Comb through the data from LSU’s first two football games and you are left with one glaring fact: This is not a good offensive team.
The defense, as expected, has been top notch. The special teams have been exceptional.
The offense? Well, through two games the old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” comes to mind.
Early season football stats can be as misleading as a campaign promise. Still, to quote the idiot savant detective Jacques Clouseau, nothing matters but the facts. And the facts show that LSU ranks dead last in the Southeastern Conference in total offense with 315.5 yards per game and second-to-last in scoring with 32 points per game (that includes Jacob Phillips’ pick six against Miami). Last and second-to-last are never comfortable seats to be occupying at any point on the calendar.
LSU’s offense is not all gloomy. Running back Nick Brossette, with his back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, has been a delightful surprise. And in Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow, LSU has found a quarterback with toughness and leadership and an ornery streak that says, “No, I’m not going to slide when I run. Well, OK, coach, if you insist, I may do it. A little.”
I asked Burrow if LSU propping up SEC offensive numbers from College Station to the Columbias is an anomaly or something truly distressing.
“I’d say we’re having some growing pains right now,” he said. “I think we are really talented on offense, and when we get it fixed, we have a chance to be really good.”
LSU plays at Auburn on Saturday, in a game that will shape the destiny of both teams.
This would be a really good time to fix things on offense.
To be fair, there have been challenges. Miami has a bevy of future NFL talent on its defense. Southeastern Louisiana, which LSU beat 31-0 but could never completely put away, found LSU in flux on its offensive line with the absence of left tackle Saahdiq Charles plus the long-established suspension of right guard Ed Ingram on sexual assault charges.
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But the fact remains: LSU netted just 78 yards on 15 plays in the second half against the Lions. Its only score came on an 18-yard drive after a long fumble return by JaCoby Stevens.
Another fact leads to a question: Where is LSU’s passing game? Coach Ed Orgeron touted a 50-50 pass-run split in the preseason and wide receivers buzzing around like planes making connections in Atlanta. There have been some multiple-receiver formations, but LSU has attempted only 44 passes out of 120 plays thus far. That’s 36.7 percent. Far from 50-50. Even if for the sake of argument you factor in Burrow’s 12 rushing attempts/sacks and say they were intended to be passes, that brings the passing percentage to 46.7 percent.
In other words, this is an offense Les Miles would have, to use his word, enjoyed.
Ensminger can call a more wide-open game. It was on display when Orgeron replaced Miles after the 18-13 loss at Auburn in 2016 when LSU’s game-winning touchdown was disallowed because the snap didn’t beat the horn. So could Matt Canada, LSU’s offensive coordinator circa 2017. Orgeron didn’t enjoy Canada nor his quirky, shape-shifting “what is behind door number three?” offense. So he sent Canada packing to Maryland, where he is interim head coach with an offense averaging 486 yards per game.
It is understandable if Orgeron has the safety on. He has a defense that is the rock of his salvation. He has an offense that has not turned the ball over through two games after a record-low eight turnovers in 2017. “Protect the ball” is probably stamped on Orgeron’s money.
It's unanimous -- at least across the "expert" polls of three sports news outlets.
The Advocate's LSU beat team predicts the outcome of Saturday's key SEC matchup with Auburn ...
Still, you have to risk dropping an egg on the floor on the way to making a great dish. To beat Auburn, to pull off a second top-10 upset in three weeks, LSU is going to have to take some risks. And that means putting the ball in the air where three things can happen and two of them are … well, you know.
Burrow, who I think would have been Joe Cool strapped inside a dodgy Mercury space capsule — screaming “Why don’t you fix your little problems and light this candle?” in the astronaut-themed movie "The Right Stuff" — made his feelings plain earlier this week.
“We’re going to have to throw the ball to win the game,” he said flatly. “If we can’t, we’re going to lose the game. It’s pretty simple.”
When LSU did pass against SLU, the Tigers went max protect most of the time, often sending just two receivers out on routes. Tight end Foster Moreau said LSU started in a “21” set, which is a standard two backs, one tight end and two receivers.
Wednesday night on his weekly radio show, Orgeron said LSU would have to mix it up against Auburn.
“There are times when we have to max protect and times we have to go empty,” he said. “We can’t give them the same look every time.”
Ensminger said earlier this week in an in-house LSU interview the Tigers need 10 explosive plays to have a chance to win at Auburn. The way Auburn guards against the run, it seems almost mandatory to get most of those plays through the air, as Burrow said.
It is time. Time for LSU to be the offense it was advertised to be. Time to throw caution, in a football sense, to the wind.
Four key facts to know as LSU visits Auburn on Saturday for their Southeastern Conference opener.