BY LES EAST
December 16, 2012
With two games left in the regular season, no one knows where LSU is going to wind up in the postseason.
But what seems clear is the Tigers are headed in the right direction. They seem a much better team than they were a month ago, certainly a better team than they were to start the season, and likely a team yet to play its best football game.
That’s the way it’s supposed to be in November. Teams are supposed to be hitting their stride, ready to finish with their best play of the season.
Of course, there’s no guarantee LSU won’t suddenly regress against Ole Miss next Saturday or at Arkansas on the day after Thanksgiving, or in a yet-to-be-determined bowl game in late December or early January.
But that seems unlikely because this team is progressing, not regressing.
Think back to where it was after a 14-6 loss at Florida five weeks ago. The Tigers didn’t score a touchdown, didn’t score a point in the second half, and wilted in the Gainesville heat.
The offensive line was a mess, adjusting to the recent loss of injured left tackle Chris Faulk and the loss of right guard Josh Williford to a concussion in that game, and the departure of right tackle Alex Hurst for personal reasons was about to hit.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger was being routinely harassed as he tried to adjust to being a starter in the Southeastern Conference. His butter-fingered receivers weren’t helping him, and turnovers and penalties were weekly issues.
LSU was halfway through its season and didn’t appear to be any better than it had been when the season started.
But since then the Tigers have gotten better each week. The rebuilt offensive line rose up and set the tone in a 23-21 victory against then-No. 3 South Carolina.
A week later, LSU overcame the offense’s worst passing performance of the season and the defense adjusted to the onslaught from Texas A&M wizard Johnny Manziel to corral him better than anyone else has.
Ask Alabama how easy that is.
After an open date the passing game came to life and the Tigers had then-top-ranked Alabama on the ropes before falling in the final minute. That loss left LSU with lesser realistic goals for the post-season, but showed it was a more complete team than it had previously demonstrated.
Then came Saturday night’s 37-17 victory against Mississippi State. The Tigers had to summon the physical and emotional where-with-all to compete against a ranked team a week after a 60-minute brawl.
Again, ask Alabama how easy that is.
LSU didn’t have a discernable letdown against the Bulldogs, didn’t take a step back.
The Tigers showed the new-found passing attack has some legs as Mettenberger and Jarvis Landry carved up State.
The defense continued to keep yards and points to a manageable number while taking the ball away more frequently than the offense allowed it to slip away.
And lo and behold, LSU even kept its penalties to a mere two, a season-low.
Right now the eighth-ranked Tigers seem more deserving of a lofty ranking than they did earlier in the season when the ranking was loftier.
After Saturday’s victory, Les Miles spoke like a coach who had fully expected his team to shake off the after-effects of the loss to Alabama and continue to improve.
In fact, he said, “I’d be surprised if we didn’t play better next week.”
He might be on to something.