It's hard to label the performance against Auburn as anything but sloppy, even taking weather into consideration. That said, when our sloppy still equals 35 points and a 2-TD victory against an SEC opponent, you know the team is in a pretty decent place. As Poseur noted, it's still hard to know a whole lot about this team. We're good, but how good are we? Georgia is the first real test. I say that with all due respect to TCU, though they've proven to be less than formidable in the weeks following our victory over them. But Georgia is the first team we will face that can truly match our caliber of athletes and the first team we face that also comes with legitimate national title aspirations. Georgia comes into the game with a hint of more desperation than we do: they already have one loss. Losing to Georgia wouldn't put an end to our season, by any means, but it could definitely tell us a whole helluva lot about this team. Conversely, a victory in Athens against a top 10 team could really give this team the confidence it needs to catapult it through the rest of a difficult schedule.
So what, then, can we look forward to as LSU ventures between the hedges for the first time since 2009? Here's 5 Big Things.
1) LSU Can Score Points
Hey, would you look at that, guess who is leading the SEC in points per game? You might be surprised to learn it's our Fightin' Tigahs. Averaging 43.3 points per game, tied with Nebraska at 15th nationally, for the first time in seemingly eons, LSU is putting points on the board in gobs. Sure, the 2011 LSU offense ranked proficiently enough in scoring offense, but in our heart of hearts we know most of that was trumped up by outstanding defense and special teams, that often put our meager offense in favorable field position.
Not so in 2013. The special teams have been okay and the defense has teetered between average and not very good, yet, we continue to score points on every opponent that is stacked up against us. In the past a 14-point lead may look insurmountable, because we knew we were completely incapable of putting up points to overcome such a deficit, but this year, that's not the case. Georgia doesn't boast a defense as talented as the previous couple of seasons, which should give us all the more confidence that we can go into Athens and put up a three, four or even five touchdown game. The success of this offense is not a mirage; it is not smoke and mirrors that should be attributed to stellar special teams and favorable field position created by the defense. We can score from deep in our territory, we can score off turnovers, we can score through the air, we can score on the ground. We score so many ways that Dr. Seuss could likely craft another book from it.
2) LSU Can Get a Push in the Ground Game
I'll admit, I've been frustrated with the lack of push up front since game one. Our running game was very boom or bust vs. TCU, but it's slowly coming around. The return of Jeremy Hill certainly helps, but against Auburn our guys won up front in a big way, fairly regularly. The reason this gives me such confidence is that Auburn, while not sporting sensational talent across the board, does still feature a strong rotation of defensive lineman. There's enough talent on that squad to give teams fits... especially a team that has struggled to get a push in the running game.
The roots of our success seem to emanate from zone blocking schemes. We've got a host of big, powerful bodies up front, but most of these guys are good athletes that can get to the 2nd level and get hats on LBs regularly. We buttered our bread last Saturday by routinely going back to the zone lead play, and time after time Jeremy Hill found chunks of yardage and gigantic holes. Further, it really helps to have Hill, who can spot and explode through small seams for big gains. I think last week was just a preview of the evolution of this LSU offense; if we can continue to run the ball with such success, it'll be different for any team to hang with us.
3) Vanilla Is as Vanilla Does
A final point on this offense, and perhaps the one I find most encouraging, is that we've really thrived on execution to this point. Cam Cameron has yet to roll out many exotic looks or packages. Perhaps the most elaborate play we've run thus far is featuring Odell Beckham Jr. on a reverse, which could hardly be considered innovation. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't anticipate that Cameron will reverse every career trend and turn us into a zone/read option team with Anthony Jennings at the helm, but I do believe there's more wrinkles yet to be unveiled.
What wrinkles could we anticipate? Well, we've not seen a ton of Mettenberger in the shotgun. A few plays here and there, sure, but nothing substantial. Last Saturday, we motioned Magee out of the backfield, creating an empty set for Mettenberger. He apparently didn't like what he saw, as he called a T.O., but it's something we've yet to see this season. Out of the T.O. they changed the play call back. We've also used an uptempo approach here and there, but without any consistency. Considering the struggles the Georgia defense has with getting off the field, Cameron might feel it appropriate to put maximum pressure on them out the gate.
But there's also a real possibility that Cameron realizes this team doesn't need to do anything exotic to move the football. As Blackledge noted, we can sit in 21 or 22 personnel all night and still throw the football effectively. That's not the case for a lot of teams. If LSU can continue to do this, we can get to the line in what's historically been an obvious running formation for us and still find Juice and OBJ open regularly. To me, that's dynamic offense.
4) Gurley Be Damned
There's a ton of consternation about how Todd Gurley will destroy our LBs as presently comprised. I'm not going to pretend to have an insane amount of confidence in their production, but I will acknowledge history. What does history tell us about Chavis-lead defenses? They defend pro-style rushing attacks exceptionally well. Let's take a look at the pro-style teams and how they fared on the ground the past four years.
Alabama: 25 carries for 166 yards, 6.6 YPC (best performance against us)
Florida: 58 carries for 176 yards, 3.0 YPC
Alabama (Championship): 35 carries for 150 yards, 4.3 YPC
Georgia: 34 carries for 78 yards, 2.3 YPC
Alabama (Nov. 11): 31 carries for 96 yards, 3.1 YPC
Tennessee: 29 carries for 111 yards, 3.8 YPC
Florida: 32 carries for 113 yards, 3.5 YPC
Alabama: 31 carries for 102 yards, 3.3 YPC
Tennessee: 37 carries for 96 yards, 2.6 YPC
Alabama: 38 carries for 176 yards, 4.6 YPC
Georgia: 24 carries for 45 yards, 1.9 YPC
Total: 374 carries for 1,309 yards, 3.5 YPC
I think those are numbers the LSU defense can live with. Outside of Alabama, no one has had any outstanding success. I did leave off South Carolina and Arkansas, since they run some pro-style stuff, but are basically spread passing teams.
Todd Gurley is an outstanding back, there's no doubt about that. But I want to side with history here. Particularly looking at what Chavis has done against Georgia since arriving at LSU. Two games, 58 carries and 123 yards rushing. That's a hair over 2 YPC. Saturday could be tougher sledding for Todd Gurley than many anticipate.
5) Who Brings the Energy?
I'm generally a pretty objective guy when it comes to the games. The team that makes the smartest decisions, strongest adjustments and comes with the best game plan will typically prevail. But I think there's something to be said about showing up with the right attitude and aggression. Through four games, we've seen LSU dominate, then lapse into some less than inspiring football. This simply cannot happen against Georgia. Could it simply be the byproduct of us shooting out to three early game leads? Of course. But we need the cut throat mentality to prevail and push us through lulls.
In one of the best LSU hype videos, there's a Les Miles locker room speech where he screams, "This day is about playing like we play; this day is about dominating an opponent; this day is about being LSU." I'm certain Les will have these kids ready to play, but Saturday may really come down to who wants it more.