LSU searching for ways to start faster on offense

TOO SLOW SO FAR:  Running back Noah Cain and the LSU offense has only scored 13 points against FBS opposition in the first quarter, something coach Brian Kelly knows must improve.   (Photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By RAYMOND PARTSCH III, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE — The LSU Tigers continue to start slow.

In Saturday’s 40-13 home defeat to Tennessee, LSU failed to score in the opening quarter. It is the third game this season that the Tigers have been shut out in the opening quarter.

In fact, LSU has scored 50 points in the opening quarter, but 37 of that came against FCS opponent Southern.

For new LSU coach Brian Kelly, the team’s slow starts have less to do with preparation and more to do with simple execution.

“We got off to a slow start again,” Kelly said during Monday’s weekly press conference. “We’ll keep talking about how important it is, but that’s execution, more than being lethargic and disinterested. That group was ready to play, but you still have to execute.”

That lack of execution helped put the Tigers in a hole.

After Jack Bech fumbled away the opening kickoff, Tennessee needed only five plays to score a touchdown. The Vols defense forced a three-and-out and then, after LSU allowed a long punt return, Tennessee added a field goal. In a matter of minutes, LSU found itself down 10-0.

That lack of execution to start the game also silenced the sold-out crowd inside Death Valley.

“I talked to our team about it,” Kelly said. “I said, ‘Listen, one of the advantages that we have is we have a home crowd here. So let’s get them working for you.’”

Kelly added, “But, again, this is a process for our guys. We’re learning. They’re understanding that they have to bring more than just talent to the field. We’ll keep working at it.”

LSU will need to keep working on its offense, too.

The Tigers’ ground game is average as it ranks seventh in the Southeastern Conference in total rushing yards (1,035), rushing yards per game (172.5) and rushing yards per attempt (4.7).

LSU is also struggling to get points once the team gets inside the 20-yard line as the Tigers are ranked 78th in the NCAA, and 11th in the SEC, in red zone offense.

“So if you really want to break it down, we have to critically analyze key third- and fourth-down situations and really red zone,” Kelly said. “It’s not really about plays as much as it’s execution in those critical moments. Really probably spending more time during the week in those critical situations on third and fourth down and how we can support the group in that situation as well.”

Of course, having the offensive line improve its protections would go a long way in improving LSU’s offensive execution. That may prove to be a challenge with the O-line’s health.

LSU’s starting left guard, Garrett Dellinger, suffered a second-degree MCL sprain against Tennessee. Kelly said Dellinger will be out until after the bye week at the end of the month. After being hospitalized due to hydration on Friday, freshman left tackle and former Monroe-Neville star Will Campbell is “trending in a positive direction” but there’s no indication yet if he will be available for Saturday night’s game at Florida.

Kelly did hint on Monday at possibly utilizing seven-man protection to assist the Tigers’ offense.

“We’ve got some new players on the offensive line,” Kelly said. “Maybe we have to do some more things. Maybe we have to move the pocket. Maybe we have to protect with seven, do some things like that as well.”

Contact Raymond at sportswithrp3@gmail.com