Thomas' Take: Grading Vandy

By the end of the day on Sunday, the LSU Tigers moved up to No. 9 in the AP Poll, and No. 7 in the Coaches' Poll. The Bayou Bengals jumped a couple spots in each poll, but many of the LSU fans watching Saturday's game still have some lingering questions about the direction of the 2009 squad.

There are a couple clichés that come to mind when reviewing the Vanderbilt game. The first is that a team improves dramatically between the first and second contest. The second is that a rainy night will level the playing field.


There was a lot of improvement on Saturday night and the biggest gains were on the side of the ball where the most questions existed. The LSU defense turned in a solid effort allowing only 12 first downs, and holding the Commodores to 210 total yards. Furthermore, the defense only allowed Vanderbilt to convert 4 out of 15 on third down.


Defensive coordinator John Chavis made limiting success on 3rd down a point of emphasis for the Tiger defense, and the unit responded.


The offense played better as well, but still appears to be searching for an identity. While watching the game, you never got the sense that LSU was in rhythm.  Still, the Tigers accumulated 326 total yards with 178 yards rushing and 148 yards passing. The Tigers also controlled the clock racking up 36:23 in time of possession leaving the Commodores with a mere 23:37.


The time of possession stat is a telling one.  Last week against Washington, the numbers were almost exactly the opposite.


The box score suggests a sound performance by LSU, but the game wasn’t put out of reach until Keiland Williams’ 14-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. This LSU squad has looked impressive in spots, but there is still a lot of work to be done.


Let’s take a closer look at how the Tigers grades out against Vanderbilt.



Jordan Jefferson turned in another solid effort. In only his fourth start on the college level he finished 20-of-29 for 138 yards. The young signal caller clearly has great command of the Tiger offense. In the first two weeks, LSU has primarily been running a no-huddle offense where the coaches wait to see the defensive alignment – check with me – and then signal the plays into Jefferson. Jefferson is then responsible for making the calls at the line of scrimmage and getting everyone in the right spot.


It seems like a daunting task for a 19-year old quarterback, but Jefferson is a poised young man. However, you can’t help but wonder if all the responsibility before the snap is hindering his ability to simply play the game.


Jefferson understands the importance of ball security. He hasn’t thrown and interception in two contest, and he hasn’t fumbled. Yet, he does seem indecisive with the football at times, and he holds the ball too long at times waiting for plays to develop.


The young man gets it, so it won’t be long before he throws the ball away or simply tucks the ball and takes off when faced with that situation.


Jefferson left the field for one play because of what looked like leg cramps. Jarrett Lee came in and completed a nifty middle screen pass, and Jefferson was back in the game. Despite his struggles in the past, Lee seems ready to fill in if need be.


Finally, Russell Shepard got to take his first snaps as a college football player Saturday night. On his first play, he scampered 13 yards around the left corner of the field only to be greeted and body slammed by a Vanderbilt defender. On the very next play, he caught an 8-yard pass from Jefferson, but fumbled after another nice lick by the Commodore defense.


Les Miles does not like it when you fumble, so I’m sure Shepard will quickly learn to secure the football. The young man is as advertised – an incredible talent. It appears that all other 21 players on the field are running in sand when Shepard has the ball. He has incredible feet and by mid-season should be keeping SEC defensive coordinators up late.





Running Backs

Keiland Williams turned in another top-notch performance running with speed and power.  Williams rushed 10 times for 73 yards and two scores. On the first score of the night, the Tigers had Charles Scott and Williams lined up in a traditional I formation. Jefferson faked a fullback dive to Scott, and pitched out to his left to a streaking Williams. Williams powered through a would be tackler and into the end zone.


Keiland Williams scores one of his two touchdowns against Vandy

LSU is using this formation more and more, and it’s very effective. They can run option out of it, they can give the ball to Scott on a dive play, they can run a pitch to Williams, or simply send Williams up the gut for a traditional power I. It’s a formation that you might see more and more of, because it allows two big strong backs an opportunity to be on the field at the same time.


Trindon Holliday had three carries for 15 yards. However, it appears the coaches are still struggling to find ways to get him the football.


Richard Murphy had one carry for seven yards, but left the game with an undisclosed knee injury that may sideline him for the remainder of the year. It’s hard luck for Murphy who seemed to be getting more playing time early in the year.


Scott carried the ball 13 times for 50 yards for an average of 3.8 yards a carry. It appears that any time he is in the game, the defense is keying on him. While he hasn’t been the dominant runner this year that he was last year, Scott seemed to be more explosive and decisive than he was against Washington. Like many of the Tigers, he may just be showing the signs of an extremely challenging fall camp.


Grade: B




R.J. Jackson made an appearance for the Tigers Saturday night, and clearly sparked the offense. While Terrance Tolliver and Brandon LaFell both played well, Jackson seemed to come out of nowhere. His first catch came on a 3rd and 6 late in the first quarter.


Jefferson received the snap and while rolling to his right threw a rocket over the fingertips of a couple of Vanderbilt defenders. Jackson made a tremendous adjustment to the ball and pulled it in for a 30-yard completion. That was the longest pass play of the game for LSU and it yielded a field goal at the end of the first half. Jackson finished with six catches for 55 yards.


Tolliver had another good performance with three catches for 21 yards. He dropped a few passes, but it’s clear that he and Jefferson have a lot of chemistry early in the season.


LaFell caught seven passes for 38 yards with the longest completion being 20 yards. Jefferson and LaFell seem to be getting on the same page, but I am scratching my head a little as to why there were so many bubble screens to him when that seems like it would be a good play for Jackson too, who used to be a running back? 


Richard Dickson caught two passes for 14 yards, but he and Jefferson need to hook up more as the season progresses to take some pressure off the outside receivers.


Chris Mitchell broke free and wide open for a score, but Jefferson overthrew the ball. Big plays were missing from the receivers Saturday, and still waiting on Mitchell and Rueben Randle to get more involved in the offense.


Grade: B



Offensive Line

Jefferson was sacked three times in the contest. Some of that can be attributed to indecisiveness by the quarterback, but the Vanderbilt front four was consistently getting a good push. The Tigers are still searching for an identity and cohesiveness on the offensive line.


So far, the LSU is not a power running team, and they aren’t a spread option team. Overall, the play was a little better from the offensive line than in the opener. They certainly seemed to excel in sealing the edges, but struggled between the tackles and with pass protection. A clear identity at some point will help the offensive linemen settle into their respective roles.


As long as the line continues to gel, this unit will be fine. No better time to put it all together than this week against ULL because a road trip to Mississippi State looms in two weeks.


Grade: C



Defensive Line

The defensive line had a much stronger game in week two. Rahim Alem and Chancey Aghayere both recorded sacks, although Aghayere’s was a gimme. Lavar Edwards also recorded a sack and forced a fumble, and was in on two tackles – one solo and one assist.


The defensive line accumulated 20 tackles during the game.


Alem specifically played much better recording six solo tackles, and assisting on one. The defensive line consistently pressured Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith, much more than the week before.


The line also did a fine job of clogging up the lanes, and limiting space to run the ball. The Commodores averaged a paltry 3.1 yards per carry against a motivated and energetic LSU team.

Drake Nevis provided another spark with four tackles and two tackles for loss where he blew up the offensive line on two consecutive plays.


Charles Alexander was in on four stops and Josh Downs was active despite not showing up on the stat sheet.


While the results for the line were positive, they certainly need to continue to improve. The defensive tackles need to step up and start pushing the pocket from the interior.


The performance of the line was encouraging, but they need to keep improving.


Grade: B+




A solid performance from the linebackers on Saturday night. While there were no big plays to speak of, the unit performed with efficiency.


Harry Coleman seemed to be getting more and more comfortable logging a total of 10 tackles. Two of the tackles were solo and he assisted on the other eight.


Kelvin Sheppard was in on seven stops with four solos and three assists. Perry Riley also had six tackles with one solo and five assists.


After last week’s big game, Jacob Cutrera contributed one solo and one assist for two tackles.

While not an awe-inspiring performance, the linebackers played well. Still a few too many missed tackles though.


Grade: B-



Defensive Backs

Patrick Peterson played so well that he didn’t record a tackle or break up a pass, and the defensive backs as a whole played well. 


No stats from Peterson may not sound good to casual observers, but it simply means that as a true sophomore teams are already shying away from throwing in his direction.


Meanwhile, Chad Jones bounced back from a disappointing effort last week to notch five tackles, three solo and two assists. Again, the numbers don’t sound impressive, but a team is in big trouble when a safety is logging all the tackles. Jones played better in week two, but LSU needs a playmaker to emerge and he is someone that has the physical tools to be one. The mental part just needs to catch up.

Brandon Taylor's interception saved the day for the Tigers

Brandon Taylor played well making a nifty interception on a tipped ball that was the defensive play of the game, and Danny McCray broke up a pass.


Chris Hawkins and Jai Eugene shared time at the right corner spot. Hawkins had three tackles, one solo and two assists and he broke up a pass. Eugene had one solo tackle, but it was a nice pop.


Again, not a lot of statistics is a good thing for defensive backs. The corners and safeties were given a more aggressive game plan and allowed to play a lot more bump and run coverage. The results were evident.


Grade: B+



Special Teams

There was good and bad with the special teams unit.


The kick off coverage was good. The punt coverage was good. Josh Jasper attempted and made three field goals (32, 22, 24).


That was obviously the good.


Holliday muffed a punt, and you have to wonder how much longer he’ll get the opportunity to field punts. Alex Russian sent a ball well over Derek Helton’s head which led to a safety, and kept the outcome of the game in question.


Helton punted better and averaged 40 yards a boot with a long of 50. He’s still not getting the hang time, though, on a consistent basis that made him one of the top punters on the juco ranks last year.


Certainly the weather conditions and slick ball contributed to some of the mistakes, but special teams are crucial to the success of a football team. Special teams play will win or lose you at least one game a season if not more. Simply stated, the mistakes need to be cleaned up.


Grade: C-

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