LSU coach Les Miles hasn’t had many opportunities this season to call his special teams “the bright spot” of a game. He did just that Monday.
Nearly every facet of the Tigers’ special teams has experienced consistent problems for most of the season, but they made one of the biggest plays during LSU’s 38-17 loss at Ole Miss last Saturday.
After the Tigers (7-3, 4-3 Southeastern) shrunk the deficit to 24-10 early in the third quarter, true freshman Nick Brossette forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Sophomore linebacker Donnie Alexander recovered the ball on the Rebels’ 25-yard line to give LSU great field position and the momentum to pull within a touchdown after trailing 24-0.
“It’s something we have great pride in. I think we put emphasis on special teams more than a lot of people in the country and in the SEC,” said senior linebacker Lamar Louis, who plays on LSU’s coverage units. “Special teams could change games tremendously.”
The special teams play changed the game only briefly. Ole Miss responded with back-to-back touchdown drives to reclaim control of the contest. But the Tigers may need similar performances from their special teams when they face Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
True freshman receiver/returner Christian Kirk has returned two punts for touchdowns and leads the nation with 24.36 yards per punt return.
“We know it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Louis said. “But with the way our special teams have been going as of late, we’re pretty confident.”
LSU’s performance against Ole Miss was a good start. The Tigers allowed only 14.25 yards per kick return and held the Rebels’ to -1 yards on five punts. Senior Jamie Keehn, shaky throughout much of the season, averaged 43 yards per punt.
Sophomore Cameron Gamble averaged 60.8 yards on four kickoffs, all of which he kept in bounds after struggling to do so in recent games. In the return game, junior cornerback Tre’Davious White returned three punts for 41 yards, though true freshman running back Derrius Guice rarely got past the 20-yard line on five kick returns.
“The punt return, we blocked the punt and got 14 yards on a return,” Miles said during his weekly press luncheon. “When we punted it, we held their return yardage to a half a yard, and Jamie was dominant. I really felt like our teams played very, very well.”
Ironically, LSU’s one consistently good special teams unit faltered last Saturday. Junior kicker Trent Domingue went 1-for-2 after making his first 10 field goals this season, hooking a chip-shot, 27-yard attempt wide left. For all of the special teams’ success against the Rebels, Louis couldn’t forget the one that got away.
Right after the Tigers had scored their first touchdown of the day to make it 24-7 with a minute until halftime, true freshman defensive end Isaiah Washington forced a fumble on the kickoff. But return man Jaylen Walton fell on the fumble, keeping LSU’s comeback at bay for a little while longer.
“If we could get that and the refs don’t blow it dead before we even make a play on the ball, we score,” Louis said. “It’s a pretty close game.”