Words such as penalties, turnovers, mistakes and discipline are going to be heard a lot more around the LSU football team this week than the name Towson.
The third-ranked Tigers play Towson on Saturday night, but it’s a reduction in penalties, turnovers and mistakes, and an increase in discipline that top LSU’s to do list.
That’s what happens when you turn the ball over five times and get penalized 32 times in four games. It’s what happens especially when you turn the ball over on the opponent’s 2-yard line and your own 26 in a game in which you have to fight to the end to prevail 12-10, which happened to LSU at Auburn on Saturday.
It’s what happens when you cost yourself 80 yards in penalties against a team that could manage only 86 rushing yards and 183 total yards against your defense.
“The key is us,” Tigers coach Les Miles said Monday at his weekly news luncheon. “We end that game and handle that opponent more efficiently if we don’t make mistakes and aren’t sloppy. I have to give it to youth and some guys who don’t recognize what makes a well-played game instead of a sloppy game. This is a great week for us to look forward to improving our game.”
Miles routinely harps on ball security; and last season, LSU turned the ball over 10 times in 14 games.
“It’s not like it’s a new conversation and it’s not like the practice is going to be altered in any way,” Miles said. “Ball security is going to be the first thing on that practice schedule every week anyway, so it’s really just awareness and making them understand there is no personal liberty here. This is a must. To play the way that we play and to do the things that we want to do it has to take hold. I can’t imagine that it won’t.”
Penalties are also up compared to last season as LSU is averaging eight per game compared to five per game last season.
Turnovers and penalties essentially have been weekly issues even as the Tigers won their first three games by a combined score of 145-31. But the miscues against Auburn stood out even more because any one of them could have contributed to defeat in a game that wasn’t decided until Tharold Simon intercepted Kiehl Frazier with no time left.
Linebacker Kevin Minter said he thought the Tigers were where they wanted to be after three games, but after four — not so much.
“After that game, I feel we have a lot of improving to do,” Minter said. “That game was entirely too close. We didn’t play nearly up to where we’re supposed to play. We have to step it up. We’re about to get into the real deal of our schedule. We can’t have mental busts and penalties and a lack of focus like we had last weekend.
“It’s all on us. We’ve got to execute well. We have to have a good week of practice and get our minds right.”
In the first quarter, LSU had one false start penalty. And in the second quarter, it had two personal fouls and a holding call that was offset by an Auburn penalty on the same play.
Things got out of hand in the third quarter as the Tigers were penalized twice for false starts, twice for holding and twice for personal fouls.
Auburn also was penalized for a personal foul as the officials got tired of a game that was getting out of hand emotionally and called together both teams’ captains.
“They basically came together and said, “no more stupid penalties, guys,’” LSU tackle Josh Dworaczyk said. “‘This is too close a game. We don’t want it to come down to a call. We don’t want to affect the outcome. We don’t want one of our calls to end up deciding it. Let’s just play football.’ And that’s what we did.”
Neither team was penalized in the fourth quarter. Dworaczyk and his teammates know they’ll get more penalty-related lectures this week.
“It’s one thing going into the game that coach Miles always talks about, especially Thursday and Friday,” Dworaczyk said.
“We actually have a time on Fridays where he calls us all up and we go over basically stupid penalties, things that are unnecessary, things that have gone on in the past where we learned from our mistakes.”
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was one of several Tigers making their first start in a Southeastern Conference game, called the experience “an eye opener.”
Mettenberger was charged with both fumbles, though Miles absolved him of blame on the goal-line exchange with center Elliott Porter, who was thrust into the game a few plays earlier when P.J. Lonergan was shaken up.
Nonetheless, there’s plenty of cleaning up for the whole team to do.
“That’s something we’re going to hear a lot about, and that’s something we’ve got to get fixed,” wide receiver Russell Shepard said. “When you want to play the kind of football that we’re accustomed to playing, you can’t have those kinds of mistakes.
“The things that we were doing this past Saturday, those are things you don’t even have to watch film to learn from. It’s things you just have to constantly remind yourself that you can’t do to be the type of team we want to be.”
Miles said the mistakes are “not going to change our play calls.”
The mission is to greatly reduce the mistakes before returning to SEC play at Florida on Oct. 6.
“Our goal this week is to clean everything up,” Mettenberger said. “We have be sharp and execute. This is a game for us to get better in practice this week, get better in the game and get better in practice next week and really get ready for Florida.”