LSU offensive regaining some of its firepower
QB Flynn close to 100 percent, WR Doucet primed for return
Thursday,October 18, 2007
By James Varney
BATON ROUGE -- Just as the LSU offense should be rounding into midseason form, it appears close to its preseason expectations.
When the season started, the Tigers' offense appeared to be built around nimble, fifth-year senior Matt Flynn at quarterback and senior wide receiver Early Doucet, projected as a high first-round NFL draft pick, as his main target.
And indeed, LSU, 6-1 and No. 4 in the Bowl Championship Series standings and No. 5 in The Associated Press poll, began that way when Flynn found Doucet repeatedly against Mississippi State. Doucet had a career-best nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in the 45-0 rout of the Bulldogs.
In the highly anticipated matchup between LSU and then-No. 9 Virginia Tech in Week 2, Doucet continued his fine play, catching six passes and scoring a touchdown as the Tigers cruised, 48-7.
Flynn was prospering, too. He threw three of his five touchdown passes this season in the first two games, and ran for a touchdown against the Hokies. He gained a career-best 42 yards on the ground against Mississippi State.
Before LSU faced Middle Tennessee State in Week 3, however, the Tigers' offensive game plan underwent a drastic overhaul.
Flynn suffered a high ankle sprain against Virginia Tech, and Doucet was felled by a non-contact injury in practice, the nature of which LSU has not revealed. The injury was severe enough to keep him out of action until the penultimate play of triple overtime last week against Kentucky.
Now Flynn appears close to 100 percent, and Doucet is reportedly on the verge of a full return to action. But during the four-game stretch in which they were hampered or not in the lineup, were the Tigers relying on smoke and mirrors rather than their bread and butter?
Flynn said no, arguing the preseason premise was flawed.
"I don't think so, because when you've got this many good athletes on your offense, you can't base it around two people," Flynn said. "We're trying to get the ball to as many people as we can."
Doucet's thoughts remain a mystery, as he has not spoken to reporters for weeks. He has been participating in closed practices and is expected to play against No. 18 Auburn on Saturday. But other members of the unit were quick to echo the company line.
"We've never felt like we had to come up with something new," said Charles Scott, a sophomore tailback who has rushed for four touchdowns this season. "Coaches (Les) Miles and (Gary) Crowton preach balance every week. In every pregame meeting the first words to come out of Coach Miles' mouth are balance."
Still, the statistics show the Tigers do not possess the offense they did through the first two games. For one thing, they hadn't approached the 40-point mark until the Kentucky game when they added 10 points in two overtimes.
But other, more precise, categories also show a drop. For example, neither Flynn nor
backup Ryan Perrilloux threw an interception in Week 1 and 2, but one of them has thrown one in every game since. Furthermore, LSU had five touchdown passes in the first two games but has produced only six in the next five, and half of those were by Perrilloux against Middle Tennessee.
LSU had 450 combined passing yards against the Bulldogs and the Hokies. In three of the past four games, however, LSU has failed to reach 150 yards per game, including a season-low 70 yards against South Carolina.
As a result the team and individual Tigers have plummeted in most Southeastern Conference passing categories. Though fifth overall in team passing efficiency, Flynn ranks 10th. No LSU receiver is in the SEC's top 10 in number of receptions or yardage per game. Overall, LSU is eighth in the SEC in passing offense (88th nationally).
With reduced effectiveness in getting out of the pocket, Flynn has rushed for only 62 yards since the Mississippi State game and has been a more defenseless target in the pocket, as evidenced against Tulane and Kentucky when he was sacked multiple times.
The contrast between the beating the Wildcats put on Flynn and the lack of pressure the Tigers mounted on Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson was one of the most striking elements of last week's game.
Finding open receivers hasn't been a problem. But when Flynn does get the ball off, he has ,at times, been ill served by his wideouts, who have dropped passes in every game. The sprained ankle has also affected him, either making it hard for him to plant his feet and thus having the ball sail on him, or forcing him to throw off his back foot, which sometimes has resulted in underthrows.
Despite all this, Miles has continued to build the passing attack around Flynn, and Perrilloux has seldom been an aerial threat. Perrilloux, who is kept off limits to the press, tossed six touchdowns in the first three games against one interception.
Junior wide receiver Demetrius Byrd said the Tigers' share of the blame rests on the receiving corps which, in Doucet's absence, has been too concerned with yards after the catch rather than making the completion a sure thing.
"We got together about that and have told each other, just telling the receivers we have got to look the ball in; catch it first and don't worry about the YAC," he said. "Catch the ball and then get up the field. Let's make sure we make the catch, that's all we've been talking about."
It may be, however, that with Auburn coming to town in late October, the LSU offense is returning to something like it was in late August.
"We've got some people getting healthy, and we're out there working hard and coming along real well," Flynn said.
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