REPORT CARD: LSU vs. Vanderbilt

While there are still kinks to work out, LSU is looking more and more like the team everyone expected to see dismissing upstart Vanderbilt 34-6.

The Tigers rolled up almost 500 yards of offense, reduced a very-good Vanderbilt offense to shambles defensively and made a definite feet-first leap right back into the SEC race.


LSU looked like a team lost after blowing a 21-point lead to Tennessee two weeks ago and. The Tigers were stagnant on offense, porous defensively and made constant mental mistakes in everything from quarterback-center exchange to the game management of the head coach.


While there are still far too many penalties and turnovers piling up everywhere, LSU was clearly dominant in every phase of the game versus the surging Commodores. Vanderbilt came into the game 4-1 (for the first time since 1941) sporting arguably the league's top quarterback in Jay Cutler.

Cutler's name has cropped up in one NFL Draft conversation after another and through five weeks had outshined the likes of Chris Leak and Brodie Croyle in the SEC.


LSU's defense forgot to read the press clippings.


The Tigers harassed Cutler most of the evening before eventually knocking him out of the game in the fourth quarter.


Speaking of quarterbacks, JaMarcus Russell continued his maturation process completing his first 10 passes en route to another dazzling performance. The sophomore signal caller definitely looks ready for Saturday's big test versus Florida.


Chris Jackson and Skyler Green continue to make LSU's special teams special and Les Miles is gradually gaining favor with a disgruntled fan base hungry for Nick Saban-like results.



The Offense:


The offense begins with Russell.


For the second week in a row, Russell was brilliant. After a 21 of 24 showing at Mississippi State, the Mobile, Ala. native came out firing on all cylinders delivering pass after pass on the money and with plenty of zip. His 21 of 32 performance resulted in 285 yards, a career high.


Granted, Russell had all the time in the world to throw. The LSU offensive line allowed just one sack and provided outstanding protection for the Tiger quarterback. On several occasions, Russell had time to survey the entire field and pick out a receiver.


Speaking of the offensive line, injuries continue to mount.


Center Rudy Niswanger was injured during the Mississippi State game. He was all right to play Saturday, but Miles chose to start redshirt freshman Ryan Miller and allow the backup some quality game reps. But on LSU's first scoring play, a TD pass from Russell to Dwayne Bowe, Miller twisted a knee and Niswanger was forced to come in and play.


Left guard Brett Helms did not even make the trip with injury.


It was good to see Herman Johnson get his first start. The 6-9 sophomore was inserted into the lineup at right tackle.


When a quarterback has a good night, that means his receivers do as well. While there were more than a few dropped passes, which has plagued LSU all season (that's right, talking about you David Jones), standout performers like Bowe and Early Doucet quickly are rising to prominence as some of the league's best pass catchers.


Oh by the way, a great big "OUCH" to Craig Davis, who got lit up on a pass play on the Vanderbilt sideline. He left the game with a concussion.


Finally the running backs.


Granted it was Vanderbilt's defense, but LSU's backfield enjoyed its best complete game of the season. From fullbacks blocking to the tailbacks gaining huge chunks of yardage, the Tiger ground attack was awesome.


Joseph Addai eclipsed the 100-yard mark and it was a positive note to see Justin Vincent ripping through an opposing defense again. Shyrone Carey was a no-show, but he has proved to be a gamer already and Vincent needed the work.


While all the feel good positives are out of the way, now for the negatives.


LSU was penalized 14 times for 133 yards. While not all of these infractions came against the offense, the Tigers gave up less yards on defense than the offense squandered by penalties, killing several drives.


While LSU managed to overcome the penalties, four turnovers (three fumbles, one interception) will not be so easy to get past against a quality team. The Tigers wasted scoring opportunities time and again having to settle for three field goal attempts, two of which they missed.


It is a shame the turnovers and penalties somewhat dampened an outstanding offensive showing, but that's the way things go. Just be pleased about the victory and the further growth of the offense.


Grade: B



The Defense:


No longer are LSU fans allowed to gripe about two things, the play of the cornerbacks or a lack of a pass rush.


It has grown into the thing to do in Baton Rouge. Fans gathered around the water cooler spend hours a day dissecting Bo Pelini's defense, comparing it to the great Nick Saban's scheme and wondering what happened to the secondary.


Oh yeah, the absence of a pass rush too.


Since giving up 461 yards to Arizona State and no sacks, plus a shoddy showing against Rick Clausen of all quarterbacks in the Tennessee loss, the LSU defense seems to be improving drastically.


While many can argue the defense has been fattening up against the likes of Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, LSU has notched 15 sacks in the last three games and shut down arguably the best quarterback in the SEC in Jay Cutler.  


Celebrated as an NFL star-to-be, Cutler was limited to 113 yards on 11 of 32 passing. He was sacked six times and eventually knocked out of the game. The LSU defense forced him to throw two interceptions and held him to negative yards rushing (minus-20 to be exact), which was what made Cutler such a threat.


Ronnie Prude and Chevis Jackson were flawless in coverage and made play after play on passes delivered from Cutler. LaRon Landry and Jackson each had athletic interceptions as LSU rose 20 spots in passing defense nationally.


Granted, the 87th best pass defense is nothing to write home about, but it is a great deal better than the 117th position it held last week.


By the way, LSU's rushing defense, which limited Vandy to just 25 yards on the ground, is now No. 2 in the nation surrendering 62.5 yards per game.


Grade: A++



Special teams:


Did you know none of Chris Jackson's 18 punts this season have been downed inside the 20?




Jackson is averaging 42 yards per punt and the Tigers are eighth nationally in net punting. His first punt of the game, downed inside the five, led to LSU's sack of Cutler in the end zone resulting in a safety.


Skyler Green continues to re-write the record book in return yards ranking 13th in the nation with 15 yards per return. He leads the SEC in that category.


Colt David was perfect on PATs, but the only blemish on special teams was a couple of penalties and two missed field goals by Jackson. However, the specialists are making things happen and draw high marks here.


Grade: A-





It was a nice move to not start Rudy Niswanger at center resting the seasoned center for the difficult two game stretch with Florida and Auburn, thus replacing him with Ryan Miller.


Too bad Miller was injured and had to be replaced with Niswanger, but that is football.


The offense appeared to be very Jimbo Fisher-esqe with lots diversity. Russell looked good and it is obvious Fisher put his quarterback in position in which he could excel.


The defense seems to be coming around in a big way. Pelini's squad has risen to 28th in the nation in total defense and are even up to 26th in the country in scoring defense, pretty good considering it gave up 31 and 30 points in the first two games.


While the coaching was solid in the Vanderbilt game, the blame for penalties and turnovers inevitably fall of the shoulders of the coaching. Like every aspect of this game, there were a number of superlatives, but a few minor things that could cost the Tigers a win down the stretch.


Grade: B-

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