The LSU football team took a two-week break from the rigors of the student-athlete’s day, using most of the time to hit the books before final’s week.
The rest of the downtime was spent reflecting on the 9-3 season that was, and maintaining mental composure for their battle against Penn State, which waits on the day after the 2009 calendar year closes.
“We have looked at Penn State,” said head coach Les Miles. “They are a very good football team. I like our matchup.”
On Monday afternoon, the team hit the practice field together for the first time since the week prior to the Arkansas game.
Last season, the post-season destination was the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, where the Tigers routed the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets just before the team rang in the New Year.
This go around, the Tigers will be getting nothing but rest on New Year’s Eve.
The following afternoon, No. 12 LSU will line up against No. 13 Penn State in what is being tabbed by many analysts as the best non-BCS game post-season football has going for it.
One thing is certain, after a Monday that Miles described as, “sloppy football,” the LSU side came out ready to practice.
Tuesday, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard described the day’s work as one of the most intense in recent memory.
Wednesday afternoon, Miles confirmed that the level of intensity was turned up once more.
“It was a very physical practice and it got heated, which is just what we needed,” he said. “We had a good practice, the tempo was good and we got some good running in at the end.
“We are still a ways away from having it in, but we’re making strides.”
One concern was the team’s ability to catch back up to game-speed after more than 14 days away from the field.
So far, Miles feels that most of the Tigers are already back up to speed.
“I think the tempo of our practices now that we are three workouts in, have been good,” he said. “You can see the players getting back into the routine. We have gotten better each day. There’s been some improvement on both sides of the ball this week.”
With more time to prepare also comes more reps for the second team, a side Miles said is already making their mark.
“We’re practicing a lot of our younger guys,” he said. “It gives these guys an opportunity to play. There is an opportunity for those guys to improve, but there’s also an opportunity for our team to improve.”
Once again, neither of the new offensive assistants – Billy Gonzales and Frank Wilson – were able to participate in practice, instead relegated to taking notes from the perimeter.
Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton continued to handle the receivers and quarterbacks, while assistant coach John Dunn worked with the running backs.
The Tigers will do a walk-through special teams session on Thursday before returning to full-speed work on Friday.