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Now the Real Test Begins

You won the games you were supposed to, now beat a top 10 team

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Louisiana State
Game time!
Scott Clause-USA TODAY Sports

Let me tell you a secret: Tennessee is a better team than LSU.

Hendon Hooker is a borderline Heisman candidate and while we know he won’t win the award since the criteria unofficially changed to the Best Player in the Offensive Backfield of a Playoff Team, he has still been a revelation this season.

He has completed 71.7% of his passes for an average of 10.6 yards per attempt. Hooker has 8 TD passes to go with his total of…. /checks notes… zero interceptions. Oh, and he’s run for 175 yards and 3 TD on 35 carries.

Hooker is basically what Jayden Daniels could be if he could throw the ball downfield against a competent defense. It does suck that the moment Tennessee gets competent for the first time in about two decades, they show up on LSU’s schedule. That’s the way it goes, right?

Against Power 5 teams, Tennessee averages 6.75 yards per play on offense, tops among the mortals in the SEC. LSU? 12th at 4.81 YPP. Also against the Power 5, the Vols pass for 9.6 yards per attempt and a 169.74 Rating, tops in the SEC.

Unsurprisingly, LSU has the worst passing game in the SEC against the Power 5, averaging a mere 5.1 yards per attempt for a rating of 111.46. Look, the Auburn game was bad, even if it was a positive result. Maybe you can take some comfort that LSU’s running game is slightly better, but when the gap in passing is so huge, it barely is a ripple in the ocean.

So how can LSU possibly compete in this game?

This is the part where I am supposed to rattle off a bunch of amazing LSU defensive statistics, and we start talking about the irresistible force and the immovable object. I would like to do that. It’s fun rhetorical trick, and I like to employ it all the time. Take you down the dark road before arriving in the shire.

The problem here is… well, for as encouraging as some of the results has been, the LSU defense has not exactly set the world on fire. In fact, it is coming off a game in which it gave up 337 passing yards to Auburn. Auburn, y’all.

Yes, the defense got the key stops when it mattered. Yes, they forced some big turnovers and made those big plays to make it a game. But frankly, that’s the second time a quarterback has absolutely torched the LSU secondary, and they haven’t played a guy of Hooker’s caliber yet.

And the numbers aren’t terrible, but they aren’t the second coming of 2007 either. LSU gives up 5.46 yards per play against Power 5 teams which is 8th in the SEC; they don’t build statues for that. Sure, the Vols are worse, ranking 10th on 5.94 YPP, but that’s not a huge gap. Particularly when you take into account this is Tennessee’s weakness, not the team strength.

Frankly, when Brian Kelly said that this team is going to need more than grit to win, he wasn’t being cute.

I have loved this first month of the season. There’s nothing like rooting for a team with low expectations that gives full effort to pull out close victories. The games have been close, but even better, this team has been all heart. It has fallen behind by a combined score of 30-0 in its two conference games, yet boasts a 2-0 record. That’s a never give up kind of attitude.

And I love that sort of stuff. You will never hear me denigrate effort or heart. That stuff matters, particularly in college. This is real Cholly Mac stuff. Give me guys who will die for the purple and gold, every time.

But… you need talent, too. This team has it. There’s a bunch of blue chip talent here and while some of it has showed out, particularly on defense, they cannot fall behind big on Saturday. And they certainly can’t post five passing yards in the second half.

The adjustment period is over. You no longer get head pats for effort. It’s time to turn this into results. I don’t care how they do it, but this offense needs to get out of the ditch and start gaining yards and scoring points.

Preferably in the first half for once.

LSU is back in the Top 25. The way to stay there is to actually play like a Top 25 team. Heart and effort won’t cut it. It’s time for the talent to show up and play like it.