Two games into this season, what are we to make out of this LSU bunch?
They have two wins — one against a Miami team that supposedly outclassed the Tigers, and one against a Southeastern Louisiana team the Tigers outclassed but struggled at times to subdue.
What are the surprises? What are the predictables? Let us take a look at some of the hotter topics heading into Saturday’s showdown between No. 12 LSU and No. 7 Auburn:
1. LSU is 2-0: Minor surprise
LSU’s 33-17 upset of Miami was suitable for framing. This was the first of many toss-up games on the Tigers' schedule, and to pass that early test was a statement-maker and a huge confidence booster than can not be erased by what was at times an ugly 31-0 shutout of SLU.
2. LSU is tied for first in the Southeastern Conference with a plus-5 turnover margin: No surprise
LSU is just one of six teams in the nation without a turnover in its first two games. Coming on the heels of a record-setting eight-turnover season in 2017, that figures. But while LSU took great care of the football, it forced just 18 turnovers last season, making takeaways the point of emphasis for the defense in the offseason. It has paid off handsomely. The Tigers' takeaways have all come in big spots, though none bigger than Jacob Phillips’ game-changing interception and touchdown return against Miami. JaCoby Stevens’ scoop-and-near-score on a botched SLU snap last Saturday preserved the shutout and apparently gave LSU’s coaches the confidence to move him to rush linebacker to help replace K’Lavon Chaisson, who's for the season with a knee injury.
3. Nick Brossette ranks fifth in the SEC averaging 131 yards per game: Huge surprise
No position was chock-full of more question marks in the preseason than running back. It still does not seem as talented or dependable a unit as in the past, but it would have been hard for Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice to have done better these first two games. Can Brossette keep it up? It will be difficult, if the past is any indication. Brossette needs just 50 more yards for this season to eclipse his first three seasons combined (311 yards). The rest of the Tigers with carries so far — Clyde Edwards-Helaire, quarterback Joe Burrow and freshman Chris Curry — have combined to net just 27 yards rushing. Clearly Brossette needs more help, but it also makes what he has done even more impressive.
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4. LSU’s offensive line has struggled: No surprise
This was a major area of concern for the Tigers entering this season and will likely continue to be. Losing suspended right guard Ed Ingram for the foreseeable future, if not permanently, made matters worse. Losing left tackle Saahdiq Charles for the SLU game to what looks like a suspension (he appears to be healthy at practice this week) made matters worse still. Even though coach Ed Orgeron said Charles will return for the Auburn game, LSU’s coaches are not standing pat. They moved Dare Rosenthal from defense to offensive line to back up Charles at left tackle, and they shifted Austin Deculus (who started for Charles against SLU) to right tackle. The good news is that LSU’s coaches realize there are problems to address. The bad news is there are not a lot of good personnel options. As local radio host Charles Hanagriff said Tuesday, it isn’t as if LSU can make a trade with Oklahoma State.
5. Joe Burrow needs to slide: No surprise
When LSU’s starting quarterback said after taking at least two hard shots in the SLU game that he would not slide to the ground to avoid being hit after running, it was amusing and macho at the same time. Oh, the Burt Reynolds of it all. Not surprisingly, Orgeron said (and Burrow admitted) Monday they will make a change in tactics. While it is admirable that Burrow is a fighter and wants to exhibit his toughness, it will not help LSU’s cause if he turns into an injured exhibit on the sideline. SEC defenders would love to hammer Burrow into the turf. That extra yard he might gain for the extra shot is not worth it. So, to invoke the name of another athletic Joe ... slide, DiMaggio, slide!
6. LSU’s kicking game has been stellar: Major surprise
Few elements of recent LSU teams have gone from problem to solution as quickly as LSU’s kicking game. Orgeron said the only bad thing about senior transfer Cole Tracy (5 of 5 on field goals, with a 54- and 50-yarder, 7 of 7 on extra points) is that the Tigers only have him for one year. Zach Von Rosenberg ranks third in the SEC in punting (45.1-yard average). And walk-on kickoff specialist Avery Atkins has booted 11 of his 13 kickoffs for touchbacks — one reaching the stands against SLU. Kicking is a mercurial thing, and it can go awry in an instant. But this has become a reliable weapon for LSU, not a liability, one it will need to win at Auburn.