LSU Tigers: Les Miles

Instant-impact candidates at LSU

February, 9, 2015
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU’s 2014 recruiting class was important, not just because of the significant talent infusion that it provided, but also because of the numerous holes that the Tigers needed to fill.

A half-dozen signees from ESPN’s No. 2-rated class -- including Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Malachi Dupre and Davon Godchaux -- became instant-impact freshmen, and most of the 23-man class contributed in some capacity.

LSU’s newest crop of signees does not face the same pressure to make an immediate impact since the Tigers weren’t hit by the NFL draft as hard as they had been in recent years. That said, there are still several players in this class who seem likely to play right away.

Here is an early attempt at identifying some of those players:

Arden Key: LSU loses both of its starting defensive ends in Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco, and the candidates to replace them are largely unproven. The Tigers also need to bolster their pass rush after totaling just 19 sacks last fall. Enter Key, who LSU coach Les Miles described as a “pass-rush specialist” and who defensive line coach Ed Orgeron compared to former Tigers star Barkevious Mingo.

Miles and Orgeron both predicted on signing day that Key, ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end, will immediately help address the Tigers’ needs at end.

“It’s the school that he always wanted to come to and you could just tell when he walked into Tiger Stadium, he’s a cat, he’s a Tiger, we’re glad to have him,” Orgeron said. “He’s quick-twitch, long levers. We expect him to play next year and we expect him to work very hard this spring and this summer to be ready.”

Tyron Johnson: Wide receiver was not a huge position of need in this class, but of course LSU still wanted Johnson. ESPN rated the New Orleans native as the top player in Louisiana as well as the No. 30 overall prospect and No. 3 wideout.

[+] EnlargeTyron Johnson
Miller Safrit/ESPNLSU has a deep WR corps, but ESPN 300 receiver Tyron Johnson could break into the rotation right away.
The Tigers have a ton of young receivers, but junior Travin Dural is the only one who has proven himself as a consistent contributor. Johnson should have a shot at jumping into the positional rotation right away.

“His signing sends a message to the state and to the rest of our young guys that if you’re best, you need to come to LSU, because frankly, we'll play you,” Miles said.

Cornerbacks: LSU has playing time available in the secondary following the departures of safety Ronald Martin and cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Rashard Robinson. A newcomer might not jump straight into the starting lineup, but it seems likely that at least one of them will see regular action. The question is which member of the group -- one of the nation’s best collections of defensive back signees -- will make the cut?

Kevin Toliver II, ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect and only five-star signee in LSU’s class, seems like the safest bet since he is already enrolled and will participate in spring practice. But Donte Jackson also has star potential, and Miles said that the speedster might contribute as a return man and on offense.

Don’t forget about Xavier Lewis and Jeremy Cutrer, either. Cutrer was committed to LSU in 2013 but had to spend the last two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College when he failed to qualify. He’s exceptionally athletic, which could help him become an immediate contributor if he makes the grade and enrolls at LSU later this year.

“It’s a standard of excellence we look for at that position group,” LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said. “The guys that we went after fit the bill. We feel that they can come in and contribute very early. Patrick Peterson charged us with that problem in 2010 with a young Tharold Simon, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, and we’ve tried to hold that standard in recruiting at that position group.”

Running backs: Also the Tigers’ running backs coach, Wilson filled a major need by adding three players to his position group. LSU did not have a scholarship fullback on the roster after losing Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones, so getting the versatile David Ducre (another early enrollee) was a coup.

Wilson also lost veterans Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, leaving Fournette and Darrel Williams as his only scholarship tailbacks prior to signing day. In signing Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette, LSU added two of the state’s top prospects -- both of whom seem likely to help right away because of LSU’s tendency to rotate backs.

“We didn’t have any scholarship fullbacks, so we needed to address that need at that position group,” Wilson said. “And then we have two sophomores and bring in two freshmen [at tailback]. It gives us some leeway some next year where it’s not a position of demand in next year’s class.

“But we like where we’re at in that, only because it gives you quality depth and it’s not stacked. At times we’ve been as high as six, so four is a good number for us because the rotation becomes realistic.”
With Arden Key -- ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end -- verbally committing to LSU on Monday night, the Tigers are in position to wrap up national signing day in fine fashion.

The big day arrives tomorrow, so here are some players and positions to watch as Les Miles’ staff attempts to put the finishing touches on another top-10 class:

[+] EnlargeToby Weathersby
Max Olson/ESPNAdding ESPN 300 prospect Toby Weathersby would further boost an already strong LSU offensive line class.
Toby Weathersby and the offensive line: Onetime Texas commit Weathersby made recent visits to Arkansas and LSU, and the big offensive lineman would be another feather in position coach Jeff Grimes' cap if he picks the Tigers on Wednesday.

Offensive line was LSU’s biggest position of need this year and Weathersby (ESPN’s No. 149 overall prospect and No. 9 guard) could be another strong late pickup for Grimes, who last week got a surprise commitment from Chidi Valentine-Okeke, ESPN’s No. 87 overall prospect and No. 6 tackle.

The biggest name in the class thus far is Maea Teuhema, who appears set on signing with LSU after taking a recent visit to UCLA. The younger brother of LSU defensive end Sione Teuhema is ESPN’s No. 71 overall prospect and No. 2 guard. Adding line depth was a priority for this class, and with additional verbal pledges from tackles Adrian Magee and George Brown Jr., Grimes appears to be on the verge of addressing that need nicely.

Leo Lewis: As we mentioned in Monday’s LSU linebacker breakdown, positional depth might be a concern if the Tigers whiff on Lewis. They currently do not have a linebacker committed in this class and will lose at least two (seniors Lamar Louis and Deion Jones) and maybe three (draft-eligible junior Kendell Beckwith) linebackers after the 2015 season.

Signing Lewis could help ease that transition. ESPN’s No. 60 overall prospect and No. 2 inside linebacker decommitted from Ole Miss while visiting LSU over the weekend. It appears that his decision will come down to LSU and Mississippi State.

Derrick Dillon: There had been some recent chatter about Daylon Charlot picking LSU over Alabama, but the more likely possibility might be that the Tigers flip Dillon from Florida on signing day. ESPN’s No. 119 overall prospect and No. 8 athlete, Dillon initially bristled at the notion of playing cornerback in college and could become a slot receiver should he sign with LSU.

As the No. 5 prospect in Louisiana, Dillon appears to be the highest-rated in-state player who might become a late addition to LSU’s class. The Tigers already have the state's No. 1 (receiver Tyron Johnson), No. 3 (running back Derrius Guice), No. 6 (running back Nick Brossette), No. 8 (cornerback Xavier Lewis) and No. 9 (athlete Donte Jackson) prospects committed.

Will running backs stick to pledges?: Keep an eye on what happens with Brossette and Guice on Wednesday. With Leonard Fournette -- last year’s No. 1 overall prospect -- on LSU’s roster for at least two more seasons, Guice and Brossette have apparently been tempted by offers of better playing time elsewhere.

Brossette recently visited Texas and Guice re-opened his recruitment last fall before eventually recommitting to LSU. Both running backs remain on LSU’s commitment list, but they have other options. Losing either of them would be a blow for running backs coach Frank Wilson, who has only Fournette and Darrel Williams among his scholarship tailbacks after losing seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard.

Other possibilities: LSU picked up a commitment from Australian punter Josh Growden on Monday, and a few other possible (but unlikely) late additions include quarterback Torrance Gibson, an Ohio State commit who is considering other options, and safety Justin Reid, the brother of former LSU star Eric Reid.

The most intriguing possibility, however, might be adding a signature from 6-foot-8 defensive end Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. The native Nigerian generated a ton of recruiting interest in his lone season playing high school football and officially visited LSU in mid-January.

He recently learned that he could sign in 2015, not 2016, so Wanogho seems likely to explore the possibilities and sign well after national signing day. Nearby Auburn might be the favorite to land Wanogho, but LSU will continue its pursuit until he makes his decision.
Editor's note: We broke down LSU's need to improve at quarterback as part of our SEC blog's positional series two weeks ago. This week on the LSU blog, we continue our position-by-position look at the 2015 Tigers.

Perhaps no position group at LSU progressed more over the course of the 2014 season than the defensive line.

That group was a problem early in the season when opponents like Mississippi State and Auburn rolled up two of the biggest yardage totals ever accumulated against the Tigers in the Les Miles era. But by the time the season ended, the line was a strength.

[+] EnlargeDanielle Hunter
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonLSU will be looking to replace solid defensive ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter.
"We mainly had to focus on our run this year more than anything because most teams were just trying to run all over us," defensive end Danielle Hunter said.

The biggest question facing the group in 2015 will be whether the Tigers' front can do a better job pressuring the quarterback, particularly without Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. The Tigers did not record many sacks -- they had just 19, second-to-last in the SEC -- even with those two ends, but now it might fall on younger players like Tashawn Bower, Sione Teuhema and Deondre Clark to make quarterbacks sweat.

"It would be great to get all the sacks, but we definitely got a lot of QB pressures and a lot of quarterback hits and things of that nature," Bower said. "So we're definitely happy with where we're at, but we're not content."

New position coach Ed Orgeron also has work to do in developing depth. Predecessor Brick Haley got a lot out of interior linemen Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux, but the Tigers have a number of heavily recruited tackles who struggled to make much of a difference.

Entering their redshirt sophomore seasons, tackles Maquedius Bain, Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore could help Orgeron build better depth, as could redshirt freshmen Travonte Valentine and Trey Lealaimatafao.

The two redshirt freshmen might be able to make an immediate impact, in fact.

"Trey Valentine, he's a true run-stopper," Rasco said. "He's got some juice in him in the pass rush. You'll see him in a game and you won't be expecting him to be able to move as good as he moves. And also with Trey Lay, for a guy to be so little, he's real powerful and he brings a lot to the table. Those are going to be the secret weapons for next year as long as they do what they have to do on and off the field."

It will be a huge benefit that LaCouture and Godchaux both return after locking down starting jobs last fall. That should help LSU's front seven remain strong against the run while Orgeron nails down the ends he can rely on to generate a better pass rush.

Some of those players might not even be on the roster yet. LSU continues to pursue several top-tier end prospects, some of whom would be capable of providing an immediate lift should they sign with the Tigers on Feb. 4.

"Those guys, I don't see no letdown," Rasco said during bowl practice. "The only thing that'll happen, I don't know who they're bringing in, but they'd better get with the program early if they want to play. That's the only thing I can say."

BREAKDOWN

Returning players: DT Davon Godchaux (42 tackles, 1.5 TFL), DT Christian LaCouture (40 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks), DE Tashawn Bower (16 tackles, 2.5 TFL), DT Quentin Thomas (9 tackles, 0.5 TFL), DE Deondre Clark (9 tackles, 0.5 TFL), DE Sione Teuhema (7 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks), DT Maquedius Bain (6 tackles), DT Greg Gilmore (4 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks), DE Lewis Neal (3 tackles, 1.5 TFL), DT Mickey Johnson (3 tackles), DT Frank Herron (3 tackles), DE M.J. Patterson (1 tackle), DT Trey Lealaimatafao (redshirted), DT Travonte Valentine (redshirted).

Departed players: DE Danielle Hunter (73 tackles, 13 TFL, 1.5 sacks), DE Jermauria Rasco (71 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks), DE Justin Maclin (3 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks).

Committed prospects: Isaiah Washington (No. 72 DE, three stars)

Outlook: Orgeron will need to fill holes at defensive end after Rasco and Hunter left -- a position battle that should rank among the most intriguing for LSU in the spring and preseason. The good news is that tackles LaCouture and Godchaux developed into solid starters, which should help the line be more stout against the run than it was early last season. If Orgeron can help the Tigers' front produce more sacks and negative-yardage plays, 2015 should be a solid season for the line.

LSU position breakdown: Tight end

January, 28, 2015
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Editor's note: We broke down LSU's need to improve at quarterback as part of our SEC blog's positional series two weeks ago. This week on the LSU blog, we continue our position-by-position look at the 2015 Tigers.

Although he won't be around to make a difference in the fall, Logan Stokes sees great potential from his former position mates at LSU.

Tight end was one of the deepest positions on the team last season, and even without Stokes and fellow 2014 senior Travis Dickson, it should remain a valuable group this season.

"I expect nothing but the absolute best from those guys," said Stokes, whose lone reception at LSU went for the game-winning touchdown last season against Ole Miss.

Stokes' specialty was blocking, but the Tigers have several tight ends with receiving skills. The question is whether they will actually get many balls thrown their way. LSU tight ends accounted for just 12 receptions last season, including seven by Dickson and one by Stokes. DeSean Smith accounted for the other four (for 66 yards), all of which came in a bowl loss against Notre Dame.

Perhaps that's a sign that Smith will play a bigger role as a receiver this fall, or that tight ends Dillon Gordon, Colin Jeter or redshirt freshman Jacory Washington might also get some looks.

"[Smith is] just going to continue to grow and get better and I think that he could definitely be one of the best tight ends in college football next year," Stokes said. "Jacory could be one of those guys, too, him or Jeter. All three of those guys bring something special to the table."

Gordon is the veteran of the bunch after starting 25 games in the last two seasons, but he is predominantly a dominant blocker.

"We can put him over there by one of those tackles and there's a bang on that side," LSU coach Les Miles said.

If the tight ends account for more passing production, it will probably come from Smith, Washington and Jeter.

Rising junior Smith might be the frontrunner to get the most looks, but Washington will also be an intriguing player to watch in the spring and preseason. He redshirted last fall because of the Tigers' considerable depth at the position, but his athleticism will make him an asset moving forward.

"I think Jacory's going to be a monster one day," Stokes said. "He's big, tall, strong. Just coming here, they wanted him to put some size on and get used to the system and we had a lot of older guys in front of him, so they redshirted him. But it's definitely benefited him a lot. He looks a lot more comfortable out there at practice, especially blocking. I don't think he had ever blocked before he got here and he's actually going to be a very good blocker."

The Tigers already have commitments from two tight ends for this recruiting class -- one of whom, blocking specialist Hanner Shipley, has already enrolled.

But the Tigers will again be led by veterans at tight end, and they will benefit from the versatility that exists within the bunch.

"They all kind of have what the other one doesn't have, I guess you could say," Stokes said. "They're going to work out perfect next year."

BREAKDOWN

Returning players: Dillon Gordon (no catches in 2014), Colin Jeter (no catches), DeSean Smith (4-66), Jacory Washington (redshirted).

Departed players: Travis Dickson (7-60), Logan Stokes (1-3, TD).

Committed prospects: Bry'Kiethon Mouton (No. 6 TE-H, four stars), Hanner Shipley (No. 120 DE, three stars).

Outlook: Will this be the year where LSU makes greater use of the tight end in the passing game? The Tigers finally looked to the position a bit in the bowl loss to Notre Dame, but their tight ends mostly served as blockers in 2014. There is a good mixture of skillsets in the group, with Gordon easily the top returning blocker and youngsters Smith and Washington as candidates to contribute as receivers.

LSU freshman tracker: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
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Nobody on LSU's roster put up huge totals in Saturday's 17-0 loss to Arkansas, but here is a recap of the night for five of the Tigers' true freshmen:

S Jamal Adams

What he did: Adams totaled four tackles on Saturday against Arkansas.

What it means: A week after making his first start, Adams came off the bench against Arkansas. He still played plenty and should be in line for extensive playing time in the finale against Texas A&M.

WR Malachi Dupre

What he did: Dupre caught one pass for 6 yards against Arkansas.

What it means: Only two Tigers (Travin Dural and Terrence Magee) caught more than once pass, so that's not a big deal as it relates to Dupre. It's not a particularly positive sign about the Tigers' passing game, however.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did: Fournette started at tailback and ran five times for 9 yards against Arkansas. He did not catch a pass or return a kickoff.

What it means: LSU coach Les Miles said after the game that Fournette was not injured, but that the plays they might have called for the star freshman tailback were not working. The Tigers struggled with their typical play-calling patterns since starting offensive linemen Vadal Alexander and Elliott Porter were out for all or most of the game.

DT Davon Godchaux

What he did: Godchaux started for the seventh straight game at defensive tackle and registered five tackles and two quarterback hurries.

What it means: Godchaux and LSU's defense were fine against the Razorbacks. Arkansas ran 38 times for just 95 yards (2.5 yards per carry) and totaled just 264 yards of total offense. It was an OK performance by the Tigers' defense, but the offense was so anemic that it wasn't nearly enough to win the game.

RB Darrel Williams

What he did: Williams ran six times for 16 yards on Saturday. He also returned a kickoff for a 21-yard gain.

What it means: With senior Kenny Hilliard out of the lineup, Williams played a more active role in the offense. It didn't matter much since the Tigers were unable to generate much on the ground -- Williams' 16 rushing yards were second on the team behind Magee's 24 -- but Williams will probably play an active role against Texas A&M if Hilliard remains out.

Four storylines for LSU-Arkansas

November, 14, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. – Could this be the week that Arkansas ends its 17-game losing streak in SEC play? The oddsmakers in Las Vegas seem to think so, setting the Razorbacks (4-5, 0-5 SEC) as a narrow favorite to beat No. 17 LSU (7-3, 3-3) on Saturday night.

Here are four key storylines to watch as kickoff approaches:

Snow Tigers: The weather could become a major storyline in this game, and it will be interesting to see whether it impacts the style of play in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

As of Thursday afternoon, the weather forecast for Saturday’s game called for temperatures in the 20s at kickoff along with a 10 percent chance of snow.

If that prediction comes through, it would be the coldest game in Les Miles’ tenure as the Tigers’ coach. To date, the coldest temperature at kickoff since Miles arrived at LSU in 2005 was 43 degrees for a 2005 game at Ole Miss. The Tigers have played just three games under Miles in which the temperature was 50 degrees or cooler at kickoff (the others were 47 degrees for a 2012 game at Arkansas and 50 degrees for a 2008 home game against Troy).

It could also be the coldest LSU game from at least the last 40 years. According to LSU’s online archive of box scores, the coldest temperature at kickoff since 1974 was 31 degrees for the 1992 LSU-Arkansas game in Fayetteville. The Tigers played 28 games in that timespan when the temperature was 50 degrees or cooler at kickoff and just seven when it was 40 or cooler.



Run and run some more: If it does snow, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see two run-heavy teams rely even more heavily on the ground game.

ESPN Stats & Information reports that LSU has run the ball an SEC-high 67 percent of the time this season, and its rushing success seems to have a correlation to its wins and losses. The Tigers are 5-0 when they rush for at least 200 yards and 2-3 when they do not.

Likewise, Arkansas has run for more than 200 yards in all four of its wins, but it has broken the 200-yard mark just once in its five losses (in an overtime loss to Texas A&M).

So if Arkansas’ backfield duo of Jonathan Williams (137 carries, 877 yards, 10 TDs) and Alex Collins (134-840, 10 TDs) enjoys more success moving the ball on the ground than LSU’s Leonard Fournette (152-736, 7 TDs) and Terrence Magee (81-447, 3 TDs), the Razorbacks are likely the favorite to win. LSU senior Kenny Hilliard (87-431, 6 TDs) is questionable to play after injuring his shoulder against Alabama last Saturday.

Loading the box: The worse the weather, the more likely it will be that the two defenses crowd the line of scrimmage to defend the run. That would be nothing new for the three top running backs in this game.

Fournette (67) has the most carries of any SEC back against defenses with eight or more defenders in the box. Williams (59) and Collins (56) are next in line behind the Tigers’ star freshman.

ESPN Stats & Information reports that Fournette is averaging 4.1 yards per carry against defenses with eight or more men in the box and 5.4 yards per carry against seven or fewer defenders.

LSU defense trending upward: It didn’t seem like it at the time, but the Tigers’ 41-7 loss to Auburn was a turning point in their season – particularly for their run defense.

In LSU’s first three games against Power 5 opponents (Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn), the Tigers surrendered 289.3 rushing yards per game. In the last four games (Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama), LSU gave up 109.3 rushing yards per game.

They have done an excellent job of shutting down drives in a hurry, too. Overall, LSU has forced 46 three-and-outs this season, which is tied for third in the FBS. Of those 46 three-and-outs, 18 came in the last four games – seven of which were by Alabama last week.

Defensive end Danielle Hunter (24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) was a key figure in that four-game stretch, as were weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander (31 tackles, 5 TFLs), middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith (30 tackles, 2 TFLs) and defensive end Jermauria Rasco (28 tackles, 2 TFLs).

In the last three games, LSU’s defense has allowed just two touchdowns in regulation: passes by Ole Miss and Alabama. The Tigers haven’t surrendered a rushing touchdown since the first quarter of the Florida game on Oct. 11.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- A player's career is often defined by performances in the biggest games. There are no bigger games at LSU than the ones against Alabama.

Will Leonard Fournette, Kendell Beckwith or Tre'Davious White become the next Tigers to make their mark in a win against the Crimson Tide? We'll find out when Nick Saban leads his team into Tiger Stadium on Saturay night.

As we approach Les Miles' 11th game against the Tide as the Tigers' coach -- he's 5-5 thus far, although Alabama has won three in a row -- let's review five LSU players from the Miles era who made career-defining plays against Alabama.

WR Dwayne Bowe: Many of the LSU-Alabama games in the Miles era have come down to the final series, and that trend started with his very first game against the Tide in 2005.

No. 3 Alabama had taken a 13-10 lead in overtime when LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell hit Bowe with the game-winning, 11-yard touchdown pass to hand the Tide its first loss of the season. Bowe finished that game with seven catches for 98 receiving yards.

He again played a key role in the Tigers' 28-14 win in 2006, catching five passes for 71 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown that put the Tigers up 21-7 in the second quarter.

WR Early Doucet: Like Bowe, Doucet built his legacy with late-game heroics against Alabama.

The 2007 LSU team -- one that would go on to win the BCS championship -- trailed the Tide late in the fourth quarter when Doucet and quarterback Matt Flynn combined to create some of the magic that marked that season. Facing fourth-and-4, Flynn hit Doucet with a 32-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 34-all with 2:49 remaining.

The Tigers eventually won 41-34, with Doucet catching five passes for 67 yards – including touchdowns of 10 and 32 yards.

Doucet also played a leading role in LSU's win in 2006, catching seven passes for 101 yards and a 30-yard touchdown.

S Chad Jones: Doucet scored the game-tying touchdown in the 2007 win against Alabama, and soon thereafter Jones made the play that led to the Tigers' go-ahead score.

The LSU defensive back tracked down Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson and sacked him for a 16-yard loss, forcing a fumble that Curtis Taylor recovered at Alabama's 3-yard line with 1:39 to play. Two plays later, Jacob Hester plowed into the end zone for the touchdown that secured the Tigers 41-34 victory, wrapping up their rally from a 27-17 deficit late in the third quarter.

Jones finished that game with four tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and 18 yards on three punt returns.

TE DeAngelo Peterson: Peterson was at the center of one of the plays that defines the Miles era -- a decade where LSU's coach has certainly proven to be unpredictable.

Alabama led 14-13 in the fourth quarter and LSU faced fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 26. So what did the Tigers do? Run right with Stevan Ridley, who then shocked nearly everyone in the stadium by tossing the ball to Peterson as he streaked left on a reverse.

Peterson's 23-run to the Alabama 3 set up Ridley's go-ahead touchdown run. The Tigers would go on to win 24-21.

Peterson also caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Jefferson in the Tigers' 24-15 loss to unbeaten Alabama in 2009.

S Eric Reid: Although Alabama's 21-0 win later that season in the BCS championship rematch spoiled what had been a magical 2011 for LSU, Reid provided one of the plays that kept the Tigers' title chase on track.

With the score tied at 6-all in the fourth quarter, Reid wrestled a Marquis Maze pass away from Alabama tight end Michael Williams at the LSU goal line. His interception helped the Tigers dodge another bullet and send the game to overtime. They would win 9-6 when Alabama's Cade Foster missed a 52-yard field goal in overtime -- his third miss of the night -- and Drew Alleman hit from 25 on the game-winning kick.

Reid finished the night with six tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.

Reid recorded a team-high 11 tackles and broke up a pass in the teams' rematch that season, although the outcome was nowhere near as satisfying for the Tigers. He also notched a team-high seven tackles in Alabama's 21-17 win the following season at Tiger Stadium.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles said he had never seen a face mask pop off like Leonard Fournette's did last Saturday against Ole Miss, but equipment managers around the SEC have.

LSU director of athletic equipment Greg Stringfellow said his counterparts at Mississippi State and Ole Miss informed him that Fournette was at least the fourth SEC player to have that happen in a game this season.

"I know Ole Miss said it happened one time and Mississippi State said twice," Stringfellow said.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Chris Graythen/Getty Images Having his face mask ripped off forced Leonard Fournette from the game for a crucial play.
But that doesn't make it any less of a shock in the moment -- particularly when the key participants had never seen it happen before. To his credit, Fournette tried to keep running on the play, even after Ole Miss linebacker Serderius Bryant grabbed his facemask while falling to the ground and came close to ripping it completely off Fournette's helmet.

"I was just trying to break the tackle," Fournette said. "Next thing I noticed, my facemask was gone. I was looking on the ground for it. I thought it was on the ground, but it actually stuck [to the top of my helmet]."

It was such an egregious personal foul that ESPN color analyst Kirk Herbstreit remarked, "Wow, that may be an NCAA record for a facemask" upon seeing it on instant replay.

Ole Miss' Carlos Thompson tackled the LSU running back shortly after Bryant grabbed the facemask, stopping Fournette for a 6-yard gain. However, the penalty gave LSU a first down at Ole Miss' 3-yard line.

Fournette, who had carried the ball on four of the previous six plays, was unable to continue on the drive, however. Stringfellow and his staff were busy on the Tigers' sideline trying to either fix the original helmet or fit Fournette with a new one as quickly as possible, but quarterback Anthony Jennings hit tight end Logan Stokes with the game-winning touchdown pass two plays later.

"All my guys saw it, so we all kind of ran together at one time," Stringfellow said. "I was the first one there and I just grabbed it and looked at it to see what was broken on it to see if it could be reattached real quickly. We were all kind of like, ‘Holy crap,' but the game was still going on and it was kind of a key part of the game, obviously. We were trying to figure out exactly what was going on, trying to get him back on the field."

What was going on was that a freight train wearing a No. 7 LSU jersey broke away from Bryant, whose right hand held his facemask in a death grip as he fell. Stringfellow said the two forces moving in opposite directions pulled apart three of the four rubberized fixings that held the facemask and helmet together. The fourth was "hanging on by a thread," he said.

Stringfellow didn't think it was a defect with the Riddell helmet that Fournette was wearing, however.

"It looked like it had just had a catastrophic failure because of the amount of force," Stringfellow said. "And facemasks are made, really, to absorb blows that come into them. When you pull the opposite way of the way they're supposed to absorb, different things happen. They're not made to go out from force. They're made to go in with force."

The play has become an amusing sidenote to Saturday's game because LSU still went on to score the go-ahead points on the drive. LSU coach Miles even made light of the situation at his post-practice interview session on Monday.

"I told him today in practice, I said I would've ripped it off much quicker and it would not have slowed him down at all, and then I just told him he needed to be careful where he put his head after he lost his facemask," Miles said. "I never saw anything like it. I never saw a guy handle it like he handled it, either. Just rolled on through it."

Miles would not have found the situation so funny had LSU failed to score on the drive while one of its leading offensive players -- Fournette ran 23 times for 113 yards against the Rebels -- was on the sideline.

That was Stringfellow's beef about the situation afterward. He went so far as to suggest that the SEC establish a rule where a team's equipment staff would receive extra time to fit a player with a new helmet in such a situation, so that the opponent who commits the penalty doesn't gain an advantage through the infraction.

"We probably could have gotten him back in there if we got another first down, but we were so close it didn't happen," Stringfellow said. "But still, missing him that close to the end zone, in that game, we're very fortunate to have a good group of running backs that you could sub somebody in and get the job done.

"But in the same sense, the guy was playing pretty good right then and you don't want to lose him at that point in time. So we did everything that we could to get him back on the field as quick as possible. For the next time that he had to go on the field, he had a brand-new facemask."

Luckily for LSU, the Tigers didn't require Fournette's services any further in the 10-7 win.

LSU freshman tracker

October, 19, 2014
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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.”
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 6

October, 5, 2014
10/05/14
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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.

LSU offense more productive with Harris

September, 30, 2014
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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.

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