AUBURN, Ala. – “It’s just not LSU’s year” is quickly turning into “Are we sure the Tigers will get bowl-eligible?”
That’s the reality coming into focus after another lopsided loss for LSU (4-2, 0-2), which was thumped 41-7 by Auburn (5-0, 2-0) in Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday night.
The Bayou Bengals, gashed for 566 yards by the blue-and-orange Tigers, are now 0-2 in SEC play for the first time since 2001, dating back four years prior to the Les Miles era.
Here are the most relevant takeaways from a game LSU fans would just as soon forget.
Clearly, it wasn’t all about swapping starting quarterbacks
- I said it all game week, and it was clear as day during the night game on the Plains. Making the move from Anthony Jennings to Brandon Harris was the right thing to do, for the present and future of LSU’s offense, but it wasn’t going to have some kind of cure-all, Band-Aid-type effect. And it didn’t. In fact Harris was forced to swallow quite a bitter pill in his first career start, finishing 3-of-14 for only 58 yards. He was frequently high on his throws, leading to incompletions, tipped balls and, on one occasion, the absolute hanging-out of Trey Quinn in the heart of the Auburn defense.
Les Miles and Cam Cameron turned the reins over to Jennings with about five minutes to go in the third quarter, a move Miles explained after the game was due to Harris spraining an ankle. Jennings, who came in with LSU down 27, fared slightly better, going 5-of-10 for 84 yards. Bottom line: Quarterback play is definitely haunting the Tigers, which went 0-of-13 on third down, but there are gaping problems elsewhere, not limited to but including both sides of the line and, suddenly in the last three weeks, the secondary.
(Miles said after the game he’s nowhere close to naming a starter at quarterback for LSU’s game at Florida next Saturday. “I’m so far away from envisioning that.”)
Secondary play the bigger shock on defense
- Common thought leading into the game was that LSU would give up rushing yards galore to a talented, varied Auburn ground game. Well, that did happen – to the tune of 298 yards on 49 carries (6.1 ypc). But the unexpected thing, and what really ended this affair early in the first half for the home team, was Auburn’s passing prowess. Nick Marshall lit up John Chavis’ defense for 207 yards and two touchdowns through the air on 14-of-22 passing. He was efficient, he went downfield, he connected on trick plays. Marshall did whatever he wanted, and that’s what has to leave LSU fans feeling the most frustrated when looking back on this game from a defensive standpoint. The talent’s not there at defensive tackle; that was known. But there’s no excuse for two corners who were primed for a huge season and a junior safety in Jalen Mills who’s started every game since he arrived on campus. Tough to win when you can’t stop the run or the pass.
Not ideal, but freshmen are the way out of offensive hole
- It may not even translate to that many more won ballgames in 2014, but it’s obvious LSU’s only shot of being successful – and diverse – on offense this season is through the freshmen. Harris is the better of the two quarterback options, at least giving Cameron the confidence to try different looks and playcalls (and actually the more “backyard ball” they can make it for him, the better). Malachi Dupre is arguably the best receiver on the team and should receive an absolute minimum of five jump balls, back-shoulder fades or out-and-out fades a game. Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams are the two running backs currently cooking with gas. Both were really good on first down; it was after first down that LSU face-planted Saturday night. And Quinn, along with redshirt freshman John Diarse, are the best slot options on the team. Miles & Co. don’t love relying on freshmen, but I see no other way to go for the remaining games on the slate this fall. Put it in their hands and let it fly, literally.
Beckwith has taken over as ‘the guy’ at MLB
- Again, this doesn’t belong under the category of “Will Change LSU’s Fortunes in 2014,” but it feels at least somewhat significant given how long it took to come to fruition. After alternating series in the first half, sophomore Kendell Beckwith took over and played every “meaningful” down in the final 30 minutes, supplanting D.J. Welter, who appeared to reach the end of the road in coverage and run support against Auburn. Beckwith ended the contest with six tackles, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. In a similar vein to what’s going on with the offense, it’s time to turn the page at Mike linebacker. For now. And for next season.