Tiger Tangents: LSU's Early Progress Report
Two games does not a season make. I'm totally aware of that. In fact, I would think you would want to play your best football in the mid to late season a la the Florida Gators last season.
We can't all have a Timmy Tebow who makes a promise and then makes it happen. Many teams have to rely on entire units coming together, game planning, and execution firing on all cylinders. And of course, a little luck can't hurt.
The margin for error is so much smaller in college ball compared to pro ball. Which is crazy, right?
You mean to tell me a bunch of paid professionals can lose six games out of 16, still make the playoffs, and win a championship? Furthermore, college players can lose one game on one play and their season is over?
That hardly seems logical, but it's the way of the college football world.
Maybe it's that same mentality that makes college football fans so rabid. Every game matters more.
It is on that curve in which it seems fans grade their teams. There is little to no margin for error because one loss can derail everything.
Two weeks ago, everyone was undefeated, so expectations were high. Now, with a couple of weeks to view our teams, the picture may be becoming clearer (or fuzzier depending how out of whack your expectations were).
In April, I thought LSU would go 8-4, but after about 100 people said I was crazy or negative, I thought, "Maybe I'm the crazy one here."
So I amended my outlook to 9-3. I thought that was safe. This isn't exactly a favorable schedule for the Tigers, although there was a time where going to Oxford or Tuscaloosa wasn't a tall task. But LSU travels to the two other big contenders for the West this year.
They get defending national champion Florida at home, but this is a Gator team that returned 76 starters (I think), as well living legend/football god/superhero Tim Tebow. Kids, if you want to grow up some day and wear No. 15 at Florida, I've got some bad news unless you're like 14 or older.
The Tigers also travel to Athens this year. The last time LSU went there was when the infallible Nick Saban was coach, and LSU lost 45-16. Saban obviously lost that game due to Les Miles' future coaching of his players.
Throw Auburn and Arkansas in there as wild card-type games, and LSU has a considerable mountain to climb—a mountain that started modestly with the University of Washington on the road and Vanderbilt in LSU's home opener this past Saturday night.
So far, most LSU fans want the Tigers to climb faster...or, uhh, better. Or something.
See, herein lies my problem with high expectations: They create a bigger fall. Some people can handle this; most cannot. And that's why you have all the fallout over a team that is 2-0.
With that said, I will do my own assessment of the Bayou Bengals thus far position by position.
A very solid B, and let me tell you why. While 19-year-old Jordan Jefferson isn't winning any games for the Tigers by himself, he's not losing them either. Jefferson is doing exactly what most "logical" fans wanted him to do...manage the game.
I hate that phrase because it downplays the QB's role in the offense. Like saying yeah, just come in, be a quiet leader, hand off the ball, make throws when you have to, and for God's sake, don't make any mistakes!
Well, that's what every QB is supposed to do, but the mark of a truly great one is his perseverance under pressure and how he performs on third down. Jefferson has plenty of things to learn at this stage both fundamentally and mentally, but he's been very efficient for someone his age.
Also, he's started four games now between last year and this season, and he's thrown one interception on a pass that was deflected. He earned his "B" and has much room for improvement.
The shame of it is that it would seem the running backs got paired with the offensive linemen for their school project, and the O-linemen slept while the running backs did all the work. Still, they get graded as a group, and unfortunately the running backs got a B when they probably deserved a B-plus.
Is the fact that I forgot the WRs in the first draft of this good or bad? Brandon LaFell is solid, Terrance Tolliver looks to be finally coming into his own, and it was great to see R.J. Jackson have a great game against Vandy. We'll see more downfield action for them as the season goes on.
Poor Richard Dickson hasn't seen many balls thrown his way, but this guy is definitely a player. His number hasn't been called enough to pass judgement just yet though.
I should be nice here because the team is 2-0, but the O-line really needs to step up their game. The run blocking is ineffective when it comes to opening up holes, and Jordan Jefferson has had to use his elusiveness a few times when passing because of poor pass blocking.
It doesn't help that Jefferson does hold on to the ball for a while, but it reflects on the O-line as well.
I'm not really as worried about the pass blocking. This line is pretty good at that and just needs to be more consistent, but a Les Miles team is a team that needs to run the football effectively. So far, the offensive linemen are lacking in that area, especially on the interior.
The O-line is so important because it truly affects everyone else on the offense and makes their lives either easier or more difficult. So far, the offense's woes can be traced back to this unit.
They played much better in week two, but this unit has a lot working against it. Its best players are inexperienced, and its experienced players are overrated.
Rahim Alem made the biggest strides from week one to week two, but now injuries have made this thin group even thinner.
My take: Put the young guys in now and let them get their experience, or at least shuffle them in and out frequently. It's the best way to keep the line fresh and get the young guys experience, all while avoiding injuries.
Once again, maybe I'm trying to give these guys some confidence here, but the weak link for LSU the past couple seasons is actually playing well right now.
Jacob Cutrera (not Cutera; there's two O's in Goose, guys) has been solid, and so has Perry Riley. Kelvin Sheppard is inconsistent, and so is Harry Coleman, but Coleman brings speed to the corps even when he's whiffing on ball carriers or celebrating after a tackle on an eight-yard gain.
Overall, though, the LBs are trying to pick up the slack for the rest of the D.
Once again, this is a group project where not everyone's pulling their weight.
CB Patrick Peterson is giving an A+ effort and performance. Chris Hawkins is still a good game away from a "C." Danny McCray just can't seem to make plays, and Chad Jones is having a really rough time adjusting to the free safety spot.
Apparently the position erased the part of his brain that remembered how to tackle...and take good angles...oh, and cover well.
Brandon Taylor is actually doing a solid job at strong safety, and he and Peterson are currently head and shoulders above the rest of the unit.
Another group grade with different members pulling their weight. Kicker Josh Jasper so far has done well with FGs. Punter Derek Helton had a horrific first game but followed it up with a much better second game in worse conditions.
The return game is nonexistent still (this has been the biggest disappointment under Miles in my opinion), and the coverage has been solid.
It's still very early, and the Tigers have many more games to play, but this is where we stand now. LSU will have a chance to improve again this week versus ULL (do them a favor and don't call them "USL"; do me a favor and don't call them "The University of Louisiana") and the following week in Starkville.
For now, these grades are probably good enough to make the Tigers 4-0, but after that is where it will get interesting on the schedule.
Then we will find out if these 2009 Tigers can make the grade.
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