The Truth: More Smiles, More Work to Do for Tigers

by Cody Worsham | Digital Media Reporter
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The Truth: More Smiles, More Work to Do for Tigers

Every Monday around here is ‘Tell the Truth Monday.’ Here’s this week’s version of The Truth, a weekly recap of Monday’s storylines through the eyes of the LSU players and coaches. 

First Things First

Opportunity is the name of the game in college football.

There are 85 scholarships but only 22 starting jobs. Only a few make it to this level. Even fewer thrive.

The collective story of Saturday’s 41-7 win over Vanderbilt was LSU’s improvement as a team, but zoom in closer, and you’ll find that improvement consisted of many smaller improvements – players who didn’t show up at LSU ready to play, but players who prepared for their moment and, when it came in Nashville, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck.

Take Jontre Kirklin. The senior from Lutcher started as a cornerback at LSU and has spent more time at scout team quarterback than first team receiver. But last week during practice, coaches installed a tunnel screen play to take advantage of Kirklin’s speed. Every time they dialed it up, Kirklin scored.

Same call on Saturday. Same response from Kirklin.

The Lutcher native entered Saturday’s game with three career catches for 80 yards. He left the field Saturday with three more grabs, 65 more yards, and his first two career touchdowns.

Jontre’s come to work with a smile on his face every day,” said head coach Ed Orgeron. “Jontre is like one of my sons. I’m so close to him and his family. Outstanding young man. No one wants him to have more success in the program, and we all do.”

Kirklin led a brigade of Tigers who have waited their turn and answered the call Saturday. John Emery went for a career high 103 rushing yards (more on him below). Myles Brennan took a step forward in his second career start (more on that, too). Cam Wire got the nod at left tackle and led the charge for a line that allowed not a single sack on the night. Eleven players caught passes.

When Kirklin left the field, he sported the same smile he’s worn for four years at LSU.

It was always there. It was about time everyone saw it.

 “It’s good to see it, but he’s waited his turn,” Orgeron said. “We tried to get the ball in his hand, played on wildcat, tried to play defense. He told me, ‘You know what, Coach, I want to play receiver. I’m going to be a darn good receiver,’ and he sure is. I hope he has a great senior year.”

The Stingley Effect

I don’t mean to be controversial, but here it goes: having a Consensus All-American back in your secondary sure seems to fix a lot of problems.

Derek Stingley Jr.’s return to play Saturday didn’t fix everything for the Tiger defense, but, boy, did it help. A week after surrendering 623 passing yards to Mississippi State, LSU allowed just 113 yards through the air to Vanderbilt

Forget the raw numbers for a second, though, because the Commodores and Bulldogs run entirely different systems. Look at efficiency: KJ Costello’s passer rating in week one was 168.1, while Ken Seals’ passer rating in week 2 was 79.2.

As per usual, Stingley shut down his side of the field. Vanderbilt threw his way only twice – he broke up one throw in the red zone and was whistled for a pass interference call with which this writer, at least, disagreed.

He’s a player whose impact this season probably has to be measured as much by what others do around him as what he does himself, though. Cordale Flott, back in the nickel where he practiced all fall, gave up just 12 passing yards and picked up two tackles for loss. Elias Ricks picked off another pass. Jay Ward got the week off.

“I think Derek Stingley’s presence helped everybody – including me,” Orgeron said. “It took the pressure off Elias and Cordale…Their second game, I think there was less nerves and they were more sure of what to do.”

Brennan Pulls the Trigger

We saw an entirely new Myles Brennan in week two.

Last week’s Myles Brennan held the ball too long, scrambled from pressure too quickly, and floated too many throws down the middle of the field.

This week’s Myles Brennan made quick decisions, climbed the pocket, and pulled the trigger.

The stats tell the story best. In week one, Brennan took 2.87 seconds, on average, to throw the football, the slowest in the SEC. In week two, he took just 2.14 seconds, the fastest in the SEC.

After the Mississippi State loss, Orgeron personally made Brennan a cut up of Drew Brees, the master of climbing the pocket and delivering the ball with authority and conviction. Brennan studied the tape, ran through the drills, and delivered the goods Saturday.

“I think we worked very hard on him staying in the pocket, stepping up, and making the right throw, and letting it rip,” Orgeron said. “When he sees it open, let it go. That touchdown he made to Terrace, that free safety was sitting right there. That ball was right on the money.”

Feeding 4

No one made Brennan’s night easier than John Emery. The sophomore running back, so full of promise and talent, enjoyed a coming out party Nashville, with 103 rushing yards on 12 carries, 21 receiving yards on three receptions, a touchdown, and an incredibly stretchy jersey.

Emery’s dynamism in the running game gave LSU’s offense a dimension it missed for much of the season opener. After passing on 63 percent of its first downs and running on just 37 percent against Mississippi State, LSU was a perfect 50-50 balance – 18 runs, 18 throws – on first downs against Vanderbilt.

By handing the ball off the Emery, LSU not only got in better positions for second and third downs, but it also got the Commodore defense cheating toward the line of scrimmage, opening lanes for Brennan to pick them apart with play action.

It’s hard to blame Vanderbilt’s defenders. Emery is so good that if you don’t take that early step, he’ll run by you or through you. He did most of his damage after contact, picking up nearly five yards a carry after initial contact. He showcased great vision to pop runs inside and out, and he utilized a devastating hesitation mood to get the corner on pursuing tacklers more than once.

“Johnny made some great cuts to the outside, made some good runs to the inside,” Orgeron said. “The thing I’m most pleased with is zero turnovers, and he has done a great job of taking care of the football. He’s becoming a complete back.”

Numbers to Know

8 – LSU has dropped 8 passes in two games.

682 – Myles Brennan’s 682 yards passing through two games are the most by an LSU quarterback in his first two career starts, as are his touchdowns (7) and completions (50).

11 – Brennan completed passes to 11 different receivers on Saturday

21.4% – Terrace Marshall has three touchdowns on 14 targets this season, scoring touchdowns 21.4% of the time the ball is thrown his direction. He led the nation last year at 19.4% (67 targets, 13 touchdowns)

Potent Quotables

“We’re an ascendant football team. We’re going to get better every single day.” – Myles Brennan

“I put all of us on punishment. We were on punishment from how we performed last Saturday…We might be on punishment this week, just with how well we played.” – JaCoby Stevens, whose “punishment” meant the only football LSU’s players could watch last week was Vanderbilt tape

“I don’t know anything about a team punishment. I don’t know what you’re talking about, and they might want to inform me of that.” – Ed Orgeron on Stevens’ “punishment”

“It was kind of eerie going into the stadium with no fans and stuff like that. I think we learned our lesson from the first game that we have to create our own energy. I think the biggest thing is that you lose home field advantage.” – Ed Orgeron on stadiums with limited capacity

And Finally…