Photos: LSU holds on to defeat Mississippi State 21-19 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU defensive end Arden Key (49) runs with linebacker Duke Riley (40), who holds up the ball celebrating the force to 4th down during the second half last month at Mississippi State. LSU won 21-19.

Next Level:

Many times, football players will joke around with one another regarding a mistake made on the field during a game — especially if it was in a win. A missed tackle, a blown coverage, a missed block. On film later, it might turn into a running joke.

That didn’t happen in the case of Duke Riley’s coverage lapse on a 30-yard completion by Eastern Michigan last Saturday. Fellow linebacker Deion Jones stayed away from Riley. Far away.

“He was hot about it,” said Jones, shaking his head.

Against a lowly team like Eastern Michigan, it was obvious coaches wanted to test their depth at the defensive line and linebacker spots. Riley and Donnie Alexander, at linebacker, and Sione Teuhema, at defensive end, played their most snaps, maybe, of their careers.

Teuhema had seven tackles, and coach Les Miles was impressed with the player. It was a different story at linebacker — a picture painted by the numbers and that 30-yard coverage bust.

These are stats through the first three quarters of the win over Eastern Michigan:

EMU with Kendell Beckwith/Deion Jones: 25 plays, 37 yards.

EMU without at least Beckwith or Jones on the field: 21 plays, 153 yards.

EMU vs. LSU when the Tigers had reserves at both DT spots (Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore), one DE spot (Teuhema mostly) and both LB spots: 10 plays, 99 yards.

Four Downs

1. Finish strong

LSU is one of the nation’s best first-quarter teams, outscoring the opposition 49-0. But the Tigers are only outscoring their foes 95-86 the rest of the way, outscored 20-16 in the second quarter and 34-31 in the fourth. The Tigers need to learn the knack of dusting off their opponents once they’re down. South Carolina is a good test subject.

2. Par avion

That’s French for “by airmail.” It should be embossed on the cover of the Tigers’ playbook. LSU’s passing game is a three-alarm fire. The Tigers will always be a run-first team, but the air attack has to show signs of life after the EMU game (4-of-15, 80 yards). We’ll see if Les Miles makes good on his vow to shake up the receiver corps.

3. Kick it up a notch

Other than Tre White’s punt return TD at Syracuse and Trent Domingue’s FG kicking, LSU’s special teams have been just “teams.” Punter Jamie Keehn has been inconsistent and kickoff coverage spotty, though that was partly poor kickoff work by Domingue. LSU needs to draw a line in the sand on returns and not let South Carolina cross it.

4. Carolina Pharoh

Gamecocks WR Pharoh Cooper is a true triple-crown threat. He can catch (top 10 in SEC receiving stats), run (12 carries, 81 yards) and even throw (1-of-3, minus-6 yards). He may do all three against LSU, a player who can inflict damage if the Tigers let South Carolina hang around. Shutting him down will all but shut out USC’s upset hopes.