Working on LSU

It's not every week an SEC team can focus solely on improving internally. LSU can this week. Here are the top three focal points for the Tigers.

When you play in the SEC, most Monday-Friday work weeks are chock-full of film study, practices and position meetings specifically geared toward Saturday's opposition.

Knowing the opponent, where they're strong and where they're weak, is the name of the game.

But occasionally, when the schedule breaks just right, there's an opportunity to take a different approach, to focus more within and on internal issues than on the upcoming game at hand.

With all due respect to the Towson Tigers, this has been one of those weeks for LSU.

Cue Les Miles at his weekly Monday press luncheon: "The key is us. We have to handle our opponent much more efficiently so we don't make mistakes and we're not sloppy. I have to give it again to some youth and some guys that don't understand the position we're in, and the recognition of what makes a very, very well-played ballgame as opposed to that game that's sloppy and gives your opponent every opportunity at staying in that game.

"We have some things to fix, and we're looking forward to it."

The message from Miles to his players is clear: If we don't work on us and improving us, none of the rest will matter.

So, as the Tigers turn their attention on themselves, let's do the same, listing and analyzing the three most pressing areas in need of development before LSU travels to Gainesville on Oct. 6.

Protecting the passer

Seven sacks allowed through four games are too many. So too are the seven quarterback hurries Auburn's defense generated on Saturday night. The knee-jerk reaction from many has been to blame new left tackle Josh Dworaczyk, but not all of the burden belongs on LSU's sixth-year senior. Miles is adamant that the line as currently constructed gives the Tigers their best chance to succeed. With that said, it's imperative Dworaczyk and the entire O-Line improve this week and next on communication, awareness, execution, everything. There will be nothing forgiving about The Swamp next Saturday. LSU needs to have its ducks in a row in pass protection, and the fewer backs/tight ends needed to help on that mission, the better for the offense's overall balance and rhythm.

Miles says: "Any time someone gets into our back field, we want to address it. There were some miscommunications between (quarterback Zach Mettenberger) and the back of his side. We're going to work on that and make our tackles more aware. It really happened twice in that (Auburn) game in my mind. I think we can fix that."

Connecting with receivers

Through the opening three games, LSU's wide-outs suffered from a not-so-mild case of the dropsies. Against Auburn the bigger problem was gaining separation and getting open when there were often only three route-runners out in a given pattern. Whatever the issue, it's got to improve should the Tigers have any realistic shot of scaring opposing defenses out of the box. Mettenberger has proven to be a very accurate quarterback (save his two red-zone interceptions). The receivers – led by Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, James Wright and an emerging Kadron Boone – have to pick up the slack on their end. Boone has been a blessing, but Beckham has been noticeably absent for the majority of September. Mett needs him, the team's best vertical threat, to step up.

Miles says: "I think our receivers are improving. I think it's a work in progress like the rest of our team. I think they were key in some instances. In other instances, they can play better. I think they will. Sometimes you have to give some credit to the opponent as well. They covered some routes too."

Cutting down on penalties

A lot like pass protection, this problem didn't just appear for the first time at Auburn … but, just like pass protection, it became paramount because the opponent finally had enough firepower to make LSU pay for it. Consider how often the Tigers have been plagued by the yellow hanky in 2012: against North Texas, 10 penalties for 55 yards; against Washington, five for 43 yards; against Idaho, eight for 58 yards; and at Auburn, nine for 80 yards. Add it all up, that's 32 penalties for 236 yards. No team in the SEC has garnered more flags than LSU (Georgia and Florida are both tied with 32). And it's been worst on punt returns, where the Tigers have repeatedly stabbed themselves in the foot and sabotaged good field position. Simply put, sloppy play isn't part of the winning formula LSU has cultivated under Miles. The offense isn't high-powered enough, at least not yet, to overcome so many hurdles.

Miles says: "We occasionally have a conversation that cannot wait until I get to the confines of a locker room. I take that liberty as a head coach to do that, those things that are private in nature, but they're reflective of what needed to happen and what we'll need to have happen. I think that the conversation (with Jalen Mills) was well-placed and taken correctly. I'm just trying to make sure that our guys understand that it's about victory. It's not about who's tougher. There's nothing in a priority list that you would take on a field that would stand above that word, victory. To give an opponent 80 yards against that defense, we'll punt it again."

Honorable mention areas: Shoring up the secondary rotation, especially in nickel and dime sets … Continuing to prepare young players who may be called upon as the season progresses, particularly at linebacker and along the offensive line … Getting rest for those players still battling nagging injuries.

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