This article was copied from the Times-Picayune Sports Desk Log.
Kyle Williams says team got complacent
Thursday, September 29, 2005
By Jim Kleinpeter

BATON ROUGE – LSU players used a number of buzzwords to try to explain the team’s defensive troubles in Monday’s 30-27 overtime loss to Tennessee.

Missed keys, poor alignments, breakdowns. A favorite explanation was communication, or lack thereof.

But there was nothing buzzwordy about senior defensive tackle Kyle Williams’ explanation. He laid it on the players.

Williams was fuming after the game, calling the loss during which the Tigers blew a 21-0 halftime lead, “a freaking joke.” On Wednesday, there was some leftover emotion with the added perspective of having graded the game film.

“We had an opportunity to put a good football team away,” he said. “We couldn’t get anything going, on either side of the ball in the second half. We got complacent.”

Complacency is a little harder to spot than an open receiver or a missed tackle, of which there were plenty, but all played a part. During halftime, the Tennessee offense went from a team that couldn’t seem to throw or catch to one that chipped its way downfield with suddenly startling efficiency behind the quarterback play of Rick Clausen.

Many critics want to blame new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s scheme, especially after watching former LSU coach Nick Saban’s complex sets dominate for the past few years. Pelini was not available for comment, but the players agree the Tigers simply aren’t bringing it from the practice field to the games.

“Our scheme is sound. It just has to be executed the way it’s supposed to be,” he said. “They coach us to correct (breakdowns) in Arizona, and it was corrected, and we got back there and were playing not to lose. We were not attacking and getting after the guys to win, and it seems like everything broke down again.

“Whatever hand you’re dealt, you have to learn to play it. What we did last year blitzing all the time, that’s not going to be played all the time. You have to learn to play what you’re taught to play and what your game plan is, no matter who the coaching staff is or who you’re playing. These coaches know what they are doing, and they know how to beat football teams. They’ve all been to places where they’ve won a lot of game. And, because we’re not handling our business in whatever phase, it looks bad defensively.”

Said senior cornerback Ronnie Prude: “We still have confidence in what we’re doing. If it’s played right, the defense is going to be great.”

So what happened?

First of all, the Tigers faced two different Tennessee offenses Monday night. In the first half, LSU shut down Tennessee’s running game. And, when a rattled Vols quarterback Erik Ainge wasn’t missing open receivers, they were dropping passes. That contributed a great deal to the Tigers big halftime lead.

Clausen calmed things down and patiently worked the Vols down the field. On Tennessee’s first touchdown drive, he completed six of seven passes, none of them longer than nine yards. He used the same type of short passing game that netted Arizona State 461 yards passing in the first game.

At the same time, LSU was struggling with personnel. Eleven different defensive backs played, which put some on the field who were lacking in game experience. LSU coach Les Miles said he went into the game planning to play a lot of players. But, because some many players suffered with cramps, they had to continue shuttling players and using a variety of combinations.

“We got some cramps late in the game, especially in those skilled kids that were running all the time,” Miles said. “They (Tennessee) had the ball 10 more minutes than we did in the second half. The defense was on the field a long time, and we wanted to give those guys some fresh legs when possible.”

With so many new and inexperienced faces, there were bound to be breakdowns. On one play, Tennessee missed out on an 87-yard touchdown only because wide-open Brett Smith had to make a diving catch of a Clausen pass. In the fourth quarter, Cory Anderson was running down the sidelines all alone but dropped a sure touchdown pass.

“It’s not that they shouldn’t have been playing, but there were some people who get a lot of mental reps in practice instead of (actually) getting in practice and knowing the reps,” said safety Jessie Daniels. “I have no doubt they knew what to do but it was a first time situation for them and they probably were nervous. They knew what to do, but, at the time, they didn’t (do it) because they were so nervous. We can’t blame (the loss) on that.”

Miles said the lack of routine because of the hurricanes has the team’s overall development. Playing games 16 days apart made for ragged play Monday, a game Miles said looked like a “rusty first game.”

Miles also said he saw improvement in the secondary between the two games, despite the breakdowns. He said he doesn’t anticipate using as many defensive backs Saturday at Mississippi State and said he has a better idea of which ones can play.

If there is a blessing in the shorter week, the players get a chance to make amends quicker and retain some of the lessons learned in defeat.

“We’re very anxious to prove to everybody we’ve regained our confidence in the team we are,” said Daniels. “If we keep playing like we’re playing ,with less mistakes, we’re going to win a lot of games.”