When the opponent is as tough, quick and talented as Oregon was for LSU last Saturday, it’s hard to quibble about how victory is won.
When the final margin of victory over said opponent is 40-27, it’s harder still.
That said, the Tigers have room for improvement on offense, an offense that managed just 273 total yards against the previously No. 3-ranked Ducks.
The vast chunk of that yardage came on the ground as LSU — ranked No. 2 going into Saturday’s home opener against Northwestern State (7 p.m., TigerVision) — netted 175 yards rushing. Tailbacks Spencer Ware and Michael Ford teamed for 195 in ground gains and three of LSU’s five touchdowns.
The passing game was, by contrast, passable at best.
Senior Jarrett Lee, pressed into starting in place of suspended Jordan Jefferson, completed 10 of 22 passes in what started out to be an ultra-conservative game plan for 98 yards and one touchdown on a 10-yard pass to Rueben Randle.
The lack of production was hardly all on Lee, though.
LSU receivers dropped a total of four passes, though technically two of those were by tight end Chase Clement. And Oregon’s defense was credited with five pass breakups, three by cornerback Anthony Gildon alone.
That LSU was able to impose its offensive will on Oregon via the running game was more than enough to win in the Tigers’ showdown opener.
“Overall, we did a pretty good job,” said Kadron Boone, who started at a receiver spot in place of suspended junior Russell Shepard. “We want whatever is working for the offense. Saturday the running game was working.”
Will it be enough to beat more brawny Southeastern Conference teams like Mississippi State, Alabama and Arkansas is the bigger question.
This week, with the prospect of working out the kinks against a Football Championship Subdivision level opponent like Northwestern State, the panic button is in no danger of being pushed by anyone involved with the LSU offense.
LSU coach Les Miles said the dropped passes against Oregon didn’t concern him because he didn’t see that being an issue during August practices.
Lee was similarly upbeat.
“I’m not concerned either,” said Lee, who will again get the start Saturday. “The guys were making the plays in preseason camp.
“We have playmakers, we just need to keep coming to them. They’ve made the plays before.”
“We need to be a little more consistent,” Miles said after Wednesday’s practice, a practice he described as sharp. “We did a lot of good things in the opener, but we need to throw the ball more consistently, that’s all.”
By throw Miles likely meant catch. Boone, who was one of the players who had a pass slip through his gloved fingers, said Lee’s passes weren’t the issue.
“The timing was there,” Boone said. “It’s about making a play. He was throwing some catchable balls.”
Few of Lee’s passes were finding their way to LSU receivers, however.
The Tigers’ wideouts caught just four passes — two for 10 yards for freshman Odell Beckham Jr., one for 10 yards for junior Rueben Randle and one for 3 yards for freshman Jarvis Landry.
Tight end Deangelo Peterson (four catches, 62 yards) bettered their output all by himself.
Boone and sophomore James Wright, Randle’s backup, were shut out.
That said, there were specific reasons for the lack of production in some cases. Namely, Randle’s frequent disappearing act during the game.
During an interview Tuesday, Randle, LSU’s only proven receiver with Shepard out, said he’s been bothered by a knee problem that flared up during preseason drills.
“It’s definitely better,” Randle said. “I’m getting treatment and I’ve been practicing with a brace.”
There are hopes at LSU that Shepard — awaiting reinstatement after being suspended for discussing an NCAA investigation with a teammate — will be able to return to action soon.
In the meantime, the receivers LSU has are looking for a more productive night Saturday against Northwestern State.
“We expect to come out and execute and not do what we did last week,” Boone said. “We’re not going to take any opponent lightly.”
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