Happy with the results
The LSU defense held the conference’s top ground attack to 52 yards on 34 attempts and quarterback Chris Relf didn’t eclipse the century mark, going 11-of-17 passing for 96 yards and an interception.
Deservedly so, Miles gave kudos to the men around him.
“We think our team really applied themselves and our staff came up with a great plan,” Miles said. “We are excited by the fact that our team, getting in late the week before, really understood the game plan in short order.”
With a pair of interceptions and a pass break up, cornerback Morris Claiborne was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan’s five tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss, earned him SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors. Wide receiver Odell Beckham’s eight catches for 61 yards earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
“That tells you that there are people recognizing some of the spectacular play from some of our young people,” Miles said.
Defense wins championships
If Les Miles holds up the crystal ball in the Superdome in January, the first person he passes the trophy to is defensive coordinator John Chavis, who in his third year with the program has re-established the LSU defense into one of the nation’s elite – if not the best unit in the country.
“I can tell you that this defense is one of the fastest teams that I have had,” Miles said. “I think that there are more big-time plays made on this defense than I have been around for a while.”
Miles said that he expected the defense to be come out fast, but what he didn’t factor in was the group’s “natural intensity.”
“You can coach it and you can insist on it, but there comes a natural intensity that this defense seems to bring,” he said. “There are some guys who take the field with that defense that just can’t wait for the next play. That is a wonderful piece to a defense.”
Getting into a routine
After opening the season against Oregon in a neutral location, Miles brought his Tigers back home to face Northwestern State – an FCS opponent – before he packed them back up for a road trip to Starkville to begin SEC play on short schedule.
The hopscotch start, which will now regain a bit of normalcy, afforded LSU an open weekend this past Saturday, giving the Tigers an opportunity to kick their feet up and relax.
“This weekend there was some needed rest,” Miles said. “We gave the players off on Saturday.
“I took in two football games, there was a swim meet or two and a soccer game, and I think the Miles family certainly enjoyed the events.”
The Tigers will return to the practice field on Monday afternoon, which puts them back on a routine schedule as they move towards West Virginia and then back into conference play.
“We are happy to be in a normal game week,” Miles said.
Offense finding their identity
Wide receivers Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle combined for 14 catches, 159 yards and the game’s only touchdown versus Mississippi State.
For Jarrett Lee, the emergence of Beckham gives LSU’s starting quarterback a second safety blanket at receiver – which combined with the run game gives the Tigers a chance to wash away the offensive woes from the past couple of seasons.
“I really feel like our offense managed the situations at Mississippi State well,” Miles said. “Jarrett Lee threw the ball, minus a couple of throws, very, very well, and he did the things we needed him to do for us in that game.
“I like the work we got out of Spencer Ware. I think he is becoming an intuitive runner; a guy who is a tough, hard-nosed back.”
Shepard returns to lineup
Junior wide receiver Russell Shepard will return to action this weekend after serving a three-game suspension that was handed down after Shepard violated NCAA protocol during an ongoing investigation into the LSU program.
But with the emergence of Beckham, does Shepard move right back into the mix?
On Monday, Miles said that he had little hesitation about inserting Shepard – who didn’t miss a practice during his suspension - back into the game plan.
“I enjoy that Russell is back and being worked into the plan,” Miles said. “I think there will be some immediate awareness and fondness for the offense. I don’t think it will take him a lot of time to get comfortable.”
Miles said that Shepard would make an appearance on special teams, but did not say whether it would be as a return man on kickoffs or punts.
As for taking back the No. 2 wide receiver position, the jury is still out.
With Beckham’s looks increasing in each of the three wins, Miles said that both receivers would play an integral part in the offensive success moving forward.
“I don’t think adding a guy like Russell Shepard will upset the chemistry in any way,” Miles said. “Both are very good players and guys that deserve opportunities and touches on the ball, and we will make sure that happens. We will find a way.”
Depth up front
LSU went into preseason camp with only one worry on the line: would sophomore Chris Faulk, the only newcomer to the front four, be ready to handle the quarterback’s blindside?
After camp, left guard Josh Dworaczyk underwent season-ending knee surgery, pushing fifth-year senior T-Bob Hebert back into a starting role.
Through two games, Faulk and Hebert didn’t show any sign of struggles.
But against the Bulldogs, Faulk went down with a leg injury and didn’t return, which forced Miles to turn to backup tackle Greg Shaw, a senior with just one start in his collegiate career.
Miles said that Shaw didn’t miss a beat, nor did sophomore Josh Williford, who stepped in for Will Blackwell after the senior right guard was hit-and-miss with his performance up front.
“I felt like Greg did a very good job subbing in there for Chris,” Miles said. “Both Josh Williford and Greg Shaw played a number of snaps. I like the way the depth of the offensive line is coming. I am pretty comfortable that no matter who we field there, we will put five guys on the line of scrimmage that will give us an opportunity to win.”
Injury status on Faulk, Wing
Faulk was on crutches and wearing a protective boot after Thursday’s win, but the extended week going into the West Virginia game will likely be enough to bring the sophomore back into the starting lineup when the team heads to Morgantown next Saturday.
Miles also said that punter Brad Wing, who played against Oregon but was sidelined (leg injury) against Northwestern State and Mississippi State, could be back into the starting lineup. Walk-on D.J. Howard has replaced Wing at punter in the past two games.
“Chris Faulk has the great potential to play in this Saturday’s game, and health is returning to Brad Wing,” Miles said. “This may be the healthiest we have been in a while.”
Shuffle in the kicking game?
When LSU’s offense stalled against the Bulldogs, kicker Drew Alleman stepped up and saved the day with his leg – finishing 4-for-4 on field goals of 21, 42, 41 and 29 yards.
“I think the four field goals from Drew Alleman really gives you a view of what his potential is,” Miles said. “He is that guy who is really salty and has been in the backdrop of some great kicking around here. He steps in and understands his position and understands what he is supposed to do, and he steps up and nails it.”
It was kickoffs, from Alleman’s short distance off the tee to the coverage from the LSU defense, which posed the problem for Miles.
“We really haven’t (been happy),” Miles said. “We get very good kickoff coverage at time, and then we get a little sporadic. We are still mixing the personnel around. We want to find the best guys, because we expect to have a great kickoff team.
“We are still working on our kickoff game, and we think a little more health to Drew’s leg will give us the distance that we want. So we will spend a little more time on that.”
Miles said that he entertained the idea of going with a new kicker against the Bulldogs, but Alleman requested that he remain in the game.
“He had good kicking motion, but his strength was a bit light,” Miles said. “We could have gone with another kicker for extra points and field goals, but he told us that he was good there.
“We look forward to getting back to full strength, and then seeing that in kickoffs.”
If Alleman continues to fall short of expectations, Miles named two options as potential replacements: punter Brad Wing and freshman kicker James Hairston.
“(Hairston) is getting a look, and he’s getting a look repeatedly,” Miles said. “He’s another guy with a big, strong leg and occasionally can knock it out of the back of the end zone. We would kind of like to see that happen. There is some competition there.
“Wing has an opportunity once he returns to health to have a look at his leg on a kickoff opportunity.”
After adding punter D.J. Howard - who replaced Wing (leg injury) against Northwestern State and Mississippi State – during walk-on tryouts, Miles didn’t shy away from inviting any LSU students with a big leg out for a look.
“If there is a great kicker within the sound of my voice that goes to school at LSU and has the opportunity to kick a ball from a college tee into the end zone or with great hang time, I would love for him to come to the football (operations building) and take a shot,” Miles said.
“But I don’t know how many of those guys there are within the sound of our voice.”
Take me home, country roads
Les Miles has never taken a team to play West Virginia in Morgantown, and the LSU program’s only other meeting with the Mountaineers took place last fall – a 20-14 win by LSU in Tiger Stadium.
On Monday, Miles called the game day experience “very much like an SEC game,” and he said that his team was excited for a rare trip up the East Coast and into an environment that is often referenced as one of the best that college football has to offer.
Just don’t expect the No. 3-ranked Tigers to be phased by their surroundings.
“This won’t be foreign to this LSU football team,” Miles said. “We will expect a loud crowd, we will expect a quality opponent and we will expect to play a tight ball game. Those things will benefit us.
“It’s another challenge, but the good news is that we have been on the road and we understand it. We are getting to a point where our road character is established, and we will play that way.”
Prior to the season, West Virginia announced that beer would be for sale inside the stadium as early as the 2011 season – meaning that alcohol will be flowing as two of college football’s rowdiest fan bases cross paths.
How about the flip side? Could you imagine grabbing a beer in Death Valley?
“If they served beer here, no matter the size crowd there would be a little more enthusiasm for play,” he said. “If they did that in Tiger Stadium, I fear that the upper decks might not hold it.
“I promise, we would enjoy playing in front of a Tiger Stadium that occasionally had a beer.”