SEC play is a whole lot different than non-SEC play.

That might be encouraging for LSU, which is slowly improving.

Then again, it might be discouraging for a team that has a long way to go.

The Tigers are 2-1 and mostly a disappointment as they put their pre-conference schedule behind them and prepare to open SEC play at Mississippi State on Saturday.

They were unimpressive in an opening loss at UCLA and better but not overly impressive in subsequent home victories against McNeese State and Central Michigan.

Nothing in those performances suggests they’re ready to roll as soon as they hit Starkville.

But this is Tell the Truth Monday.

And that requires an honest assessment of where LSU is as it begins a new game week.

The truth is that even though the Tigers have displayed short-comings in each of their first 3 games, they have shown improvement – not dramatic improvement, but incremental, steady improvement.

Coach Ed Orgeron has not shied away from acknowledging where his team has been lacking. He has been willing to accept his responsibility for the erratic start and publicly challenge himself and his staff to fix stuff.

LSU heads into SEC play looking like an inferior team compared to what it was expected to be. But it’s closer to becoming what it is expected to be this week than it was last week, and last week it was closer than it was after the season-opener.

That’s a trend that has to continue and accelerate.

There is no denying that the Tigers have been a disappointment thus far, and that suggests that they are likely to provide more disappointment in SEC play.

But that might change.

Sure LSU’s improvement has come against less-talented opponents in McNeese State and Central Michigan. In the Tigers’ one game against an opponent with something resembling SEC talent, they were exposed by UCLA, though after the Bruins lost to Fresno State on Saturday, it’s fair to wonder just how good they really are.

But this is more about LSU than it is about who it has played.

In their first game, the Tigers were beaten on both lines of scrimmage, couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t pass protect and the defense had almost as many breakdowns as it had in games last season.

In Week 2, they ran the ball marginally better, threw it more effectively and played much, much better defensively. They had 8 sacks, but the most important improvment came in the form of nearly eliminating breakdowns.

The quality of competition means very little when it comes to whether you make mental mistakes. Either you know your assignment or you don’t.

The fact that LSU made minimal mental mistakes against McNeese was no less impressive than it would have been against a more talented opponent.

The Tigers’ easy victory against the Cowboys was not as emphatic as the talent disparity might have suggested, but LSU was missing 21 players for a variety of reasons.

Many of those players were nursing relatively minor injuries and were able to return against Central Michigan.

The infusion of players had an immediate impact as the Tigers scored an offensive touchdown and a defense touchdown in the first 5 minutes and rolled to a 35-7 halftime lead and a 49-21 win.

LSU did have a few breakdowns on defense, but nothing compared to the opener against UCLA, and the passing game continued to grow as Max Johnson threw 5 touchdown passes.

The offensive line remained inconsistent and the running game sputtered again, though freshman Corey Kiner had some nice gains against a worn-down Chippewas defense in the second half, finishing with 74 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

Now comes the start of SEC play.

The Tigers’ improvement in the past 2 weeks suggests they’re poised to play their best game yet Saturday, and they will have to in order to prevail on the road against a Bulldogs team coming off a tough 2-point loss at Memphis.

The truth on this final pre-SEC Tell the Truth Monday is that the first 3 games have told us very little about LSU.

It has had some terrible moments and some encouraging moments. It might still be a good team and it might not.

But it had better be by far the best it has been when it shows up in Starkville.

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