LSU's third quarter report card

Peak, valley, plateau – this would accurately describe the experience of the LSU football team over its last three games. After a big win at home against South Carolina, the Tigers plummeted at Auburn and then bounced back for a close shave at Kentucky.<br><br>Was the astounding finish against the Wildcats a sign of improvement from LSU, or just an omen for continuing struggles?

The Tigers have three more games to answer that question, but now it is time to examine and grade their performance against their last three opponents.



Third quarter grade: C


Marcus Randall had a confidence-building debut against South Carolina, rushing for a pivotal touchdown early in the third quarter that sparked the Tigers to 38-14 win over the Gamecocks.


The passing game was kept fairly simple for Randall against USC, and he responded with a 12-of-23 performance for 183 yards. More importantly, he didn't make any bad choices with his throws and steered clear of interceptions.


"The game turned out just like I figured it would," Randall said after beating the Gamecocks. "We came out and moved the ball well. We practiced all week and prepared for this team. The team did a great job."


A week later against Auburn, Randall made up for the turnovers he didn't commit against South Carolina. His four interceptions played a big part in the advantageous field position Auburn enjoyed throughout the game, leading to a 31-7 win for the Plainsmen.


"Marcus had a tough day out there today," said LSU head coach Nick Saban. "It was probably a combination of things. I'm sure his first game on the road as a starter was a little more traumatic for him. I also feel like the conditions out there were probably a little more difficult then what he's used to having to operate in."


The conditions were much more conducive to quarterback play when the Tigers traveled to Kentucky. But for each big play Randall managed, it seemed as though the Wildcats' Jared Lorenzen had an answer. Only a desperation pass and an unbelievable catch with no time remaining saved the Tigers from suffering an upset in Lexington.


Randall completed 10 of 23 passes for 264 yards against Kentucky with 175 coming on three touchdown passes to Devery Henderson. Most importantly, he avoided poor throws and interceptions.


To this point in the season, Randall's good performances have outnumbered his bad ones. Not coincidental is that Randall has enjoyed good protection from his line and support from the running game in those two wins.


Third quarter grade: C




There's no knocking the effort of Domanick Davis in the wake of LaBrandon Toefield's broken arm suffered against Louisiana-Lafayette. The senior all-purpose player made 26 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina and got good support from sophomore Shyrone Carey.


There was nowhere near as much open ground for Davis and the Tigers at Auburn. While the Plainsmen rolled over LSU with their ground game, the Bayou Bengals found resistance at every turn. An early fumble from Davis set the tone for what would be a day dominated by the home team at Jordan-Hare Stadium.


Two weeks later at Kentucky, LSU's rushing offense got back on track with the help of Joseph Addai. Davis rolled with his usual all-purpose performance while Addai led the Tigers with 91 yards on nine carries, including a 63-yard scoring run in the third quarter.


Carey has not played since injuring his shoulder against South Carolina, and his return would bolster a rushing offense holding its own despite the loss of an All-SEC back.


Third quarter grade: B




The LSU offensive line came through in clutch fashion when Marcus Randall started his first game against South Carolina. Establishing the running game was important against the Gamecocks as was giving Randall enough time to operate as a passer.


"The mix and balance was good, but we really controlled the line of scrimmage," said Saban. "We ran right at them."


If there was any question that Randall could do the job on his own, it was answered in the negative one week later at Auburn. The Plainsmen put pressure on Randall from the get-go and forced him to make a number of mistakes, and there was no relief from the LSU running game when Auburn stuffed that aspect of the Tiger offense.


The assignment for the LSU offensive line at Kentucky was to regain the form it displayed against South Carolina and Florida. In a return to fundamentals, the Tiger O-line met a determined Wildcat defense and won enough battles to let Randall take the war with his Hail Mary pass at the end of the game.


LSU has kept its offensive line healthy for the most part this season, and the unit has improved thanks to its extensive playing time together. More of the same should lead to overall improvement from the entire Tiger offense.


Third quarter grade: B




Devery Henderson ended his two-game big play drought in a resounding fashion at Kentucky. Officially considered LSU's No. 4 wide receiver, he is setting the pace for the Tigers' passing game.


South Carolina provided an opportunity for receivers other than Michael Clayton and Henderson to make plays. Jerel Myers and Reggie Robinson made clutch catches to keep the Gamecocks honest while the Tigers' ground game set the tempo.


Auburn virtually eliminated LSU's passing game in the messy conditions on the Alabama plains. When the Tigers went to the air, it was usually in a down-and-distance situation that heavily favored the Auburn defense.


Along with Henderson, Michael Clayton made key contributions as a receiver at Kentucky. The sophomore All-SEC candidate kept drives alive with clutch catches, including a 17-yarder that set up the game-winning play.


As for the tight ends, there have been fewer pass plays involving their position as the season wears on. Eric Edwards and company have accepted their primary roles as run blockers and are making their presence known without getting the ball in their hands.


Third quarter grade: C+




The going was rough for the Tigers when Marcus Spears was forced to the sidelines with a high ankle sprain. Melvin Oliver took his place during the South Carolina game and got the start against Auburn. Although the Tigers' defensive difficulties couldn't be pinned on Oliver alone, the line did play better with Spears back in the mix against Kentucky.


Opponents were struggling to get the ball moving on the ground against LSU until Auburn bulled its way over the Tigers. Kentucky enjoyed similar success in the second half with Artose Pinner building up steam as the game went on.


There was less of a letdown from LSU's pass rush, thanks to the interior surge provided by Kenderick Allen, Byron Dawson and Chad Lavalais. If not for the mass and mobility of Jared Lorenzen, the Tigers probably would have seen their sack totals go up at Lexington.


As a unit, the LSU defensive line mirrors the offensive line in that it seems to be improving in each game. Opponents that relied heavily on the pass, like Florida and Miami-Ohio, don't seem to fare as well against LSU as run-based (Virginia Tech, Auburn) or balanced teams (Kentucky). Unbalanced teams (ULL, Mississippi State) have struggled the most against the Tigers' interior.


Third quarter grade: B




Bradie James continues to see his stock rise in the race for the Butkus Award. More importantly, the players on either side of him are also making an impact and allow James to hone in for the big tackles.


Lionel Turner is a big player for the weakside position, allowing him to make an impact as a run stopper and pass rusher. And although he leaves the field in nickel situations, Jeremy Lawrence is forcing the issue in the backfield on the strong side.


We hate to sound like a broken record when it comes to linebacker grades, but LSU has distinguished itself at the position. As goes Bradie James, so goes the Tiger defense. 


Third quarter grade: A-




The circumstances in the LSU defensive backfield the past couple of weeks could have led to a meltdown for the unit, but the drop-off so far has not been as great as some might have expected. The decision of Damien James to leave the team may have done more damage to the mindset of the Tigers than the loss of talent. In the wake of the controversy, a fairly capable unit has emerged.


Demetrius Hookfin looked like a tested veteran against South Carolina with two interceptions. An ankle injury at Auburn kept him from going full speed at Kentucky, but it has been a while since he has been burned on a big play.


Jack Hunt took over for Damien James at free safety against Kentucky and led a secondary that played with a lot more confidence. Randall Gay got a chance to play safety against Auburn, but his return to corner against Kentucky resulted in him making more significant plays.


Strong safety Norman LeJeune and nickel back Corey Webster round out a unit that has been the most consistent on the team.


Third quarter grade: B




Although Domanick Davis hasn't taken any returns into the end zone in a while, the LSU special teams are still among the nation's best.


John Corbello continues his precision kicking on kickoffs and field goals. He came through with two three-pointers at Kentucky.


Donnie Jones set a new school record with an 86-yard punt against the Wildcats and worked well with his coverage team to contain UK returner Derek Abney.


The kickoff coverage unit, which had limited opportunities at Auburn, also put the cuffs on Abney.

Mid-term grade: B

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