LSU better in several areas, still lacking in others during win over Central Michigan

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LSU QB Max Johnson
(Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

It was not close to perfect as LSU’s performance did not reach full potential Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.

However, the result was still significant improvement from the previous two outings in a 49-21 victory over Central Michigan.

No, the Chippewas were not a dangerous opponent but CMU is a FBS program and not the layup that McNeese was.

Central Michigan played Missouri to a 10-point loss at Columbia to open the season, a place where LSU lost a battle of Tigers one year ago.

Perhaps that got the attention of these Purple-clad Tigers, who came out on fire Saturday night.

LSU never gave the Chippewas even a glimpse of what winning could be like, taking the drama out of the play early.

The Tigers raced out to a 21-0 first quarter lead, all but clinching the outcome.

There was a lot to like about LSU’s performance.

Defensively, despite allowing 21 points where much of CMU’s production came in garbage time, the LSU defense yielded just 284 total yards including just 56 rushing.

Yes, there was a blown coverage for a Central Michigan touchdown which reared its ugly head once again but the mistakes on defense were limited.

After recording eight sacks against McNeese, the Tigers posted five sacks against the Chippewas. Keep in mind that LSU’s best pass rusher, Ali Gaye, did not play in either game.

Major Burns, Derek Stingley, Damone Clark
(Photo: Jonathan Mailhes)

B.J. Ojulari recorded 2.5 sacks. It was good to see Derek Stingley Jr. record 1.5 tackles for loss. It was good to see safety Major Burns come up with an interception.

After solid but unspectacular performances in his first two games, Max Johnson had a breakout game.

The second-year quarterback was able to push the ball downfield, hitting the deep ball. Johnson finished 26-of-35 for 372 yards and five touchdowns, though he did throw one interception.

Through three games, he is completing 64.8 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

It was also a breakout game for true freshman Deion Smith.

Smith, who graduated from Jackson (MS) Academy early, showed that the extra time on campus helped prepare him quickly to contribute quickly.

It is no surprise that Smith is in this position already. Smith was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Mississippi a year ago, a football-rich state.

Smith has size, good speed and showed his ability to high-point the ball Saturday night.

He becomes a great compliment to Kayshon Boutte, who caught his sixth touchdown pass of the season.

Another good looking freshman is Jack Bech.

The St. Thomas More product has made a seamless transition from high school to LSU.

Bech now has 10 catches for 155 yards and a score and is a matchup issue for defenses in his hybrid position on offense.

Trey Palmer did not play but is a solid player as well.

Devonta Lee and Koy Moore each made a significant play as well so the LSU wide receiver position is in good shape.

While the LSU offensive front only allowed one sack, there was still a little too much pressure put on Johnson at times.

Additionally, the running game remains largely absent.

Freshman Corey Kiner looked good, rushing 12 times for 75 yards and a score.

Still, LSU rushed 24 times for just 84 yards.

In three games, the Tigers have a paltry 257 yards rushing, an obvious concern.

LSU converted 6-of-11 third down plays into first downs on the night but it’s hard to fathom they be so efficient in SEC games without a reliable running game.

The improvement was clear Saturday night but is it enough?

LSU opens SEC play at Starkville against Mississippi State next Saturday in an 11 a.m. matinee.

It was the Bulldogs who erased the euphoria of a perfect 15-0 season and national championship in 2019 in harsh fashion to open 2020, embarrassing the LSU defense at Tiger Stadium in a 44-34 loss. A transfer named K.J. Costello, who would eventually be benched last season, was allowed to throw for an SEC-record 623 yards with five touchdowns.

KJ Costello
Mississippi State QB K.J. Costello in 2020 (Photo by: Chris Parent / LSU Athletics)

After winning its first two games, Mississippi State let the SEC down in a 31-29 loss at Memphis, a big win for the American Athletic Conference.

State and its air-raid offense threw an astonishing 67 times against Memphis with Will Rogers, who completed 50 of those for 419 yards and three touchdowns. Makai Polk had 11 catches for 136 yards and a score.

The Bulldogs lost despite gaining 468 yards to just 246 for Memphis, who returned a punt and a fumble each for a touchdown.

LSU will be suitably motivated after last year’s debacle against State.

While improvement was evident Saturday, the Tigers, who got a little healthier for the Central Michigan game, could stand to get another key player or two back for the trip to Starkville.

To win, LSU must continue the improvement trend as the SEC grind begins.

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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