It’s the first Southeastern Conference week of the season for LSU, which is a good time for the Tigers to clean up some early season stuff.
The sixth-ranked Tigers zipped through their pre-conference schedule with three relatively easy victories, but not without some areas obviously in need of shoring up.
Most glaringly, they have lost a fumble in every game, and each has led to points. Plus they have averaged nearly eight penalties per game, committing 11 last week.
“We can’t afford in conference play to make those kinds of mistakes,” coach Les Miles said Monday.
Several players said they knew those mistakes would be a popular topic of conversation with the coaches throughout the week.
“It’s SEC week now, so we have to be under control,” linebacker Kwon Alexander said. “It really is a smaller margin for errors. We’re going to get it all together.”
Travin Dural got himself together after losing a fumble when he was thrust into the game as a punt returner in the second quarter after Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a minor finger injury.
Dural mishandled a punt, and Kent State recovered the ball at the Tigers 20. That led to a field goal that cut LSU’s lead to 31-10 at halftime.
“I was back there really for the first time, and I made a big mistake at a critical time,” Dural said. “We were going to go into halftime with a big lead, and they got some points out of that.”
Dural said he didn’t “look the ball in” as he tried to watch the ball and an oncoming tackler.
When Dural came to the sideline, Miles told him, “It’s not so bad to make a fair catch.”
Dural did just that on his next opportunity in the fourth quarter, which Miles saw as at least partial redemption.
“It gave me confidence that he put me back there again,” Dural said. “I didn’t want to fumble again. I wanted to show them I could catch it, so I was a little nervous.”
Dural said that after making the fair catch, he felt “like I had lifted a big monkey off my back.”
A week earlier, wide receiver Jarvis Landry fumbled after a pass reception, and UAB recovered at the Tigers 39. That led to a touchdown that got the Blazers within 35-14 in the second quarter.
Landry said the coaches didn’t need to say anything to him when he got to the sideline.
“As a guy who has turned the ball over before and as a junior, I understand the negative things that a turnover does to an offense, especially a driving offense that was having the success we were having in that game,” Landry said. “It’s one of those things I took on myself without the coaches having to tell me to get my ball security squared away.”
In the season-opener against TCU, running back Alfred Blue lost a fumble at the LSU 6, which led to a touchdown that got the Horned Frogs within six points early in the fourth quarter.
“We set a goal as an offense to have no turnovers,” running back Terrence Magee said. “Three weeks in a row we failed to do that. There’s always an emphasis on that, but I’m pretty sure there’s going to be more this week because we failed to reach that goal three times.”
The Tigers had seven penalties for 42 yards in that game. After doing better against UAB — five for 45 — they had a relapse against Kent State.
“It’s something that I know is going to be talked about in team meetings,” Landry said. “But it’s also something that we as individuals players need to address on our own.”
Miles, who studies the film of each penalty, questioned whether a cut-block penalty against center Elliott Porter was warranted.
“As the play ends, that guy who is going down contacts one of our players,” Miles said. “I mean, the view of chop block in my mind is one guy stands you up and the other one cuts you. The guy was going down and ran into one of our players.”
Miles said he’ll ask the SEC for an interpretation of that call and, “However they interpret it will be fine with me.”
That borderline call doesn’t bother Miles nearly as much as pre-snap penalties and others resulting from carelessness.
“I’ll take some of those (penalties),” Miles said. “When you push somebody in the back on a punt return, I won’t take that. Those are things that we’re going to get fixed. Pre-snap penalties, I can’t have motion and movement. So those things, we’re working on. I would think the sense of urgency will certainly be there for this game.”
“We have a high standard,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “But things happen in a game — tempers flare, people make mistakes. But you still have to play football.”
Mills said the Tigers can work in practice on avoiding penalties.
“When you’re tired, if you have to get really low in your stance, you really don’t want to get low. Or if you have to burst 30 or 40 yards down the field, you’re really not feeling it,” Mills said. “Those are situations that you don’t want to deal with in practice, but they come up in a game. So you have to force yourself mentally and physically to do that in practice when you’re dog tired; and push yourself over the limit so when game time comes, it’s easy.”