Much has been made about LSU's start, at least within LSU circles. The offense looks terrible. The line isn't blocking. Jordan Jefferson doesn't have great accuracy. We've heard it all. But take a step back and re-assess the games this team has played.
LSU struggled defensively in a win at Washington, but still only allowed 23 points, seven of which came on the final play of the game. That's right, take out the final two minutes of prevent and the last play of the game and the Huskies score the exact amount they put up on USC. Yeah, the same USC that has was all the rage until they lost to the very same U-Dub team the Tigers beat. And LSU traveled across two time zones in doing so.
Vanderbilt came to town for the home opener and took its 23-9 loss before going home. The Tigers only led by seven in the fourth quarter before a put-the-game-away touchdown drive. However, the previously porous defense allowed just 12 first downs, one-third of which came on the Commodores only scoring drive. Sure the Vandy offense isn't much, but it's defense just showed better against Mississippi State than Auburn did (15 points compared to 24).
Every one knows ULL is supposed to come in, pick up a check and take their 48-3 pounding. Unfortunately, it didn't work out exactly that way, but it's not like the game was ever in doubt. LSU was methodical, although not spectacular, and scored touchdowns all three times it was in the red zone. Twice, the Tigers started drives inside its own five-yard line and had drives of 10 plays or more that just didn't result in points. They did, however, allow LSU to "flip the field" which helped lead to shorter, scoring drives after that.
To me, the unease about LSU's first three games comes from two areas. First is last season's 8-5 record. Tiger fans are chomping at the bit to find something that makes them believe that is behind them. They haven't seen it just yet and are beginning to show their nerves. Second is the way LSU has pummeled teams in the past. I've often said over the past five or six years that "nobody throttles a mediocre team like LSU." There were days when the Tigers would trounce a bowl-bound Kentucky team 45-0 or Louisiana Tech 49-7 after being up 42-0 at halftime. That's not happening this year.
However, I don't think anything is a reason to sound the alarm just yet. While, clearly the performances could have been better, I think it's a fair statement to say that the team has been better each time out than it was the time before. I don't think, at any point in any of the three games, that I've felt like LSU even had a chance to lose. There's something to be said for that. Also, as Richard so astutely pointed out earlier, we're not seeing signs of the things that plagued us last year. Jordan Jefferson is protecting the ball. The defense isn't a sieve. The team's turnover margin is a healthy +3 and even the penalties are down to just 13 for 113 yards total (compared to 22 for 167 for opponents).
These are all signs that the foundation is there for this team to do some very good things. The only real thing I see missing at this point is the big play. Let's face it, a couple more big plays and the margins of victory are a little larger, the highlights look a little better and everyone is happier. The team's longest run is 21 yards and that was just once. The two longest pass plays were both in game one and had Terrance Tolliver on the receiving end. Brandon LaFell's longest reception is 21 yards. And the return game has been downright pedestrian.
But is it such a stretch to believe that at some point, the big plays will come? There are game-breakers all over the LSU offense. At some point, you have to believe that the hole will open up for Keiland Williams and he will 4.4 his way for 60 yards. Or Terrance Tolliver will beat a defender on a deep ball with his 6'5" frame. Or Brandon LaFell will streak across the middle, catch one in stride and be off to the races. Or heaven forbid Russell Shephard get the ball in space (without fumbling of course).
Like most of you, I'm on edge too. But mostly because I'm aching for a return to the big time. Right now, LSU, despite being ranked seventh, is pretty much an afterthought in any college football discussion that doesn't take place in the state of Louisiana. The Tigers are as far under the radar as a top 10 team can be. Even the Georgia game will be easily overshadowed by Washington-Notre Dame and USC-Cal. And truth be told, I'm kind of okay with that. Let the team go unnoticed while working out its kinks and trying to put it all together.
Let them be an afterthought until finally they're put on that stage. On a Saturday Night in Death Valley. On Oct. 10 against the number one team in the country. That night, that game is when we want it all to come together in a perfect storm of defensive dominance and offensive execution. Until then, they work, they improve, but most importantly, they just keep winning.