Tiger Tangents: True Tests Await LSU Tigers, Starting in Athens

Justin Goar@@tigertangentsSenior Writer ISeptember 29, 2009

BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Quarterback Jordan Jefferson #9 of the Louisiana State University Tigers during pregame against the University of Louisiana-Lafatette Ragin' Cajuns at Tiger Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

These Paper Tigers aren't even good on paper...

Technically, style points are not rewarded or deducted in college football. But if they were, LSU would be taken to task by the East German judges after the first four games.

And it's not just the overly critical, always negative fans coming out of the woodwork to show concern. It's the overly pragmatic, pessimistic, yet ironically hopeful bastions of reason like yours truly who have their eyebrows raised at the current moment.

I've been writing on this site for over a year. In that time, I think I've illustrated that I'm no sunshine pumper. I do Creature vs. Creatures and predict my team to lose because it's my belief there needs to be some separation for a fan engaging in sports "journalism."

Reality shouldn't be put aside just because a writer has passion for his team.

On the other side of that coin, I've defended Les Miles countless times and every once in a while criticized him when he deserved it.

If you took score, I probably defended him about nine times for every time I criticized him. But if this season keeps going the way it's going, I may even that score a little.

Before you think me crazy or spoiled, I'm fully aware that LSU is 4-0 and a consensus No. 4 in the current polls.

I'm also aware that some teams take time to get into rhythm and play their best football as the season progresses (which is usually the goal in college football).

I mean hey, I'll take 12 ugly wins. Heck, I'll take nine this season. Did I say nine? How about eight at this point? The number keeps getting lower with every week, it would seem.

If you want to play the excuse game, go right ahead.

Washington? Longest road trip ever for LSU, beat USC two weeks later.

Vanderbilt? Ugly game in ugly conditions, rainy and wet field.

ULL? ULL still hasn't scored a TD against LSU since 1924.

Miss. St.? Rain plus a four-hour delay arriving as well as an eventful flight over with an early start on Saturday morning.

If you want to find excuses, I'm sure you can.

I'd rather find answers. Here are my questions:

If the O-line is playing so poorly, why not let players behind them get some playing time?

If the players on the field are not getting it done, put in the guys on the bench. I'm sure they are hungry to prove themselves and might do some great things. Anything is better than the uninspiring play going on right now by the supposed big nasties, and getting benched might be the motivation that makes the difference the next time they see the field.

In fact, this goes for every position, not just the offensive line.

Why doesn't Russell Shepard see more playing time?

This guy is explosive. His yards per carry dwarfs anyone else touching the ball. Yet he is used sparingly. So what if he's a true freshman? He enrolled early and went through spring ball and fall camp. He seems like a sharp kid and is arguably one of the best recruiters LSU has right now.

At the very least, use this kid in the red zone. Fans are dying to see him cross the goal line. With two stalled drives inside the 10-yard line against MSU, why not give No. 10 a shot?

Why can't we spread it out?

This is one of my biggest criticisms for Les Miles. I know in my heart of hearts that offensive coordinator Gary Crowton does not want to line up in the I-formation, put a very inconsistent and inexperienced fullback on the field, and run his backs into a pile for a one-yard gain.

I actually saw Charles Scott once last game receive the handoff and almost immediately, while two yards deep in the backfield, put his head down and stop looking forward. We had at least five yards to go for the first down at the time. The play gained very little, if anything.

If the offensive line is struggling, take the pressure off them by using their talent on the edges. Get the ball to Brandon LaFell, Terrance Tolliver, Trindon Holliday, Rueben Randle, etc.

Use a short passing game to set up the run.

But Miles' Big Ten/Big 12 past (back when the Big 12 ran the ball all the time, kids) has him married to this I-formation three yards and a cloud of dust mentality.

To Miles' credit, in most big games, he plays faster and looser on offense. One of Miles' biggest assets is that he doesn't have an overinflated ego like other coaches and that he can usually admit when something else works better besides his own ideas.

But this is the one area where he seems stubborn, and if the offense is ever going to mature and start to gel, I think it would benefit the entire team (the defense too—you'd be surprised how much better the D will play if the offense can sustain drives) to start using players in space and take advantage of some mismatches.

If Jordan Jefferson can be accurate on quick outs and slants, he'll need only a three-step drop, and the line won't have to be good for long. Start throwing on first down and see the draw play open up. It can work, and I think Jefferson can be consistent on those types of throws over much of the game.

My Mama always said, "If you can't say anything nice about anyone, don't say anything at all..."

So in fairness of equal time, I'd like to say what I like about this season so far.

—When punter Derek Helton isn't punting in the Pacific Northwest or having the deep snapper sail one over his head, he's doing a good job at switching field position. He could've made a smarter play and either kicked it in desperation or just taken a safety, but punters shouldn't be put in that situation in the first place—especially not in consecutive weeks.

—Chad Jones was challenged by Miles last week, and the kid responded. Don't think I still don't see some blown coverages and fundamental mistakes on defense, but when the Tigers needed a big play, Mr. Jones delivered in the form of an amazing punt return and two great plays on the goal line stand.

—Speaking of that goal line stand, the defense was on the field for 80-plus plays at that point. Kudos to them for not giving up in a game where momentum had definitely changed to the side of the maroon and white.

—By the way, while Jones got credit for that fourth-down stop coming over the top on the second effort, it was sophomore linebacker Ryan Baker who was in for an injured Jacob Cutrera who made the contact initially. Baker is going to be a player; write that down.

—Jordan Jefferson looked much better throwing the ball deep when he actually had time to do so. But Brandon LaFell was leaving his guy in the dust all day. If LaFell keeps getting that open, I could play QB and get the ball to him. No really, I could—he's that open.

—I have a man-crush on CB Patrick Peterson. That is all.

—After being invisible for much of the season, it's nice to hear DT Al Woods' name being called. The defensive line is thin with experienced players, and injuries are making it worse. Hopefully, the guys on the field can get more pressure as the season progresses, as the Tigers have five sacks in four games, but I'm much more worried about consistent pressure than sack numbers.

All in all, LSU is doing some good things, but will it be good enough to outweigh the bad and beat the teams the Tigers are supposed to beat? I'm still trying to take a "wait and see" approach, but I'm doing so with extreme caution.

Release the hooounds!!!

There probably isn't a game in the SEC this week with two teams that mirror each other more than LSU and Georgia. Neither team was the favorite in its division but was probably expected to finish second or third in the division and still eke out nine wins this season.

Both teams have been inconsistent, and both teams have a good number of fans grumbling.

UGA remains the only SEC school Les Miles has never beaten, and LSU has not won in Athens since 1988.

LSU's last trip to Athens was in 2004, a 45-16 romp when Georgia took revenge on a Nick Saban-led LSU team for beating them twice in '03.

Both teams have had defensive inconsistencies, and both teams rank near the bottom of many categories in the SEC. The major difference in my eyes so far is that UGA is more battle-tested at this point, playing Oklahoma State, South Carolina, and Arizona State, while LSU's opponents have been less than impressive so far.

Also, it does benefit the Dawgs to be playing at home in this one, a much-needed edge in a game where the talent level on both sides is so close.

I think it will be a back and forth, mistake-riddled game. I think both teams will try to pass a bunch, and it may come down to whose defense makes the last stop. Going on the road two weeks in a row in the SEC is tough, and the Tigers have to start clicking and soon if they want to get the W and remain undefeated.

Last year, I went against my better judgment and picked LSU to win despite defensive problems and horrific QB play. This year, I think the Tigers look better, but so do the Dawgs, so the Tigers come up just a bit short between the hedges. Hopefully this year, I'll be wrong again.

UGA 27, LSU 20


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