BATON ROUGE, La. – Les Miles kept things simple in LSU’s spring game on Saturday.
We saw just enough of Heisman Trophy contender Leonard Fournette (eight carries, 49 yards, one touchdown) to remember he’s on the team. However, there was not much in the way of fireworks, with the Purple team beating the White 17-7.
Miles’ injury-riddled team will look much different in its Sept. 3 opener against Wisconsin than it did Saturday, but there were still some clues about the Tigers’ progress after 15 spring practices. Here are four takeaways from Saturday’s game:
Nice first outing for Aranda: We got to see the basics of Dave Aranda’s new 3-4 defense, but rest assured that he did not give anything away. About the most exotic thing Aranda did Saturday was call the occasional blitz from the secondary -- safeties Dwayne Thomas and Xavier Lewis had two sacks apiece -- yet it was a good day overall for Aranda’s troops.
The starting defense was on the field for six possessions and surrendered 144 yards in 36 plays. However, the starters surrendered points in two out of three drives against the first-team offense. The starting defense overwhelmed the backups in the second half, surrendering a total of 23 yards in three possessions and halting one drive with an interception by freshman cornerback Saivion Smith.
Considering how Aranda has been on campus for only about three months, it was a fine start.
Harris is in the lead: His stat line (11-for-15 for 106 yards) will not blow anybody away, but it’s clear that Miles was not exaggerating last week when he said that Brandon Harris is clearly sitting atop the Tigers’ quarterback depth chart.
The possessions where Harris was under center came almost exclusively with the first-team offense, while backups Danny Etling (6-for-12, 106 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) and Justin McMillan (6-for-13, 70 yards, sacked six times) worked with the reserves.
In his three possessions leading the starting offense against the first-team defense, Harris led a 45-yard field-goal drive, a 65-yard touchdown drive -- capped by a 2-yard Fournette scoring plunge -- and a four-and-out.
Anderson was responsible for the offensive play of the day, streaking behind the backup defense to haul in a 70-yard touchdown pass from Etling. The 6-foot-5 freshman finished the day with two catches for 80 yards.
Although Smith drew a flag for pass interference while covering Malachi Dupre in the end zone to set up the first-team offense’s opening touchdown, he also picked off a pass. White was among the game’s top tacklers with seven stops, including half a tackle for loss. Divinity also made one stop while playing with the backup defense.
Still a lot to learn: Check out this list of 13 names: Ethan Pocic, William Clapp, Toby Weathersby, Travin Dural, Kevin Toliver II, Rickey Jefferson, John David Moore, Donte Jackson, DeSean Smith, John Battle, Donnie Alexander, Nick Brossette and Jacory Washington. Those are all Tigers -- at least seven of whom are probable starters -- who did not play on Saturday because of injury or temporary ineligibility.
It would be easy to watch Saturday’s game and believe that the backup offensive line was bad, that the defense was outstanding, or both. Eight sacks and 13 tackles for loss are a lot, after all.
The truth is actually that this should be one of the deeper offensive lines that LSU has had in some time. The Tigers were without three starting offensive linemen (Pocic, Clapp and Weathersby) and the reshuffling obviously affected the backup line’s ability to compete. Aranda’s defense might be outstanding this season, but Saturday’s game is not indicative of anything. There were too many important faces missing to get a solid idea of what the Tigers will look like in September.