LSU keeps getting reminders of flaws despite winning ways

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BATON ROUGE – The sixth-ranked LSU Tigers were looking to avoid an emotional letdown against Louisiana Tech after their thrilling 22-21 win over Auburn last week.

The letdown was delayed and nearly much more than emotional. The visiting Bulldogs climbed back from a 24-0 deficit with 21 unanswered points to pull within three of the Tigers early in the fourth quarter.

However, on a day filled with shocking upsets across college football, LSU was able to put together enough stops and take advantage of career days from Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire to avoid being another casualty.

“It was a hard fought battle,” said LSU head coach Ed Orgeron during the postgame press conference. “We’re 4-0, and that’s what we came here to do, obviously. Give Louisiana Tech some credit. I thought they had an excellent plan, especially on offense.”

Tech’s 417 yards of total offense were the most allowed all season by the LSU defense. Bulldogs passer J’Mar Smith threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time in 13 games that the Tigers surrendered more than 300 yards through the air. The three TD passes were the most allowed since the 2016 regular season finale against Texas A&M.

“They were protecting; they were getting some passes off,” Orgeron said of Tech’s offensive effectiveness. “They were throwing the slant, they were throwing the deep ball. They had a great game plan and we just couldn’t stop them.”

The game didn’t start that way. The Tigers opened the game by dominating on the ground. LSU held the ball for more than 11 minutes in the first quarter, racking up 143 yards and taking a 7-0 lead on a one yard score by Brossette; the first of his career-high three rushing touchdowns.

The defense was doing its job as well, limiting the Bulldogs to 73 yards on 12 plays. Kristian Fulton’s strip of Adrian Hardy was scooped up by Devin White and his 29 yard return set up the Tigers’ second score, another Brossette touchdown run, just three seconds into the second quarter.

After a Cole Tracy field goal, the defense forced its second turnover, as senior safety Ed Paris collected his first career interception on a pass that bounced off of a Tech receiver, then Devin White, and into Paris’ hands.

One play later Edwards-Helaire took the ball for 28 of his career-high 136 yards down the left side for the score, giving LSU what appeared to be an insurmountable 24 point lead.

But Tech kept playing, and for a long stretch; from about the 8:22 mark in the second quarter until Brossette scored his third touchdown of the night with 8:06 left to play, LSU didn’t.

The Tigers couldn’t get off the field on third down. Louisiana Tech converted 9-of-18 third downs, many from more than five yards. When LSU was able to get pressure, Smith stepped up and made plays with his arm. Hardy repeatedly beat the Tiger secondary for catches, racking up 10 receptions for 181 yards and two scores.

“We’ve just gotta get off the field,” White said after the game. He finished the night with 11 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and one of LSU’s two sacks. “It’ll be an emphasis (this week in practice). They were 50 percent (on third down), and we don’t want them anywhere near 50 percent. But we’re going to fix it.”

The offense wasn’t providing much help.

Joe Burrow had his most accurate game of the season, completing more than half his passes for the first time with LSU (16-28, 191 yards); but Burrow held the ball too long in the pocket on a number of occasions and when he missed, he missed badly. He also failed to produce a passing touchdown for the second time this season.

His receivers continued to have a collective case of the drops, so it wasn’t all on Burrow. Only Dee Anderson stood out, so much so that Orgeron called him the game’s MVP. Otherwise, what was considered one of the Tigers’ areas of strength heading into the season has greatly underperformed.

LSU was also victimized by a number of mental mistakes on both sides of the ball. Penalties and missed assignments killed offensive drives and lengthened defensive ones.

LSU has gotten by so far with less than its best effort while climbing into the top five of the national rankings. But the Tigers will have to find their fastball before they face the two teams atop the rankings; No. 2 Georgia and top-ranked Alabama.

Yes, both games are under going to be played under the lights of Tiger Stadium. But this may be the best Georgia team to come to Death Valley in a decade, and LSU hasn’t beaten the Crimson Tide since 2011.

What do we know definitively about the Tigers one third of the way through the 2018 season?

Not much more than what the results tell us. LSU is a very good team, but its flaws could keep it from ever being great.

The offense’s flaws continue to be a test for Orgeron and particularly his coordinator Steve Ensminger. The offensive line continues to be in flux, and protection has been an issue. The running game has been solid, but neither Brossette nor Edwards-Helaire look like the game breakers that Derrius Guice, Leonard Fournette or Jeremy Hill were.

The Tigers rank 11th in the Southeastern Conference in rushing and 12th in yards per attempt. Only Arkansas and Vanderbilt gain fewer yards per game.

LSU also has to demonstrate that it can both sustain drives and attack quickly down the field with its passing game. That’s on Ensminger. Even after his 16-for-28 performance on Saturday, Burrow ranks next to last among SEC passers.

It’s fine that he’s not making mistakes, but quarterback Joe Burrow needs to up his production to truly make the Tigers a threat.

Orgeron has to find a way to eliminate the large portions of games where his team checks out mentally. Some have said that LSU plays down to the level of its competition. That’s not what Tiger fans expect of their program. That isn’t what champions do.

“I feel like we kinda, like the last couple of weeks, took our foot off the gas,” said Burrow. “I think we got a little complacent in the second and third quarters. Started strong and finished strong, but we gotta fix the middle.”

“We’re going to be better next week,” said White. “I can promise you that.”

If the Tigers do improve each and every week, they’ll have a shot. But it they continue to play at the extremes, LSUs unblemished mark is going to get a smudge sooner rather than later.

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David Grubb

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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…

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