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September 2, 2014

Miles defends Fournette and Harris



The expectations of the fan base were certainly sky-high for LSU's freshmen.

Eight true freshmen logged playing time in the Tigers' 28-24 victory against Wisconsin on Saturday night at NRG Stadium in Houston. Wide receiver Trey Quinn, who was the lone first-year player to start, caught one pass for 11 yards and caught another pass for a two-point conversion.

Wide receiver Malachi Dupre didn't make the trip due to an injury. Safety Jamal Adams participated on special teams and in some defensive packages. Davon Godchaux, who was the No. 3 defensive tackle, made one stop. Deondre Clark, Donnie Alexander and Ed Paris played briefly.

Then, there were two of the most highly-regarded of the freshman recruits - tailback Leonard Fournette and quarterback Brandon Harris. Fournette had an average outing - eight carries for 18 yards and five kickoff returns for 133 yards. Harris played one series, in which the offense lost nine yards.

Coach Les Miles strongly defended Fournette and Harris at his weekly media luncheon Tuesday afternoon.

"Some people try to label a young person to make his opinion noteworthy," Miles said. "A NFL scout may do it with a college player. A college recruiter may do it with a high school player. They want to be the first to say something about a player.

"These two guys are freshmen playing in a big-time bowl game in the season-opener. It takes time for guys to learn where the cut is. Wait until they get to the back end of their careers. Trust me. These two guys will have great careers."

Miles was fairly happy with what quarterback Anthony Jennings gave the Tigers against the Badgers. He completed only nine of 21 passes, but he threw for 239 yards. Moreover, Jennings had no turnovers. The one LSU miscue was a fumble by tight end Travis Dickson following a pass completion.

"(Jennings) threw the ball away when he needed to throw the ball away," Miles said. "He hit the passes he could. Jennings handled the frustrations really well. He handled the opportunity to make plays. He sees the decision-making process much differently.

"Jennings must communicate things to ten guys and get communication from the sidelines. That takes experience. It was obvious in that game the opportunity for us to win was to get Jennings comfortable and let him play."

Miles didn't totally hide his displeasure with the offensive line, which had three returning starters - left tackle La'El Collins, left guard Vadal Alexander and right tackle Jerald Hawkins. Right guard Hoko Fanaika, one of the new starters, made key blocks on Hilliard's three decisive fourth-quarter carries.

"Guys went in the wrong direction," Miles said. "We had some difficult times getting yardage. We miscued and that gave Wisconsin every opportunity to slow us up. The line settled down in the second half. They said 'let's recognize who we are. Let's go play.'

"The linemen got comfortable. They started playing hard. The mistakes they made in the first half were not made in the second half. They made some adjustments in technique. They were more consistent and physical at the line of scrimmage."

According to Miles, the LSU defense also had a change in production following Wisconsin's early third-quarter touchdown which made it a 24-7 game.

"When you are down 24-7, you need offense, defense and special teams to come back," Miles said. "The first thing you have to do is stop (offense). The defense in the first half was like 'Yep, (running back) should have been hit right there.'

"Those were all miscues which could be corrected. The defensive players adjusted and put themselves in position to make the tackle faster."

Godchaux and junior cornerback Jalen Collins were two players who grabbed Miles' attention for their work against Wisconsin. Godchaux received playing time ahead of Frank Herron. Collins, starting instead of the suspended Rashard Robinson, made six tackles and broke up one pass.

"Potentially, Godchaux can be as capable as any tackle we have had," Miles said. "He's tough and not afraid to mix it up. He uses his hands well. Collins had one of those games where he made a difference. He was as physical a corner as you want. There were three very distinct tackles which dropped guys."

LSU will take on Sam Houston State, a FCS team, in the home opener Saturday night. The Bearkats have split two games - a victory against Alabama State and a loss to Eastern Washington. Miles believes the victory against Wisconsin will be a positive experience for his team in the future.

"We opened the season with a bowl game," Miles said. "That team won (Big Ten) Conference three of the last four years. With the excitement in the stadium, it had all the makings of a big-time bowl game. We knew we had to play four quarters. We didn't know we had to start being down 24-7.

"Wisconsin really challenged our entire team. They made us earn it. I was glad our team continued to fight and give relentless effort. It's nice to be part of an organization that fights like hell. This team has its own brand and own style, but they are just like other Tigers (teams)."


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