Finally, we saw what LSU looks like when it's somewhat vulnerable ... but that's OK
BATON ROUGE, La. — As the clock ticked down on LSU’s victory against Auburn, there wasn’t a “We Want Bama” chant to be heard.
Perhaps there would have been had LSU offense lit up the scoreboard like it had all year entering Saturday. Or perhaps there wouldn’t have been no matter what happened after last year’s 29-0 showing against the Tide.
Whatever the case, there was a sense of “glad we survived that” from LSU fans filing out of Tiger Stadium on Saturday evening. They were relieved to have not watch that onside kick attempt turn into a last-ditch possession for Auburn. But loud, boisterous, “nobody can stop us” was not the impression from LSU on Saturday. The Tigers, in a 3rd win against a top 10 team, were humbled to a degree.
It says a lot about where LSU is at that it could improve to 8-0, having all but guaranteed a top-2 spot heading into the Alabama game in a couple weeks, yet the mood was a bit subdued.
And sure, watching Grant Delpit and Derek Stingley suffer late injuries might have had something to do with that. Watching the All-America hopeful members of the LSU secondary not return certainly put a damper on things.
But for the first time, Saturday showed that LSU’s offense wasn’t an unstoppable juggernaut. It left nearly as many points on the field as it scored. Failed 4th-down conversions, muffed punts, an interception and conservative play-calling down the stretch prevented the Tiger Stadium faithful from witnessing another LSU offensive blitzkrieg.
Instead of throwing the ball all over the place and watching Joe Burrow convert long 3rd-down conversions like late against Texas, the game plan became the LSU of old. Clyde Edwards-Helaire did the damage … after a first half in which Auburn had nearly 4 times as many rushing yards as LSU.
But you know what? That’s OK.
It’s OK to recognize when a defense is successfully covering the middle of the field — the area in which Burrow entered Saturday completing 84% of his passes with a 20-1 touchdown-interception ratio — and the running lanes are working. That’s the beauty of Joe Brady’s offense. It’s spread out, and it allows a veteran like Burrow to take what’s being given.
That’s what happened when Burrow lined up in an empty-backfield set and called his own number on a draw to put LSU up double digits. That was a better call than trying to force a fade or run a bubble screen like the one to Justin Jefferson that failed on the 1-yard line on 4th down earlier in the game.
I’ll save the whole “every team gets better from adversity” thing because sometimes adversity is self-induced by teams with bigger picture problems. Did Saturday’s offense really change the potential of Brady’s offense? No. It showed us that if you have some high-motor defensive linemen like Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown who can get to the quarterback without sending additional pressure, you might have a decent chance of slowing down LSU.
Easier said than done. Auburn has arguably the best defensive line in the country.
So far, nobody has been able to contain LSU. There’s no guarantee that Alabama will be able to do that considering how young that team is in the front 7.
But let’s take a step back to the week leading up to Auburn’s trip to LSU. Gus Malzahn’s team didn’t appreciate being double-digit underdogs. They had the top 10 team with the experienced defense with that lone loss coming on the road against another top 10 team. You better believe the last thing they wanted to hear was the way-too-early LSU-Alabama preview talk (Tua Tagovailoa’s injury forced us to look ahead to that a bit more so because of Alabama’s upcoming schedule of Arkansas and a bye week).
You better believe Auburn came into LSU with all sorts of motivation. And who knows? Maybe with that Arkansas game and a bye week heading into LSU, I wouldn’t be surprised if Auburn had 2-3 weeks of prep for Saturday in Baton Rouge. They played like it. At least defensively.
Had LSU put up 50 points Saturday, what would we be saying? “The Tigers are unstoppable, and Joe Brady deserves a $10 million contract.” OK, maybe not the second part of that. But if he beats Alabama, goodness. Back up the Brinks truck. Saturday wasn’t one of those days where Brady and Steve Ensminger earned overwhelming praise. If anything, LSU fans were probably wondering, “uh, guys?”
You know what else is OK? LSU has no reason to enter this long, 2-week period ahead of Alabama feeling like it’s reinventing the wheel. It won sloppy. It might not have won sloppy against a team with a veteran quarterback.
But what LSU did do was beat its third top 10 team. All 3 games have had a different feel. And while LSU was busy winning ugly, a national contender lost as a heavy favorite for the third straight weekend. Who knows what that’ll mean a month from now if we’re comparing LSU’s résumé to Oklahoma’s or Ohio State’s.
In a perfect world, LSU’s Playoff-worthiness wouldn’t need to be debated and it would enter the postseason 13-0 with its first Heisman Trophy winner. But as the Tigers were reminded Saturday, it’s not always going to be perfect. It probably won’t be perfect against Alabama, either.
That’s OK. Getting to 8-0 was perfect for Saturday.
And if it plays a part in making LSU 9-0 in a couple weeks, it’ll have served the perfect purpose.