The conditions of Saturday’s game were not favorable for the Tigers, and LSU head coach Les Miles was quick to point that out before he took questions from the media at Tuesday’s press luncheon.
“We saw [Washington] at their best, where they were healthiest and least susceptible to depth issues and injuries,” said Miles in his opening statement. “They practiced entirely on the back end of their schedule for LSU without the need of school. This LSU team had to travel 2,500 miles and through two time zones to play.
“It was a job well one, but we did not play as well as we would have liked,” he added. “I think our football team accomplished the goal, which was to win and overcome the new era of Washington football. But we want to play better…we have to play better.”
The obvious concerns came from first year defensive coordinator John Chavis’ group, which allowed 478 total yards of offensive production to the Huskies – more than any total from the 2008 season. In a game where most expected the defense to make their mark, it seemed that the unit had worked backwards.
Miles said that the damage was done through a combination of solid play from UW quarterback Jake Locker and poor tackling by the Tiger defenders.
“Their quarterback has great feet, the ability to make you miss, and he can get out and get first downs,” Miles said. “He is a very accurate passer. He will be a first round pick. The first game out of the chute, we played one of the best quarterbacks we will all season long in his backyard.
“There were five plays that could have been eliminated with tackling and playing the call as it was supposed to be played,” he continued. “If you eliminate those five, take the 80-yard drive off from the end, and that could have been a really nice defensive outing. That is where we are headed. We are all ambitious about how they should play. I am not worried about it, and everything is being addressed.”
On the defensive line, the Tigers seemed unable to get pressure or contain Locker when the pocket broke down.
“I am concerned about a consistent pass rush, but after 83 plays the line can be worn down,” Miles said. “I was very pleased with Drake Nevis, and Josh Downs as well. I think that Downs will work himself into the game earlier, and I don’t necessarily think playing him next to Nevis is a bad thing. I think two smaller tackles can sometimes work to your advantage.”
Two of the bright spots were the play of Patrick Peterson and Jacob Cutrera. Peterson finished with a team-high nine solo tackles, while Cutrera added five stops, an interception and a touchdown.
“Peterson seemed to be in position to make plays most of the game,” Miles said. “Cutrera, in his first year starting a lot of football, tipped the pass and returned it for the touchdown. I hope that is the start on a lot of Saturdays from him.”
While Danny McCray started over Brandon Taylor at strong safety, Miles said to expect more of Taylor headed forward.
“Brandon missed a piece of game week based on illness, and he came back after,” he said. “Danny played back there and Karnell Hatcher made some nice plays, but Taylor still has a leg up on the spot. I did like Karnell and, at times, Danny.”
Offensively, the Tigers were limited to 48 plays. Miles said that he had planned to get players like Russell Shepard into the game, but the minimal number of opportunities left the staff unable to spread the ball around as they had hoped.
“It is hard to get into a real rhythm with so few snaps,” Miles said. “Early on there were some things that we wanted to have happen that did not work out as planned, but overall we did a really good job. I don’t think playing conservative was the issue.”
Jordan Jefferson finished 11-of-19 for 172 yards and three touchdowns in his third start under center. While Miles praised his sophomore quarterback’s ability to manage the opposition, stadium and crowd noise, he expressed concern for Jefferson’s decisions outside the pocket – primarily when it comes to taking hits.
“There is a time where you get into the secondary and the quarterback needs to slide and get down,” Miles said. “That has been instructed, but he is a tremendous competitor and wants at it. We want to pull him back. I know it is his body, but he is our quarterback. He needs to get into those open voids and get what he can and then get down. It is something he needs to learn for us.”
While Josh Jasper converted on four-of-four extra points and his only field goal attempt, punter Derek Helton averaged just 32 yards with a long of 38. Miles said that the special teams unit would click as one this Saturday.
“Helton mishit a couple of punts, and that is not him,” he said. “That is not how he plays.”
On the medical front, Pep Levingston, who suffered a knee injury during Saturday’s contest, may miss the Vanderbilt game.
“Pep is nicked, but it is not terribly serious,” Miles said. “It is one that may keep him out next game. I will know on a day-to-day basis. It is not a surgical issue, so he’ll just need rest and rehab.”