The week prior to Christmas, LSU head coach Les Miles handed down some unfortunate holiday news.
Senior Charles Scott, who suffered a broken collarbone in the third quarter of November’s Alabama game, would not suit up for the Tigers in their New Year’s Day bowl game.
“If he had just a couple of more weeks, I’m certain he’d probably play,” Miles said. “We certainly miss him, and we’ve missed him every day that he hasn’t been on the field with us.”
The Tigers will be forced with the task of replacing over 900 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, not just the production of Scott, but also injured running backs Keiland Williams and Richard Murphy.
Murphy, only a junior, suffered a season ending injury against Vanderbilt in LSU’s first home game of the year.
Williams, who ran for nearly 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns during his four seasons at LSU, saw his Tiger career end with a broken ankle suffered in a late-November loss at Ole Miss.
That means that sophomore Stevan Ridley, who recorded touchdowns in back-to-back games against Tulane and Alabama, will get the second start of his young LSU career.
“I hate it came the way that it did, but you have to step up into the rotation,” Ridley said. “I am really excited. It is a great opportunity for me to get out there and show what I can do.
“I have been working hard, and the coaches depend on me to do what I do.”
The only running backs coach Ridley has ever known with the Tigers, former assistant head coach Larry Porter, is now the headman at Memphis.
That means that Ridley must impress new LSU running backs coach Frank Wilson, who recruited the Natchez, Miss. native to Ole Miss three seasons ago.
Certainly, Wilson won’t be the only new Tiger staff member that has his eye on Ridley and the running game.
LSU also hired Billy Gonzales, who had been with Florida head coach Urban Meyer since their days at Bowling Green, to join on as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.
The Tigers average of 180 yards through the air per game ranked 99 out of 120 NCAA teams, reason enough for Miles to bring Gonzales into the offensive game planning immediately.
Plain and simple, when the Tigers take the field on Jan. 1, expect the 2010 calendar to bring with it changes to offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s attack.
“We’ve already kind of changed some of the concepts for what we do – pass concepts,” Gonzales said. “How can I help coach Crowton with getting our players on and off the field quicker, making sure to expedite the play call?
“Anything I can help them with in the process to make sure everything is a little bit quicker, a little bit smoother.”
If that means bringing over concepts from the defending National Champion Gators attack and implementing them into the Penn State preparation, Gonzales is ready to move forward.
“What we’ve done in the pass game has been a little bit different than what they might have done here,” he said. “So, we’re going to marry the two together.”
While the month of rest was not enough to bring Scott or Williams back into the fold, the LSU receiving corps used the time to get back to full strength.
R.J. Jackson, who suffered a break in his leg last November that needed over four weeks of rehab, is practicing with the team and will be ready for Friday.
The same goes for Brandon LaFell, whose knee, injured in the regular season finale against Arkansas, is nearly back to full strength.
With an emphasis on working speedsters Russell Shepard and Trindon Holliday into the game plan, the Tigers, despite the loss of their two starting tailbacks, are carrying a load of confidence into their showdown with the Nittany Lions.
“I want them to play fast, and I want them to play smart,” Gonzales said.
According to Ridley, that shouldn’t be a problem for a Miles-coached team.
“Coach and them have done a great job of preparing the game plan, because they get that chance to go through and get everything perfect,” he said. “Between Miles and [Tommy] Moffitt getting us physically ready, I think we are going to be ready to roll.”