Errors not decisive, just set tone from normally solid phase
Thomas McGaughey won’t have to run the film long to review the first in a slew of mistakes for LSU’s special teams.
One play, actually, might be all it takes before LSU’s special teams coordinator cringes.
The woeful night arrived when kicker James Hairston watched his opening kickoff bounce out of bounds, an omen of the struggles to come as the No. 13 Tigers slogged to a 48-16 victory over Furman.
Colby Delahoussaye, who had converted 51 consecutive field goals and point-after tries, missed one of each. Worse, the redshirt freshman also injured his leg in the process.
And Odell Beckham Jr. muffed his second punt of the season, setting up Furman on a short field as the Paladins used that miscue to pull within 20-16 in the waning minutes of the first half.
Two weeks before a visit to top-ranked Alabama, the breakdowns by the Tigers’ most consistent unit is troubling.
Hairston’s miscue exists as an outlier for a kicker whose 35 touchbacks rank second nationally.
Yet Delahoussaye’s inaccuracy registers greater cause for alarm.
LSU coach Les Miles said his place kicker had been “nicked” but not didn’t trip alarms that his accuracy would be askew Saturday.
Then he knuckled an extra point wide left after a Jeremy Hill touchdown run put LSU ahead 13-10 late in the first quarter for his first miss in 41 tries this season.
A drive later, however, Delahoussaye’s aim appeared properly calibrated on an extra point to make it 20-10 – except for a slight limp as he trotted off the field.
“I gotta get my kicker going,” Miles said. “Old Delahoussaye’s gotta be a little comfortable.”
And his discomfort was apparent on his 31-yard field goal try with 4:07 left in the first half — a kick pushed wide right and with little power behind it.
“A guy as good as Delahoussaye makes a couple mistakes,” Miles said. “I guess we’re all human, and then he’s a little nicked. I don’t know if I buy that one.”
The epidemic of errors spread to the punt return unit two minutes later.
Drifting to his left on Ray Early’s punt, Beckham knelt to field the kick. Yet he misjudged its flight path. The ball was one more step over, and it ricocheted off his hands.
“We tell him to field every field ball he can, and, I think possibly, that was one he should not have tried to field,” Miles said.
Danny LaMontagne pounced on the bouncing pigskin at the LSU 28. Five plays later, Early’s 23-yard field goal sailed through as the half ended.
The junior punt returner admitted he hesitated during the 15-yard run up to field the wobbly kick and should have been more decisive.
“It’s a split-second decision,” Beckham said. “It’s just one of those I need to leave alone, but I’m a risk-taker and it happens sometimes.”
The muffed return didn’t bring the same consequences as a similar mistake against Georgia late in the third quarter of a 44-41 loss. Still, Miles said he and McGaughey might need to check Beckham’s discretion.
“I think we need to give him stronger parameters,” Miles said. “He’s a guy that you’d like to have return one. It’s just as likely he’ll return that one for a touchdown.”
No, the mistakes weren’t fatal.
Against Furman, they become frustrating footnotes. Repeated inside Bama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, though, and calamity might ensue.