Sunday, September 13, 2009
SUNDAY SOAPBOX: Wet and Ugly-- LSU 23, Vandy 9
To paraphrase Coach Miles himself, it wasn't the prettiest of wins. But victory is the key point.
It was the offense's turn to underperform as LSU struggled to establish a consistent running attack against Vanderbilt. The defense, however, played much better football, particularly in the second half.
The weather clearly impacted the game in the first half, drenching almost the entire second quarter. With that in mind, it's a good sign that LSU only lost one fumble. Both teams, however, put the ball on the carpet a few times. But by the mid-third quarter, even the mist subsided and the field was in remarkably good shape for the amount of rain the stadium got during the day.
Rather than recap (you can get that here), lets laser in on a few positions on both sides of the football.
1. Running game. The Tigers put 173 yards of rushing on the books against a reasonable Vanderbilt defense. Keiland Williams seemed to be inspired, consistently finding seams and making cuts that made him tough to bring down. When he sees daylight and shifts gears, he's very explosive and he showed that a lot last night, gaining 73 yards on 10 carries. Charles Scott had 13 carries for 50 yards. On paper, Scott's game doesn't look very good, and there may be a tendency for some to wonder if Scott's off his game. But Scott lined up at fullback a bit last night, and he also got the call on tough 3rd and short situations. His runs generally took him between the tackles in obvious running situations, and on a couple of occassions he carried defenders with him as he trucked his way to first downs. Scott is still running hard. Richard Murphy had at least one nice carry, but unfortunately got hurt and will miss at least one game. And Russell Shepard finally saw the field, but we'll cover his action in a bit.
Overall, the running game was OK. But the Tigers couldn't run the ball when Vandy knew they were going to run. And Coach Miles is understandably concerned about that - Vandy is good, but there be dragons ahead. Part of the problem is that the LSU offensive line has still not lived up to expectations and billing (of the coaches). And part of the problem is that Charles Scott just seemed determined to run North/South last night, instead of abandoning a clogged middle for daylight to the East/West.
The running game will have to open up so that the offense can remain balanced against quality defenses like Florida and others.
2. Russell Shepard. This guy is everything he's been hyped to be, maybe more. He lined up at QB three times, I think, and averaged 9 yards per carry. Perhaps his most impressive carry came when he quickly reversed field in the face of a wall of defenders and turned a loss/no gain into an 8 yard gain. He's just flat out fast and quick. If Shepard learns to throw the football well, LSU fans will be rooting for Jefferson to go to the NFL early in 2010 so Shep can take the QB spot. He's going to be amazing.
One negative note - after a nice reception and a few yards after catch, Shepard coughed up the football on his second play as a Tiger. Fumbles are not brushed aside on Les Miles football teams. Shepard did not see the field much after the fumble and I can't help but wonder if Miles was making a point with the young future superstar.
3. R. J. Jackson. Who? R. J. Jackson is a fifth-year senior WR that has had to play behind the likes of Dwayne Bowe, Buster Davis, Early Doucet and Brandon LaFell. Last night, he had a career performance, with 6 catches for 55 yards. Les Miles has a well deserved, and to me admirable, reputation for giving deserving seniors a chance to shine, sometimes at the cost of stunting the potential growth of talented underclassmen. There are many examples from previous seasons, including DT Charles Alexander, who has been less than healthy for a long time, but seems to be having a good year so far this year. R.J. Jackson is in that group and he took full advantage last night, getting open, catching everything thrown to him, and playing smart, tough-nosed football. There are so many weapons on LSU's roster, it's hard to imagine Jackson will continue to breakout all season long - but he may. One thing is certain - he proved last night that he can be a very potent possession receiver for LSU.
4. Jordan Jefferson. 20-29, 138 yards, 0 TDs, 0 ints, 3 sacks. On the surface, not brilliant numbers. Taken in context with the rain and how much pressure Jefferson felt most of the night, those are very good numbers. The low yardage total reflects the nature of the play calling - lots of short, safe passes. Jefferson went deep a couple of times but did not connect. Maybe the ball was wet, or maybe he's just not got his touch down yet. But he did miss a few open receivers downfield. Also, Vanderbilt has a pretty talented secondary and the yards after catch were tough to get last night. The 3 sacks is telling because it could have been 6 or more. Jefferson did a very nice job of using his feet to avoid losses and also stepping up in the pocket at times. By mid-SEC play, Jefferson may be a very, very dangerous QB and LSU's WR corps may start piling up the yardage.
5. Offensive Line. This unit continues to be somewhat of an enigma. At times, they seem sharp, and at other times they seem discombobulated. I think there were 3 or 4 penalties on the OL last night, including one holding call. That's not awful, but it's also a bit uncharacteristic compared to last season and the first game at Washington. Jefferson also felt a lot of pressure yet again. Some of that pressure came for blitzes, but not all of it. There wasn't a lot of rotation last night on the line, so if everyone stays healthy, they should be on the same page by Georgia. We'll have to see. The offensive line remains the only real question mark on this side of the football.
1. Patrick Peterson. After a huge game against Washington, the superstar sophomore CB was absolutely silent against Vanderbilt. Peterson has no stats from the game, and I don't remember seeing him much or hearing his name. He definitely started and played most of the game. It's hard to tell without a wider perspective of the game than the TV allows, but I'd have to guess that LSU played a lot of man-man coverage and Peterson's man just took him away from the football all night. There's no other explanation unless he got injured or was taken out of the game and I just didn't notice it. If I were Vandy, I'd try to negate Peterson as much as possible. Maybe they were effective. And maybe he covered his man like a blanket all night and they just didn't challenge him at all.
2. Harry Coleman. Chavis' move of Coleman from safety to LB has been a huge success in my opinion. Coleman has always been a vicious tackler, and his speed on the outside makes him a very effective option in cover situations as well. Coleman led LSU tacklers last night with 10 combined including a QB hurry, and he was close to getting to Vanderbilt's talented signal caller, Larry Smith, a couple of times.
3. Defensive Line. I remain convinced that the defensive line play, more than any other unit, will determine the course of LSU's season. As they are wont to do, LSU rotated the front four a lot last night and they all played well. My only complaint is that LSU had a tough time getting to the QB again. But in fairness, both Washington and Vandy have very mobile and talented QBs and Smith more often that not threw the ball very quickly last night - similar to Troy and North Texas last year. Tough to get a sack when the QB has the ball out of his hands in 2-3 seconds. Rahim Alem was all over the field and a factor in both running and passing situations. But the biggest story is probably Charles Alexander, who (knock on wood) is healthy and playing with fire. Woods, Aghayere, Nevis, Edwards and Downs all saw time on the line and played well. Edwards had a big sack and pressured the QB on the plays he was in the game.
4. 3 and outs. LSU's defense forced Vandy to "3 and out" far more times than they were able to achieve in Washington. Obviously, this keeps the defense off the field and this is crucial. Time of possession for this game was much more to LSU's advantage (36 to 24) than last week. The only negative to that stat is that LSU didn't score more when they had the opportunity.
1. Derek Helton. Better. And one flash of his potential - a very nice 50 yarder with enough hang time to force a fair catch. Other punts were average or below average. But perhaps he's warming to big time college football. He did have one snap go sailing over his head that forced a safety, but clearly not his fault.
2. Josh Jasper. 3/3 from 32/22/24. Too bad he had to kick all three. But he did a fine job. His kickoffs were generally deep with good hang time as well.
3. Trindon Holliday. Not as effective last night returning punts or kicks, and made a couple of mental errors. He fumbled a punt return that was fortunately recovered by LSU. And he drifted over and almost interfered with Ron Brooks' fielding of a kickoff. Holliday is a threat with his legs. But sometimes he's scary fielding the football.
This was a solid win against a good Vandy team. Biggest points to work on are still tackling by the defense and shoring up the offensive line. Once that's fixed, and the playbook gets opened up even more, LSU fans should expect a very good, very exciting season.
And with Georgia not exaclty looking like a defensive power this year, I'm starting to really like LSU's chances between the hedges in a few weeks.