5 things I need to see from LSU against Vanderbilt
It’s bounce-back time for No. 20 LSU.
The Tigers have been stewing over their embarrassing performance in that 44-34 season-opening loss to Mississippi State.
The only way for any team to get the bad taste of a bad performance out of its mouth is to play another game and play much better.
LSU’s opportunity comes Saturday at Vanderbilt.
Only a victory can cleanse the palate, but even that is not enough. When you play as poorly as the Tigers did – 623 passing yards allowed, 2 interceptions, lack of balance on offense, lack of consistency anywhere – you need to demonstrate specific traits that show the performance was an aberration.
LSU needs to show that the worst aspects of its opening performance are not indicative of what this team is going to be.
So here are 5 things I need to see from LSU against Vanderbilt.
1. A fast start
The Commodores should be feeling a lot better about how they played in a 17-12 loss at No. 10 Texas A&M last week than the Tigers feel about how they played.
Vanderbilt shouldn’t be intimidated even though LSU has more talent than it does. Vanderbilt should enter the game believing it can compete with LSU.
The best way for the Tigers to prove the Commodores wrong is to set the tone right away, get a lead and demonstrate that they are the more talented team and the second game of the season for both teams is going to be much different than the first games were.
Otherwise, Vanderbilt’s belief that it can win will be reinforced and the upset becomes a more realistic possibility.
2. A physical running game
The best way to accomplish a fast start is to be the more physical team at the outset.
LSU is bigger, stronger and deeper than Vanderbilt, so it should be able to assert its physicality throughout. Doing so in the running game is especially important because of the domino effect it will have.
The Tigers didn’t run the ball well against Mississippi State. That was partly because they chose to lean more heavily on the passing game early on and partly because they played catch-up for much of the game.
In the second half, offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger did seem to feel that 1st-down runs made Myles Brennan more comfortable even though they weren’t producing big gains.
An earlier commitment to the running game against a less physical defense should produce bigger gains and much more favorable down-and-distance circumstances for Brennan and the offense.
3. A consistent and persistent pass rush
The Tigers did manage to squeeze in 5 sacks amid all those pass completions KJ Costello had last week, but they didn’t make him uncomfortable enough often enough to prevent a historic performance.
The Commodores have a true freshman quarterback in Ken Seals and, presumably, consistent pressure will make him very uncomfortable, unlikely to get into a rhythm and likely to make mistakes. He threw 2 interceptions against the Aggies.
Even Costello had 2 interceptions and a lost fumble when he was under pressure.
If LSU makes the freshman uncomfortable, it will be easier for the Tigers to find their comfort zone.
4. Tight coverage and sure tackling
There’s another important reason for a consistent pass rush – the defensive backs need help.
Yes, Derek Stingley Jr. was sidelined and if he’s able to play this week that certainly will help.
But the coverage has to be better. If the pressure is consistent there will be less time for receivers to get open and less time for checkdowns if the primary receiver isn’t open.
Regardless of the pass rush, the defensive backs have to play much better than they did against State. They have to cover better, they have to find the ball better when they do have tight coverage and they have to tackle better when passes are completed.
In other words, they have to be better at everything.
5. Some swagger
The Tigers don’t need to overdo it, but they do have to walk into the stadium, run onto the field and warm up with an air of self-confidence.
They didn’t look confident at all against Mississippi State.
This group isn’t the national champion, but it’s still a very talented group.
It’s still LSU.
It should get off the bus determined to show that. If it does, that other stuff is more likely to fall into place.