Punt coverage a concern for LSU _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU punter Jamie Keehn (38), not normally pressed to make a tackle, dives for Florida punt returner Andre Debose after he made it through most of LSU's special team coverage in the second half Saturday. LSU won 30-27 but gave up 115 yards on two punt returns and another 54 on three kickoff returns.

It didn’t take LSU coach Les Miles long Saturday night to figure out at least one major point of emphasis for the Tigers when they returned to work to begin preparing for this week’s game with Kentucky.

In the time it took Florida’s Andre Debose to field a Jamie Keehn punt and scamper 62 yards to the end zone punt to give his team a 7-0 lead after LSU’s first possession, Miles knew.

It was reinforced later when Debose zipped 53 yards with another punt to the LSU 9, which led two plays later to a Jeff Driskel touchdown pass that gave Florida a 24-20 advantage with 6:10 remaining in the game.

The fact that LSU managed to battle back and take an important 30-27 road win on Colby Delahoussaye’s 50-yard field goal with 3 seconds left certainly made it easier to review the special teams tape Sunday morning.

But as Miles said Monday, there are corrections to be made.

“We have to get that punt return handled,” Miles said during his weekly news conference. “We’ve got to make sure our guys recognize their responsibility in coverage, and that will be something we’ll spend time on this week.”

While Keehn outkicked his coverage with booming punts of 52 and 51 yards, respectively, Miles made it clear the Tigers still should have been able to get Debose corralled.

“He kicked it just where we wanted to and kicked it with good hang time,” Miles said of Keehn, who averaged 45.4 yards on eight punts against Florida. “He booms a ball now and then. Frankly, we’ve got to prepare that coverage unit to get down there.

“We want that 52-yard punt, we want that,” he added. “(Debose) returned two of them, two of them very significantly, and we kicked two out of bounds. So, yeah, we have got a weapon there (in Keehn). We just have to make sure our guys recognize their responsibility to cover.”

Keehn, who is averaging a career-high 45.6 yards a punt this season, later tried to deflect some of the blame for the long returns away from his coverage unit.

He said he could have angled the two punts toward the sideline a little better, especially the second one — a line drive that compounded the problem and helped Debose shake loose for his lengthy return.

“I pride myself on not giving up too many returns, and unfortunately this year, we’ve given up a lot of returns … that’s on me,” Keehn said. “I hit a low punt against Auburn, and I hit a low punt against Mississippi State. Against Debose, we hit two to him, and he lit it up.”

Miles said the coaching staff made some quick adjustments on the sideline, taking into account Debose’s speed, after the touchdown return.

They seemed to work, but it didn’t prevent him from getting another big one that could have ultimately cost the Tigers a much-needed victory.

“We felt very comfortable in the kick, especially after the first one because we made some adjustments that we understood that this guy has that speed,” Miles said. “We practiced it all week. We made some other mistakes, but the point I’m making is that will be a point of emphasis this week … certainly.”

Going into the game, LSU was allowing just 5.2 yards per punt return. But Debose inflated that figure to 12.6 yards per return, which may have been avoided, Keehn said, by pinning him closer to the boundary.

“The second one probably wasn’t as far toward the sideline as we wanted,” he said. “It was closer to the hashmark than the sideline, just a little bit inside.”

Another problem was neither punt reached the 4.5-second hang time he’s looking for in that situation. He noted the first was about 4.4 seconds and the second was around 4.2 seconds.

“I would have liked to have the first one closer to a 4.8,” said Keehn, who has 14 punts of 50 yards or more and has forced 16 fair catches. “If I had given my guys just another two-tenths of a second to get down there, they would have gotten him.”

Keehn didn’t wait until Monday to begin working on the corrections. He said that when the team got off its chartered flight around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, he immediately went to the game tapes looking for answers.

“We just needed some extra hang time there, so we’ll work on that this week,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll be able to fix it.

“They weren’t bad punts by any means. It’s not like I shanked it 10 yards out of bounds or something like that. But if I’m going to hit those 50-yard balls, I need to a bit more hang time to nullify the returner a bit and give my guys a better chance to get down there.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.