Is this the game when they finally put it all together?
That’s what we wondered about LSU after a lackluster start against lesser opponents. Perhaps they were just disinterested against Towson, sloppy against Auburn and in need of a road game against a worthy conference foe to get it all in gear. Or, maybe this team just isn’t as good as we thought they’d be heading into the season.
The defense certainly is, although even the strength of LSU hasn’t been as dominant as we anticipated. The bar was set awfully high. The offense, however, has been much discussed and had very little success overall.
Still, LSU had a chance to remove these concerns—or at least quiet them for the time being—with a win over the Gators in Gainesville.
And while the defense hung very tough against a superb offensive line, we learned that the close calls and ugly early performances were more than just a motivation issue. This team simply isn’t as good as we thought they’d be.
Give credit to the Gators in their 14-6 upset win. Despite getting down early, they stuck to the plan. They were creative with their run calls and wore down the LSU defense. They came up with a turnover on LSU’s biggest offensive play and they more than matched the Tigers’ solid defense.
Quite frankly, they did exactly what LSU did to their opponents last year. It wasn’t pretty, but as we saw the Tigers roll through teams in 2011, it can be very effective when executed properly.
For LSU, the questions regarding the offense came full circle. Early on against the Gators, they were very conservative with Zach Mettenberger, opting to run on 3rd-and-long on multiple occasions instead of risking the turnover. This was the formula that worked before, and it made sense in a game where one play would probably decide the winner.
It wasn’t one play for LSU or Florida, however, it was LSU’s inability to move the ball with any consistency once again. This was by far their toughest challenge, and eight first downs overall simply wasn’t enough. In most games, it won’t be.
While Mettenberger will get the blunt of the criticism, he’s far from the only issue when it comes to identifying the power outage. The offensive line has endured a plethora of injuries, and the running game has suffered because of it.
In a game where you would hope to take the pressure off your quarterback, control the clock and do the blunt of your damage on the ground, the LSU Tigers finished with 25 carries for 42 yards. A whopping 1.7 average.
By comparison, LSU ran for 238 yards and three touchdowns against the Gators in their blowout win last year. And while both of these teams are drastically different from who they were a year ago, LSU’s conservative but effective blueprint no longer intimidates defenses like it once did.
As we evaluated LSU heading into the year, we had questions regarding just how good this team could be. We knew the defense—despite a handful of key losses—would still be dominant or at least one of the nation’s best once again.
Can LSU get Back into the BCS Championship Picture?
We assumed that the offense would improve, only because the quarterback play left much to be desired last year. With each and every spring practice update and gaudy scrimmage numbers from Zach Mettenberger, it appeared they had found the missing piece to put them over the edge.
In the end, however, the lack of playmakers finally caught up to this team. Mettenberger hasn’t been nearly as effective as we thought he would be, either.
The team we saw struggle through the first third of the season struggled for good reason. It wasn't about motivation or interest, it's who they are. That's not necessarily the worst situation to be in, and many teams would gladly change places with a squad that is still very alive. And they are still very much in the national picture.
While there is still time to regroup and bid for a BCS game and beyond, it’s hard to envision this team beating Alabama given their resume. Anything can happen, especially in a one-game setting, but LSU will need to solve their offensive issues quickly if they hope to turn things around before it's too late.