Moscona: Is LSU a Legitimate SEC Contender?

Sep 19, 2018 11:01 AM EDT
  • LSU is 3-0 with two victories over top-10 teams, the first team to pull off that feat since Missouri did it in 1976.
  • But the Tigers still have some question marks, especially on offense, and haven't won pretty.

After reaching the quarter pole of this college football season (I know, right!), it’s time to have a conversation no one outside of LSU coaches, players, friends and family were having three weeks ago.

Is LSU for real, or will its somewhat-obvious issues catch up to it as SEC play rolls on?

With their win at No. 7 Auburn last weekend, the Bayou Bengals became the first college football team since Missouri in 1976 to beat two top-10 teams in the first three weeks of the season and in so doing, announced themselves as a contender in 2018.

The question becomes whether or not LSU is merely the feel-good story of this young season or if it can be a legit threat to the Crimson Empire. Let’s take inventory of what we know so far.

What to Like About LSU

Turnover Margin

Through three weeks, LSU is the only FBS team yet to commit a turnover.  A defensive score against Miami blew the game open in the second quarter.

Similarly, an interception of Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham on the game’s opening possession gave LSU a short field-touchdown to set the tone.

In 2017, LSU lost just eight turnovers all season. Expect this trend to continue.

Special Teams

LSU hasn’t just been good in this often forgotten phase of the game — it’s been downright dominant.

Kicker Cole Tracy has just one miss all season, but already has two makes from beyond 50 yards and the game winner at Auburn.  Kickoff specialist Avery Atkins has booted 15 of 18 kickoffs for touchbacks. Zach Von Rosenberg has downed seven punts inside the 20, and four have gone more than 50 yards.

Basically, LSU is scoring every time it has a short field and is forcing opponents to drive the length of the field against its defense. Speaking of…

Defense

There’s a reason LSU paid Dave Aranda $2.5 million per year to pass on a move to Texas A&M. The Tigers are 13th in scoring defense and tied for 29th in total defense, and that’s against two top-10 teams away from Baton Rouge.

All-Americans Devin White and Greedy Williams are living up to the hype, and safety Grant Delpit is emerging as the next true superstar at DBU.

With this type of defense and special teams, the LSU offense won’t need to be top 10 to keep winning as long as…

Joe Burrow’s decision-making

The graduate transfer quarterback’s stats won’t pop.  LSU is 106th nationally in passing offense and dead last in the SEC in both passing yards and completion percentage. So what else is new? What the box score doesn’t show is how many times Burrow has eluded pressure and thrown the ball away instead of risking a costly error.

Coaches have also spoken about the autonomy given to Burrow to make checks at the line of scrimmage, something remarkable considering his three starts as a Tiger are the first three of his career and he has been on LSU’s campus only since July.

As the season progresses, Burrow’s knowledge of the offense and rapport with his receivers will improve.

Why We Should Worry about LSU

Offensive Line Depth

LSU was down three starting offensive linemen against FCS Southeastern Louisiana and it showed. Burrow was knocked around like a pinball most of the night, leading to a 10-for-20 passing performance.

When senior guard Garrett Brumfield was injured against Auburn, he was replaced by true freshman Chasen Hines, a converted defensive lineman.

Despite allowing one sack, five hurries and seven tackles for loss, the unit held up decently against a fantastic Auburn front. Still, major tests await against the likes of Alabama and Mississippi State, and LSU cannot afford any attrition among this group.

Running Back

Considering LSU’s lineage of stud backs, this one is surprising.  Nick Brossette has had a nice start to his senior season (110 yards per game; 5.5 yards per carry) but he’s not the dynamic game breaker that Derrius Guice, Leonard Fournette and Jeremy Hill were before him, and his numbers against Auburn (19 carries, 69 yards) showed that.

Without consistent big-play potential in LSU’s ground game, it remains to be seen if defenses will stack the box to stop the run like they have done in years past and make Burrow beat them.

Schedule

This didn’t get any easier with the win at Auburn. The Tigers still have to travel to Gainesville for the second consecutive season thanks to the Hurricane Matthew debacle in 2016.

They will follow up that road trip with consecutive home games against No. 2 Georgia, No. 14 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama. As if that weren’t enough, LSU will wrap up its regular season in College Station against an improving Aggies team that is desperate to beat the Tigers after losing the last seven games in this series.

If LSU can take care of business the next three weeks against Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and at Florida, it will set up a mammoth clash between LSU and Georgia, which should be the first top-10 matchup in Tiger Stadium since No. 6 LSU beat No. 8 Florida 35-28 in 2015.

Now that’s something nobody would have predicted three weeks ago.

Credit:

Julie Bennett-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Derrick Dillon

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OPEN
CURR
# BETS
BSU
UNM
62.5
+21.5
63
+19.5
PSU
RUTG
48.5
+26
50
+28
ARK
MSST
45.5
-18.5
46.5
-21
CIT
BAMA
60.5
-51
61.5
-51.5
OSU
MD
58
+17.5
58.5
+14
NW
MINN
51
+3.5
47.5
-1
IDHO
FLA
59
-39.5
60
-40
MTSU
UK
45
-13
46.5
-16
UTAH
COLO
48.5
+7
48
+7
USU
CSU
68
+26
68.5
+28
SYR
ND
62.5
-10
65.5
-10
BC
FSU
49.5
+1
49
+1.5
WVU
OKST
69.5
+5
73.5
+4.5
MASS
UGA
62
-44
66
-41
IND
MICH
53
-27.5
53.5
-28
ORST
WASH
57.5
-31
58
-33.5
DUKE
CLEM
58
-27
57.5
-28.5
RICE
LSU
51
-44
52
-41.5
KU
OKLA
68
-34.5
69
-36
CIN
UCF
59.5
-8
60
-7
ISU
TEX
51
-3
46.5
-2.5
ARIZ
WSU
60.5
-10
62.5
-9.5