Some good news to distract us from the Saints’ early season struggles. The LSU Tigers are off to a 3-0 start and open SEC play Saturday against Mississippi State. Although it’s been just 3 games with 2 of them against Sam Houston State and Louisiana Monroe, we can already see there is a lot to like about this team. Here are some observations.
There were plenty of questions surrounding LSU’s offense heading into the season given the inexperience at the skill positions, but I think it’s fair to say they have exceeded expectations to this point. Anthony Jennings has come out the clear winner of a quarterback competition that did not seem like much of a competition. Jennings has not looked like a quarterback who has made just 4 career starts. He seems to be much further along than LSU’s last two quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Zach Mettenberger were at this point in his career. He has a good command of LSU’s fast paced offense by relaying the play to the rest of the team, getting everyone lined up, calling an audible if needed and getting the play off in a timely manner. He knows how to check through his receiving options and use his mobility to extend the play and buy time for the receivers to get open, which is especially encouraging because because I have seen plenty of quarterbacks in the same mold as Jennings (Michael Vick, Vince Young, etc.,) whose first instinct is to take off if they can’t find an open man right away. Jennings has completed 27 of 52 passes for 566 yards, 5 touchdowns and 1 interception. Don’t read too much into the low completion percentage, LSU’s downfield passing attack is not going to be very friendly to that stat and the receivers have had some issues with drops.
Travin Dural has established himself as the go-to receiver. He has 12 catches for 370 yards on the season, good for an astounding average of 30.8 yards per reception. While that’s probably not a sustainable pace, it does show that LSU can count on him to make big plays, and they will definitely need him to. Freshman John Diarse has also flashed some big play ability with 119 yards on just 6 catches and looks to be developing into a reliable number 2 receiver. The other two highly touted freshmen, Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre, have gotten off to slow starts. Quinn has 5 catches for only 45 yards through the first 3 games, though he has displayed excellent blocking ability. Dupre has been hampered by an injury and has just 2 catches for 23 yards and a touchdown. There shouldn’t be much worry, though, as Quinn and Dupre are too talented to stay down for long.
As in previous years, the Tigers are leaning on their running game. There isn’t much to say here except it’s working well. The three leading runners are all averaging near 5 yards a carry. Leonard Fournette may not be living up to the hype yet, but just be patient. He’s still providing solid production and should continue to do so. The one concern I have is Terrence Magee. He looks a little slower than he did last season and isn’t breaking tackles as easily. Magee is running at just over 3 yards per carry and is being outplayed by freshman Darrel Williams. Hopefully he can break out soon.
LSU’s strength this season is, as usual, their stout defense. LSU currently ranks 2nd in the nation in points allowed, holding their opponents to just 8 a game. 2013 was a bit of a down year for the Tigers defensively, but they look like they have improved in many of the areas they struggled last year. I was a bit worried when Wisconsin had their way with the interior of LSU’s defensive line in the first half of the season opener because LSU was particularly vulnerable to power running teams like Alabama and Georgia last season. However, they managed to stop the Badgers’ running game after the opening second half drive and have not allowed a point since then. That is still an area for minor concern, though, as LSU’s interior linemen do not have much experience and their depth could suffer if heralded freshman Travonte Valentine isn’t granted academic clearance from the SEC.
On a more positive note, LSU’s defense looks to be perfectly built to counter the outside running game. Other than a 45-yard touchdown run by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, opposing teams have had almost no success running the ball from side-to-side because LSU’s defensive ends and linebackers are disciplined enough to contain the outside runners and fast enough to catch them. This also allows LSU to effectively defend against running quarterbacks, which is good because they will face several of those in the SEC including Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Bo Wallace of Ole Miss and possibly Alabama’s Blake Sims. The secondary, led by Jalen Mills looks outstanding, too. They have done a terrific job sticking to opposing receivers and creating turnovers at the right times.
This LSU team has impressed so far. Hopefully that will continue into SEC play.