One game against a lower-tier SEC opponent was certainly exciting and cause to hope a little, but LSU’s offensive eruption against Missouri on Oct. 1 also came with a distinct salty flavor because of the big grain required to down the performance.
Two weeks later, the first 30 minutes against a Southern Miss team arguably as good or better than Mizzou solidified whatever doubts that might have simmered with the skeptical.
The second 30 minutes on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium provided an eye-opening dose of encouragement on several fronts as LSU’s suddenly dangerous offense prepares for a series of steeper challenges.
The Tigers (4-2) rattled off 338 total yards and five touchdowns in the second half of a 45-10 victory over the Golden Eagles on the way to 459 yards on 42 plays. LSU torched Mizzou for 634 yards two weeks before.
The numbers the last two games stand alone as impressive and promising with the Tigers about to barrel head-first into a stretch of five ranked SEC foes, starting next Saturday night against Ole Miss in Baton Rouge (8 p.m. | ESPN).
But the who and how LSU racked up the big-play, quick-strike offensive statistics on Saturday amplify where the Tigers could be headed.
The usual suspects, or at least those who have been more often than not the last four games, were prominent.
- Starting for the second game in a row and third time overall in place of former Heisman Trophy frontrunner Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice continued to terrorize opposing defenses with another massive night on the ground: 162 yards on 16 carries and two game-turning touchdown runs in the third quarter.
- Quarterback Danny Etling shook off some first-half blahs and racked up a season-best 276 yards through the air with three touchdowns. Etling threw for 211 in the second half when he missed on only two passes in nine tries.
- A revamped offensive line duplicated its outing vs. Missouri, creating massive running room for Guice as LSU averaged 7.6 per rush.
For the second game in a row, however, it was an expanding diversity that LSU worked with that was a major positive step.
With the Golden Eagles focused on No. 1 receiver Travin Dural, Etling looked for tight end DeSean Smith early with big results, then D.J. Chark and – at long last – Malachi Dupre later to help loosen things up.
After USM devoured 8:02 of the first-quarter clock for an opening TD salvo, LSU started clicking on its second series. Guice bolted 11 yards, Etling pumped a 25-yard pass to Smith and Chark made an early impact when he dashed 19 yards on a jet sweep for the Tigers’ first touchdown and a 7-7 tie.
Right before the opening period ended, Etling dropped a 31-yard pass to Smith for the biggest dagger in a drive that ended with Colby Delahoussaye connecting on a go-ahead field goal.
Chark inflicted more of his damage in the second half in his normal role as a receiver. Following the throws to Smith and Guice’s two TDs in the third quarter, Southern Miss’s defense was forced back on its heels and had to focus on the line of scrimmage.
Etling quickly seized that opportunity and rifled a quick slant to Chark, who snared the pass in full-speed stride against one-on-one coverage and kicked into a different gear than the Eagles’ secondary was used to on the way to an 80-yard TD.
As Southern Miss scrambled to plug so many different holes, Dupre emerged – and that may be the best sign of all for LSU.
The uber-talented junior has struggled to find consistency this season, whether it was former starter Brandon Harris or Etling at the offense’s controls. Perhaps sensing the need to get Dupre in the mix, Etling looked for the athletic receiver three times in the second half, found him on all three targets for 100 yards and a pair of scores.
Integrating the different offensive weapons is something the Tigers have to do starting this week against a slate of better defenses. For eight quarters, LSU has shown a different level of sizzle and pop with the ball in its hands and that’s certainly a positive trend as a treacherous five-game gauntlet arrives.