This is no time for panic at LSU. It's also no time for excuses.
Those are the two primary messages coach Nick Saban will continue to send to his team this week as the No. 6 Tigers try to learn from last week's 22-21 overtime win over Oregon State and make the most of his week's home game against Arkansas State.
"I think the one thing we don't want to do here is miss the target on what the problems are," Saban said. "I think we played hard and competed well in the game, and I think it's a real tribute to not only our team but our fans and everybody who stayed in the game and gave us an opportunity to come back in the game and kind of pull it out.
"The main problem in the game was not being able to execute on a consistent basis in any phase of the game. I think that's the thing we want to focus on, that's what we want to target is to get it right to do the fundamental things that we need to improve to get better execution. It's across the board at every position. So, it's not specific to one thing, one position, one guy or whatever."
Offensively, the Tigers didn't get the job done up front and the running backs didn't carry the ball and hit the holes like they're supposed to. Quarterbacks Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell both struggled when they didn't have enough time to pass and both missed open receivers when they had adequate time to throw.
Defensively, Saban was unhappy about the number of mental errors and missed tackles he saw from a unit that returned seven starters and several experienced reserves.
In the kicking game, Chris Jackson missed two field and both he and Patrick Fisher struggled with punting. The Tigers also had a fumble on the opening kickoff and sent a kickoff out of bounds.
"Now, we can make excuses for ourselves, and even though I will agree with anybody in here we looked like seals running around on dry land out there, but we haven't practiced in rain the whole fall camp and it seemed like it did have some effect on us, but that's something that you have to be able to overcome," Saban said. "That's one thing that we strive for here and have gotten in the past is to be able to overcome extreme situations in whatever the circumstance might be."
The entire team needs to improve this week as the Tigers prepare for a four-game stretch that includes road games at Auburn, Florida and Georgia, but the center of public attention remains fixated on the quarterback situation.
Randall, a fifth-year senior who started six games in 2002, struggled as the starter, while Russell, a redshirt freshman, played most of the second half and rallied the Tigers from deficits of 9-0 and 15-7 and sent the game into overtime by throwing for a touchdown and running for the two-point conversion. However, when he left the game in overtime with leg cramps, Randall returned and scored LSU's touchdown on a 5-yard run.
"Let me just say this: I think it's a tribute to both guys that they went in and out of the game in the second half, and both ended up making plays that contributed to the success that we had coming back in the game," Saban said. "So, I think that it would be safe to say that we'll probably end up playing two quarterbacks."
That said, Saban said he probably wouldn't decide on a starter until later in the week.
"I'm not sure that I'm ready to say who's going to start the game, but I'm not sure that that's really the issue here," Saban said. "I think the issue is that we need better execution at the quarterback position. We want both guys to continue to improve, we need both guys to continue to improve and we're going to work both guys so that they can improve and give them both an opportunity to most likely play in this game. So, in practice this week we'll have something do with how those guys do."
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