

Tiger Stadium’s legendary decibel level actually hurt, as well, the players said. There were times where it was so loud in the stadium that all of the defenders failed to hear the Tigers’ pre-snap calls. Several LSU defenders admitted that they must do a better job communicating between plays in order to prevent future busts.

“While it’s being so loud in our stadium, the loudest crowd out there, it’s kind of hard to be yelling at each other, so we’ve got to get our signals down pat so everybody’s on the same play before they snap the ball and get there faster,” defensive back Dwayne Thomas said.

This was LSU’s first big game in expanded Tiger Stadium, so perhaps some growing pains were inevitable as the defense adjusts to the noise created by 10,000 extra people in the stands. But while that might have been a factor, it’s hard to imagine that a home-field disadvantage was a major reason for so many defensive lapses.

With several high-scoring spread offenses fast approaching on the schedule, the Tigers must clean up their missed assignments, play tougher along the line of scrimmage and tackle more effectively in the future or this will not be their last rocky defensive outing. LSU has actually been effective on third down overall -- opponents have converted 16 of 57 attempts, with LSU's 28.1 percent conversion rate ranking fourth in the SEC -- but it probably can't afford to surrender so many big plays in those situations again.

“I feel like we could be a whole lot better all around as far as communicating, tackling, all that,” linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. “We’ve just got to get back to the old LSU way, being a dominant, dominant defense, and that starts in practice.”

LSU's coverage issues exposed in loss

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Would the real LSU secondary please stand up?

Entering last Saturday’s game against Mississippi State, the Tigers boasted arguably the nation’s most dominant defensive backfield. They hadn’t allowed a completion of more than 15 yards in the first three games. (Opponents were 0-for-17 on throws of at least 15 yards.) The Tigers had held opposing quarterbacks to a Total QBR of 11.2, which was the best among all FBS defenses.

Against Mississippi State and quarterback Dak Prescott, however, the Tigers were anything but dominant. Prescott hit a 25-yard completion on Mississippi State’s first play from scrimmage and finished the night 4-for-8 on throws of 15-plus yards with an average of 20.6 yards per attempt.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertDak Prescott's ability to freelance outside the pocket gave the Tigers fits on Saturday.
The Bulldogs finished with 570 yards of total offense, including 268 passing yards and two touchdowns by Prescott, which represented the highest yardage total allowed by an LSU defense since 2001.

“It doesn’t sit with none of us pretty good,” LSU safety Jalen Mills said after the game. “Going into practice, we kind of wish that we could skip Sunday and go straight to Monday. Going into practice, if you don’t want to practice on Monday and bring full intensity, don’t come out there at all."

No. 17 LSU (3-1) will most likely improve to 4-1 after a visit from New Mexico State (2-2) on Saturday, although oddly enough, the Aggies have the exact same passing yardage total (1,067 yards) through four games as Mississippi State. But defending quarterback Tyler Rogers (264 passing yards per game, nine touchdowns six interceptions), receiver Teldrick Morgan (116 receiving ypg, four TDs) and NMSU’s spread passing attack will be good practice for some of the SEC offenses the Tigers will face down the road.

Several of them will look to air it out against LSU, and the Tigers’ secondary for the first time looked vulnerable last weekend. Mississippi State had five pass plays that went at least 20 yards, although the good news for LSU is that only one of those completions was a downfield throw where a receiver beat man-to-man coverage. Even on that play -- a 26-yard back-shoulder completion to De’Runnya Wilson in the first quarter -- LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White provided tight coverage, but Prescott simply made a good throw to a receiver with a serious size advantage who made the stronger play for the ball.

One of the other long completions was a misdirection screen pass to H-back Malcolm Johnson, and two others -- a 44-yard pass to Wilson in front of safety Ronald Martin and a 21-yard connection with Jameon Lewis before cornerback Jalen Collins' big hit failed to dislodge the ball -- came against zone coverage.

The most painful completion of the night (a 74-yard touchdown pass to Lewis) came when Prescott extended the play by scrambling once the pocket collapsed. Bulldogs receivers Wilson and Lewis were both in Martin's zone along the sideline, and Martin broke toward Wilson instead of Lewis as Prescott started to throw. With the LSU safety out of the picture, Lewis caught the ball at the Mississippi State 45 and went untouched for a score that put State up 31-10 in the third quarter.

Prescott also proved that the Tigers needed extra practice on coverages when quarterbacks begin to improvise.

“When you’re in man-to-man and it’s a scramble drill, it’s quite easy because you can just lock on your man and just run whatever he runs,” White said. “But when we’re in a zone coverage and you’re forced to do a scramble drill, it’s quite tough. You’ve got to grab whoever’s in your zone.

“If two people are in your zone at the same time, it’s hard to cover two guys. That’s probably what happened on some of the scramble drills, so we were basically in zone coverage and two guys were in one guy’s zone.”

That doesn’t explain all of LSU’s coverage breakdowns, nor does it provide much solace with dual-threat quarterbacks such as Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill, Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Alabama’s Blake Sims and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace ahead on the schedule.

Those players will also be able to freelance with their feet once the pocket collapses, and if LSU’s secondary doesn’t solve its coverage issues between now and then, Prescott won’t be the last quarterback to make the Tigers look bad.

“We’re going to see a guy like him again -- probably not as big, but we’ll see a guy [with] probably the same kind of skill set that he has,” White said. “But it’s just a learning curve for us. We just want to move forward and just try to improve.”

That was a theme in LSU coach Les Miles' Monday press luncheon. Whether it was scheme, personnel or coaching, Miles said it was all under review this week as the Tigers attempt to correct their problems. On defense, one of their biggest concerns, both last Saturday and moving forward, is doing a better job against quarterbacks who can create while on the move.

“We recognize what just happened, and we don’t want it to happen again,” Miles said.

LSU freshman tracker

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Saturday’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State was a night many LSU players probably want to forget, but it was the biggest game yet for one of the Tigers’ key freshmen.

Quarterback Brandon Harris “made a case for himself” according to LSU coach Les Miles by leading the Tigers back from a huge deficit to nearly earn an amazing comeback victory. Suddenly a quarterback battle that seemed to have settled looks wide open again.

Here’s a recap of how Harris and some of the Tigers’ other true freshmen fared on Saturday:

WR MALACHI DUPRE
What he did: Dupre played more than he had in any game to date and notched his first 100-yard outing with four catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. In the fourth quarter alone, he notched scoring catches of 31 and 30 yards.

What it means: This is what LSU fans expected when Dupre, the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver prospect for 2014, signed with the Tigers in February. He got off to a somewhat slow start, but Dupre formed a solid one-two punch with Travin Dural (six catches, 124 yards) on Saturday. It was the 13th time in LSU history that two receivers enjoyed 100-yard outings.

RB LEONARD FOURNETTE
What he did: Fournette ran seven times for 38 yards in the first half, but didn’t get a carry in the second half once the Tigers fell far behind. He finished with 99 all-purpose yards (38 rushing, 60 on three kickoff returns and 1 on one reception).

What it means: Nobody on LSU’s offense did much in the running game -- the Tigers finished with just 89 yards on 36 carries -- so we can’t read too much into Fournette’s numbers. He had the Tigers’ longest run of the night, a 20-yard burst in the second quarter, but LSU mostly abandoned the run out of necessity once State went up by multiple scores.

QB BRANDON HARRIS
What he did: The game was all but over when Harris replaced Anthony Jennings, but he was highly impressive in his three series under center. Harris finished 6-for-9 for 140 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran twice for 19 yards.

What it means: LSU trailed 34-16 when Harris entered the game with just 3:43 to play. That he was attempting to throw a game-winning touchdown pass on the final play was nothing short of remarkable. Harris led a 95-yard touchdown drive, a 30-yard touchdown drive and had the Tigers in position for a last-gasp shot at the end zone. He earned a shot at more playing time, if not a start next Saturday, by sparking an unbelievable rally.

RB DARREL WILLIAMS
What he did: Williams didn’t play much before the final quarter, but he had a hand in the late comeback, as well. He caught Harris passes of 13 and 25 yards on LSU’s 95-yard touchdown drive that cut Mississippi State’s lead to 34-22.

What it means: It looked like garbage-time production when Williams caught those passes, although they obviously turned out to be more important when the Tigers strung together a couple of late scores. Williams also got a couple of short-yardage runs, totaling 4 yards, but he mostly played a minor role in the backfield on Saturday.

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