NASHVILLE -- Though just two games in, the drill seems routine.
LSU got the victory, but Les Miles had some explaining to do in the postgame press conference.
While the Tigers had just taken their conference opener 27-3, his starting quarterback didn’t have an SEC-ready type of night - going 8-of-20 for 96 yards.
The junior signal caller didn’t record a touchdown, and his interception came at a bad time – inside the red zone as the Tigers looked to close the door on the Commodores.
“I just didn’t make the play,” said quarterback Jordan Jefferson of the pick.
Such was the trend throughout the night, leading Miles to question his decision to ride Jefferson – without question - through the 2010 season.
“We’re going to continue to evaluate our quarterback situation, and frankly we’re going to expect more out of the position,” Miles said. “I think both guys can give it to us. I think Jefferson definitely can, and we’re going to encourage Lee because he’s a guy who’s going to have to win games for us as we go forward.”
LSU went without a score in the first quarter as the teams swapped punts on each of their first three possessions.
With 4:21 to play in the first, a 12-play, five-plus minute drive gave LSU the early advantage.
Jefferson twice found Terrance Toliver for a first down, and a 10-yard completion to tight end Mitch Joseph moved the ball into Vanderbilt territory for the first time. The possession carried into the second quarter, where Jefferson kept the drive alive on a five-yard scamper on third-and-four.
One play later, Russell Shepard - the team’s most dynamic offensive threat through two games - made his weekly visit to the endzone on a 30-yard rush off left tackle.
“I’m just trying to be the playmaker the offense needs,” said Shepard, who has scored three times in two games.
By halftime it was evident that not only is Shepard the offensive playmaker any offense needs, but at times he’s all LSU – a team stacked from top to bottom with premier high school prospects – has to offer.
Jefferson had a 3-of-12 mark over the first two quarters, meaning wide receivers like Terrance Toliver and Rueben Randle weren’t getting the ball unless they took it out of their struggling quarterback’s hands in the backfield.
By the second half Miles had seen enough.
After Vanderbilt hit a field goal on their opening possession of the third quarter, LSU decided to grind it out.
It began when Ridley picked up eight yards and a first down, and later in the drive Hahnville, La. freshman Alfred Blue picked up five yards to move the chains via the ground game once more. Jefferson kept the drive alive with a 14-yard completion to Randle, but the fourth and final third-down attempt proved to be the final straw.
After a false start from first-time starting right guard Josh Williford pushed the Tigers back to the 13-yard line, Jefferson turned the ball over on an interception in the endzone.
“It was cover-zero, and I had one-on-one with Terrance (Toliver),” he said. “I felt a little pressure, I don’t know if they would have gotten me or not … I just tried to get rid of it. I should have put it more towards the back pylon.”
From that point LSU turned it into a showcase on running the football, and it began with Stevan Ridley – who fumbled twice against North Carolina and was expected to see his carries cut back as a result.
Though his touches went down from 19 to 17, Ridley’s 157 yards separated him on a unit that combined for 280 yards.
On the first offensive drive post-interception, 10 of the team’s 12 snaps were handoffs – and half of those touches went to Ridley. Stopped short of the first-down on 3rd-and-3, kicker Josh Jasper stepped in to hit the 23-yard field goal, his second of the game.
Down 10 with just over 12 minutes to play, Vanderbilt had worked their way into a game in the fourth quarter.
A moment later momentum swung away from the Commodores for a final time when running back Warren Norman fumbled the kickoff return.
As quickly as LSU got the ball Ridley had worked it inside the 10-yard line, where the coaches called on Blue to get the first goal-line touch of his career.
The result: six points.
“With each carry, and each experience in games, these guys are starting to come to life, and we’re looking forward to watching it develop,” said Miles of the young running backs. Freshman Spencer Ware and redshirt freshman Michael Ford also recorded the first touches of their careers.
Down 20-3 the night effectively ended for Vanderbilt, punting the ball on both of their final two possessions as the second-team names from both sides made their way to the field.
The final score came on LSU’s second to last possession, seeing Ridley flash a big sign of promise when he cut it outside and scampered 65 yards up the sideline.
On a night where the defense held Vanderbilt to under 100 yards through both the air and on the ground, offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s bunch couldn’t manage the same consistent effort.
“It’s the simple mistakes we made that we can’t make,” Miles said. “We have some work to do, but it’s nice to go on the road in this conference and win.”