LSU’s most recent opponents have been creeping toward the line of scrimmage to try and slow down the Tigers’ powerful running game and put quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson in more difficult passing situations. It hasn’t worked very well.
The No. 1-ranked Tigers (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) rushed for 237 yards in a 38-7 victory at Tennessee last week. That’s one fewer yard than the season high they accumulated in a 41-11 victory at home against Florida a week earlier.
“Eight weeks in, I think people do start to figure that we’re running the ball well.” Lee said. “People have a lot of game film on us, but we’ve just got to keep executing and keep preparing hard each and every week.
“We’ve been running the ball well, so early in the game they’ve been kind of stacking the box on us. We’re prepared for it. We game plan for it. We slowly get it going, and it helps us out.”
The Tigers have 18 pass completions of 20-plus yards, 10 of 30-plus, four of 40-plus, and two of 50-plus.
“We have confidence in our passing game and our quarterbacks now,” offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. “If you want to (crowd the line of scrimmage), you have to be able to cover our receivers one on one or you’re going to get hit for a big play.”
Though LSU is tied for seventh in the Southeastern Conference in passing yards, it leads in passing efficiency.
“You have to be efficient when you throw the football,” wide receiver Russell Shepard said. “You don’t have to throw the football 40 or 50 times a game. But you also have to be able to run the football and establish your dominance there.”
Sharing the blame
Cornerback Morris Claiborne had the longest interception return that didn’t result in a touchdown in LSU history. He picked off Matt Simms at the Tigers’ 6 late in the first quarter and ran a circuitous 89 yards to Volunteers’ 5, setting up LSU’s first touchdown in the victory at Tennessee last week.
When the team reviewed the film of the play, Claiborne heard from a chorus of second-guessers.
“Everybody went crazy,” Claiborne said. “Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that? I said, if ya’ll would have run that far, you would have known why. … I can’t lie. I was gassed.”
Claiborne said he, too, thought he should have scored after watching the film, but he didn’t notice that Tyrann Mathieu was in position to make a final block if Claiborne hadn’t cut back toward the end of the run.
“I know if I would have kept left, (Mathieu) would have picked up that block for me,” Claiborne said. “I also think (defensive end) Sam Montgomery should have turned around and blocked the receiver who made the tackle on me.”
Claiborne smiled before adding, “It’s Sam’s fault.”
Montgomery had a different take.
“How do you let somebody catch you from behind?” he asked.
“Personally I think that was very unathletic by Morris Claiborne. He’s a kickoff returner. What’s up with that?”
Seniors missing out
This week’s game will be the third consecutive home game that has kicked off during the daytime, which is much earlier than the preferred starting time around Tiger Stadium. The Oct. 1 game against Kentucky kicked off at 11:21 a.m., and the Oct. 8 game against Florida kicked off at 2:39 p.m. as will this week’s game against Auburn.
The regular-season finale against Arkansas on Nov. 25 will kickoff at 1:30 p.m. All of the daytime kickoffs were scheduled to accommodate television.
The Tigers’ only night home game so far was against Northwestern State on Sept. 10, and the only other possible night kickoff is the Nov. 12 game against Western Kentucky. Seniors such as Lee won’t play a Southeastern Conference game, or any other marquee game, at night in Tiger Stadium during their final season.
“Night games are exciting here in Tiger Stadium,” Lee said. “That’s what it’s about — Saturday night in Death Valley. But as players, the time it’s scheduled is the time we have to go out there and play ball. It’s sad, but that’s just how it is. We can’t really control it.”
Shepard praised Auburn, the defending BCS champions, and singled out offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
“That’s a very competitive team,” Shepard said. “They’ve got great athletes, they have a great scheme on both sides of the ball.
“They don’t tend to have the athletes that we have here at LSU, but their coordinators do a great job of putting their players in a position to be successful.”