Look past the paper when LSU meets Vandy
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
By Scooter Hobbs
Baton Rouge — On paper, this week’s LSU-Vanderbilt game looks like a classic mismatch.
After all, Vanderbilt is the SEC’s leading passing team and Commodore quarterback Jay Cutler will be taking aim at LSU’s league-worst pass defense.
The 11th-ranked Tigers are favored by two touchdowns over the upstart Commodores anyway.
And LSU showed enough improvement in shutting down Mississippi State last Saturday that the Tigers are no longer the NCAA’s worst against the pass.
Plus, with a run defense that ranks second in the conference, the Tigers have crept up into the middle of the pack in total defense.
“We made a lot of corrections and the corrections stuck with the guys this time,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “A lot of guys were embarrassed and upset with the way we performed in the second half of the Tennessee game.”
That was when the Tigers looked all but defenseless in blowing a 21-point halftime lead before losing 30-27 in overtime. In LSU’s opener, Arizona State threw for 461 yards.
It looked like more of the same when the Tigers blew a secondary coverage and allowed Mississippi State an uncontested 66-yard touchdown pass on the sixth play of Saturday’s game.
Here we go again?
Not exactly. The Tigers squeezed off 37 unanswered points and, after the Bulldog touchdown, LSU’s defense allowed just 80 more yards over the next two and half quarters.
“It was just a freak deal,” Williams said. “It happens. We didn’t feel that they could drive the ball on us and we played a lot better from that point on.”
Mississippi State did not have a first down in the third quarter while LSU was scoring 21 points.
Miles said it shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s the way he expects his defense to play every week.
“The Arizona State game was bad,” Williams said. “The Tennessee game was good and then bad. This past week we played good all game except for one play.
Everything defensively took a step forward,” Williams said. “We’re still in the middle of a new coaching staff, but you can see it, day by day on the practice field, things are starting to click more and more, and you can see especially in the games.”
But Vanderbilt (4-1, 2-0 SEC) will present a far different challenge than Mississippi State’s pedestrian offense.
Cutler leads SEC quarterbacks in passing at 275 yards per game with a pair of receivers, Erik Davis and Earl Bennett, who rank second and third, respectively in receptions per game.
Cutler, the preseason choice as the All-SEC quarterback, was injured midway through LSU’s 24-7 victory over Vanderbilt last season.
“He’s a veteran guy who’s been in their offense for a good, long time,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “He understands what to do with the ball and has a quick release.”
That quick release may be LSU’s biggest concern, given that Cutler is prone to short dropbacks much the way Arizona State’s Sam Keller did in riddling the Tigers.
LSU had no sacks against the Sun Devils. But the Tigers got four against Tennessee and seven against Mississippi State.
Against the Bulldogs five of the sacks came from the four down linemen.
“We have to get to him quick,” Williams said. “Tennessee was getting rid of the ball quick but we were still able to get some shots on him. Hopefully we’re going to get in this guy’s face and make him hiccup some.
“He will take a hit to be able to get rid of the ball. He’ll stand back there and hold the ball until he sees something. We’ve just got to work hard to get to him.”
Complicating matters, Cutler is also a mobile quarterback, although the Commodores aren’t running him on the option as much as in years past. But he’s still gained almost 50 yards per game on the ground and has only been sacked seven times in five games.
“He’s a good athlete and a smart guy,” LSU linebacker Cameron Vaughn said. “We’ve got to cover well and we’ve got to contain him.”