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LSU Football: After Auburn Struggle, Could Tigers Lose Before Alabama?

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterOctober 7, 2016

LSU Football: After Auburn Struggle, Could Tigers Lose Before Alabama?

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    LSU is still one of the favorites to win the SEC West and the national title, but the Tigers didn't play like it in Saturday night's 12-10 squeaker over the Auburn Tigers.

    The sluggish performance on the Plains begs the question: Is LSU for real or just a "paper Tiger"?

    It's probably too early to tell at this point, but it's clear that head coach Les Miles needs better play from his offensive line, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger needs to make quicker decisions and have the game slow down a bit.

    All signs still point to a Nov. 3 showdown with the Alabama Crimson Tide in Baton Rouge in a game that could determine the winner of the SEC West, but the road to that game looks a little rockier for the Tigers after Saturday night.

    Where could LSU stumble? Let's take a look at its remaining schedule.

September 29 vs. Towson

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    Is LSU on upset alert vs. Towson?

    Not a chance.

    But it is an opportunity for the Tigers to work on some of the issues that came to light inside Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night.

    Specifically, it's time to work on Mettenberger's decision-making.

    LSU breezed through the first three weeks of the season on the shoulders of a stout running game, but in retrospect, the Tigers probably hid Mettenberger too much, which showed on Saturday night on the Plains.

    Now that some weaknesses have been exposed, it's time to unleash Mettenberger a little bit against Towson. Let him stretch the field; open up the playbook a little bit; allow him to be the playmaker that he has been hyped to be.

    It's one thing to hide a player in order to sneak up on opponents, but once he's been exposed, that presents an opportunity to get better.

    Mettenberger will get better this week against Towson.

    Upset Alert (on a scale of 1-10): 1

October 6 at Florida

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    The Florida game is one that LSU should have been concerned with before, and after watching the Gators play during the first month of the season, it should be even more concerning now.

    Florida has solved all of its major issues from last season. It has a legitimate every-down running back in senior Mike Gillislee, quarterback Jeff Driskel looked like more of a weapon than a game-manager in Florida's biggest game of the season (a win at Tennessee), and the defense picked up right where it left off last season.

    If LSU is going to stumble before the Alabama game, this game is the most likely place.

    The Swamp is a dangerous place to play, and Florida has two weeks to prepare for this matchup after dismantling Kentucky last weekend.

    The Gator defense is fast, physical and ready to make a statement against a top-tier team, and a win against LSU would not only signify that Florida is back, it would likely vault the Gators into the top five of the national rankings.

    LSU better get its offensive line issues worked out and get Mettenberger comfortable this weekend vs. Towson, because Florida will be focused on the Tigers for two weeks. 

    Yikes.

    Upset Alert (on a scale of 1-10): 10

October 13 vs. South Carolina

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    If LSU can get by the Gators, they will get another test the very next week, when the South Carolina Gamecocks roll into Baton Rouge.

    Steve Spurrier's crew will be fresh off its SEC East showdown vs. Georgia, so it's hard to say what this game will mean in terms of title implications. One thing is for sure, it will either be a game to remain in the national title hunt or a win that's needed to hang onto division title implications for both teams. 

    Either way, it's going to be big.

    The good thing for LSU's defense is that it will be fresh off of a game vs. the Florida Gators and quarterback Jeff Driskel, who possesses similar dual-threat skills as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw.

    Shaw proved vs. Missouri that he's a legitimate dual-threat weapon, completing 20 of his 21 passes, including 20 straight vs. the Tigers. Along with Heisman-hopeful running back Marcus Lattimore, Shaw completes a dangerous one-two punch that will be a force for LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis to reckon with.

    LSU had trouble pass-blocking vs. Auburn, so expect Gamecock defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward to get fancy with his schemes to maneuver defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor into the backfield early and often in the hopes of forcing Mettenberger into mistakes.

    South Carolina is probably the most talented team that LSU will face before hosting Alabama. The Tigers catch a break with this game being at home, but it's very dangerous—especially since it comes the week following the trip to Gainesville.

    Upset Alert (on a scale of 1-10): 9.5

October 20 at Texas A&M

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    LSU will renew its rivalry with Texas A&M on October 20, but the 51st meeting between the two will mark the first time they have faced off as conference rivals.

    The game will mark the end of a brutal October slate for the Tigers, and even though LSU is the deeper and more talented team, back-to-back games vs. Florida and South Carolina will take a toll on the Tigers physically.

    That makes this game vs. Texas A&M especially dangerous, since the Aggies like to run a lot of plays on offense for the specific purpose of wearing the opposing defense down.

    Florida showed that fast, disciplined defenses can shut down quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Aggie offense in the second half of its game, when the Gators allowed only 49 total yards.

    The Aggies will put pressure on LSU linebackers Luke Muncie, Lamin Barrow and Kevin Minter, all of whom will have to play disciplined in order to contain the Aggies.

    Defensively, the Aggies rank third in the SEC in total defense, giving up an average of 279.7 yards per game. Considering the other defenses in the SEC, they probably won't be in that spot come October 20, but defensive end Damontre Moore and linebacker Sean Porter are studs that can put pressure on anyone—particularly teams with shaky offensive lines.

    LSU is more talented than the Aggies, but when the two meet in College Station, it will be on the tail end of a brutal October for the Tigers.

    Upset Alert (on a scale of 1-10): 8

Will LSU Survive the October Gauntlet?

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    People are jumping off the LSU bandwagon faster than politicians flip-flop on campaign issues. For the life of me, I can't figure out why.

    Yes, LSU struggled on the road in its 12-10 win at Auburn, but it was a road win in the SEC.

    Those aren't easy to come by.

    If the Auburn win did anything for LSU, it showed specific areas that it needs to work on, and the tune-up this weekend vs. Towson is a perfect opportunity to work on those issues before entering the October gauntlet.

    Will LSU make it to the November 3 showdown vs. Alabama unblemished? Yes, but it will be a stressful journey for LSU's coaches, players and fans.

    The Tigers are still a legitimate top-five team, but they found out where their weaknesses are on Saturday night. 

    That may be concerning for LSU fans, but head coach Les Miles can and should use that to his advantage.

     

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