LSU football: Grading Tigers through 4 games
LSU’s season is neatly divided into thirds.
The Tigers’ first four games are followed by their first open date. After four more games they get their second open date before playing the final third of the season.
So far so good.
No. 4 LSU rolled through its first four games, only being challenged by then-No. 9 Texas before prevailing 45-38 in Austin on Sept. 7.
The next third of the season will be more challenging, though the next game on Oct. 5 is against Utah State. Then comes a three-game SEC stretch against Florida, at Mississippi State and a home game against Auburn.
After another idle week, the final third of the schedule features the game at Alabama, a visit to Ole Miss and home games against Arkansas and Texas A&M.
One-third of the way through the season here’s a report card on the Tigers:
The passing game – A+
It has been almost perfect. Joe Burrow is breaking school records left and right and has thrust himself into the middle of the Heisman Trophy conversation as he has thrived in Joe Brady’s passing game.
Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall Jr. have all had multiple big-time games and they’re being compared to the best receiving groups in the country. But Marshall is expected to miss some time after injuring a foot against Vanderbilt. Jefferson also was injured.
Burrow has thrown two interceptions this season and barely avoided another on poor decision against Vanderbilt when the Commodores defensive player stepped out of bounds before snaring Burrow’s careless toss.
So the A-plus doesn’t equate to a 100 – just about a 99.
The run game – C
It was not unexpected that LSU would take a while to find the ideal balance between the run and the pass with the passing game operating at such a high degree of efficiency.
But after four weeks it’s a legitimate concern. Head coach Ed Orgeron has said as much.
The reinstatement of guard Ed Ingram from suspension could help an offensive line that has been good but not great.
Maybe during the open date the coaches can get a better handle on how to better use LSU’s stable of backs and better use the success of the passing game to open up the run game.
The meat of the SEC schedule isn’t that far way and when it gets here, the Tigers will need a more consistently productive run game.
The pass defense – C-plus
Freshman Derek Stingley Jr. made the Tigers’ first interception of the season in the third quarter against Vanderbilt. JaCoby Stevens made the second in the fourth quarter. That was a step in the right direction.
But overall the pass rush, pass defense and the ability to take away the ball have been disappointing.
There have been injuries to the defensive front and the prognosis for linebacker Michael Divinity Jr., who injured an ankle against Vanderbilt, will be significant.
But sooner or later – preferably sooner – LSU must generate a consistent pass rush, especially from the front four. The pass defense that it has played so far won’t be sufficient against the ranked teams that are awaiting.
The run defense – B-minus
Overall the run defense has been better than the pass defense, but it was sloppy against Vanderbilt and the tackling has been inconsistent at best.
Better tackling, just like a better pass rush, is a necessity if LSU is going to start playing the type of defense that has been its standard under coordinator Dave Aranda.
The special teams – A-minus
Freshman Cade York has been perfect except for a sliced PAT against Northwestern State. Stingley and Trey Palmer have significantly upgraded a punt return unit which was terrible in 2018.
The rest of the special teams have been solid.
Coaching – B
Orgeron has had the Tigers ready to go with the exception of the sleep-walking first half against Northwestern State, which wasn’t a surprise a week after the heavyweight bout at Texas.
The partnership between Brady and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger has produced outstanding results.
But the inability of Orgeron, Aranda and the defensive staff to get the defense up to par, plus a sputtering run game, prevent this grade from being better.