LSU football team eyes improvement, not change

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU head coach Les Miles walks off the field after the second half in Athens, Ga., after the University of Georgia beat LSU Saturday, 44-41. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU head coach Les Miles walks off the field after the second half in Athens, Ga., after the University of Georgia beat LSU Saturday, 44-41.

LSU need look no farther than this time last season to find guidance on how to respond to Saturday’s 44-41 loss at Georgia.

It was 51 weeks ago and a 180-degree different type of game when Florida defeated a 5-0 LSU team 14-6 in Gainesville, whipping the Tigers on both lines of scrimmage and stifling their offense.

Though LSU was in the process of overhauling its injury-riddled offensive line, it stayed the course the following week, ran the ball the way it was accustomed to running it and played defense the way it was accustomed to playing it as it beat No. 3 South Carolina 23-21.

The lesson? When you lose, don’t try to change who you are — just get better at being who you are. That’s the plan for the Tigers as they prepare to play at Mississippi State on Saturday.

“We’re a team that is pretty confident in their approach,” coach Les Miles said Monday at his weekly news luncheon. “I think we recognized that we played a very quality opponent. I don’t think there’s any reason for wholesale change yet. There’s no reason at this point in time to approach it any differently.

“I think there’s the opportunity now to maybe address some things that needed addressing and turn our attention more fully to them this week. I think we’re confident in the things that we do, yet there’s some things we need to get accomplished and be better at.”

Miles identified a few areas where LSU needs to improve. First, the defense didn’t sack or even hurry Georgia’s Aaron Murray, who threw four touchdown passes. Miles said there are two ways to try to improve the pass rush.

“Add guys to the rush, or continue to prepare the guys that would be your best four pass rushers to do the things that they’re capable of doing and to get better at it technically,” he said. “Those are the things we’re really focused on.”

The secondary had a series of blown coverages amid communication breakdowns, both between the sideline and the huddle and among players on the field.

“That’s the fastest way to get you beat,” Miles said. “Play against a quality opponent and not cover a segment of the field.”

Odell Beckham Jr. fumbled a punt, giving the ball to Georgia at the LSU 20 and leading to a tiebreaking touchdown in the third quarter.

“That’s certainly very costly,” Miles said. “Not only does it cost you the 40 yards of the punt, but the possession of the ball. … We’re in this thing together — coaches and players. Coaches are not without fault. Certainly I take my share, and we’ll be better.”

Miles said not to look for significant personnel changes, though he does want to see more young players emerge on defense to lengthen the rotation and keep players fresh.

Some of the defensive breakdowns, Miles said, resulted from players being too ambitious, trying to make plays outside their area of responsibility and creating an opening for a big play.

“Our attention as coaches certainly is there,” he said. “We have to make the point: Just do the things as we ask you to do and you’ll be great — not just good, you’ll be a great defense.”

Miles has a remarkable track record in the wake of the occasional losses during his nine-year tenure. The Tigers are 20-1 after a loss, having back-to-back defeats only in November of 2008, when they fell to Ole Miss and Arkansas.

Last season, in addition to the bounce-back against South Carolina, they followed a 21-17 loss to Alabama with a 37-17 victory against Mississippi State.

“You keep on rolling with the punches,” center Elliott Porter said. “(The Southeastern Conference) is the best conference in America. You have to prepare week after week after week.

“You can’t dwell on a loss. You just improve and get better. That’s what you have to do to keep winning, especially in the SEC. Look at the (Tigers’) national championship team in 2007. They lost two games and had to recuperate, and they knew who they were and what they had to do.”

This year’s team, like last year’s, knows it still has control of its SEC fate. If LSU were to win its five remaining conference games, it would do no worse than tie for first in the West Division and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against each opponent in the division.

“We didn’t get too down about this game because we understood that it didn’t make or break our season,” said wide receiver Kadron Boone, who had two touchdown receptions. “There’s a lot of football left to be played. If we play our cards right, we have a good chance of seeing (Georgia again in the SEC Championship Game), but we have to come in each day ready to work. Everybody knows if they messed up on an assignment and everybody has been accountable and knows what they have to get better at.”

It’s about getting better, not reinventing yourself.

“You don’t try to change your personality at all,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “We know the type of offense, defense and special teams that we have. We just play ball. We lost to Georgia, but we’re still the same team. We’re LSU, and we’re going to play LSU football.”