Coach Les Miles’ LSU Tiger Team took the field Saturday Night ranked no.21 in the pre-season polls and feeling slightly disrespected.
Before the suspension of 13 players from their opponent, no. 18 North Carolina, the Tigers found themselves an underdog to a program that hasn’t finished over .500 in it’s own conference in seven years and hasn’t won a conference championship since 1980.
The disrespect for the Tigers—who finished third in the SEC last year, played in a new years day bowl and ended the year with 9 wins and a no. 17 national ranking—has been somewhat ubiquitous in the main stream media with pundits like Mark May of ESPN openly questioning the decision to retain offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and others declaring the decline of the program leading to the SEC Media picking the Tigers to finish fourth in own division.
With the near comeback of the woefully undermanned Tar Heels in Saturday Night’s thrilling opener the Tigers may have done little in the way of changing people’s opinion, particularly those who question Miles’ ability to lead the Tigers back to national elite status.
On the other hand, LSU proved to have a number of explosive play makers and the ability to get the ball to them. Jr. QB Jordan Jefferson played exceptionally well for most of the game connecting on 15 of 21 pass attempts with two touchdowns, including a 51 yard bomb caught in stride by so. WR Ruben Randall in the end zone to give the Tigers a 30-10 half time lead.
Jefferson also improved dramatically in one area that led to a great deal of the offense’s ineptitude last year, his pocket presence. Jefferson seemed much more comfortable in the pocket on Saturday Night and continually stepped up into the protection—instead of back peddling like last year—and either made a play or scampered for positive yardage.
He did make two bad decisions, which led to a meaningless interception at the end of the first half and an intentional grounding later in the third quarter.
Russell Sheppard—the converted QB and all world prospect—scored the Tigers’ first two touchdowns and was able to make plays, as expected, in a variety of ways.
The player and story of the game, however, was junior CB Patrick Peterson. Peterson—a fan favorite and leader of the defense—played well when the Tar Heels had the ball, despite some cramping issues late in the first half and for the critical final two plays of the game, but his special teams play was nothing short of phenomenal.
LSU lost it’s most prolific return specialist to the NFL last year when Olympic Speedster Trindon Holiday graduated, leading Tiger fans to wonder if any one would be able to give LSU the field position advantage it frequently enjoyed last year.
Peterson returned three kick-offs and four punts for a total of 257 yards (244 in the first half), a team record and the second highest total in SEC History, including one that went 86 yards for a touchdown.
The Tigers average starting position was it’s own 50 yard line.
So, like much of last year; there was good and bad in the win. Some questions were answered some remain. Tiger fans saw a lot of what they were hoping for and some things they were hoping had been vanquished from the team.
As they head into the SEC slate next week with a visit to Nashville to face SEC East foe Vanderbilt, Miles’ team will need to work on finishing.
Miles’ addressed it in the Post Game Presser and some of the players, including Patrick Petersen on ESPN’s College Football Final, acknowledged “Coach already told us we will run ball security and finishing drills until we bleed.”
The Tigers will be favored against the Commodores and should handle this one easily, of course that’s what you thought going up against UNC’s ‘tutor free’ second string!
I guess that’s why they play the games.
Bottom line, the talent is abundant in Baton Rouge once again and the list of playmakers is astounding. If the team that showed up for the first half of the opener returns for the rest of the year, 2010 will be special but if the second halfers are the predominate participants against the likes of West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn then LSU could be in for another disappointing year and the pressure on Les Miles will become unbearable.
My prediction; expect the former. LSU is far too talented and recognizes its own weakness; this will be a team to be reckoned with.