When LSU got blown out by Mississippi State two weeks ago, it didn’t look like an SEC contender.
When it struggled to put away Syracuse in a pedestrian victory last week, it didn’t look like a team deserving of its No. 25 ranking.
Then when it lost to Troy 24-21 on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium, it raised questions about whether it’s likely to finish with a winning record, or perhaps whether it will even become bowl eligible.
The expectations for the Tigers (3-2) in their first full season under head coach Ed Orgeron are plummeting, and they didn’t start off all that high for a program as prideful as this one. This team has serious issues in all three phases, and its seven remaining games are all against SEC opponents.
Even though this isn’t a vintage SEC season outside of Tuscaloosa and maybe Athens, when a team struggles against Syracuse and loses to Troy, any SEC game is going to be a big challenge. That’s especially true for LSU after it flopped in its conference opener 37-7 against an otherwise unimpressive Mississippi State team. Since whipping the Tigers, the Bulldogs have lost consecutive games against Georgia and Auburn by a combined 67 points.
Troy has a perennially solid program, albeit not one from a power conference. Still, LSU had a big talent advantage over the Trojans, even with a handful of key players — running back Derrius Guice, defensive end Rashard Lawrence, tackle Tony Weathersby, defensive tackle Ed Alexander and fullback J.D. Moore — sidelined.
The Tigers performance makes you wonder if this team has the experience, depth and coaching to turn things around.
LSU hadn’t lost at home to a team from outside the SEC in 49 games. The last such defeat came against UAB in 2000 when Nick Saban was in his first season as the Tigers’ coach. Tigers fans grasping for straws can hope that the program somehow recovers from this loss in a manner approaching the level at which it responded to Saban’s the-sky-is-falling loss.
But first things first, and that’s a trip to Gainesville to face Florida, which is more talented than each of the first five LSU opponents.
The Tigers have quite a bit to fix if they’re going to come out of that game with a break-even record in conference play. They haven’t been able to run or pass the ball consistently well behind a suspect offensive line, they allowed Troy to convert more than half of its third downs into first downs and didn’t convert a single third down of their own, which is especially troublesome when your field-goal kicking is as poor as theirs has been.
Orgeron said the Tigers aren’t the same team they were during his tenure as interim head coach last season, when they went 6-2 and handled Louisville, 29-9, in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
“We were more efficient in everything we did,” he said. “We’re doing the same things we did last year when I took over — the same practices, same meetings — we have energy. We’re looking like everything’s OK during the week, but then we’re not playing very well.”
LSU has to start playing much better or this season could turn into a disaster. The Tigers have additional road trips to Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee and will face Auburn, Arkansas and Texas A&M in Tiger Stadium.
Perhaps that schedule will ultimately yield wins four, five and six to send LSU to a pre-New Year’s bowl. It might even yield an additional win to send them into their bowl game with more wins than losses.
But right now, the trickiest thing about the schedule is figuring out where win number four might be hiding.