Tigers Grind One Out at Home

It was not pretty, but it was better than last week. In the Tigers' home opener, LSU moved to 2-0 with a 23-9 victory.

Final Stats

After their Sep. 5 match with Washington, where the new-look Tiger defense was exposed to the tune of 478 total yards, defensive coordinator John Chavis’ group got their act together.

After Husky quarterback Jake Locker tossed for 321 yards in the LSU opener, Vanderbilt’s Larry Smith threw for just 88 yards.

Washington running back Chris Polk helped Locker to the mark. On 23 touches, Polk finished with 124 total yards. 84 of those yards came on 12 carries in the first half. On Saturday, Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy was held to under 100 yards on 20 carries – which included a 26-yard scamper in the second quarter that set up the Commodores lone touchdown.

Perhaps the most telling stat was Vanderbilt’s third down conversions: 4-of-15. After the Tigers looked dazed and confused when the yard-marker flipped to three in Seattle, Chavis’ unit buckled down in Death Valley and kept the LSU offense on the field.

“I think the defensive front handled the line of scrimmage, and that’s what we needed for them to do,” said LSU head coach Les Miles. “If you look at the defense, it would appear to me that Harry Coleman and Rahim Alem had big nights. It seems like they were all over the field.”

Making his second start at strong side linebacker, Coleman led all defenders with 10 tackles. Alem added a team-best six solo stops from his defensive end spot – highlighted by an 11-yard sack on third and 13 in the fourth quarter.

“We improved big time,” Coleman said. “We went into practice Monday and worked hard. We felt good, and we could definitely see the improvement.”

Though it was never pretty – the rain nor the overall game play from the Tigers – the mission was accomplished.

“Winning is the key piece,” said Miles in his post-game address. “I think any time you play imperfectly, and you come to the post-game, you have to recognize that first.

“In the first half, I felt like our defense played really in position again; we had some missed tackles,” he added. “I felt like the offense moved the football at times extremely well … but we need to be able to drive for first downs even when it’s not a great drive that scores.”

After the Commodore’s forced a three-and-out on the Tigers’ opening possession, LSU opened their second drive with three strong runs between Keiland Williams and Jordan Jefferson.

On second down with six yards to go, the career of Russell Shepard officially began. Lined up at quarterback, Shepard glided across the wet field for a 13-yard gain and an LSU first down. Unfortunately, his “Welcome to the SEC” moment came on the same play when the Commodores Myron Lewis sent Shepard head over heels with his tackle.

Shepard lined up at wide receiver the following play. After he nabbed Jefferson’s pass on the slant route, Vanderbilt’s Chris Marve forced the Tiger true freshman to cough the ball up – the only LSU turnover of the night.

“Shepard carried the ball three times with nine yards a carry,” Miles said. “That’s not a bad deal. We have to get him some more touches and more experience. The second time with the ball in his hand, he coughs it up. He didn’t understand how important it is to get the yards and go down.”

After the Tigers forced Vanderbilt to a three-and-out on the following possession, Jefferson hit Brandon LaFell on an 11-yard first down and Terrance Toliver on a 14-yard strike, which moved the ball to the Vanderbilt 22-yard line.

Richard Murphy – who was injured in the contest and could miss multiple weeks of action, according to Miles – added a seven-yard run before the Vanderbilt defense was called for a facemask on Toliver’s reception at the 13-yard line. One play later, Keiland Williams punched the ball across the goal line from six yards out to hand LSU the 7-0 lead.

The Tigers’ first possession of the second quarter saw Williams carry the offense into the red zone once more. When the drive stalled after Williams came up one yard short of the first down, the Tigers settled for a Josh Jasper field goal – his first of three successful attempts inside the red zone.

The Commodores countered with their longest drive of the night: a 12-play, 80-yard affair highlighted by a 26-yard run by Stacy and a six-yard rush by Smith for the score.

After the teams traded possessions, Jasper closed the half with a 22-yard attempt with :02 seconds left on the clock. Senior R.J. Jackson, who drew praise from the Tiger staff for his performance in the spring and fall, added back-to-back completions of 33- and 5-yards to help set up the score.

“It felt great to get a good game out of the way,” said Jackson, who had struggled during the past couple of seasons to find a place in the Tiger lineup after being moved from running back to wide receiver. “We wanted to be able to put something on the board before half, and I was just happy to help get that done. I am feeling really comfortable with things.”

By the end of the night, Jackson had hauled in six passes for 55 yards – a team high.

“It was a career night for R.J.,” Miles said. “Those style of men, when they get to their senior year and are playing their best football, that’s when we need them. He is that guy for us.”

After an 11-play, 52-yard drive that took 5:31 off the game clock to start the third, the drive stalled at the Vanderbilt seven-yard line. Jasper converted on his third attempt of the night, which pushed the Tigers’ lead to 16-7.

The offenses traded possessions before Vanderbilt put some rather unorthodox points onto the board. Punting from the Tiger 14-yard line, Alex Russian snapped the ball well over the head of Derek Helton and into the end zone for the safety.

All of the sudden, the Commodores were in the thick of it. In Death Valley, in the rain against an overmatched Tiger squad, head coach Bobby Johnson’s team was down just seven as the fourth quarter rolled in.

Behind a pair of runs from Kennard Reeves, the Commodores inched closer and closer to the Tiger red zone – and a tie ball game.

Then came Brandon Taylor. After the sophomore was hospitalized during the first week of school, which kept the strong safety out of a starting spot against Washington, Taylor saw the Commodore receiver let the ball slip through his hands and over to the Tigers on the interception.

A defensive stop, from a secondary that needed answers after their opener, was the play of the game.

“I had seen that they were trying to pick us, so I played the coverage kind of soft and just backed off,” Taylor said. “It opened up and I saw my man run across the middle and I went after it and the ball fell into my hands.

“Having the corners play a lot more press coverage helped us a lot,” he added. “We did not play aggressive last week, so this week’s plan took pressure off us. It was much better.”

With six minutes to play in the fourth, the Tigers put the final dagger into the Commodore defense, this time by way of a 14-yard touchdown scamper by Williams – his second of the night.

Williams finished with a team-best 10 carries for 73 yards. Charles Scott, who worked at both fullback and running back, added 50 yards on 13 carries.

While Scott was the workhorse in 2008, the senior said that Williams’ production speaks volumes about the talent in the Tiger backfield.

“Keiland’s a beast, what can you say,” Scott said. “I think he is running better than ever. When you have multiple guys who can get the job done on any night, you are where you want to be.”

Buried in the stat sheet and storyline was the performance of Jefferson, who made just his fourth career start and first in Tiger Stadium.

The sophomore completed on 20-of-29 passes for 138 yards. The golden stat: no interceptions.

“I like our throwing game,” Miles said. “I like the fact that Jefferson is on the money, knows what he’s doing with the ball and reads it well, and I’ll take him. I like him at quarterback.”

And, after a 2008 season that saw a certain Tiger quarterback make his way into the record books for all the wrong reasons, what’s not to like?

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