The LSU season is neatly compartmentalized into thirds.

The Tigers beat Georgia Southern, Texas, Northwestern State and Vanderbilt before getting their first open date.

They beat Utah State, Florida, Mississippi State and Auburn and now get their second open date.

And here comes the final third, the stretch run, the 4-game stretch against Alabama, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M that will determined whether No. 1 LSU qualifies for the College Football Playoff or winds up on the outside looking in.

The No. 1-ranked Tigers, 8-0 and 4-0, have done a lot of things really well, been inconsistent in some areas and have to get better during these next two weeks if they’re going to break their 8-game losing streak against the No. 2 Crimson Tide.

Here’s a report card on LSU two-thirds of the way through the season, coming off a 23-20 victory against then-No. 9 Auburn in Tiger Stadium:

Passing game

It has been the talk of college football.

LSU, for crying out loud, has been almost unstoppable with its passing game.

The Tigers are coming off their 2 lowest-scoring games of the season the past 2 weeks, but Joe Burrow’s Heisman candidacy hasn’t suffered. It might even have been enhanced.

He has been remarkably efficient, made excellent decisions, kept turnovers to a minimum and already set the school record for touchdown passes in a season (30 and rising). And accumulated a whole bunch of yards (2,805 and rising). Rohan Davey set that school record with 3,347 in 2001.

Terrace Marshall Jr. returned from in-season foot surgery to catch a touchdown pass against Auburn on Saturday and join Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase in one of the elite receiving corps in the country.

TE Thaddeus Moss is getting more involved on a weekly basis, giving Burrow plenty of options.

Grade: A+

Running game

The offensive shift toward the passing game necessitated a challenging adjustment for the running game.

It has been inconsistent, and the stable of running backs Ed Orgeron has touted has yet to materialize.

But Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been outstanding and the offensive line has had outstanding moments and games.

The running game has been at its best against the 2 most challenging defenses – Florida and Auburn. Edwards-Helaire was critical in beating the Tigers. He ran for a season-high 136 yards — including all 45 and a TD to help LSU reclaim the lead.

LSU doesn’t need to – and can’t afford to – rely on the running game the way it used. But it needs to be balanced and it appears to be evolving into a multi-dimensional, championship offense.

Grade: B-


This season has been an adjustment for the defense just as it has been for the running game.

Practicing against a less physical offense, getting back on the field after lickety-split touchdown drives and injuries have all presented challenges.

There have been bad times – mostly against Texas and for a half and a possession against Florida.

But things have been getting better for the last 2½ games.

LSU has 20 sacks (4th in the SEC) and 9 interceptions, which is tied for 4th.

There is still work to be done, but this defense is headed toward where it needs to be.

Grade: B-

Special teams

The performance against Auburn was poor – a touchdown-producing fumble on a punt return, a fairly long kickoff return allowed, a botched extra point and a nearly lost onside kick that could have been disastrous.

But that was an aberration.

The place-kicking has been kind of shaky, but the punt return game is much better than last season, the coverage units and punting have been fine, the kickoffs are great.

Grade: B


Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady have revolutionized the offense. It’s on a record pace, averaging 46.8 points per game.

Dave Aranda has had uncharacteristic struggles with the defense, but seems to be working through them.

Greg McMahon has had a steady hand on the special teams aside from the sloppiness against Auburn.

Orgeron hired all these guys – except Aranda, whom he managed to keep away from Texas A&M 2 years ago. He brought in Brady, knowing exactly what he wanted, and trusted him and Ensminger to figure it out together and they have.

The head coach has pushed all the right buttons.

Grade: A