LSU, Vandy fixing turnover, penalty issues

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt and LSU are coming off games in which each struggled with miscues — the No. 21 Tigers overcame theirs, the Commodores didn’t.

The Commodores feel they beat themselves with penalties and botched plays on 2-point conversions and an extra point.

Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell already is busy making corrections even though he won’t criticize Big Ten officials over a questionable personal foul that kept the Commodores from getting the ball back in a 23-21 loss to Northwestern.

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Coach Les Miles will try to get his No. 21 Tigers to hold onto the ball after five turnovers in their 30-24 win over 18th-ranked North Carolina, but he won’t have starting right guard Will Blackwell who broke his ankle on the first offensive play of that game.

At least LSU got the win. Now the team that corrects its mistakes quickest will have the advantage Saturday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.

‘‘We have a lot of work to do,’’ Miles said Monday.

‘‘We are certainly working on ball security and working on some of the decisions we make in terms of how we scramble and what we do with the ball when we scramble.’’

LSU (1-0) lost four fumbles and an interception against a North Carolina team missing 13 players. The Tigers missed the chance to pad their lead already up 30-17 when Jordan Jefferson took a 21-yard loss on intentional grounding, taking them out of field goal range.

The defense came up with a turnover, giving LSU the chance to run out the clock. But Stevan Ridley fumbled the ball away with 1:08 left, leading to the heart-pounding finish with a would-be touchdown pass going through a North Carolina player’s hands in the end zone.

Miles said the Tigers’ challenge is to finish the game and take away an opponent’s chance at victory. That’s what makes the turnovers so crucial.

‘‘When you take 14 possessions, and you take four of them and give the ball back to the opponent, you certainly limit your opportunities to improve and stretch your lead. The back end of the game being up 30-10, defensively we need to understand the situation that our opponent is in,’’ Miles said.

One of the advantages of coaching at Vanderbilt is having smart students. That’s what makes the nine penalties for 91 yards combined with the other special teams’ mistakes tough for Caldwell. Twice, the Commodores were flagged for not having enough players on the line of scrimmage.

‘‘That’s not very smart on our part …,’’ Caldwell said. ‘‘That’s OK. That was our fault. One was a young person, first time he’s ever played in a college game. That’s to be expected I guess. It’s hard to imagine not being able to look down and see if there’s a tackle or a tight end sitting there. First-game jitters, I had them too. I understand that.’’

Vanderbilt has been one of the least penalized teams in the country the past few years, and Caldwell said they will get back to that quickly. He had them practicing snaps for extra points over and over Sunday, and he said he’ll run situations 20 times straight if that’s what it takes for his Commodores to become comfortable.

He wasn’t happy with the failure to execute on the 2-point conversions, each of which would have tied the game. The first was a draw by quarterback Larry Smith where a couple of blocks were missed. The second would have tied it at 23 with 2:25 left except receiver John Cole was in motion too much, and Smith missed the shotgun snap.

Caldwell did jump on officials in his own Southern style for the personal foul on safety Jay Fullam. It appeared Fullam had stopped Northwestern’s Dan Persa short of the first down, which would have forced a fourth-down punt. But officials flagged Fullam for hitting Persa’s helmet, though replay appeared to show contact at the shoulders only.

Fans were so furious some bottles were thrown as officials ran off the field to a chorus of boos Saturday night.

Caldwell called the officials the nicest people he had met in his 34 years of coaching.

‘‘Some of them from the northern parts of the country. They had a hard time understanding me. I had a hard time understanding them, but it was a beautiful language,’’ he said. ‘‘I did not get any explanation other than it was a high hit. I don’t know what that means. We try to teach them to tackle up high. You’re not supposed to grab at their feet.’’