by Carl DuboisOctober 23, 2009 6:31 AM
There is a reason it's called "Check with me" and not "Check with everybody." A quarterback and his offensive teammates go to the line of scrimmage and look to the sideline for signals, real ones and decoys, for an updated play call based on the defense's alignment.
They are checking with a representative of the coaching staff, not with everyone in attendance. Not that they'd get anything close to a consensus that way.
And despite all of the suggestions he's heard about how to jumpstart an offense whose output ranks 112th in major college football, LSU coach Les Miles made it clear this week not to expect a major overhaul in personnel or formation.
Miles said freshman Dominique Allen has practiced well and might play this weekend, but beyond that Miles is hopeful the same players who have been taking snaps on offense will execute it better when LSU plays Auburn at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
"The calls that have been made have certainly been the right calls," Miles said. "The style of play that we want is there. It's just we're bits and pieces off. For me, I want us to be able to run the football more efficiently. I want us to throw it down the field more comfortably, but I think that those pieces are in place. It just needs to be executed more effectively."
The game will be televised on ESPN2.
For LSU, an aim to establish the running game with more authority could translate into a higher profile for Charles Scott.
"We're trying to get Scott's numbers up, to be honest," Miles said. "I think that there's a concerted effort to want to run the football more. We have some diverse weapons in the fact that we have speed at quarterback and a very, very talented receiver corps.
"So I think there's a want to spread the ball around a little bit more than there's been, but we'd like to get Charles Scott lathered up and let him have a game or two as we go forward."
Scott's desire is not an issue. Not many weeks ago, he approached Miles and volunteered to play fullback if it would help the Tigers.
"He's a very, very team-oriented guy," Miles said. "He wants to be on the field. He wants to have impact. He wants ... in special teams, he wants ... he just wants to play. We want to keep him fresh because we want to hand him the ball. We feel like there's a need for him to take extra energy into some of those carries, but he's all in. He's a wonderful man. Got a great perspective."
LSU (5-1) is ranked No. 9 in the country and is second in the SEC West at 3-1.
Auburn (5-2) is third in the division at 2-2. The two losses came after a 5-0 start.
"Obviously, we have our work cut out for us Saturday night, and LSU's really, really playing well," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "Just exactly what you would think in an LSU team: very big, very physical, great speed, phenomenal on defense. Special teams are really, really tops in the league in about everything, so it's just going to be obviously a great matchup, and we're going to have to play really well to beat them in Baton Rouge."
LSU had an open date after its 13-3 loss to No. 1-ranked and reigning national champion Florida. The Gators then survived a scare against Arkansas in a game that featured questionable officiating -- from the same crew that worked LSU's win at Georgia -- and a game that led to the suspension of its crew by the SEC office.
Miles said LSU had good practices, including a scrimmage on the Thursday after the loss to Florida, and enters the Auburn game with "much better" health after some rest.
Auburn, with coordinator Gus Malzahn installing a hurry-up, spread-the-defense system that incorporated the Wildcat formation that became popular in 2006 when he was at Arkansas, won its first five games with what has become the SEC's second-best scoring offense.
LSU has the second-worst.
Auburn has the SEC's second-best total offense. LSU has the worst.
On defense, LSU is in the middle of the pack. Auburn is second-worst.
LSU is No. 112 in total offense. Auburn is No. 8 nationally in total offense, in part because of the addition of a power running game to Malzahn's more talked-about tendencies and characteristics.
Chizik said LSU hasn't lost its physical nature on offense, and he used Scott as an example.
"If you just go back to the Georgia game, on the run that he made to win the game -- I mean, you run through linebackers -- this guy's a powerful, very fast guy," Chizik said. "So I don't know what the numbers do or don't necessarily indicate, but I know that he's an extremely, extremely good tailback and can do it all.
"He's fast. He's got speed, but he's definitely powerful."
Auburn scored at least 40 points three times in its five-game winning streak, topping out with a 54-30 victory Sept. 26 against Ball State. After a 26-22 victory at Tennessee, the Wildcat became more of a mildcat.
Auburn lost 44-23 at Arkansas and 21-14 to Kentucky.
Auburn fans find themselves wondering if defenses are beginning to solve the puzzle of Malzahn's offense, but it's no coincidence production began declining once Auburn reached the SEC portion of its schedule. Whether quarterback Chris Todd is functioning at 100 percent is another question, but Chizik and Malzahn insist he's fine.
Kodi Burns, the quarterback who ran from the Wildcat more frequently earlier in the season, has seen that role diminish as defenses have gained insight into Auburn's approach on offense.
Chizik, who was Auburn's defensive coordinator during the team's undefeated 2004 season, when Auburn led the nation in scoring defense. He said it looks like LSU's defense is rounding into form nicely under new coordinator John Chavis.
"They're very well-coached, they're very sound in what they do, and they're starting to execute the defense, I'm sure, the way he's calling it," Chizik said, "so I think that's why you've just seen such a great improvement, because they are big, they're physical, and again, they're probably going into Game 7 for them obviously more comfortable with the defense."
LSU's offense is another story. Will the Auburn game mark the return of Russell Shepard to a role in the offense? Will quarterback Jordan Jefferson and the offensive line cut down on the frequency of sacks? Have Miles and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton tweaked the plan in ways that would more readily take advantage of Jefferson's skills?
Is it a given Shepard should play and run from a direct-snap formation after the way Kentucky's Randall Cobb used the Wildcats' form of the Wildcat to roll up yardage against Auburn?
Check with Miles, one is tempted to say, but as usual he's careful not to say too much. Often there is not a noticeable correlation between what he says he hopes to see and what his offense displays on the field. The reason he most frequently gives: lack of execution of the right call.
The game Saturday is another chance to see if the plan comes closer to its goals.
Speaking of goals, Miles said his players handled the loss to Florida as well as could be expected, and they realize they still have control over their destiny in terms of championship and high-profile bowl potential.
"Our want, certainly, is to finish this season very strong and have an opportunity to play a game of significance when we get to December," Miles said.
A victory against SEC West rival Auburn is almost certainly required.
Carl Dubois has written or blogged about LSU sports since 1999. You can contact him at carl1061 'at' gmail.com.
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