BATON ROUGE – Over the last two weeks, LSU may be the best second half team in college football.
The No. 19 Tigers (5-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) have outscored their last two opponents by a 52-0 count in third and fourth quarters for 45-10 and 38-21 wins over Southern Mississippi and Ole Miss, respectively, after being tied 10-10 and 21-21 in each game.
LSU’s next game is on Saturday, Nov. 5 in Tiger Stadium against No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC), which tends to play for four quarters and has beaten seven of its eight opponents by three touchdowns or more.
“We’ve got some things we need to get corrected, things we’ve got to watch,” LSU linebacker Duke Riley, who led the Tigers with 14 tackles and had an interception and a stop behind the line in LSU’s win over Ole Miss, said after that game. “We’ve got to be perfect against Alabama. We’ve got to start fast, and we’ve got to play for the whole game.”
LSU has lost five straight to the Tide, beginning with a 21-0 loss in the BCS national title game on Jan. 9, 2012, and including two of the last three by 30-16 and 38-17. But there were very close ones in between – 21-17 in 2012 when Alabama scored in the final moments and 20-13 in overtime in 2014 when the Tigers were in position to win in regulation late.
“This is the year,” LSU senior cornerback Dwayne Thomas said during a media session Wednesday. “We’ve been letting them off the hook for the last couple of years. This is my senior year. We’re going out with a bang. It’s time for us to bring that win back. We’re going to be at home. I feel like we have the edge to take it to them, and we’re going to take it to them. I feel like we’re going to dominate the game.”
LSU has been playing better of late under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who replaced Les Miles after two losses in four games and has gone 3-0 by the combined score of 125 to 38. No coach in LSU history has won his first three games by such a large margin. But two of the three wins came against SEC teams that currently have losing records. Missouri is 2-5 after a loss to Middle Tennessee, and Ole Miss is 3-4. Southern Mississippi is 4-3. The two teams Miles lost to – Wisconsin and Auburn – are each 5-1 and ranked No. 11 and No. 17 in the latest USA Today Coaches’ poll, respectively.
But LSU’s offense is noticeably better.
“They’ve been able to run the ball extremely effectively,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on the SEC teleconference Wednesday about something that is not new at LSU. But he added, “They’ve got a really good play action pass game that goes with it and some really good skill guys that can make big plays and a quarterback (Danny Etling), who has done a nice job for them.”
Etling, a junior transfer from Purdue, is fifth in the SEC in passing efficiency at 136.7 on 89-of-147 passing for 1,129 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions – one notch behind Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has a 140.1 efficiency mark on 128-of-203 passing for 1,549 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions.
“So, this is a very challenging team based on the balance that they create and what they do,” Saban said.
LSU junior tailback Leonard Fournette, whom Saban recruited out of St. Augustin High in New Orleans, bounced back from a season-long ankle injury Saturday to gain a school record 284 yards on 16 carries with touchdown runs of 59, 76 and 78 yards.
“The guy’s a fantastic player,” Saban said. “He’s been a fantastic player for – this is the third year in a row. I know he was a little nicked up early on and missed a couple of games (three), but I haven’t really seen a guy dominate a game like he did that game for a long time. So, we have a tremendous amount of respect for him, and he looks as good as ever. And maybe even better.”
LSU is also playing defense, under new coordinator Dave Aranda, reminiscent of Alabama. The Tigers are third in the SEC in total defense with 314 yards allowed a game to No. 2 Alabama, which is allowing 274.5 LSU is fourth in the SEC in points allowed with 15, while Alabama is No. 3 with 14.9 given up.
“Their players are extremely well coached, and they do a really good job on defense,” Saban said. “A really good secondary and a really good front seven. This is probably the best defense we will have played against all year long top to bottom, front and back.”
Thomas agrees with Saban.
“I really see us dominating this offense,” he said. “I really see us dominating this team.”
Fournette did not go quite that far and praised Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.
“Y’all see what Alabama’s doing to teams, man,” he said. “I think Reuben Foster, being the leader on their team, he’s doing a great job with them. Also their coach. So, we need to come out there and play with no penalties, man, and play physically and mentally, and we’ll see.”
In addition to Orgeron, LSU also has a new offensive coordinator in Steve Ensminger, who has improved the passing game – albeit against average to bad pass defense teams so far.
“Alabama is a very good football team,” Orgeron said. “A lot of respect for who they are, but we’re a good football team, too.”
Coverage of LSU and commentary by Glenn Guilbeau supported by Hebert’s Town & Country Automobile Dealer in Shreveport located at 1155 East Bert Kouns Loop. Research your next Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram at http://hebertstandc.com/.