Pass the cranberries. Pass the yams. But after the plates are cleared away, the biggest question around Louisiana’s Thanksgiving tables will be this one:
Can LSU pass the ball?
LSU’s 17-0 shutout at Arkansas on Nov. 15 doesn’t look quite so bad in the wake of the suddenly awake Razorbacks quashing the Ole Miss Rebels 30-0 Saturday. But there’s no prettying up the fact that the Tigers managed a completely meager 123 total yards in frigid Fayetteville: 36 yards rushing and 87 yards passing.
Far from an anomaly, Arkansas sticking a chilled salad fork in LSU’s offense is the ultimate example of inertia in a season of ball-moving and point-scoring challenges for the Tigers.
Going into Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. game at Texas A&M — LSU’s first Thanksgiving Day game in 31 Novembers — the Tigers have scored a grand total of six offensive touchdowns in five games against SEC West Division foes.
It has become the most popular conspiracy theory since “Why Didn’t Jarrett Lee Play in the BCS Championship Game?” to postulate why coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron haven’t handed the keys to this sputtering offense back to freshman quarterback Brandon Harris — or at least let him take it out for a test drive.
Meanwhile, Anthony Jennings has sampled the full-bodied aroma of what it is to be LSU’s starting quarterback.
He’s heard the cheers for leading the comeback against Wisconsin and in a big win over then No. 3-ranked Ole Miss. He’s also faced the jeers and cowardly online death threats — yes, death threats — after LSU lost back-to-back games for just the second time in the Miles decade against Alabama and Arkansas.
Jennings has been far from perfect, but he also hasn’t been LSU’s only problem. LSU’s young and inconsistent receiver corps has victimized him with dropped passes and busted pass patterns. One receiver in the Bama game went and blocked when he was the only receiver running a route.
Why LSU runs one-receiver plays in the age of spread formations is a question for another column.
Youth and inexperience can be blamed for all manner of LSU woes in 2014 — anyone still remember how the defense looked like so much crepe paper in September? — so the fact LSU is 7-4 was fairly predictable.
But it’s vital for the Tigers to snap out of their offensive funk and get back in the win column for nothing else but self-confidence and faith in the program. LSU has a good chance to be very good in 2015, but here and now the Tigers are trying to avoid the stigma of the program’s first three-game losing streak since 1999.
Anything bad that predates the Saban-Miles era of unprecedented LSU football prosperity is something to be avoided at all costs. Like radioactivity, or College Drive at rush hour.
There is good news for the Tigers, though.
CollegeFootballNews.com writer Russ Mitchell has a saying: If your offense is struggling, schedule Texas A&M.
A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has had plenty of bouquets thrown his way for his offensive genius, but the blooms are starting to wilt. Sumlin’s Aggies were a good, but not great 20-6 in their two seasons with Johnny Manziel’s mercurial talents piloting the ship. Without him, A&M is like LSU 7-4 and 3-4 this season, having been set ablaze 59-0 at Alabama. Sumlin’s overall record of 27-10 matches Miles’ record over the past three seasons, with the latter getting far less applause for being a brilliant tactician.
One thing Miles’ teams have had over Sumlin’s is defense. The Tigers have played lost and found with theirs over the past couple of seasons. The Aggies are still searching. A&M is 13th in the SEC in rushing yards allowed, last in total yards allowed and 11th in scoring defense.
An LSU offense still averaging 204.5 yards per game rushing could find a warm embrace from an A&M defense allowing 208.9 yards per game on the ground — if the Aggies could tackle people to the ground. You know LSU will run, though the burden will be greater on Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams because Kenny Hilliard (shoulder) is out.
Blend in just a slightly better passing attack, say, wow, a molten-hot 150 yards or so through the air, and LSU may have the right recipe for a win.
But be prepared to drown your sorrows in whipped cream for the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, just in case.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.