LSU’s early troubles disconcerting despite win over Wisconsin

HOUSTON — Freshman Cameron Gamble didn’t kick the ball in time.

Flags flew, and LSU was penalized for delay of game on the opening kickoff of the second half.

Confusion swept over NRG Stadium: another example of the Tigers’ woes.

The misfires, missed tackles, missed assignments, the bone-headed plays, the silly mistakes, the penalty on — of all things — a kickoff after halftime.

No. 13 LSU overcame all of them in a 28-24 stirring comeback win Saturday over No. 14 Wisconsin.

They are concerning nonetheless.

Things must get in order, and coach Les Miles knows it.

“The number of mistakes that were made by young players, the number of misfires that stopped us from really controlling a game and playing like we are capable will all be addressed in orderly fashion as we go through the week,” he said.

A stunning, rousing and improbable comeback overshadowed an early mess in the Tigers’ win over the Badgers.

Maybe this is a microcosm of what could be the 2014 season: Ugly early, great late.

LSU played nine true freshmen Saturday and three more first-year players. Miles called the early woes “growing pains” and compared them to an infection — one that’s easier to heal in a victory.

“How fun it is to have victory when making corrections,” he said.

What went so wrong over the first two and a half quarters?

The linebackers struggled, Miles suggested. They missed tackles and were blocked out of the way.

Starting outside linebacker Kwon Alexander was pulled for multiple series late in the first half. He was reinserted in the second half and played dramatically different.

The defensive line struggled enough that the Tigers inserted a pair of freshmen, tackle Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark. The pair played often, specifically Godchaux, who Miles called “tremendous” and “pretty special.”

Depth could be an issue. LSU played just 50 players. Safety Corey Thompson, receiver Avery Peterson, defensive tackles Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron and running back Darrel Williams were expected to play but remained on the sideline.

The offensive line struggled to move bodies and couldn’t part holes for the better part of the game. Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes was overheard on the television broadcast discussing with his line a Wisconsin front that continuously shifted to confuse the Tigers.

Adjustments were made, albeit late, and the holes began forming. Running back Kenny Hilliard took advantage, running for 93 yards in the fourth quarter alone.

“I think our mind wasn’t in it during the first half,” he said. “Our senior and junior counselors got together, brought everyone up and told us to stay with it. That’s what we did. We came out in the second half and had a little more firepower.”

The woes can’t be overlooked, though. Freshman running back Leonard Fournette dropped a pitch, and tight end Travis Dickson lost a fumble.

LSU fans were witness to a passing game that relied almost solely on the downfield heave from Anthony Jennings. The quarterback seemed to struggle with touch throws short, and Miles said afterward that he had hoped to get true freshman quarterback Brandon Harris more snaps. Harris took just three.

Jennings missed two screen passes to running back Fournette, threw low to wide open tight end DeSean Smith and was flustered from the pocket multiple times.

“There are definitely some,” Jennings said when asked about growing pains for the team.

“I expect to be exponentially better,” the sophomore said. “I got this game under my belt, and I’m getting more comfortable with the offense and those guys rallying around me.”

It’ll take some time — all of it.

LSU has a couple of weeks to work the pains out of this growing process.

Neither of the next two opponents, though, are complete slouches. Sam Houston State, this week’s opponent, is one of the powerhouses of the Football Championship Subdivision.

The next week, LSU hosts Louisiana-Monroe, the same squad that beat Wake Forest to open the season.

“This week will be fun to correct,” Miles said. “And we’ll improve and we’ll go forward.”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv. For more coverage of LSU football, follow our Tiger Tracks blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/tigertracks/.