Last Modified: Sunday, September 15, 2013 10:49 PM
BATON ROUGE — In this week’s “Yeah but ...” category, we find scattered grumbling about an LSU defense that, OK, probably shouldn’t have given up 248 yards to a Kent State outfit that was missing its best weapon.
Oh, it’s all good.
LSU won 45-13, and even the biggest Tiger pessimist would admit that it’s refreshing and certainly more entertaining to see an offense that seems designed to carry more than its share of the load.
All of sudden, with Zach Mettenberger gone wild and free to play with all his athletic toys, the offense seems actively involved in the outcome rather than just trying to stay out of the way, try not to mess up too disastrously and let the defense do all the heavy lifting.
This offense is ready for prime time. The defense might still need a little seasoning.
When LSU scored its third touchdown in as many possessions for a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter, Kent State had minus-1 yard in total offense.
So that defense can play when it wants to.
But by halftime the Golden Flashes had 105 yards and added another 143 in the second half. By game’s end the Tigers had given up 20 completions on 29 attempts.
Too much, you might say, and maybe so.
Some of it was, no doubt, was a defense getting too comfortable, and maybe Kent State figured some things out.
But it was also a lot of young players getting action with games still (somewhat) in (reasonable) doubt — eight true freshmen have already played and one started Saturday — whereas, the Tigers’ offense had to get 45 points before Miles felt comfortable playing backup quarterback Anthony Jennings.
You can never be sure who is out there on defense these days. If a guy anywhere on the defensive depth chart hasn’t played in the first half of a game yet, he might as well consider transferring. They are all getting a chance for meaningful playing time.
With that kind of youthful, on-the-job training, you’re going to have to occasional blown coverage or bad angle or missed tackle.
Miles is rightly willing to live with it, at least for now.
This is partly about a defense that is still a work in progress, one that to a degree still isn’t sure who its best 11 to put out there are. They did, after all, lose eight starters to the NFL from a year ago.
So, some of it is mere auditioning.
But I think Miles has figured out that this isn’t just about identifying his defensive starting lineup.
It’s not that simple anymore.
This may well be all about rounding up and preparing about 25 or so defenders that can be trusted at anytime on any place on the field.
It really doesn’t matter who starts. Even with no injuries, 11 isn’t nearly enough anymore.
This isn’t about giving deserving kids a chance to play. This isn’t about preparing younger players for next year.
This is about defensive survival right now.
LSU evidently went into the season with this in mind. And the Tigers have always played a good many on defense. But what has been a luxury now may well be a necessity.
If Miles needed any reminder, all he needed to do was watch the Texas A&M-Alabama game just before his own game started Saturday.
When Ala-by-damn-bama scores 49 points and still has to sweat out the on-sides kick at the end, you know the old rules don’t necessarily apply anymore.
Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42 — there’s your clear evidence that the no-huddle, pop-gun, virus has officially spread into the defensive-minded SEC.
Less than two years ago LSU and Alabama met in the SEC’s previous Game of the Century, and the touchdown-less score was 9-6, with overtime needed for LSU to muster up a third field goal. Both teams were accused of living in the football stone age (and proud of it).
Saturday the latest SEC Game of the Century unfolded with Alabama giving up 42 points and still winning. Both teams will have to answer to the conference’s high tribunal for SEC high crimes and misdemeanors.
But the flash and dash is here to stay in the SEC. Alabama scored 49 points Saturday because it had to. That’s probably not the Tide’s favorite game.
But Texas A&M looks like it could sneeze and toss out 40-50 points on a whim. Ole Miss, too, and more and more teams in the SEC are adopting the hurry-up style. It may be a fad, but it’s here’s for a while, and you better be able to deal with it. Even Auburn, LSU’s SEC opening opponent this week, though perhaps more pedestrian after the snap, still will try to snap it as quickly and as many times as possible.
It’s sort of like when Arkansas’ Nolan Richardson brought his 40 minutes of hell defense in to shock the SEC basketball system. Suddenly, you didn’t need a good, solid sixth man, you better go 10-deep or he’d lap you and cackle all the way home.
Miles defense last year has been often mentioned as the model on to how to stop A&M and Johnny Autograph. In reality, he knows the Tigers merely survived that day and that his defensive line universally sighed with deep relief that they were done chasing that rascal all over Kyle Field. It could have gone either way.
The same stuff gave LSU fits against Ole Miss, and it finally caught up with the Tigers in the collapse (from near exhaustion) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl when Clemson ran its 100th play of the game to set up the game-winning field goal.
It takes a lot of fresh bodies or you’re fighting a losing battle. It may take some growing pains for LSU to get them all ready.
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org