The University of Washington was supposed to provide a stiffer challenge to — and therefore, better gauge of — No. 3 LSU.
The Huskies certainly had more talent than the Tigers’ opening-week opponent, North Texas — even though LSU disposed of them (41-3) more easily than they did the Mean Green (41-14).
LSU made the expected improvement from the first game to the second and surely benefited from a normal week of practice, free of any hurricane disruptions.
That first game served its purpose — an opportunity to get a win and establish a baseline that narrows the focus onto which areas were in most need of attention.
Against the Huskies, the Tigers had no major breakdowns on defense, and Zach Mettenberger enjoyed much better protection. The penalties were cut in half, though that’s not an area that coach Les Miles is going to consider fixed. Dropped balls were an issue on offense and defense.
Nonetheless, the second game served its purpose as well — an opportunity to meet a somewhat tougher challenge and demonstrate appreciable improvement.
There’s still plenty of work to do, and this week’s opponent, Idaho, appears to be the weakest one yet. But the best gauge right now for LSU is an internal one.
The opponents have little if any significance until those Southeastern Conference games start happening.
This isn’t the team that the coaches voted No. 1 in their preseason poll. Since that time, the Tigers have lost their most dynamic player — Tyrann Mathieu — which thrust a true freshman (Jalen Mills) into the starting lineup, moved a redshirt freshman (Jalen Collins) up the depth chart and placed the punt-return role in the hands of a sophomore (Odell Beckham Jr.).
Shortly before the season began, this team lost its starting strongside linebacker (Tahj Jones) because of an academic issue. An appeal is pending, but at this point, the starting linebacker is Luke Muncie, a junior who hadn’t started a game until Jones’ academic difficulty kicked in.
Then, last week, this team’s starting left tackle, Chris Faulk, was lost apparently for the season because of knee injury suffered in practice. Sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk stepped in for Faulk.
It’s a tribute to this team’s depth that it can withstand the loss of players such as Mathieu, Jones and Faulk, and that it has players such as Mills, Collins, Muncie and Dworaczyk in reserve who seem capable of handling battlefield promotions.
But it’s reasonable to assume that this team isn’t as far along as it would be if Mathieu, Jones and Faulk were still manning the positions they were expected to man.
This, of course, isn’t unique to this team. All teams deal with losses to injury, and most deal with losses to discipline and/or academics.
One of the most important tests of any team is how it handles the inevitable personnel losses.
LSU seems to be handling its own business fine, but eventually, the opponents are going to start to matter.
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