LSU coach Les Miles doesn’t have many complaints about his football team.
The Tigers (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) sit atop the SEC West standings and have climbed to No. 6 in the country.
But Miles doesn’t need to be told where the Tigers are lacking. The coach brought it up himself Monday during his weekly press luncheon.
“Special teams are not where they need to be,” Miles said.
LSU’s kicking game has featured several glaring miscues, most notably a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown surrendered to South Carolina in a 45-24 win last Saturday. Sophomore receiver Trey Quinn, who is on the kickoff team, said special teams players are taking full responsibility for the repeated “mishaps.”
The Tigers have already used two kickers — junior Trent Domingue and sophomore Cameron Gamble — in response to Domingue booting kickoffs out of bounds in back-to-back weeks. Rotating kickers hasn’t yielded desirable results.
LSU is 107th out of 128 FBS teams with an average of 58.97 yards per kick and has only eight touchbacks on 35 kickoffs. The coverage team has been even worse: its 36.1 net yards per kick ranks last in the SEC.
Miles suggested he’ll review special teams personnel and scheme, specifically where the kickers are directing the ball. When it comes to covering kicks, players said success boils down to staying in their lanes.
“It’s just a matter of people not really keeping lane integrity,” said senior linebacker Deion Jones. “That’s something we can easily correct in practice. Me being a guy who has been on special teams for a few years, that’s a punch to the gut. That’s the worst feeling.”
Senior linebacker Lamar Louis, a member of the coverage units, hinted the younger special teams players need to work on maintaining leverage and proper technique. Whatever the issue is, special teams may play a serious role in this Saturday’s top-10 showdown between LSU and No. 8 Florida (6-0, 4-0 SEC) in Tiger Stadium.
In battle of top 15 defenses, field position could be enough to turn the tide in one team’s favor.
Strength against strength
Something will have to give when the LSU offensive line goes against Florida’s front seven Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette, LSU ranks third in the country in rushing with 346.4 yards per game, while Florida ranks 12th at stopping the run in allowing just 99.2 yards per outing.
“It’s going to be a great battle up front,” LSU left tackle Jerald Hawkins said. “They always have a great team and they always have a great (defensive) front. As long as we keep getting better each week as an offensive line, we’ll be pretty well off.”
Jones was happier than most when he found out LSU’s road game at South Carolina last Saturday had been relocated to Baton Rouge.
“I’m not a big plane guy,” Jones said. “I don’t really like plane rides, but I try to make the best of them.”
His solution? Watching cartoons.
“I’m a big Tom and Jerry fan. All the Looney Toons. That’s me and my dad’s kinda thing, like Popeye,” he said laughing. “That’s pretty much all I watch. The newer cartoons don’t really catch my attention, but I could watch Tom and Jerry all day and crack up laughing like I’ve never seen it before.”
Saturday’s game marks the 62nd meeting between the Tigers and Gators, with Florida holding a 31-27-3 lead in the series that began in 1937.
These two teams have been playing each other annually since 1971, with the SEC designating LSU and Florida as permanent cross-division opponents in its most recent scheduling formats.
The Gators hold a slim 16-15 lead in games played in Baton Rouge, but the Tigers have won four of the last five against Florida, their best run in the series since taking five of six from 1977-82. LSU won 30-27 in Gainesville last year and 17-6 in Tiger Stadium in 2013.
The game will also be the seventh time LSU and Florida meet as unbeaten or untied teams, and they have split the series with three wins apiece. Florida has won the last three such meetings, though, starting in 1996 when the No. 1 Gators beat the No. 12 Tigers en route to their first national championship.
Miles called the 2007 LSU-Florida game “the dangedest thing I’ve ever been a party to” during his post-practice news conference Wednesday. The Tigers rallied from a 10-point deficit and converted five fourth downs to snatch a 28-24 victory in Baton Rouge.
The court hearing scheduled for next week in LSU’s lawsuit against former defensive coordinator John Chavis has been moved to Dec. 14.
LSU and Chavis, now at Texas A&M, were scheduled for a hearing on Monday regarding Chavis’ claims that LSU defamed the coach by issuing false information to the media.
LSU wants a judge during the hearing to dismiss the defamation part of Chavis’ claims on grounds that they are not specific enough. Chavis and LSU filed dueling lawsuit in February – Chavis’ in Texas and LSU’s in Louisiana - over a $400,000 buyout the school says he owes. The coach’s suit against the school in Texas has been dismissed, and an appeal was not filed.
Advocate sportswriters Sheldon Mickles, Ross Dellenger and Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.