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Friday, October 2, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines: LSU

We're a little later than usual getting to this, but it's time to go behind enemy lines to get a read on what LSU has been up to in the run-up to its game at Sanford Stadium this weekend.

For answers, we went to the New Orleans Times-Picayune's LSU beat writer, James Varney, who gives us the lowdown on the Bayou Bengals.

David Hale: When we got our first real look at Jordan Jefferson last year, he looked like a future star. So far this season, the results have been mixed, at best. Is he failing to develop as planned or has this been the product of a rather lackluster performance by the O line and little help from the running game?

James Varney:
I think Jefferson is very good and getting better. He has only thrown one interception and he manages the game well, overall. The o-line has been the team's biggest weakness, and that is true in both the running and passing game.

DH: Speaking of the running game, LSU was supposed to have one of the best backfields in the conference this season. Instead, they've struggled badly, culminating with just 30 net yards on the ground against Mississippi State last week. What gives?

Again, the o-line isn't moving anybody. Both Charles Scott and Keiland Williams have proven they can run in the SEC. The loss of Quinn Johnson at fullback has also been a factor, but I put the lion's share of the blame on the o-line which returns three starters.

DH: If there's one stat that jumps off the page separating these two teams so far, it has to be turnovers. LSU is plus-7, while Georgia is a dreadful minus-9. How much has ball security been talked about so far this week, and do you expect this could be the deciding factor in the game?

After last year LSU is extremely paranoid about interceptions. That's been a factor in Jefferson's development, too, as the team simply doesn't throw over the middle. But LSU's new defensive coach has instilled a risk/reward mentality I think the team lacked last year and that shows in the plus seven. LSU never got interceptions last year, this season they have 7 and have returned two for touchdowns.

DH: The special teams have been none too special for the Tigers so far, save Chad Jones' big return. How have the coaches been addressing these issues?

Well, most of that has been the punting. Prior to the third quarter against Miss. State, kicker Josh Jasper hadn't missed, including a 52-yarder. His kickoffs have been better, too, and so has the team's kickoff returns in general. Again, the punting has been an adventure, with both the long snapper Alex Russian (now apparently replaced by Joey Crappell) and punter Derek Helton getting off to bad starts.

DH: Last week was a struggle for LSU against what we thought was probably a bottom-feeding SEC team in Mississippi State. The next two weeks, however, get tough. With Florida looming, is LSU focused on this week's game or is there some danger of the players looking ahead to that date with the No. 1 team in the country?

For both LSU and Georgia this game strikes me as gigantic so I doubt anyone is looking past it. I had Georgia pegged as the hinge game for LSU all year and nothing has changed my mind. If LSU loses it is looking at back-to-back SEC losses and everything falling like it did last season. If Georgia loses it goes to 3-2 on the year. I expect the intensity level Saturday to reflect such stakes.

DH: It's not often you'll hear about an undefeated coach of the No. 4- ranked team in the country coming under siege, but from the blogs and message boards, it sure sounds like folks aren't too happy with Les Miles right now. How important is this week's game against Georgia for Miles in particular, in terms of regaining some fan support and going into the Florida game with some momentum?

The latter issue, momentum against Florida, is big. A win against Georgia would go a long way there, but it would also give LSU some breathing room that it won't have if they lose. It is true there is grumbling about Miles, which is surprising not only because of current rankings but because he's won four bowl games in a row, including two BCS games. But LSU has gotten spoiled recently and wants to stay there, and Miles himself declared 8-win seasons unacceptable. Thus, everyone knew going in LSU would have beat Georgia, Alabama or Ole Miss on the road, and now this is the first prong of that test.

Great thanks to James for his help on this. You can read his work for the Times-Picayune HERE or check out his LSU blog HERE .


Unknown said...

"But LSU has gotten spoiled recently..."

Hmmm....sounds familiar

gumborue said...

lsu has always had comfortable leads in games and so hasnt pressed offensively.

jefferson is green and Ds stack the box. the OL (like most) isnt good enough to be productive against that.

lsu opened it up a bit against missSt with some downfield passes. im sure theyll try to do it @ uga if they can to open up the running game. because id expect willie to stuff the box too.