Tell the Truth Monday: LSU players show leadership in improved performance
LSU doesn’t have a lot of experienced players.
Nearly all of the key players from the team that won the national championship last season are gone.
So the few leaders who are left have to be able to guide the younger Tigers through challenging moments such as the 44-34 season-opening loss to Mississippi State.
JaCoby Stevens (pictured above) did just that in preparation for the game at Vanderbilt on Saturday. And he and fellow defensive back Derek Stingley Jr. helped set the tone during the game as LSU bounced back with a 41-7 victory over the outmanned Commodores.
The seeds of the improvement were planted at the beginning of the week when Stevens handed out “punishment” to the defense after it allowed an SEC-record 623 passing yards against State.
The punishment was that the players on the defense, who often gather to watch football games, were not allowed to watch any football except film of Vanderbilt.
No Sunday afternoon NFL games. No Sunday Night Football. No Monday Night Football. No Thursday Night Football. Just Vanderbilt – all the time.
After the victory over the Commodores, Stevens, who led by example with a team-high 11 tackles, joked that the defense “might be on punishment again this week.”
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The Tigers held freshman quarterback Ken Seals to 113 passing yards on 11 completions in 24 attempts. They sacked him 3 times, hurried him 8 times and intercepted him twice – once by Eli Ricks and once by Todd Harris Jr.
The pass defense and the team as a whole got a big lift when Stingley returned to practice during the week and was able to start against the Commodores. His hospitalization some 14 hours before the season kicked off was a physical and psychological blow that contributed to the disaster against State.
His presence made a difference against Vanderbilt as the security of his coverage ability and the group’s confidence thanks to his swagger changed the body language from start to finish.
“Derek makes a huge difference,” Stevens said. “He’s the best corner in the nation. Guys think twice about throwing the ball his way, and that hesitation gives our front four time to get there.”
The vast improvement didn’t mean the defense did everything right. It allowed 107 rushing yards in the first half, but it did better in the second half, allowing a total of just 109 yards, including 46 rushing.
The offense also showed improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, primarily because of the running game. LSU made a greater commitment to running the ball and John Emery II responded with his first career 100-yard game and a touchdown.
The commitment to the running game and the success of it made things easier for Myles Brennan. The offensive line did a much better job of opening holes and protecting Brennan.
In his second career start, Brennan completed 23-of-37 passes for 337 yards and 4 touchdowns – 2 each to Terrace Marshall Jr. and Jontre Kirklin. He had completions to 11 different receivers.
“He stayed patient,” coach Ed Orgeron said.
Brennan’s accuracy can still use some improvement. The interception he threw was a poor throw. A few incompletions, just like last week, happened because Brennan’s lack of precision required a more challenging catch than was necessary.
Sometimes his receivers have been able to handle the greater degree of difficulty, sometimes they haven’t. Presumably, Brennan’s accuracy and his timing with his receivers will improve as the season progresses.
Stingley also contributed a key special teams play when he returned a punt 48 yards to set up a touchdown.
Cade York made all his kicks for a second consecutive game, including a 53-yard field goal.
But the special teams, like the rest of the team, have some cleaning up to do after allowing a 58-yard kickoff return to Donovan Kaufman.
It’s easier to acknowledge the bad stuff when it happens during a win than it is when it happens during a loss. It’s also easier to fix when there is much more good stuff than bad stuff.
And any kind of improvement comes more easily when you have players able and willing to take a leadership role in doing the fixing.
“It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I definitely saw improvement,” Brennan said. “We improved on something every single day. We’re going to get better every single day and every single week.”