LSU has been seeking a balanced offense all season.
The run game has varied between good and average. The pass game has varied between bad and average. And the total offense hasn’t been good enough for the Tigers to be taken seriously as an SEC contender.
Until Saturday night.
No. 24 LSU had an outstanding run game, a very efficient pass game and its best overall offensive performance of the season in a 40-24 victory at Ole Miss.
Granted, the Rebels have one of the weaker defenses the Tigers have faced and they are nearly 180 degrees different from the one LSU will face next when it visits No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 4. Nonetheless, the performance against Ole Miss suggests the Tigers best offensive days may lie ahead.
LSU ran for a season-high 393 yards as Derrius Guice had by far his biggest game of the season, finishing with 276 yards after not having a 100-yard game since Sept. 9. Darrel Williams had a 100-yard game, finishing with 103 on 22 carries.
The improved run game allowed Danny Etling to have an effective outing even though he was often facing a strong pass rush.
Etling’s 200-yard effort was impressive for its efficiency given that he matched his season-low for completions (9) and had his fewest attempts (13).
The offense gained 593 yards, which surpassed its previous high by more than 100 yards (479 in the season opener against BYU).
That yardage yielded 26 first downs, matching the season-high against BYU.
That ability to consistently move the chains enabled the Tigers to possess the ball for 37 minutes and 40 seconds, surpassed only by the 41:54 they held the ball against BYU.
It’s no coincidence that so many of these benchmarks came in the BYU game, because that game predated a leg injury that has hampered Guice for much of the season. Against the Rebels, he was the healthiest he has been in a month and the offense was its most productive.
Now LSU has two weeks to prepare for Alabama, and the challenge will be especially steep for the offense.
An open date isn’t going to bring about a more experienced offensive line or a a bigger playmaker at quarterback or more consistent wide receivers.
But it does provide an opportunity to build on the most positive performance of the season, an opportunity for coordinator Matt Canada to blend a healthy Guice, an effective Williams and talented receivers into a diverse run game that hasn’t yet hit on all cylinders even with Guice’s performance against Ole Miss.
If Canada can get the speed sweep working with some combination of Russell Gage Jr., Derrick Dillon, D.J. Chark and Stephen Sullivan to complement Guice and Williams, the Tigers can give Danny Etling and the pass game a fighting chance.
Etling was under heavy pressure much of the game against Ole Miss, as he has been for much of the season. That will only get worse against the Tide if LSU can’t have some early success running the football.
This LSU offense has a relatively low ceiling, and Alabama lowers that ceiling for every opponent. But the performance against the Rebels showed that the Tigers can throw the ball with some efficiency when they are running it consistently well.
It remains to be seen how well LSU will be able to run the ball against Alabama, but the offense has to feel better coming off its best rushing game of the season, with a healthy Guice, than it would have otherwise.