East: Will Georgia be LSU’s wake-up call?

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU kicker James Hairston celebates an LSU win last season at Tiger Stadium.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU kicker James Hairston celebates an LSU win last season at Tiger Stadium.

BY LES EAST

least@theadvocate.com

Maybe a visit to No. 9 Georgia is just what No. 6 LSU needs.

A neutral-site opener against preseason No. 20 TCU, games against outmanned UAB and Kent State and a Southeastern Conference opener against improved-but-still-rebuilding Auburn haven’t been enough to keep the Tigers focused for 60 minutes.

Granted, LSU is 4-0, has won each game by double digits and has looked really good for much of these games. But in each one, the Tigers have hit a lull, seemingly satisfied with what the scoreboard said rather than playing each minute like the first five or 15 or 30.

Chances are LSU is not going to go between the hedges and bolt to a 21-0 lead — as it has each of the past three weeks — and find itself tempted to ease off the gas pedal. Chances are it’s going to be a 60-minute battle, quite possibly one in which the Tigers have to play from behind for the first time this season.

Maybe that kind of challenge, that kind of adversity, is what this team needs to focus for 60 minutes. So far, the value of staying focused for 60 minutes to maximize the team’s improvement hasn’t been enough.

Instead, missed tackles, busted assignments, turnovers and penalties have crept into what largely have been impressive performances.

Coach Les Miles has talked about this being an ambitious team, one with the loftiest of expectations. But to be in position to meet those expectations, the Tigers are going to have to be ready to compete against at least four teams better than anyone they have faced so far — Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M — and two others as good, if not better, than any of the first four — Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

To do that, LSU can’t relax the way it has seemed to do in these early games. The Tigers are ranked sixth in the country because they have taken care of business early, gotten a quick stranglehold and coasted to victory.

“We need to learn to keep our foot on the gas pedal and finish games,” quarterback Zach Mettenberger said.

They have come ready to play at the start of each game, which is why they have yet to trail. When their opponents’ play — and occasionally their own sloppiness — has loosened their grips on games, they have responded well.

After a mixture of first- and second-teamers on defense allowed all of UAB’s 13 points in the second quarter, the starters took over in the third and shut out the Blazers the rest of the way.

When Auburn scored for the first time to get within 14 points early in the third quarter Saturday, Mettenberger and the offense responded with a quick touchdown drive to regain control.

When Auburn again got within 14, the offense again responded with a touchdown drive, and the lead never shrunk to less than the 35-21 final margin.

Georgia isn’t likely to give LSU a chance to relax. Maybe that’s exactly what this team needs.

Or maybe it’s something it’s not ready for.