LSU gives glimpse of improvement in White’s 23-14 victory over Purple in spring game

LSU defensive back Raydarious Jones steps in front of wide receiver Deion Smith (6) for a first-quarter interception in Saturday's Spring Game in Tiger Stadium. It was of five interceptions the Tigers' defense made during the game. PHOTO BY Jonathan Mailhes.

Veteran players on both sides of the ball agreed that the dish LSU served up in Saturday’s annual spring game boiled down to a heaping helping of bland offense and defense.

Senior linebacker Damone Clark and senior offensive guard Ed Ingram were also quick to remind fans to get their reservations for the fall when the Tigers will add plenty of spice to what they hope will be a winning recipe.

“That was just the bread and butter and we just had to execute the things we had to execute,” said Clark, who had 12 tackles.

Said Ingram: “That was just a taste of what the offense is. Y’all in for a show when the season comes.”

Three of four quarterbacks threw touchdown passes and LSU’s defense showed signs of making amends for a historically porous unit a year ago in a game the White team – regarded as the Nos. 1 offense and defensive units – won 23-14 over the Purple before a crowd of 12,500 at Tiger Stadium.

“It feels good with our performance today,” Clark said, “but there’s still room for improvement for all of us as a whole.”

Senior quarterback Myles Brennan, who missed the final six games of the 2020 season, was 12 of 20 for 116 yards and was one of three QBs to throw touchdown passes. Sophomore Max Johnson, who started the game for the White, was 11 of 17 for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

The Tigers’ quarterbacks, which also included sophomore TJ Finley and true freshman Garrett Nussmeier, combined for 512 yards and four TDs.

Ty Davis-Price, one of only two healthy running backs in the game, led the White with 15 carries for 76 yards.

“Great job of bringing back (former passing game coordinator) Joe Brady’s offense, seeing the plays that we ran in 2019,” LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron said. “(We’re) Doing a good job of spreading the football around, giving our athletes the ball in space and let them make plays.”

LSU’s defense, under first-year coordinator Daronte Jones, showed marked improvement in its on-field communication and ability to eliminate big plays that plagued last year’s unit.

The Tigers defense, which was without injured players Andre Anthony, Ali Gaye and Eli Ricks, produced six turnovers, including five interceptions, with 14 tackles for a minus-72 yards and included eight sacks for minus-64 yards.

Sophomore interior players Jaquelin Roy (3 for minus-23 yards) and B.J. Ojulari (2 for minus-17) led the Tigers in sacks.

“It was a struggle for our offense,” Orgeron said. “Our secondary’s probably the most improved area on our football team. Daronte Jones and (cornerbacks coach) Corey Raymond have done a tremendous job. Those guys played solid football and played maybe one or two coverages and didn’t blitz. The front played well. The linebackers tackled well.”

Five different players registered interceptions, three of which came from the Purple team (Jared Small, Jay Ward, Derek Stingley Jr.) with two for the White (Antoine Sampah and Raydarious Jones).

With the Tigers minus two potential starting linebackers during spring – Micah Baskerville (out because of academics) and Mike Jones Jr. (transferring from Clemson this summer) – Small solidified his name in this fall’s playing rotation with a game-high 14 tackles to go with his interception.

“Today was his day to show everybody what he could do,” Clark said of Small, a local walk-on from Catholic High. “I couldn’t be prouder of Jared with how hard he’s been working and just being patient. He went out there and provided the energy.”

With Ward (seven tackles, interception) moving to bolster the team’s depth at safety, LSU also got a promising effort from sophomore cornerback Dwight McGlothern, who filled in for Ricks during spring and had four pass break ups and four tackles.

LSU’s field goal kicking appeared in mid-season form with junior Cade York giving the White a 6-0 lead with field goals of 50 and 47 yards, respectively, and reserve kicker Preston Stafford adding a 27-yarder in the second quarter at the end of a 12-play drive set up by Sampah’s interception.

The White team, which generated 355 yards of offense on 72 plays, cashed in on another miscue created by its defense when true freshman Derrick Davis Jr. caused and recovered a fumble at the end of a catch by wide receiver Jontre Kirklin with 56 seconds left before halftime.

Brennan operated the team’s hurry-up offense and was able to cover 48 yards in five plays, capped by a 39-yard TD pass to Kayshon Boutte who got inside position against McGlothern to make the grab for a 16-0 lead with 12 seconds left.

Boutte, the team’s clear No. 1 receiving option, led the White with 11 catches for 162 yards.

“We showed a little bit today but not too much because it’s just a spring game,” Boutte said. “We practiced hard all spring for it, and we showed out today. We can improve in some areas.”

Johnson led the Purple on consecutive scoring drives in the third quarter, the first triggered by a fourth-down stand by the defense, to help close to within 16-14.

He completed all five of his passes in the quarter against LSU’s No. 2 defense for 104 yards with both of his TD passes of 47 and 19 yards going to Kirklin, the leading receiver in the game.

Kirklin, who played for both teams, had 16 catches in 20 targets for 213 yards and a pair of scores.

Three of the next six offensive series resulted in interceptions with Stingley making a diving pick for the White off a ball thrown from by TJ Finley (10 of 18, 84 yards) near the sideline.  

Ward made a leaping interception for the Purple on a pass from Nussmeier, while Small returned an interception of Nussmeier 34 yards.

Nussmeier (15 of 25, 132 yards) redeemed himself on the final series of the game, though, covering an entire eight-play drive through the air on seven completions for 75 yards, the last four coming on a 4-yard TD pass to Koy Moore with 13 seconds left.

“You see the long passes, you see the big runs,” LSU senior offensive tackle Austin Deculus said in comparison to the Tigers record-setting offense in 2019. “You see the energy, the fun offense everyone grew to know and love. You see those flashes. We’re not going to show everybody our tools right now but we’re just scratching the surface.”

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