LSU and Alabama both have an open date this week, giving both coaching staffs plenty of time to dissect one another’s team before their Southeastern Conference showdown at 7 p.m. on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Tigers have made sure the Crimson Tide staff has plenty of film work to keep it busy.
First off, LSU had to increase the playing time of several players to compensate for three key players — cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon and running back Spencer Ware — being suspended for a 45-10 victory against Auburn on Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
So, Ron Brooks, Craig Loston, Derrick Bryant and Kenny Hilliard will show up on the Auburn game film more than they generally had in the previous eight games.
But coach Les Miles, his staff, and the Tigers players gave the Alabama staff other reasons to refer to the LSU roster when scouting and preparing a game plan.
Backup quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw the ball downfield for a 42-yard touchdown to Rueben Randle — Jefferson’s longest completion of the season — demonstrating that LSU isn’t limited to the run game when Jefferson replaces Jarrett Lee.
“We know Jordan can throw the ball also,” Randle said. “We’ve been using him a lot to run, but whenever he’s asked to throw the ball, he can throw the ball also.”
Tight end Chase Clement caught two passes for 40 yards, catching twice as many passes as he had coming into the game.
“Our tight ends have been doing a great job of getting into their routes, and Chase Clement did a great job,” Lee said. “We’ve just got a special group of guys that want to make plays for us.”
Wide receiver Russell Shepard returned a kickoff for the first time in his three seasons, adding another threat to Brooks and cornerback Morris Claiborne in that role.
Loston and safety Eric Reid tied for the team led with seven tackles as Loston set his season high and Reid matched his.
The leading sacker was end Barkevious Mingo, who matched his season total by getting two of LSU’s season-high six against Clint Moseley. Nine different Tigers had a hand in the 10 tackles for loss.
Linebacker Tahj Jones, coming off his first start a week earlier against Tennessee, came up with a season-high four tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery against Auburn even as starter Stefan Francois returned to health.
“Those are guys that all were trained and prepared for this game,” Miles said. “We expected that Kenny would play big. We expected that Mingo would continue to do the things that he’s been doing.
“What we do — and we’ve made a point of it — is we recruit talented young players, and they go to the field. We don’t redshirt them. We don’t not play them. They go to the field, and they have the opportunity to contribute, and frankly, that’s what you’re seeing. You’re seeing a quality team that’s prepared and willing.”
Hilliard is one of seven true freshmen who have gotten on the field. The others are fellow running back Terrence Magee, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, defensive tackle Jermauria Rasco and kicker James Hairston.
Whether backups have been given opportunities because their work in practice has dictated it or because circumstances have required it, they have nearly always produced as the coaches have hoped.
“Everybody is replaceable,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “I’m replaceable. Coach Miles is replaceable. (Defensive line) coach Brick (Haley) is replaceable. But the thing of it is, when we get in there, we’re just going to do our job to the best of our ability.”
The Tigers still got the big plays Mathieu is best known for as Brooks returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown, and Reid forced a fumble on a kickoff return, leading to a touchdown. They didn’t miss Simon’s team-leading eight pass break-ups as Brooks broke up a pass that looked like it would yield an Auburn touchdown.
They didn’t miss Ware’s power running as Hilliard, who ran for two touchdowns, pounded away for 65 physical yards, and Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Magee combined for another 113 yards.
When asked if the suspended players would be back for the Alabama game, Miles was coy, preferring to focus on those players’ replacements and their other teammates.
“I’ve got to be real honest with you,” Miles said. “I probably know the answer to that, but I don’t want to talk about them. This team really, several times this year, has really gone beyond distraction and gone beyond what could be perimeter noise to focus and play. This team does that. I’m thrilled. We’ll talk about those other three guys here pretty quick.”