LSU’s improved offense has shown an ability to score quickly and score often.
The Tigers are averaging the third-most points in the Southeastern Conference, but they’re just eighth in time of possession. The defense is spending slightly more time on the field than the offense is.
The quick-strike offense has been a big factor in No. 6 LSU getting off to a 4-0 start heading to No. 9 Georgia this week. Last week, the longest of the Tigers’ five touchdown drives in a 35-21 victory against Auburn lasted just 3 minutes and 2 seconds; Auburn ran 85 plays.
“It’s a difficult position to be in,” coach Les Miles said. “You know, we do want to control the ball. I mean, we want to certainly score and drive. Really, when appropriate, we want to use the clock. It’s something that we’re going to have to ... embrace at some point in time. There will be a time when we’ll need to possess the ball and take some of the strain of play away from that defense.”
That time may be now. Georgia is averaging the second-most yards per game in the SEC (574) and is right behind LSU in scoring at 40.3 points.
If the Tigers have a late lead on the Bulldogs, as they have had against each of their first four opponents, it would be prudent to milk the clock. In the meantime, limiting the amount of time Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Georgia’s other offensive weapons would be a good idea, too.
The key, Miles said, is balance. LSU isn’t suddenly going to ditch its newfound passing success and big-play capability.
“We’re going to do the things we do. It’s just that simple,” he said. “We need to sustain long drives. We want to keep the ball, but we’re also going to take our shots. We’re going to use our balance to our advantage. So, yeah, we want to sustain drives, keep drives going. In the same vein, we want to take an opportunity at some down-the-field throws.”
The defense can provide itself with more rest — regardless of what the offense does — if it’s more effective. Auburn gained 437 yards and 21 first downs.
“We’ve got to get more three-and-outs,” linebacker D.J. Welter said. “We let them bust some plays toward the end of the game where they gained the majority of their yards. We want to eliminate those. The defense’s goal as a whole is to dominate the game. Stats are good and all, but we want to dominate as a whole.”
Safety Craig Loston said the key to better defensive play is simple.
“The main thing is tackling,” he said. “(Bad) tackling is pretty much where all (of Auburn’s) yards came from. We have to do a great job of tackling, myself included, and make sure we get those guys on the first go-around and not let them get an extra 2 yards or an extra 3 yards. At the end of the day, that starts adding up and opens up opportunities.”
The Tigers — who rank second in the SEC in pass defense, are tied for third in total defense, rank fifth in scoring defense and are seventh in run defense — feature eight new defensive starters this season.
“I think our players are as talented as we’ve ever had,” Miles said. “I think there’s a maturity that needs to take place so that they can play with their cleats headed north and south, ready to take a tackle, show the style of confidence, if you will, that other defenses that have played in this uniform have shown.
“I think that’s coming. I see it in last week, better in certain spots. Certainly that’s got to continue.”
Youth can sometimes lead to overzealousness.
“We can’t try and make too many plays and go outside the scheme to try and get your stats because that’s one of the biggest things we’re lacking as a defense right now. We have to finish,” defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “We recruit the best players out of high school. Everybody wants to make those plays, be on the big screen. Everybody wants their number to be shown.
“We tell those guys, ‘It’s not about your number. They’re going to remember the name on your back, but you’re playing for LSU. You want to make those plays for your brothers that you work hard with every day.’ Those young guys are going to step up and play great football and finish this week.”