Ole Miss wide receiver Vince Sanders pulls in a pass in front of LSU safety Eric Reid on Nov. 17. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 5:27 PMOn the one hand, LSU games surely have gotten more exciting since the Tigers got a legitimate passing game with quarterback Zach Mettenberger coming to flower.
Of course, it takes two to make the scoreboard tango.
And all of sudden opposing quarterbacks are having their way with the once-stingy Tiger secondary, too.
Maybe it wasn’t just the prevent defense.
But LSU’s pass coverage hasn’t really been the same since Alabama completed 4 of 5 passes for 78 yards in the final 2 minutes to escape with a 21-17 victory three weeks ago.
At the time, LSU led the Southeastern Conference in pass defense and the Crimson Tide had completed one pass (which got zero yards) in the second half.
Since then it’s almost been open season on a suddenly user-friendly LSU secondary.
That was nine games into the season. Two of LSU’s opponents hadn’t cracked 100 yards passing and only one team had thrown for more than 177 — Texas A&M and Heisman hopeful Johnny Manziel’s 276.
But since then — since LSU discovered the joys of the forward pass — the question has suddenly become: Can the Tigers knock down any passes?
Even with the late surge, Alabama had 165 yards passing.
But in the last two weeks LSU has given up 304 yards to Mississippi State and 316 last week to Ole Miss.
“The secondary, definitely,” safety Eric Reid said of the problems. “Starting with me and I take full responsibility for that.”
The Tigers won both games, but not without a lot of high anxiety.
“We have things to correct,” admitted head coach Les Miles. “The good news is we have time to do that.
“We have to improve, there isn’t any question. It’s sometimes where have young players that are going to play great (at times) and you have players that will say ‘I didn’t know that’ or I forgot that’ or ‘I didn’t make that play.’ We’re going to continue to coach technique, alignments and assignments. That will continue.”
It may not get any easier.
Waiting in the wings for Friday’s regular-season finale is Arkansas and the SEC’s leading passer, quarterback Tyler Wilson, who has thrown for 303 yards per game.
The Razorbacks, though 4-7, 2-5 SEC, also have the SEC’s leading receiver in Cobi Hamilton, who’s at the top both in catches (80) and yards (1,237).
“It will be a challenge to us,” Miles said. “They’re very dangerous.
“I think that Tyler is a tremendous talent and a very capable quarterback. The only way to contain a guy like that is with coverage and rushes in certain down and distances. It’s an evolving strategy throughout the game.”
While Mississippi State and Ole Miss the last two weeks both threw for the most yards LSU (9-2, 5-2) has allowed, they used different tactics.
Mississippi State peppered LSU with quick, safe passes, all but negating the Tigers’ pass rush while completing 27 of 39.
Ole Miss, on the other hand, completed 16 of 36, but averaged almost 20 yards per completion in going for broke.
Miles pointed out that, when it absolutely had to, his defense has come through.
Safety Craig Loston sealed the Mississippi State game with a 100-yard interception return.
Ole Miss had a chance to take a late lead in a tie game, but back-to-back sacks pushed the Rebels out of comfortable field-goal range.
The Tigers have also forced six turnovers in the last two games and still lead the SEC with 17 interceptions.
But the big yardage has still dropped the Tigers to third in the SEC in pass defense, giving up 179 yards per game.
“We’re working to make some adjustments,” Miles said. “The adjustments many times are very simple.
“You can see many times, the veterans have made some mistakes. They sat back and really we just need more fundamentals.
“It’s nothing spectacularly (wrong) here. The players are good players, they just need to play consistently, as we would have instructed. They know how to play.”