The LSU football team’s offense has had its two least productive games of the season the past two weeks.
Two weeks ago against Florida, the Tigers failed to score in the first quarter for the first time this season and failed to accumulate 400 yards for the first time, though they did enough to win 17-6.
Last week against Ole Miss, LSU failed to score in the first half for the first time in 21 games. And though the Tigers scored four times in the second half, it wasn’t enough to prevent a 27-24 loss.
The combined 41 points in the past two games are slightly more than the 39 points the Tigers are averaging during the season as they head into their homecoming game against Furman on Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
“I think the offense is fine,” running back Jeremy Hill said. “We’re moving the ball up and down the field, and we’ll continue to do that.”
There is evidence to suggest the past two weeks have not been as bad offensively as they might seem at first blush.
Against Florida, LSU ran just 56 plays, nine below its season average, against the top-rated defense in the Southeastern Conference, so the fewer yards and points shouldn’t be surprising. Plus, part of the game plan was primarily to run the ball and minimize risk against an opponent whose struggling offense figured to need some help to win.
Though the statistics were more modest than the record-setting pace of the first six games, the Tigers were still efficient and rushed for 175 yards as Zach Mettenberger threw a season-low 17 passes.
Coach Les Miles said he thought the offense “did exactly what it needed to do: controlled the game, moved the football, was smart with the ball, and finished the game.”
The same couldn’t be said of last week, though the offense did come to life in the second half.
The Tigers came out running the ball and had some success, but three times possessions ended with Mettenberger interceptions.
On its first possession of the game, LSU ran the ball on six of seven plays and drove to the Rebels 38 before Mettenberger was sacked on third down, forcing a punt.
The Tigers’ second possession started at the Ole Miss 38 but ended on the first play when Mettenberger threw into double coverage in the end zone and was intercepted.
On the third possession, a sack led to another punt. Then LSU drove from its 11 to the Rebels 20 — mixing eight runs with pass completions for 22 and 8 yards — before Mettenberger threw another end-zone interception.
The Tigers’ final drive of the half ended with the third interception as they were trying to drive into scoring position.
Mettenberger said he wasn’t patient enough, trying to force the ball into coverage to closely guarded Odell Beckham Jr. rather than going through his progressions.
As a result, the Rebels had a 10-0 halftime lead and were ahead 17-0 before the passing game reverted to form.
“We dug ourselves a hell of a hole in the first half,” Miles said.
Once the turnovers stopped, the offense was much better.
After a three-and-out on the first possession of the third quarter, LSU scored on four of its last five offensive series.
“I watched the film, and there’s a pretty dominant performance out there,” Hill said. “They made plays in the first half, but we were moving the ball. We had (nearly 400 yards) in offense. We just didn’t put the ball in the end zone. The offense played like it always plays. Those defensive guys just made a few plays.”
Despite the second-half push, the Tigers finished with 388 yards, second-fewest to the 327 against Florida.
“We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot,” said wide receiver Jarvis Landry, whose performance mirrored that of the offense: one catch for 12 yards in the first half and six for 109 a touchdown in the second. “That’s it. There’s no real reason behind it.
“We just need to be smarter with the football and take advantage of our opportunities. We’ve got to get all 11 guys on the field doing their job.”
The Tigers gained 71 percent of their yards against the Rebels through the air, the second-biggest disparity to the 83 percent against Georgia. Of course that’s partly because of the need to score quickly after falling so far behind.
But it’s also partly because of the average per rush being 3.3, second-worst to the 2.1 against Georgia, even though Ole Miss was missing five injured starters.
“I think we need to be more patient,” Mettenberger said. “Teams are really game planning us to take away the run at times and to take away the pass. We can’t be impatient. We just have to wait, check down, hit the underneath route.
“Receivers need to run their routes the right way and understand if they’re getting doubled one play, maybe the next play they won’t. There are a lot of things we’ve been doing well all year but (the past two games) kind of took us back a little bit and made us realize we need to be more patient with this game.”
After the game against Furman, the Tigers will have an open date before beginning the stretch run at Alabama on Nov. 9.
“Saturday wasn’t our night,” Beckham said. “The offense wasn’t on. There’s still a lot of progression for this offense to make throughout the rest of this year.