The loss column reads zero, but the feeling around the LSU football facility is not the “look at us go” attitude that one could assume programs like Washington are experiencing. Instead, it seems more along the lines of “I hope nobody is looking.”
Three weeks in a row, Miles has followed a win with talk of needed improvement and a desire to be better. Not so much coach-speak that could be expected from a team that had opened the year with three victories over non-ranked opponents, but rather coach-speak with a serious undertone.
If the Tigers don’t start righting some wrongs on both sides of the ball, the expectations of an SEC West title and January bowl berth might be a bit too high – even with the talent that Miles has put into purple and gold.
Last fall, Charles Scott ran over and around the competition at will. Now, the senior is splitting time between fullback and tailback. Keiland Williams has moved into the primary back role, but the touches don’t come as consistently as they did to Scott in 2008. Neither runner has totaled over 75 yards in a game, nor has Scott been able to score a touchdown on the ground.
“Offensively, I am mad,” Miles said. “I don’t think we rushed the football well. We need to rush it more efficiently.”
With three starters – Ciron Black, Lyle Hitt and Joe Barksdale – back to the line from last fall, Miles pegged the unit before the season as one of the most talented groups he has had during his five seasons with the Tigers.
As a result of the slow start, Miles called together the unit on Monday morning and challenged them to step up their play.
“I don’t think [player] change is necessary, I think it is more efficient and better play,” he said. “I think the offensive line is very capable; they will come to play this weekend.”
At quarterback, the Tigers’ have yet to put together a 200-plus yard effort. Against ULL, sophomore Jordan Jefferson completed 16-of-25 passes for 165 yards, two touchdowns and an interception – his first of the season.
Jefferson has found comfort in keeping the plan simple, making most of his work out of short passes or quarterback keepers. Miles said that the game plan has called for Jefferson to do it all, and the responsibility to make the plays happen fall on shoulders other than just Jefferson’s.
“We can throw better, and I think our receivers can catch better,” he said. “We had four drops in that [ULL] game. We have capable receivers that can go make those catches to distance ourselves from our opponent.
“I think [Jefferson] could throw the deep ball,” Miles added, in response to questions surrounding the sophomore’s ability to take his game vertical. “But he is keeping a weary eye on where he throws the ball; he is managing the game better.”
Without a dominant offensive performance through three weeks, Miles said that the daily search is for a solution that can bring each side up to their potential before the schedule gets hairy.
“I think there is not one piece that is broken; if it was that it would be easy,” Miles said. “It is a combination; we have to settle in and execute. In the play calls, it is a guy who goes the wrong way in one direction and one who over-leads in another.
“It is certainly something we can fix.”
Defensively, Miles said that there has been significant improvement with each outing. After the unit allowed 478 yards against Washington to open the season, they held Vanderbilt to 210 yards and ULL to 272.
First year coordinator John Chavis’ linebackers – Harry Coleman, Perry Riley, Kelvin Sheppard and Jacob Cutrera – have caught up to speed with the new staff and scheme in a hurry. The same can be said for the cornerbacks, highlighted by the lockdown performances of sophomore Patrick Peterson.
Even Chad Jones, who struggled mightily with tackling in the season opener, has worked his way into Miles’ mouth – though the words of praise were immediately followed with a challenge to the entire side to play better.
“I think Chad is gaining confidence back there, and he made two nice interceptions and one of the finest special teams tackles I have seen in some time,” Miles said. “But, I am not happy with him, and he better not be happy with him. He needs to continue to develop and continue to grow. When he is ready to play in the games yet to be played, then that is what I want.
“That applies to the whole team,” he added. “We are gaining speed, but we need to hit on another level at [Mississippi] State and continue that throughout the schedule.”
Worries continue to surround the defensive line, which entered the season shallow on depth and unproven on the talent front. In three weeks, there has not been a dominant performance from the group and three Tigers - Pep Levingston, Josh Downs and Akiem Hicks – have gone down to injury.
“They are short term injuries,” Miles said. “They will be day-to-day. Hicks is coming off the flu, so I don’t know exactly his specifics.”
Levingston has missed two starts at left end, where Chancey Aghayere has replaced him. Downs helped fill an interior that is down to Drake Nevis, Charles Alexander and Al Woods.