Tigers focus on what did not go well in opener
The LSU football team did a lot of things well in its season-opening 37-27 victory against TCU last Saturday in the Cowboys Classic.
But the Tigers’ focus this week is on the things they didn’t do so well as they prepare for the home opener against UAB on Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
“If we improve our tackling, we minimize some of the penalties, we don’t turn the ball over, it could have been a much different game, and that’s our push,” coach Les Miles said Tuesday at his weekly news luncheon. “The need to improve is the key to this football team, and really the key to any team that’s ambitious about its future.”
First and foremost on the list of things to address is Alfred Blue’s lost fumble. Miles has a nearly zero tolerance for turnovers, especially ones such as Blue’s, which came at the Tigers’ 6-yard line and led to a touchdown that immediately shrunk a 13-point lead to six points early in the fourth quarter.
Blue said the fumbled hand-off resulted from missed communication between him and quarterback Zach Mettenberger and that they’ve already worked on it in practice.
That lost fumble was the first by a running back since the fourth game of last season. The Tigers lost 10 fumbles last season, five fewer than its opponents, and just five fumbles two years ago.
“Certainly the thing that we’ve got to avoid is that turnover down deep in our own territory,” Miles said. “If we don’t do that, it makes that offensive day a very strong one.”
The Tigers accumulated 448 yards on offense and mostly had very good balance between the run and the pass, but holes were scarce in the early going.
LSU settled for field goals on three of four first-half trips into the red zone, though it scored touchdowns on both of its second-half red-zone possessions.
“Our running backs and offensive line did a good job for us later in the game,” said wide receiver Jarvis Landry, whose 20-yard touchdown reception from Mettenberger provided the final points midway through the fourth quarter. “Spreading the team out and letting us run inside, that was big for us in gaining some momentum at the end and putting some points on the board.”
Miles said the Tigers have spent a lot of practice time working on red-zone offense. “Certainly we’ll spend more time on it and see if we can get it fixed,” Mile said.
“It was like any first game — a lot of sloppiness,” Mettenberger said. “We weren’t breaking the huddle fast enough, there were false starts, dropped balls, missed passes — just stuff we have to clean up.”
Miles said Cam Cameron expected the things that happened in his first game as offensive coordinator, “and kind of felt like you know maybe there are some things that we haven’t quite accomplished yet, that we’re really just kind of getting started.”
Another glaring issue being addressed is kickoff coverage after LSU gave up B.J. Catalon’s 100-yard return for a touchdown that reduced a 10-point edge to a three-point edge in a matter of seconds.
“We need not to give up a kickoff for a touchdown and improve there,” Miles said, adding that kickoff coverage was emphasized in practice Monday.
It’s not unusual for penalties to be an issue in a season opener as teams are rusty and trying to refine timing and are getting acclimated to game-time circumstances for the first time in eight months.
The seven penalties for 42 yards aren’t terribly large numbers, especially for an opener, but some of the infractions were especially harmful.
A block-in-the-back penalty on a kickoff return left LSU at its 5 to start a possession and a false start on tight end Dillon Gordon two plays later contributed to the Tigers having to punt from their end zone.
The sloppiest sequence came at the end of the first half as the Tigers faced third-and-goal at the Frogs 2. LSU came out of a timeout and committed a delay-of-game penalty, then guard Vadal Alexander committed a false start and the Tigers wound up settling for a field goal after an incomplete pass.
A roughing-the-passer penalty on tackle Ego Ferguson at the end of an incomplete-pass play on third-and-4 extended a TCU possession that eventually turned into a touchdown drive.
“I’ve got to control myself a little bit,” Ferguson said. “I was in the emotion. I should have pulled off, but I wasn’t thinking. It was an ignorant mistake by me. I fully blame myself. I got back there and I thought I had the timing right, but I was a little late and I’m going to correct that.
“Coach Miles told me you have to look at the situation. If I would have pulled up we would have been off the field and they wouldn’t have had that touchdown drive.”
Overall, Miles said he was pleased with the play of the defense, which allowed just 259 yards. The linebackers, who were missing a starter in injured Tahj Jones, combined for just eight tackles, the most being three by Kwon Alexander, who subbed for Jones.
“We had a couple of missed tackles, but all in all, as an opener, I thought the defense played extremely well,” Miles said. “I felt like our linebacking play was good. I think it will be better with Tajh back.”
Miles said Jones could play this week as the defense tries to improve on a solid start.
“Our goal is to be the best defense in the country and not be satisfied with just one game,” Ferguson said.
See video previewing next game here.