LSU’s defensive performance was encouraging.

Its offensive performance was discouraging.

The quality of the opposition made the defensive improvement difficult to evaluate.

The absence of several key players made the offensive struggles difficult to evaluate.

In the end, the Tigers’ 34-7 victory against outmanned McNeese State on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium was good enough, but far from great.

It wasn’t a loss, but neither was it a performance that suggested the 38-27 loss to UCLA a week earlier was an aberration.

Against McNeese, the defense almost entirely avoided the major breakdowns that it had against UCLA and that plagued it throughout last season.

That’s kind of good.

But McNeese State plays in the FCS and was coming off a loss to West Florida — a really good Division II team, but a Division II team nonetheless.

Was LSU’s improvement fool’s gold, merely a product of playing a hopelessly outmanned opponent? Perhaps, but a dominant performance against an inferior opponent is better than a less-than-dominant performance against an inferior opponent.

And that brings us to the offense.

Against McNeese, the rushing yards were really hard to come by for the second time in two games this season. The pressure on Max Johnson was excessive for the second time this season.

The offensive line, which has virtually no experienced depth, was missing 3 injured starters against the Cowboys, but the starting unit was beaten consistently by UCLA, and this is essentially the same group that was average at best last season.

So the blocking difficulties against McNeese can be excused to some degree, but they don’t seem inconsistent with other recent performances.

Johnson did manage to have his second consecutive 3-touchdown performance, but his accuracy, poise and consistency are still works in progress. That’s not surprising for a quarterback who has made a grand total of 4 college starts, but neither is it encouraging for a quarterback whose job is to guide a mediocre team to heights that surpass mediocrity.

Johnson found Kayshon Boutte for 2 touchdowns one week after he found him for 3. Certainly, Boutte has been a bright spot in a 2-week stretch comprised of a poor overall performance and perhaps a marginally better one.

Presumably, the passing game will be even better if it is able to eventually work in conjunction with an effective running game. But there’s no sign of such complementary productivity being on the horizon.

If you’re looking for something or someone to provide evidence of something or someone that can be counted on, it’s best to look to the special teams, and more specifically kicker Cade York.

He made a 55-yard field goal in the second quarter Saturday. That was the longest field goal anyone has ever made in Tiger Stadium.

He made a 56-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, which obviously broke the record he had set a little while earlier.

The only field goal ever made by any LSU kicker that exceeded the two that York made Saturday night was the 57-yarder he made in the fog to beat Florida on the road in the second-to-last game last season.

York is good. In fact, he’s really good.

LSU can count on him.

What can it count on besides its kicker?

Who knows?

Maybe the defense based on the performance Saturday night, but maybe not based on the fact that the Tigers play in the SEC and not the Southland Conference.

Maybe the offense based on the fact that Boutte is really hard to cover, whether you’re UCLA or McNeese, but maybe not based on the fact that LSU has to have a competent offensive line and running game if it’s going to survive in the SEC.

Maybe the coaching, but probably not based on these first 2 performances.

The Tigers got the reasonably easy victory that they needed Saturday night.

But they provided no more encouragement in victory than they provided in defeat a week earlier.