The Final Look

LSU meets Auburn this Saturday in what is pegged as one of the biggest games of the Southeastern Conference season. brings you the latest news and notes.

-      - At Monday’s weekly press luncheon Les Miles wouldn’t name his starter. On Wednesday, to the fans’ dismay, Miles confirmed that for the eighth time in eight games Jordan Jefferson would be the first quarterback to the field. Jefferson was 5-of-8 for 28 yards passing against McNeese State last Saturday, and his -24 yards rushing netted the junior four total yards on the day.

-      - Junior quarterback Jarrett Lee, who stepped off the bench against Tennessee and has since led the offense to comeback wins in two of the last three games, will remain in a similar role to the one he’s played the past few weeks – a back-and-forth rotation with Jefferson that begins after the offense’s second series of the game. If it comes down to the final drive, recent history has shown that Lee will be the name under center.

-      - Stevan Ridley leads the SEC’s running backs in production; second in total yards to only Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The success has certainly been integral to the 7-0 start, but it hasn’t been easy sledding. Ridley has carried the ball 140 times, while the next running back – Michael Ford – has carried it only 17 times, 10 of which came last weekend against McNeese State. Freshman Alfred Blue’s 14 carries are good for third-most, but Miles said on Wednesday that the former Hahnville standout won’t dress out (injury) for the road trip to Auburn this weekend.

-      - There have been questions as to wide receiver Rueben Randle’s effectiveness after the sophomore broke a finger on his left hand in the Monday practice after the Tennessee game. In his two outings since, Randle caught a season-low one pass against Florida and came off the bench to finish without a catch against McNeese State. How much will he be able to contribute on The Plains? On Wednesday, Miles didn’t see it as a concern, saying Randle was back healthy and would start against Auburn.

-      - When right guard Will Blackwell went down for the season on the first drive against North Carolina, T-Bob Hebert – the team’s backup center - stepped in to provide immediate relief. Yet for the next four games Miles tried a different hand, starting redshirt freshman Josh Williford alongside Alex Hurst on the right side. Against Florida, Miles moved back to Hebert – perhaps the final shakeup we see up front as LSU heads into the thick of their schedule. “I think the veteran mindset that T-Bob possesses has really helped the right side,” Miles said. “I think he and Hurst have enjoyed the ability to communicate about the scheme, and I think he brings a very aggressive mindset to his position.”

-      - Left tackle Joseph Barksdale has started in every game this season, but a leg injury kept him in-and-out last weekend. Closing up their practice preparations, Barksdale has looked the part of ready, able to go with the team each afternoon this week. “I think Joe is fine,” Miles said. “I don’t think we will miss him in any way.”

-      - Miles has taken the redshirt off freshman J.C. Copeland, a one-time defensive tackle that will now serve as the team’s backup fullback. “I think we burned his redshirt with the idea that we wanted to get him some playing time before some of the bigger games on our schedule, and he responded very well,” Miles said. “He’ll get some playing time in this game against Auburn.”

-      - Does the movement from Copeland spell the end for walk-on James Stampley, who has served as the fullback in running situations thus far? For now, expect both. “I like Stampley, don’t get me wrong,” Miles said. “We are in no way saying that’s in any way an issue. It’s just that we want to continue to develop a guy there that will give us some advantages, and (Copeland) will."

-      - Tasked with stopping Cam Newton, a 6-foot-6, 250-pounder with dual-threat abilities, Miles admitted that, for one of the first times all season, he didn’t have a body that could simulate the Auburn quarterback on scout team. So they settled on a pair of names: walk-on wide receiver Jarred Joseph (6-2, 216) and freshman running back Spencer Ware (5-11, 225). “I’m sure they will give it their best, but Jarred isn’t Cam,” laughed sophomore cornerback Mo Claiborne. “It probably won’t be the same as what we see this weekend.” 

-      - On the other side of the ball the Tigers have been anchored by seniors Kelvin Sheppard and Drake Nevis, who have combined forces to help LSU get out to the fastest start of any unit in the conference. The Tigers are currently tops in total defense, allowing an average of 242.1 yards per game. Their rush defense is also first in the conference, the only team to have allowed an average of less than 100 yards per game (83.6). Sheppard currently has a team-best 66 tackles, while Nevis’ 11.5 tackles for a loss ranks among the most in the nation. “Drake Nevis and Kelvin Sheppard are having the kind of years that would lead to national awards,” Miles said. “I feel very comfortable recommending them both for any and all national awards that they might qualify for.”

-      - On slowing down Newton, defensive coordinator John Chavis was adamant that his defense wouldn’t stray from their normal approach. “Our guys are used to playing in our scheme, and that’s what we are going to do,” Chavis said. “We are not going to go out and reinvent the wheel this week. If you do that then you are looking for things, and it wouldn’t send our football team a good message.”

-      - Thanks to turnovers from the offense like last weeks fumble against McNeese State deep in their own territory, the LSU defense has had their backs against the wall a number of times because of sudden-change, something Chavis isn’t happy with. “None of us are very happy,” he said. “We have given up touchdowns already this year off sudden-change, and we played almost 12 games last year and gave up only one. It’s something where we need to be better than we are.”

-      - While Brandon Taylor was tabbed preseason as the “quarterback of the secondary,” the title has since been passed to Karnell Hatcher. After he missed spring and fall camp with unrelated injuries, Hatcher sat out week one, played in week two and has started in every game since. He has recorded at least five tackles in the past three games, and Miles said he would be on the field for the majority of this weekend’s game against Auburn. In a rotation that once saw Jai Eugene, Craig Loston and Eric Reid share time, Hatcher has moved into a more permanent role alongside Taylor. “If there is a check that is needing to be made, he’s going to make it,” Chavis said. “That’s experience.”

-      - While the LSU defense has been lights out, the pass rush hasn’t been the same since Sam Montgomery was injured for the season against Tennessee. Chavis tried to replace Montgomery with a mixture of Lavar Edwards, Ken Adams, Chancey Aghayere and KeKe Mingo, but the Tigers’ defensive coordinator is now set to move in a different direction. Last weekend, he took the redshirt off of freshman Justin Maclin, a one-time linebacker turned defensive end because of depth. “We lost a great football player with Sam, a great speed rusher,” Chavis said. “To be honest our third-down production has dropped off a little bit, and that’s where we have to get it back. We have got to have another guy there. The big part is having a dominant pass-rusher in your scheme, and we had that.”

-      - With fall break beginning on Thursday, the NCAA’s 20-hour practice rule is no longer in effect, meaning that players can spend as much time at the facilities as needed. The Tigers, staying in Montgomery, Ala., will leave for Auburn on Friday afternoon. 

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