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Throw Out the Record Book

Early season stats are almost meaningless.

NCAA Football: Miami at Louisiana State
Throw out the stats... or Devin White will get ya.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

One of the best things about an early season showdown between highly ranked teams is that we honestly don’t know how good the teams are. This is a game that can set the tone for the season, even if that tone is one of missile lock from the opposing fighters, foretelling your doom.

But it makes it really hard to project how the thing is going to go. I like looking at stats and trying to draw conclusions based upon the numbers. The truth lies somewhere in the numbers if we can just dig them out. The problem is, right now, the numbers are totally meaningless.

Most teams have played two games and, if you’re lucky, they’ve even played one team with a pulse. The small sample plus the wildly divergent strengths of schedule makes ordinal rankings completely worthless right now. If a team ranks first in the SEC in some stat, it could mean anything.

Hell, some of the numbers say more about who you’ve played than your own team. LSU has allowed 10 tackles for a loss, which is right about middle of the pack. Of course, they also allowed eight tackles for loss to Miami, who have 22 on the season. Miami ranked fifth in the country last year in tackles for a loss, so maybe LSU’s ranking speaks more to Miami’s ability. Or maybe LSU has a mediocre line. Or maybe both.

We are still basing most of our belief on preseason projections. I’m a huge believer in Auburn’s receivers, but… Ryan Davis leads the team in receiving yards with 86, tied with LSU’s Justin Jefferson for 25th in the SEC. Auburn has just three receivers with 50 receiving yards on the season. LSU has two.

Am I overrating their receiving corps? Quite possibly. Or maybe they played one of the best secondaries in the country in Washington, and then threw just 14 passes against an FCS team. So maybe its all schedule effects. Or again, maybe its both.

We simply don’t know, and anyone telling you differently is trying to sell you something. That’s what makes this game so great, and so pressure packed. The expectations are never higher than when the possibilities are still limitless.

By and large, I simply don’t care about how a team performs against its rent-a-wins. I hate to throw out data, but I also can’t give equal weight to a sandwich game against an FCS tackling dummy and a high-profile season opener in a neutral site against a top ten team. LSU looks a lot more like Washington than Alabama St, and Auburn profiles like Miami, not SELA.

LSU shouldn’t worry about Auburn because the offense looked pedestrian against SELA, LSU should worry because the offense underperformed against Miami. Joe Burrow completed under 50 percent of his passes in that game thanks to a rash of drops by the receivers. His offensive line didn’t help him out much either, as earlier noted by the eight TFLs.

And even though LSU kept Miami’s passing game largely in check, Jeff Thomas exploded for five catches and 132 yards. LSU can’t allow for Ryan Davis to have the same kind of day.

On the positive side, Miami rushed for 83 yards in 34 carries and I’m not convinced Auburn has that much better of a running game. Also, LSU spent just as much time in the Miami backfield as Miami did in LSU’s. But I don’t think anyone is worried about the defense.

It comes down to whether Nick Brossette can repeat the 100-yard rushing game against an Auburn defense that allows 2.19 yards per carry. The Huskies averaged just 3.1 yards per rush against the Tigers. For all of the talk about the passing game, the big question is whether LSU can attack what appears to be a stout Auburn run defense.

Washington has no shortage of standout defensive players, and Jarrett Stidham went 26/36 and 273 yards against them. LSU has a similar defense to Washington, but it needs to play better than the Huskies did in order to win this weekend.

However, like most games between evenly matched teams, the results hinged on largely unpredictable and unrepeatable events. LSU dominated the turnover battle and took advantage of short fields to run out to an early lead. Auburn, on the other hand, repeatedly allowed Washington into the red zone, only to watch the Huskies implode.

This is the key to the game based on prior performance. LSU cannot squander opportunities because there likely won’t be a lot of them. If Auburn turns the ball over, LSU needs to turn it into points. When LSU gets to the red zone, it needs touchdowns not field goals (and forget about turnovers). Auburn gave Washington every chance to beat them, but the Huskies couldn’t cash in on those chances.

It’s up to LSU to take those chances to the bank.