Working on the Fundamentals

There wasn't a whole lot of excitement generated by LSU's defensive effort against Washington, but there was a slight glimmer of hope with the way the troops played in the second half.

Washington’s offense clearly had the upper hand in just about every way imaginable during the first two quarters of play last Saturday.


At the half, the Huskies had a decisive edge in total yards (296-160), passing yards (183-65), rushing yards (113-95), and first downs (14-10). Perhaps the two biggest keys to the first half, though, were that UW converted 7-of-9 third downs and held the ball for 19:47.


LSU held a 17-13 lead at the break, but if Jacob Cutrera hadn’t returned an interception for a touchdown, then the scoreboard would have likely read 13-10 in Washington’s favor.


A true LSU optimist would say that the problems on the defensive side of the ball stemmed from not knowing what to expect from first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian. However, Tiger linebacker Perry Riley isn’t going to make any excuses for their first half woes.


“It boiled down to mistakes,” said Riley, who logged six tackles including one behind the line of scrimmage. “People being where they weren’t supposed to be; that came down to 95 percent of the busted runs. People were trying to do other people’s assignments and not just trying to do their own.”


Washington gouged the LSU defense with several big plays in the first 30 minutes.


It started on the opening derive with the Huskies facing a third and 12 from their own 32 yard line. UW quarterback Jake Locker found Johri Ferguson on the right side on a screen and 51 yards later the Huskies were sitting on the LSU 15. Two plays later, Locker found James Johnson for a 17-yard touchdown.


On their third drive – following Cutrera’s pick-six – Chris Polk took a handoff on the opening play and turned the corner for a 33-yard gain. Three plays later, Locker connected with Devin Aguillar for 17 yards on a big third and 14 that got the Huskies down to the Tiger 27. Fortunately, for LSU, Polk fumbled five plays later and Patrick Peterson recovered.


Washington’s other big play of the first half came with 16 second remaining when Locker connected with Aguillar again, this time for 46 yards with Jai Eugene in coverage. That led to a field goal with no ticks left on the clock, and it put an end to a first half that was filled with big plays for the Huskies and marred by mental breakdowns for the Tigers.


“You can’t take anything away from Washington because it was a good team,” said senior linebacker Harry Coleman. “Every play they got on film we either lined up wrong, made the strength call to the wrong side, or missed the tackle.”


The Tigers shot themselves in the foot time and time again, but an ineffective pass rush, combined with some outstanding play by Locker, was the story of the first half of action.


When the Tigers couldn’t get pressure on the junior signal caller with their front four, defensive coordinator John Chavis would try and get to him by blitzing his linebackers. However, Locker, who completed 25-of-45 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns, made all the right calls.


“Washington did a good job when they were under pressure of going to the hot route and he (Locker) made a good decision 95 percent of the time he was out there,” said Riley. “He did a great job of just staying poised, staying comfortable in the pocket, and getting the ball off before the blitz could get there.”

The Tigers need to improve on the fundamentals heading into Saturday's home opener

According to Riley and Coleman, Chavis didn’t make many adjustments at the half. Coleman said that Chavis told them to communicate more effectively and to wrap up when they got their arms around a ball carrier. The poor technique used when tackling is what really seemed to be the focus at the intermission.


“He was pretty upset with the tackling portion, but we didn’t make too many adjustments,” said sophomore cornerback Patrick Peterson, who led the Tigers with nine tackles, and also broke up two passes and recovered a fumble. “The quarterback was making some pretty good throws and we had a couple of blown assignments on defense. We just had to focus a little bit more.”


The Tigers took Chavis’ words of wisdom to heart and played better in the second half, with the exception of Washington’s last possession when the Tigers had gone up 31-16.


Up until that last drive when the Tigers went to a prevent defense, LSU held Washington to 101 total yards and stopped them on third down six out of nine times. Even with the 81 yards on that final drive, the 182 yards and 4-of-10 third down conversions was a far cry from what took place in that first half.


The stops on third down were of particular interest to Chavis, and he stressed that when the final horn blew in Seattle, and hammered that point home at a team meeting on Monday.


“Since yesterday, the stress has been on getting off the field on third down,” said Coleman. “That really was what the meeting was all about. We have to get better on third down, and over here, that’s our money down. We have to get off the field.”


After last year’s defense finished ninth in the league in scoring (24.2) and yards allowed per game (325.5), Miles understands that fans were looking for better results in Chavis’ first test. However, the headman doesn’t appear to be nearly as concerned as a portion of his fan base.


“I think we’re all ambitious about how well the defense should be playing and will be playing, but I think it’s fair to say that we’ll play better as we go forward,” Miles said at his weekly media luncheon on Monday. “I’m not too worried about what’s being done. I know it’s all being addressed, and I think it’s time to enjoy the development of the defense.”


With the Washington game now in the rearview mirror and a date with Vanderbilt only four days away, the Tigers will face a team that will rely more on the run for the home and conference opener.


The Commodores defeated Western Carolina on Saturday, 45-0, and rushed for 433 yards – Vandy’s highest single-game rushing total in more than 30 years.


One would think that after facing someone described as “one of the best quarterbacks LSU’s faced in recent years” in Locker, the Tigers would be happy to see a ground-oriented attack. But Peterson says it doesn’t matter what type of offense they face, because the focus is solely on the guys sporting the purple and gold.


“We’re just excited to get back home, first and foremost,” Peterson said. “Coach Chavis is going to most definitely bring his A-game this week, and the guys are going to be a little more focused now that we got that first game under our new defensive coordinator under our belt.”


And for those fans that are worried about a defense that is ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in total defense and pass defense at 478 and 321 yards allowed, respectively, Peterson has a message for them.


“No worries,” he said. “I believe we are much better than we were last year. We have a different attitude and a different frame of mind. I think coach is putting players in a better position for us to be great.”

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