Young Tigers finally get their chance

While the Tigers didn’t get the extended look at younger players they had hoped for, some fresh faces did gain game experience and give LSU ...

LSU’s plan to take an extended look at younger players in game conditions against Furman on Saturday didn’t necessarily go as expected.

Nonetheless the Tigers did get some key contributions from several second-tier players and eventually went deep into the depth chart during their 48-16 homecoming victory.

“That was probably the greatest plus: We played a lot of young guys on offense and defense,” coach Les Miles said. “I think the day was beneficial without question.”

Ideally the starters would have removed any doubt about the outcome by halftime, allowing Miles and his staff to substitute liberally during the final two quarters.

That would have enabled starters to rest and start to heal with an open date coming this week before a visit to No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 9.

It also would have allowed youngsters to gain valuable game experience with an eye toward 2014 and beyond.

The outmanned Paladins didn’t allow the Tigers to get comfortably ahead until well into the second half, but other factors contributed to young players getting opportunities.

Minor injuries and the prospect of extended rest led Miles to sit tackle La’el Collins, center Elliott Porter and safety Craig Loston, all of whom should be available against the Crimson Tide.

The opportunity was especially beneficial to Ethan Pocic, one of the most talked-about true freshmen, who gained valuable experience as Porter’s replacement.

“For a first-time starter I thought he did great,” Miles said. “There wasn’t a missed snap. His assignments were very good. I don’t think he had any problems with protection.

“He got a lot of reps, which is just exactly what we needed to have happen. He’s versatile and bright. He understands scheme and he can play a bunch of spots.”

Another freshman, converted linebacker Melvin Jones, got added snaps at fullback when Connor Neighbors joined J.C. Copeland on the injured list. Jones scored a third-quarter touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Zach Mettenberger.

“We should have our fullbacks back (against Alabama),” Miles said. “Melvin Jones got some snaps at fullback and played very well. He caught the ball well and blocked and did the things we asked him to do.”

Though designated by oddsmakers as an underdog by more than six touchdowns, Furman trailed just 20-16 at halftime after making a field goal on the final play of the second quarter.

Miles said the Tigers had a good week of practice, but he said sometimes opponents such as the FCS Paladins don’t trigger “the same edge or want” in players, at least initially.

“When you turn the ball over and start behind seven and you give them a just-before-half opportunity (on a muffed punt) those things are certainly disconcerting,” Miles said.

“It allowed them to continue drives and maintain the ball. We put (672) yards on them and we didn’t have the time of possession advantage (by 101/2 minutes).”

Miles said the halftime talk was about being more focused and to “go finish the day.”

“Eventually we caught speed and played like we were supposed to,” he said.

Younger players who weren’t forced into action because of injury had to bide their time until the starters finally put the game away with a 28-0 blitz in the second half.

For instance, freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings, who will be a central figure in the competition to succeed Mettenberger next season, could have seen significant playing time if LSU had taken command by halftime.

Instead, Jennings didn’t enter the game until 5:05 remained, and he played just seven snaps over two possessions. He rushed three times for 9 yards and completed one of two passes for 12 yards.

In the end, LSU rested the players most in need of rest and got some playing time for numerous youngsters.

“We’ll get some health and freshness and be ready for Alabama,” Miles said.