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September 9, 2013

Running game must improve



It has been ten years since LSU scored more points in its first two games of the season.

The Tigers have scored 93 points with the offense scoring 11 touchdowns. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is paying dividends as the LSU passing game has taken a major step forward.

Zach Mettenberger has thrown for 533 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham have combined for 23 catches and 434 yards and all six Mettenberger touchdowns. The passing game is averaging 272 yards per game - 70-plus yards higher than last season.

But, Tigers coach Les Miles understands that you must run the football to win close games in the Southeastern Conference. Five tailbacks have rushed for 321 yards with an average of 5.2 yards per carry. That is a healthy average, but Miles believes the running game can be better.

"The place to improve is run the ball a little bit more efficiently," said Miles at his weekly media luncheon Monday afternoon. "Our line is working hard. Technically, there is just a little more work to be done to get in the groove.

"UAB played a front we were not planning on seeing. It looked like it threw off some of our technique and some of our assignments. The reality is we should have been much more efficient rushing the football than we were."

Kenny Hilliard was the top rusher against the Blazers with 54 yards on 11 carries. However, 40 of those yards came on Hilliard's seven attempts during the last two series of the game. Terrence Magee, who had 95 yards against TCU, gained just seven yards on four carries.

Alfred Blue, who picked up 89 rushing yards against the Horned Frogs, had only three attempts for eight yards against UAB. True freshman Jeryl Brazil had a nine-yard run on his first play. Then, there was Jeremy Hill.

Report Card: Each position on LSU team gets letter grades

In his first appearance of the season, Hill rushed for 50 yards on six attempts. His first carry resulted in a 3-yard touchdown run. Hill also had a 15-yard gain, the longest rush of the night for a LSU back. Miles was hesitant in saying that Hill is ready to move up the depth chart.

"I don't know if he's ready to be the lead back," Miles said. "This is another game week. There will be snaps taken in practice and we'll have to see. I enjoyed the fact that other backs saw the playing field. We will see how the competition at the position looks and will make our decision slowly."

One decision that Miles has made is that he is not going to reduce the number of passes in an attempt to kick-start the running game this Saturday against Kent State. Miles knows that LSU's offense is more effective when there is balance.

"What has to happen to an offense is it must have the ability to hurt you with both the run and the pass," Miles said. "I wouldn't want to change our development to this date in any way. We've established some parameters of how we're going to play, so let's get a little better in the running game.

"Let's make sure we're more efficient and come off the football a little bit more aggressively. Let's understand our footwork and technique. That's one of the areas of improvement for this week."

Although Mettenberger passed for a school-record five touchdown passes against UAB, the spotlight shined most brightly on Beckham, who finished with 331 all-purpose yards - the third highest in school history. He caught a field goal nine yards deep in the end zone and returned the ball for a touchdown.

"We handed (Beckham) a ball, he caught a ball, he returned punts and he returned a field goal," Miles said. "Nifty is a great word for him. Explosive is a great word for him. He sees himself making great plays. I've never had a player who had the ability to make great plays who didn't have that characteristic.

"Odell Beckham has that piece to him. He says that if I beat that guy, this might go all the way. If I can just get to the ball, I'll make that catch. He has that intangible that really some of the very best players around have."

LSU football analysis: Bottle those 12 minutes.

Miles was satisfied with the manner in which the defense responded in the second half after allowing 17 second-quarter points. UAB went three-and-out on its first three second half possessions. The Blazers gained only 104 yards in the second half with Tigers reserves playing the fourth quarter.

"In the second quarter, the defense had to make a couple of adjustments," Miles said. "We had some young guys that couldn't get the defense adjusted. At halftime, the adjustments were emphatically put. Our defense understood what to do and held our opponents scoreless in the second half."

Kent State is LSU's last opponent before beginning the SEC schedule on Sept. 21 against Auburn. Miles simply wants his team to continue to make progress.

"Overall, I am very pleased with where we're going," Miles said. "I don't think anybody is ready to hang the moon and feel like we've done anything. We all recognize that for us to do the things we're going to want to do, we're going to have to improve."


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