GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The rankings and standings say the LSU Tigers are still alive in the BCS and Southeastern Conference title hunts midway through the regular season.
But the statistics after two SEC games suggest that LSU, which started the season No. 1 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, has a lot of work to do to be part of any sort of title conversation.
A 14-6 loss Saturday painted a picture of a team that still can play championship-caliber defense, but has significant issues on offense.
The Tigers managed just two first-half field goals, which follows a 12-10 SEC-opening victory at Auburn two weeks ago in which LSU scored just 10 offensive points and one touchdown.
LSU eked out just 200 yards total offense — including 42 on the ground — committed three turnovers and was 1-of-13 on third-down conversions.
“How do we fix it?” LSU coach Les Miles asked after the game. “We go back and work hard at it. It’s not like it’s brand new. We have to go back and work hard and get better.”
Saturday’s injury news made LSU’s work a little tougher.
True freshman Kwon Alexander reportedly suffered a broken ankle midway through the third quarter according to NOLA.com, citing unnamed sources. There was no official comment from LSU on Alexander, who made his second straight start in place of Luke Muncie (stomach ailment).
One play earlier, right guard Josh Williford left the game with a head injury. He was replaced by freshman Trai Turner, leaving LSU with two freshman manning the right side of the line along with true freshman Vadal Alexander (no relation to Kwon) who started at right tackle.
If Kwon Alexander is out, he would become the fifth starter or projected starter LSU has lost this season and the second starting strongside linebacker. Preseason starter Tahj Jones was declared academically ineligible in September.
The loss was LSU’s first in a regular-season game since the 2010 season finale at Arkansas, snapping the nation’s longest streak at 18 games.
Now the Tigers host No. 3 South Carolina next Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN), which is coming off a stunning 35-7 victory over Georgia.
LSU dropped five spots in The Associated Press Top 25 to No. 9 with the loss, and slipped from No. 3 to No. 8 in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
The Tigers are also No. 8 in the season’s first Harris Interactive poll, which comprises one-third of the BCS standings. The first BCS standings will be released next Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks (6-0, 4-0 SEC) moved up three spots in all three polls, their highest ranking since they were No. 2 in 1984.
Florida (5-0, 4-0) took LSU’s old spot in the AP poll at No. 4, giving the Southeastern Conference three of the top four teams there, and rose to No. 6 in the coaches’ poll.
Led by the exceptional play of junior middle linebacker Kevin Minter — he recorded 20 tackles, one off the single-game school record, despite missing part of the second half with cramps — LSU’s defense helped stake the Tigers to a 6-0 halftime lead.
LSU scored a field goal on its opening drive — a 31-yarder by Drew Alleman — but the Tigers didn’t manage a first down the rest of the first half.
Presented a huge scoring opportunity with 2:02 to go before halftime, LSU fell short. Defensive end Barkevious Mingo recovered a fumble by Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel at the Gators’ 7 after a sack by tackle Bennie Logan. But the Tigers netted just 3 yards before Alleman kicked a 21-yard field goal.
With LSU sacking Driskel five times in the first half, the Gators basically abandoned their passing game and put their fate in the hands of tailback Mike Gillislee.
Florida threw just four passes in the second half and ran the ball 34 times, including 24 straight running plays to end the game. Gillislee carried 22 times in the second half for 112 yards and both of his team’s touchdowns, giving him 34 carries for 146 yards for the game.
In the end, the Gators did what LSU tries to do to other teams with its offense: grind them into submission.
It marked a huge turnaround from last year’s meeting between LSU and Florida. The Tigers manhandled the Gators then, their most lopsided win over UF since 1971.
“They were definitely more physical than last year,” Mingo said.
While LSU returns to Tiger Stadium for its first SEC home game, the road doesn’t get any easier. With Texas A&M, which hosts LSU on Oct. 20, joining the AP poll at No. 22, the Tigers’ next four opponents are ranked and sport a combined record of 20-1.
The only silver lining for LSU (5-1, 1-1) is the loss came in the East, meaning the Tigers still control their own destiny in the SEC West race.
Right now, though, that destiny looks cloudy at best.