Posted at 9:51 am on September 12, 2018

KLEINPETER: Auburn game will determine how good 2-0 LSU really is

Jonathan Mailhes
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Jim Kleinpeter

Jim Kleinpeter

Jim Kleinpeter is a graduate of the LSU School of Journalism. He sportswriter for 37 years, including 33 years at the Times-Picyaune.

For the second consecutive week, the LSU football team built a big lead in the first half and sat on it in the second.

The 31-0 victory against Southeastern Louisiana Saturday was even less pretty than the 33-17 victory with which LSU surprised Miami in the highly-anticipated opener. So much for teams improving the most between their first and second game. If it went anywhere, LSU regressed in staggering past the Lions.

The results were justifiable for the erstwhile “struggling” program. LSU sits 2-0 and No. 12 in the nation going into its most important September game. The Tigers will find out how good they really are with a visit to No. 7 Auburn, where LSU has won twice this century.

At this point it appears the buildup to the 2018 season has been targeting this game all along. The new offense guided by coordinator Steve Ensminger and triggered by graduate transfer Joe Burrow keeps getting tamped down when it appears to be time to open it up. Either the coaching staff has figured all along it had to hold something back before the SEC opener on the Plains, or this offense just isn’t really very good – yet.

Maybe the answer lies somewhere between both possibilities. Maybe Ensminger and Co. didn’t realize how bad LSU’s offensive line was going to turn out. By Saturday, three players expected to be starting were out, including both tackles with replacements making their first career starts. That is a serious problem when the main gatekeepers of the pass rush. You have to wonder when Coach Ed Orgeron admitted to shutting down the offense in the second half because the LSU line couldn’t protect Burrow against a team that failed to get a sack against Louisiana-Monroe the week before.

Starting left tackle Saahdiq Charles sat out for an unknown reason, presumably a one-game suspension, and was replaced by Austin Deculus, at one time a highly regarded tackle prospect who was listed as a backup guard until Saturday. At right tackle was Badara Traore, a must-get junior college recruit at the end of last season. He’s playing because starting right tackle Adrian Magee was injured against Miami. Traore committed two holding penalties, each wiping out an LSU first down and stalling a drive. Even with help he had trouble keeping SLU’s Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund out of the backfield.

Leading 24-0 and banking on a defense that was stout but wearing down, LSU’s offense was outgained 217-78 in the second half. With all the new faces at skill positions, you would think LSU would want to continue to execute the offense and get better at it for next week. This was SLU, not Miami

Maybe it’s more important not to open it up and keep plenty of surprises for Auburn next Saturday afternoon, but I’m wary. Auburn’s got perhaps the best defensive line in the SEC after Alabama. In two games, LSU has not looked equipped to handle such a front. If LSU gets Charles back next week — there’s no official word he will be — that will help some, but it will be hard to operate a passing offense if you can’t contain the pass rush.

LSU has been unable to find its best wide receiver, Jonathan Giles, who has one catch for 9 yards in two games. Passes to the running backs, a promise of the new offense, have also been scarce. Pretty much all we’ve seen are some simple throws on stop routes or slants. No tunnel screens or bubble routes.

The first two games have been similar to many from the Les Miles area. LSU with a clear talent advantage or a big lead against equal talent, but unable to throw a knockout punch, finish off an opponent when they are primed for it. Saturday was the classic case when LSU ended the first half with a Hail Mary touchdown for a 24-0 lead. But SLU came out and hit a 25-yard pass play on its first possession of the third quarter.

When the Lions stalled, LSU got moving. Nick Brossette rumbled 42 yards and then his backup, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, ripped off an 18-yard, but the play was called back because of a chop block by Damien Lewis – 15-yard penalty and drive stalled. Four of LSU’s seven penalties were committed by offensive linemen. Traore had a false start to go with his two holds.

Meanwhile the defense was getting tired and SLU was relentless, converting five of six fourth down tries in the second half.

LSU may start getting it right this week. Even in a loss, it has to show some offensive consistency. Time has run out. The big boys are arriving on the schedule.

The season previews lauded LSU for a strong defense and a mystery offense that would hold the key. LSU showed in both of the first two games it does play well defensively, but it is not a dominant defense capable of winning games with no offensive help. Even against SLU, they wore down as the Lions had a 45-15 edge in plays run in the second half. That’s ludicrous and a recipe for a future disaster.

There were some nitpicking points such as the short week LSU had coming off of a Sunday game and an emotional victory. LSU can make fans forget Southeastern with a victory at Auburn, but the Tigers will have to have its real offense up and running at midseason efficiency just to avoid getting embarrassed.

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