The strides made from the LSU defense from 2008 to 2009 are very, very evident.
The players point to the input from the coaches, a new-look staff led by coordinator John Chavis that has the unit holding opposing offense to an average of 14.5 points per game, which ranks 14th in the NCAA (fourth in the SEC).
At Monday’s press luncheon, head coach Les Miles pointed to the production of the defensive line, an area of concern to some prior to the season, as an integral factor in the continued success.
“Drake [Nevis], Charles [Alexander] and Al Woods, all those guys are playing extremely well,” Miles said. “Charles has lost weight and is playing the best football of his career, and the same with Al.
“Drake is always improving,” he added. “He is a guy in his first real year as a starter and full time player, and he is relied on and he is physical. He is looking to make plays.”
The improvement from the rest of the Tiger defense is just as evident. Chad Jones and Brandon Taylor are first time starters at safety, and both seem to have found comfortable homes. Chavis’ linebackers are among the best in the SEC, and the same can be said for the secondary.
The offense, a melting pot of talented athletes that were revered preseason as one of the top units in the country, is where the focus is needed. Through six games, the Tigers’ total offense ranks 112 out of 120 in the NCAA.
“We spent some time on the offensive side of the ball … and it is not just one piece,” Miles said. “If it was, we would go wrestle with that. But we want to run the ball more efficiently and open up the opportunity to throw it. I think we are doing the right things, we just have to execute better.
“We spent a lot of time in the open week throwing the ball down the field,” he added. “Jarrett competed extremely well, but I like the development of our quarterback who is the starter.”
Sophomore Jordan Jefferson, who has started a combined eight games in his two seasons with the program, has struggled at times with hitting receivers down the field.
For the myriad of armchair offensive coordinators, a common concern is Jefferson’s hesitancy to let the deep ball lose for fear of an interception. Others point to the play calls, which have restricted the quarterback’s ability to go vertical.
Where does Miles stand?
“I think it is a combination of the two,” he said. “There is a point in time where he is very efficient, but in certain aspects. We have instructed him in some ways, the timing of those throws and where he should throw it.
“And, we would like to call some more deep balls.”
For freshman Russell Shepard, the bye week should have served as a time when the staff ironed out the wrinkles in the speedster’s game. Instead, development hit a standstill.
“Russell was sick the entire time, so we didn’t get a lot from him,” Miles said. “I feel like he will be ready to roll [against Auburn]. When we had the scrimmage, he took reps in that. It was not a large number, so we will see if he is ready to go today; see if we can get him greased up and have him ready to call his plays.”
Outside of Shepard, Miles said the team is near full health.
That means that Auburn, who dropped their weekend contest to Kentucky in Lexington, will get a rested LSU team that is coming off a bye week after falling at the hands of the No. 1 team in the nation.
Despite the lone loss coming after weeks of chatter about the Tigers being unworthy of a top five ranking, Miles said that all eyes and ears are on the road ahead.
“The measure of a season is not on what we have done, but what we are about to do,” he said. “It is about playing Auburn. We are pointed down hill and we know where we are at.”