SEC: Tigers-Heels 090410

Patrick Peterson's returns save LSU

September, 5, 2010
ATLANTA -- Patrick Peterson kept his promise, and it’s a good thing.

If not, who knows where this LSU football team would be right now? And for that matter, could you imagine the reception his head coach would be getting back on the Bayou?

When told that he would indeed be returning kickoffs and punts this season, Peterson assured LSU coach Les Miles that he was making the right call.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswirePatrick Peterson had an LSU record 257 return yards, including an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown against North Carolina.
“Once I saw the depth for the first time, I said, ‘Oh yeah, coach, I’m definitely going to make something happen,’ ” said Peterson, the Tigers’ star cornerback.

He didn’t just make something happen Saturday night in the Georgia Dome. He saved LSU’s bacon in a 30-24 win over a depleted North Carolina team in a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game that went down to the final seconds with the Tar Heels throwing into the end zone from the 6-yard line.

As fate would have it, Peterson wasn’t on the field for those final two plays. He had to leave the game with cramps, a problem for him since his Pee Wee football days.

He’d done his damage earlier in the game with a record-setting performance in the return game.

His 257 combined return yards were an LSU record, and he had 244 of those by halftime. His 87-yard punt return for a touchdown looked like he was catapulted by a slingshot.

“It was like the Red Sea out there, it was so open,” Peterson said.

That gem was sandwiched between a 47-yard kickoff return to set up Russell Shepard’s 50-yard touchdown romp and a 37-yard punt return that led to Rueben Randle’s 51-yard touchdown catch.

Without any one of those plays, LSU would have been toast, and Miles would be trying to explain how he lost a game to the Tar Heels’ “B” team when the Tigers had a 30-10 lead entering the fourth quarter.

“We’ve just got to finish games,” Peterson said. “It killed us last year, and it almost got us tonight. I don’t know what it is, but something’s got to change.”

One thing that won’t change is Peterson drifting back deep on kicks. He said it’s the first time he’d returned a kick since the fourth game of his senior year in high school.

“And they stopped kicking it to me then, too,” joked Peterson, who didn’t get much of a chance to return kicks in the second half.

Shepard, who scored a pair of touchdowns himself, knew what kind of impact Peterson would make in the return game. He’s seen it too many times on the practice field.

“I think he’s the best player in the country -- period,” Shepard said. “There isn’t anything he can’t do.”

The Tigers, who struggled to put teams away last season, shifted into cruise control way too early against the Tar Heels, who never quit scrapping.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Dale Zanine/US PresswireLSU coach Les Miles will have some things to work on with his Tigers this week after they nearly blew a 30-10 fourth quarter lead.
In fact, Peterson was out of the game on the 97-yard touchdown pass by T.J. Yates to Jheranie Boyd because he said LSU defensive backs coach Ron Cooper wanted to get some of the younger guys in the game.

“I guess he thought we had a comfortable lead,” Peterson said.

Senior middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said it shouldn’t have mattered who was on the field. He said the Tigers simply got sloppy, which is hard to argue when you consider Yates passed for a career-high 412 yards and didn’t have his best receiver on the field (Greg Little).

“We won the game and don’t let anybody kid you,” Sheppard said. “But there’s definitely a feeling of, ‘Man, what happened in the second half?’ I mean, it’s obvious. Guys weren’t where they’re supposed to be. Giving up a (97-yard) touchdown pass is unacceptable. I don’t care where you’re playing at. We just can’t do that.

“Again, we did win the game, so you can’t just put it in the drain. But it’s upsetting that we emphasized finishing games so much, and while we never point fingers here and I make sure of that, for guys to have their eyes in the wrong place is disappointing.”

The offense certainly contributed to the near collapse.

Running back Stevan Ridley fumbled the football with a 1:08 to play, giving the Tar Heels one last chance to drive the field.

And they did.

But the Tigers also quit going to Shepard and Randle, who are clearly the top two game-breakers on this offense.

Shepard’s a guy who needs to touch it 12 to 15 times a game at the very least. He had three touches after halftime Saturday.

“There are a lot of things we need to clean up if we want to be back here in a couple of months playing for the SEC championship,” Shepard said. “The good thing is that we have the talent to do it.”

Video: LSU's Russell Shepard

September, 5, 2010

Chris Low talks with LSU’s Russell Shepard following the win over North Carolina.

Instant analysis: LSU 30, UNC 24

September, 5, 2010
ATLANTA -- Big plays were the difference for LSU on Saturday night, as the Tigers held on for a 30-24 victory over North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

How the game was won: After the Tigers’ Stevan Ridley fumbled the ball away with 1:08 to play, LSU weathered two North Carolina throws into the end zone from the 6-yard line in the final seconds. LSU’s Jai Eugene had the coverage on the first throw into the end zone, and Stefoin Francois had the coverage on the final throw.

Turning point: North Carolina got back in the game when Jheranie Boyd got behind the LSU defense for a 97-yard touchdown catch to pull the Tar Heels within 30-17 in the fourth quarter.

Player of the game: Without junior cornerback Patrick Peterson, the Tigers would have been in real trouble. He set an LSU record with combined return yards. He had an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown and also set up two other touchdowns, one with a 47-yard kickoff return and another with a 37-yard punt return.

Stat of the game: After falling behind 10-7, LSU scored 23 unanswered points to take a 30-10 lead into halftime and didn’t score again. Three of the Tigers’ touchdowns were from 50 yards or longer.

Unsung hero of the game: While Peterson was the guy who might have saved LSU, sophomore receiver Russell Shepard provided a big assist. Shepard had a 6-yard touchdown catch for LSU’s first touchdown and also put the Tigers ahead to stay with a 50-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Second guessing: When Ridley fumbled the ball with 1:08 to play, the Tar Heels were out of timeouts. Why were the Tigers even running plays at that point. Why not kneel the ball down?

What it means: Despite the win, LSU still has major question marks. The Tar Heels were without 13 players, most of those starters, and the Tigers simply couldn’t put them away. LSU was unable to consistently run the ball and couldn’t get off the field defensively when it needed to in the second half. Simply, the Tigers were lucky to escape.

Patrick Peterson not on the field

September, 4, 2010
ATLANTA -- North Carolina burned LSU with a 97-yard touchdown pass to pull within 30-17, but LSU's Patrick Peterson wasn't on the field.

In fact, Peterson hasn't been in the game at cornerback a couple of different times in the second half.

He left the game early at the end of the first half and went to the locker room to have some IV fluids administered, according to LSU officials.

It's been a busy night for Peterson in the return game. In fact, even though he wasn't on the field for the Tar Heels' long touchdown pass, he was back deep on the next play when North Carolina kicked off.

LSU's Peterson chasing record

September, 4, 2010
ATLANTA -- The 244 combined return yards by Patrick Peterson in the first half Saturday was an LSU record.

The SEC record is 267 yards, held by Mississippi State's Nick Turner.

At the half: LSU 30, North Carolina 10

September, 4, 2010
ATLANTA -- After bumbling around early, LSU used three big plays to break the game open and take a 30-10 lead over North Carolina into halftime Saturday night in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

Here's a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: North Carolina had gone ahead 10-7 in the second quarter and had all the momentum. LSU hadn't been able to move the ball at all, either. But after a 47-yard kickoff return by Patrick Peterson, Russell Shepard took an inside handoff and raced 50 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers proceeded to score 23 unanswered points on their way to halftime.

Player of the half: LSU's Patrick Peterson is known all across college football for his cornerback skills, but he was a force in the return game in the first half. He had 244 combined yards in both kickoff and punt returns. He helped set up Shepard's 50-yard touchdown run with a long kickoff return, then returned a punt himself 87 yards for a touchdown and came back with another 37-yard punt return to set up Jordan Jefferson's 51-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle.

Stat of the half: The Tigers scored 30 first-half points with only 195 yards of total offense and seven first downs.

Speed saving LSU Tigers

September, 4, 2010
ATLANTA -- You don't think speed makes a difference in college football?

LSU leads North Carolina 30-10 in the second quarter, and the only difference in the game is a trio of big plays by Russell Shepard, Patrick Peterson and Rueben Randle.

Really, North Carolina has looked more into the game and outplayed LSU much of the way.

But Peterson took a punt back 87 yards for a touchdown, reminding everyone why he's one of the best players in all of college football. Prior to Peterson leaving a vapor trail down the left sideline, Shepard took an inside handoff and sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown.

And then to top it off, Randle got behind the North Carolina defense for a 51-yard touchdown catch. That's after Peterson returned another punt 37 yards to put the Tigers in position.

Yep, speed kills. Just ask the Tar Heels.

Waiting on LSU's offensive awakening

September, 4, 2010
ATLANTA -- Even though LSU leads 7-0 against North Carolina in Saturday's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, it's difficult to feel good about the Tigers' offense if you're of the LSU persuasion.

Quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw a nice ball on his 6-yard touchdown pass to Russell Shepard, who did an excellent job of holding onto the pass with a defender all over him.

But the Tigers still haven't driven the ball. They got a pair of gifts from the Tar Heels on back-to-back fumbles -- one at the 35 and another at the 30.

On the first fumble, though, LSU couldn't do anything with it and failed to convert on third-and-3. Making it even worse, Josh Jasper missed his field goal.

It's hard to say at this point that the running game looks any better than it did a year ago.

LSU going with veteran at safety

September, 4, 2010
ATLANTA -- At one point, it looked like either redshirt freshman Craig Loston or true freshman Eric Reid might start at free safety for LSU.

But the Tigers have decided to go with senior Jai Eugene, who moved to safety in the spring from cornerback.

That means all four starters in the secondary for the Tigers will be players who started their careers as cornerbacks.

Welcome from LSU-North Carolina

September, 4, 2010
ATLANTA -- This was already a game LSU coach Les Miles really couldn't afford to lose.

Now, with 13 North Carolina players sidelined, it's a game he better not lose.

It's akin to getting a mulligan on a 3-foot putt. You simply can't miss.

The Tigers will have a huge edge in experience Saturday night in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. North Carolina's starting secondary, which is depleted, won't have a single player with starting experience.

Overall, the Tar Heels will be missing seven starters on defense.

The Tigers need to prove a couple of things. First, junior quarterback Jordan Jefferson needs to establish that this is his team. He didn't do that in the spring.

Secondly, LSU has to rediscover its running game. If the Tigers can't run the ball against a severely shorthanded North Carolina defense, then that's probably not a good sign for down the road against SEC defenses.

Ultimately, the Tigers just need to win. The pressure's squarely on them now with the Tar Heels missing most of their best players.

The bigger picture is this: If LSU truly is an SEC championship contender this season, this is a game the Tigers will win in convincing fashion.