LSU players more than ready to take on Tennessee
Sunday, September 25, 2005
By William Kalec
BATON ROUGE - For all their patience, hospitality, and political correctness, the LSU Tigers are still a bunch of 18- to 23-year-olds. Cabin fever (or indoor practice facility fever, if we’re going to be technical) was destined to seep in.
BOOM! BOOM! CLANK!
“One more,” Skyler Green pleaded to an LSU equipment manager desperately scrambling to gather loose footballs before another wide receiver blasted them rugby-style into the field-goal netting.
Such was the scene when “Wednesday practice: The Sequel” concluded around 6 p.m. Friday evening. Understandably antsy, several straggling players began kicking balls toward the suspended goalposts for no apparent reason other than to vent some frustration after conference officials placed another speed bump in the path of a surreal season already sputtering like a GEO in the mud.
BOOM! BOOM! One more, come on. Here ya go. CLANK!
Loud, hollow thuds echoed off the warehouse-style walls - harmonic, really, if not for the occasional shank and subsequent crash into the metallic siding. One of these bush-league punters had a ball ricochet and land within 10 yards of a cocoon of reporters surrounding Les Miles as the first-year coach discussed the benefits of the No. 3-ranked Tigers hosting No. 10 Tennessee at 6:30 p.m. Monday in Tiger Stadium due to Hurricane Rita.
Judging by the somewhat bizarre steam-releaser witnessed on the original Tennessee Eve, energy and emotion should be in surplus.
“The kids are practicing. They’re ready to play, again,” LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said. “I mean, it’s just like we’re practicing, practicing, doing good, ready to roll and then you hold off a week and we’re ready to go, again. Now that I think about it, to tell kids, ‘Hey keep (practicing) hard. We’re going to play.’ Then to only play one game, it’s hard on them.”
Check your now worthless schedule magnets or posters. It’s Sept. 26. LSU should be three games deep into Miles’ inaugural campaign, every one of them a predictable icky and muggy contest played under the lights of Tiger Stadium.
By now, Tigerland should know what Miles thinks of the much-hyped atmosphere, his take on SEC-style football and whether or not his drive-thru headset can withstand 92,000 fans determined to abuse their vocal cords.
Instead, the home video tapes of the LSU-Arizona State opener are beginning to fray because of constant rewinding. It’s all they’ve got, all they’ve seen.
“Certainly, I looked forward to playing this Saturday night,” Miles said. “But if I can’t control my emotions and I can’t pull myself back then I’d be a poor example for anyone else.”
Miles was then asked if he’d be able to maintain that level of calmness if he still had eligibility left from his paying days.
“There’d be some anxious moments in a number of areas,” he admitted, slightly laughing.
While LSU’s infant season is still waiting to bloom, the Vols’ campaign is on the brink of disaster prior to October. A closer-than-needed victory over perennial free-win UAB was followed with a bye week, then a sluggish 16-7 loss to Florida in which starter Rick Clausen was replaced by sophomore Erik Ainge. In danger of dropping two games behind SEC East foes Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia in the loss column, Coach Phillip Fulmer labeled Ainge the starter for the game in Death Valley, perhaps hoping the more permanent tag would spark confidence and stability in a lackluster offense.
Ainge has thrown for a modest 204 yards in abbreviated duty in two games, completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes.
“We’ve got to get on the same page from a timing standpoint, with nobody looking over their shoulder all the time,” Fulmer said. “I’ve addressed the team about it; I’ve addressed the seniors and the leadership. And we’re looking forward to going on about our business and being a better team.”
Rain or no rain, look for Tennessee to be generous in the amount of carries given to senior Gerald Riggs Jr. The multiple postseason award candidate is averaging close to five yards a carry and 100 yards per game.
“Tennessee is a much more physical team than Arizona State,” Miles said. “Tennessee has a dominant front rush. But our offensive line matches up pretty well with them. Arizona State was physical but it’s not the same style as Tennessee.
“Gerald Riggs is a big, strong physical back. You have to tackle him with your whole body. There can be no arm tackles.”
With the forecast calling for wet conditions, LSU might finally miss injured tailback Alley Broussard whose north-south style befits a sloppy field. Miles said he was interested to see which back - Joseph Addai, Justin Vincent or Shyrone Carey - would be his token “mudder” Monday night.
That is, of course, if plans don’t change, again.
“Shoot, they may postpone it a couple more days. Who knows?” Miles said facetiously before reiterating, “we’ll be ready.”