LSU Football Mid-Term Report Card

Most of us can remember, hopefully, a point in our academic careers coming out of mid-term exams with a high mark. Perhaps it came as a surprise but it was more likely a result of concerted effort in the first half of the semester.<br><br> Regardless, we were all faced with a decision. We could continue down the same path of hard work, or we could choose to rest on our laurels and coast for the second half of the term.

The LSU football team faces a similar juncture with one half of its 2002 schedule behind it and the remaining half starting this weekend with a home date against South Carolina. Based upon what we've seen from the Tigers through the last three games, they are clearly the more talented team entering their showdown with the Gamecocks. But recent experience tells us LSU doesn't fare well when they grow complacent.

Last season, a gut-wrenching loss to Ole Miss came on the heels of the Tigers' dominating shutout of Mississippi State. Fortunately, the Tigers rebounded for six straight wins, a Southeastern Conference championship and the Sugar Bowl trophy.

And the last time LSU beat Florida, an upset of the top-ranked Gators in 1997, they fell to a far less capable Ole Miss squad in a daytime contest on week later at Tiger Stadium.

These are lessons that will probably be revisited this week as LSU prepares for South Carolina. The Gamecocks gained confidence with a come-from-behind win against at Kentucky, giving them reason to believe they can win on the road. Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., is a far cry from the unfriendly confines of Tiger Stadium that USC will enter Saturday.

But perhaps the best course for LSU following its rousing victory over Florida is to greet each game from here on out as an even tougher test. Time might show that Florida wasn't the toughest opponent on the Tigers' schedule this year, so it's probably best for LSU to treat each team it faces as though it presents the biggest challenge.

The following report card examines the Tigers' position-by-position performance over their last three games – Mississippi State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Florida – and determines a mid-term grade by averaging the second quarter marks with those from the first quarter (Virginia Tech, The Citadel, Miami-Ohio: Vol. 25, Issue 10; Sept. 24, 2002).

 

QUARTERBACK

First quarter grade: C

The Mississippi State and Louisiana-Lafayette games allowed Matt Mauck to cut his teeth on the game plan that would be so successful for LSU against Florida. Against the Bulldogs, Mauck turned to an option attack in the second half that allowed the Tigers to widen the gap between themselves and the Bulldogs.

When an overmatched Ragin' Cajuns squad came to Baton Rouge, Mauck was able to turn to the air with great effectiveness in the first quarter. The sophomore went cold in the second quarter, but the Tigers were well in control of the game by this point.

Florida's main defensive threat to LSU was its overall team speed, and the Tigers were able to negate the Gators' edge with a game plan similar to the one they employed against Tennessee in the SEC Championship game. Mauck's elusiveness on the ground proved to be the difference on some clutch plays in the second half, and LSU pulled away thanks to his 13-for-20 passing performance.

Second quarter grade: B

Mid-term grade: B

 

RUNNING BACK

First quarter grade: B

The running game set the tone for LSU against Mississippi State. For the second straight year, the Tigers successfully attacked the Bulldogs with a physical running game. Domanick Davis virtually carried the offense on his back on one scoring drive and finished with 122 yards rushing – the same amount MSU quarterback Kevin Fant totaled passing.

The burden fell again on Davis when LaBrandon Toefield went down in the second quarter against UL-Lafayette with a broken arm. Davis led the Tigers with 15 carries against the Cajuns, but it was Joseph Addai who picked up Toefield's slack with eleven carries for 98 yards.

With Mauck effectively calling his own number on the quarterback draw, Davis and Addai combined for 140 yards against Florida. The big play from the backs against the Gators was a 39-yard run from Davis with the game already well in hand. The Tigers may not have posted big rushing numbers at Florida, but their favorable field position most of the night meant they didn't have to.

Second quarter grade: B

Mid-term grade: B

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

First quarter grade: B

The LSU offensive line has done a nice job of paving the way for the running game, and they're slowly but sure expanding their repertoire as the Tigers' passing game finds its range.

The Mississippi State game allowed LSU to beat the Bulldogs at their own game, and they did so in convincing fashion. Louisiana-Lafayette presented little challenge to the Tigers in the trenches but presented the opportunity for some reserves to get playing time.

Florida, of course, was a much stiffer challenge for the Tigers and it took them an entire half to get into their offensive groove. But on LSU's opening drive of the third quarter, the Tiger offensive line smashed down the Gator opposition on an 80-yard scoring drive that took the steam out of the home team.

Florida sacked Mauck twice but the LSU line gave their quarterback more than enough time to operate throughout the game.

Second quarter grade: B

Mid-term grade: B

 

TIGHT END/RECEIVER

First quarter grade: C+

The Tigers all but abandoned their passing game against Mississippi State, as a single-prong attack with support from special teams proved sufficient against the Bulldogs. A 32-yard touchdown pass from Mauck to Devery Henderson helped seal the game for the Tigers, but LSU managed just four receptions in the game.

Mauck doubled his number of completions against ULL in a game that didn't call for the Tigers to throw the ball with great frequency. Spreading the ball around, LSU started to display a pattern that would shine through the following week against Florida – the big play receivers were making big-plays.

Henderson upped his touchdown reception total for the season to five with a pair of scoring grabs against Florida. Michael Clayton, who had two TD catches against ULL, had three clutch receptions against Florida, gaining 22, 39 and 22 yards.

The tight ends have been quiet over the past three weeks, seeing most of their action as run blockers. A few of Mauck's passes to Eric Edwards have been off the mark and may have gone for big yards. The coming weeks should provide more opportunities for this aspect of the LSU passing game.

Second quarter grade: C

Mid-term grade: C

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

First quarter grade: C

The big plays that eluded the line over the first quarter of the season came frequently and at key times during the last three games. Pass pressure, tackles for a loss, sacks and interceptions have been the norm for this unit in recent weeks.

Mississippi State tried to attack the Tigers through the air, but Kevin Fant was on his back for much of the day. He finished with only 15 completions on 39 attempts with two interceptions and one sack.

Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Jon Van Cleave made an early exit from the game after taking a number of licks from the Tigers. He was sacked once for every completion (6) he recorded against the Tigers.

Statistics showed LSU possessed the top defense in the country heading into the Florida game, but many questioned the Tigers' lofty ranking due to their sub-par competition. But after four quarters of bruising Gator QB Rex Grossman and containing Earnest Graham on the ground, the numbers are legit. For good measure, Marcus Spears added an interception and a sack.

Second quarter grade: B+

Mid-term grade: B

 

LINEBACKERS

First quarter grade: B

Bradie James has been as good as billed through the first half of the season, allowing younger linebackers like Lionel Turner and Cameron Vaughn to get a feel for the game. In the meantime, Turner has developed into a playmaker in his own right. The sophomore from Walker ended his first semester with a pass break-up and a quarterback pressure at Florida.

Although his role is primarily that of a designated pass rusher, Jeremy Lawrence is making his mark in 2002. He had two stops behind the line against the Gators and four solo tackles against Mississippi State.

Not to be outdone, James has been the leading tackler for the Tigers in their two SEC games. He made 12 total tackles against MSU and ten against Florida. He begrudgingly left the field against ULL once the game was iced and allowed some reserves to take the field and rack up stats.

Second quarter grade: A

Mid-term grade: A-

 

SECONDARY

First quarter grade: B

Much like the defensive line, the jury remained out on the LSU secondary until they faced their first serious offensive challenge. It came in the form of Florida and the Tigers passed with flying colors. Corey Webster's five interceptions in Southeastern Conference action prove the LSU defensive backfield is a far improved unit from last year's unit that was so vulnerable to the big play.

Mississippi State's longest pass play was 16 yards against LSU. ULL had a game-best 14-yard completion, and one-time Heisman contender Rex Grossman had an 18-yarder to show for his best play against the Tigers.

In addition to top-notch pass coverage, the Tiger secondary is also very active in blitzes, disguises and run support. The numbers for LSU at the corner and safety position bodes well for continued success in the Tigers' multiple formations.

Second quarter grade: B+

Mid-term grade: B

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

First quarter grade: B

Domanick Davis is still among the nation's top ten all-purpose players, and his biggest contribution has been setting up LSU with favorable field position in every game. So far, he has proven up to the task of being the Tigers' primary running back and returner.

Davis' 164-yard performance against Mississippi State included a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown. A week later, UL-Lafayette elected to punt away from Davis for most of the night but conceded field position in doing so.

Florida, facing poor field position on most of its punts, chose to kick to Davis, and the senior from Breaux Bridge responded with 63 yards on four chances.

Meanwhile, John Corbello has gone about his job with great efficiency. He was 4-of-6 over the last three games, with both of his misses coming from long range against UL-Lafayette.

Second quarter grade: B

Mid-term grade: B

 

MID-TERM TEAM GRADE: B+

The Tigers, while not the offensive powerhouse that took the field in 2001, are capitalizing grandly on the assets at hand. Defensively, LSU is far better than last season's SEC championship team. Apart from Virginia Tech, they've taken opponents away from their game plan this season.

LSU's special teams are so strong that they play to the strengths of the other two units. The offense has enjoyed short fields thanks to the prolific return units, and the defense often has the upper hand because the enemy is caught deep in its own territory.

All this combines for a LSU program that can write its own ticket back to the SEC Championship game if they can overcome injuries and mental barriers that will fall in its path.

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