LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton won’t cut pages out of his game plan that might not be best suited for starter Jordan Jefferson, and on Monday head coach Les Miles confirmed that the option – with Jefferson – is here to stay.
When asked about backup Jarrett Lee’s chances to see the field, Miles stuck behind his starter and called it Jefferson’s show.
After an 8-of-20 passing performance against Vanderbilt, the eyes of the Tiger Stadium crowd will be on Jefferson, now a junior and in his second season as the starter. From statements made by Miles this week to the first-team reps belonging to No. 9 during each day of practice, the keys to the offense are evidently in Jefferson’s hands.
“The checks and things we have done in the past fit pretty well,” Miles said. “I think he is going to be really comfortable with the calls.”
As of Wednesday Richard Murphy had not stepped onto the practice field to join his teammates in preparation for Mississippi State. Miles was vague on his senior running back’s status, and the feeling is that the second man in the rotation likely won’t play a major role in Saturday’s game plan.
In place of the injured Murphy, look for Alfred Blue to get a fair share of carries after he was first off the bench against Vanderbilt. Miles also said to expect touches to fall to Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, who spent time at fullback against the Commodores.
Through two games, Ridley leads all rushers with 240 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries. Wide receiver Russell Shepard owns the best mark for average yards per rush (9.6), and the sophomore also has a team-best two touchdowns on the ground.
Terrance Toliver, Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard have combined for just 16 catches through two games, and the trio’s pair of touchdowns – both against UNC - are the only scores that Jordan Jefferson has tossed to his receivers on the year.
“We want to throw it more,” said Miles on Wednesday in response to the lack of production from the group.
The obvious fallout has been the play of Jefferson, and his receivers – namely Terrance Toliver – talked this week about becoming more vocal with the LSU starter. Will they get on the same page this week, or will it be another evening of confused looks inside yellow helmets?
LSU fans worried that the absence of downfield-threat Deangelo Peterson would pain the LSU offense until his return, but backup Mitch Joseph wasn’t buying it.
Through two games, Joseph, primarily a blocking tight end when Peterson is involved, set a mark of 51 yards receiving - second to only Randle’s 101 yards. His four receptions are also good for second-best on the team.
As for Peterson’s return, Miles doesn’t seem anxious to rush him back into the mix – especially given Joseph’s success.
“We would like to just get him back feeling good,” Miles said. “He might be a gametime (decision), but I’m not pressing it. We are enjoying the guys who are getting the work so far.”
Peterson practiced in pads this week, but he went without contact.
The Offensive Line
Game one brought bad news. On the first offensive snap, Will Blackwell went down with a break in his right leg. Backup center T-Bob Hebert, a one-time starter, stepped up in relief. When backup right guard Josh Williford stepped in to test the waters, his series was short-lived.
A week later, Williford stepped into the starting spot and held his own, helping the LSU line finish with 313 yards gained on the ground.
If the Tigers can manage a sizable lead against the Bulldogs, look for young names to step in on the outsides in order to create depth to a front already hit by injury once.
“Chris Faulk and Greg Shaw got onto the field and played significant football in the last game,” Miles said. “We took Alex Hurst and Joe Barksdale out and let some of that depth develop. That's always something that we go through on a yearly basis, and lord willing, we'll avoid any significant injury from this point forward.”
“I think they are very committed to it. We are going to have to play run down after down. That will be a real challenge to our defense … one that they look forward to.” – Les Miles on what he expects from Mississippi State’s offense
Anthony Dixon might not be in Starkville, Miss. any longer, but head coach Dan Mullen hasn’t completely bailed on the Bulldogs philosophy of pounding the opponent out on the ground.
And while State’s two-quarterback attack tossed the ball 35 times against Auburn last Thursday, Miles expects that he’ll get a heavy dose of dual-threat passer Chris Relf and the Bulldogs stable of backs.
If any front is up for the challenge, it’s LSU.
The Tigers lead the country in sacks, and their average of 1.37 yards a rush is good for fourth-best in the country.
Ryan Baker’s jaw had been wired shut for weeks, and the junior linebacker had lost 15 pounds in the process. Five days before his team was set to open conference play, Baker had the wires taken out – and he went straight to the practice field.
Last Wednesday Miles said Baker would not start, but still might see an opportunity to get onto the field in a backup role.
By the end of a 27-3 win, Baker not only started, but he recorded six tackles, three for losses, with a nine-yard sack.
Considered it was the first start of his career, Baker gets a confident nod of approval. Joined up with senior Kelvin Sheppard (the only Tiger with more tackles against Vanderbilt), the pair should prove to be a nightmare for opposing offenses.
With so many names coming in and out, it’s been tough to get hold of who the LSU coaches feel the four best defensive backs could be.
Patrick Peterson is certainly set as the top name at cornerback, but Morris Claiborne might not want to rest on the starting job handed to him at the start of the year.
Freshman Tyrann Mathieu followed up a dynamic game one with a three-tackle performance against Vanderbilt, leaving Miles confident that his crop of young names is just as good as billed.
“I think we are fortunate to have several guys that can play the corners,” Miles said. “Tyrann Mathieu is earning those reps, and the ability to keep people fresh in the secondary is also important. I think you'll find that he's a very physical player, so the opportunity to get a physical player on the field in any number of situations is something that we're looking to do.”
There is also some uncertainty as to the top name at safety opposite of Brandon Taylor. Senior Jai Eugene, redshirt freshman Craig Loston, junior Karnell Hatcher and freshman Eric Reid have all seen time so far, and Miles hinted that the rotation could go back to plenty of Hatcher and Loston.
“Both (Loston and Hatcher) had good weeks at practice,” he said.
The Patrick Peterson Show took a week break against Vanderbilt, seeing the Commodores bottle the electric playmaker up for just two returns on 10 punts.
On the LSU end, kicker Josh Jasper is coming off a 2-for-2 performance, while punter Derek Helton booted it five times for an average of 39 yards last weekend.
“Our punters hit the ball pretty well,” Miles said. “I don’t know if getting the average up is as important as improving hang time and direction.”