Slow the Hype; LSU's Passing Game Is Still a Critical Problem

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2018

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) scrambles as he looks for a receiver in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Southeastern Louisiana in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. LSU won 31-0. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

In the aftermath of LSU's smackdown of Miami, all sorts of admiration began flying around Ed Orgeron's team. Most notably, there was lofty praise for quarterback Joe Burrow as well as technological high-fives for Orgeron's future.

But as quickly as that applause comes in college football, it leaves just the same.

Auburn is capable of putting a hurt on LSU. If that occurs, all the happiness in Baton Rouge will seamlessly convert to frustration because fans have seen this movie before.

The last season LSU reached the SEC Championship Game was 2011, when it obliterated Georgia and then lost 21-0 to Alabama for the national title. Since then, the Tigers have a 31-17 record in conference play and have not been better than 6-2 in a single campaign.

There's a major difference between "good" and "championship good." Falling to Auburn would put LSU on a track toward the former for the seventh straight year.

Here we go again.

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 29:  LSU Tigers mascot Mike cheers from the fan section during the second half of their game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Sc
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Offensespecifically a shaky passing gamehas consistently prevented the Tigers from rejoining Alabama atop the SEC hierarchy. Against top competition, their preferred run-first style has rarely worked, so they need a quarterback to brace the offense through the air.

Instead, over the last four seasons, LSU quarterbacks have combined to complete 40 of their 100 attempts for 451 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions opposite the Tide. The Tigers have totaled 39 points during that stretch.

In that same span, their quarterbacks have combined for a 48-of-93 mark with 540 yards and three touchdowns opposite Auburn. LSU is 2-2 over its SEC West rival since 2014, but the passing struggles were evident early and led to losses later.

Auburn's 2018 defense is, once again, that stingy.

Burrow performed better against Miami than his 11-of-24 line suggested, but he had several throwaways and three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. And in Week 2, the Tigers lumbered to a 31-0 victory over Southeastern Louisiana while the Ohio State transfer completed only half of his 20 attempts.

Though drops have flared up on occasion and affected those completion rates, defenders have dropped a few passes as well. LSU's misfortune and good luck have basically evened out.

Entering Week 3, Burrow is a combined 3-of-12 with 32 yards and two first downs on third-down passes. He's a meager 4-of-11 for 35 yards in the second half. Auburn opponents, meanwhile, have moved the chains on third-down throws just five times in 20 triesand only six times on any down on 28 total second-half attempts.

This isn't an ideal time to have problems.

Although Burrow might ultimately boost LSU's aerial attack compared to previous years, the jump between "improved" and "thriving against top defenses" involves clearing a chasm.

Not a puddle.

This isn't to suggest Burrow is solely at fault. The offensive line has regularly allowed pressureso much that Miami recorded eight tackles for loss and five hurries despite falling by 16 points and that LSU needed to keep an extra tight end to block against Southeastern Louisiana.

The latter point should be a terrifying as the Tigers approach SEC action. If they're struggling to hold off an unspectacular Football Championship Subdivision defense, um, yikes.

It's no wonder the Nick Brossette-led running game is a work in progress. Remove his 50-yard scamper against Miami, and the Tigers are averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Explosive runs are great, but this rushing attack isn't built to rely on those.

Put simply, the blocking must be better on a per-down basis. And if it's not, nothing has changed, and Burrow will be tasked with shouldering a taxing load opposite the best SEC opponents.

Auburn is one of three Top 10 foes on the 2018 slate. Georgia (Oct. 13) and Alabama (Nov. 3) await Orgeron's club later this season. Plus, Mississippi State has a potentially elite defense.

Thanks to the undeniable strength of LSU's defense, it has a chance to clip any of those squads, beginning Saturday at Auburn. However, if the pressure of a victory rests solely on the throwing arm of an unproven quarterback, nothing has changed for the purple-and-gold Tigers.

And the rest of the season will inevitably bring disappointment.

      

Stats from NCAA.comcfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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