LSU At A Crossroads

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It seemed that LSU had turned around its season at Vanderbilt after dropping the opener against Mississippi State. Then, the team flopped once again at Missouri. The Fighting Tigers have stumbled to a 1-2 overall start for the first time since 1994. That was the final season of the Curley Hallman era/error. Is LSU headed to a losing record as occurred back then?

Is Bo Pelini The Cause Of The Defense’s Struggles?

Bo Pelini spent three years as defensive coordinator at LSU, from 2005 through 2007. Then, he left to become head coach at Nebraska. Did he lose the ability to lead a defensive unit during his seven seasons in Lincoln? That seems implausible.

Following his seven seasons in Nebraska, only 13 of his defensive players were drafted. Just five of those were selected in the first two rounds. LSU exceeded those totals in just the past four drafts. LSU had 15 players chosen overall and nine in the first two rounds starting with 2017 draft. He has a few defenders projected as NFL draftees on this current roster among the highly rated recent classes of signees. Did the plethora of talented defenders recruited to LSU all suddenly depart or lose their capacity to play defense after Pelini’s arrival?

What Did Bo Pelini Do Before His Return To LSU?

Pelini experienced a fair amount of success at Nebraska. His teams won at least nine games per season, compiling a record of 66-27. His defenses only allowed opponents to exceed 600 yards from scrimmage four times. Other offenses compiled more than 500 yards in seven contests. Three games into this season, his defense has already allowed Mississippi State to compile more than 600 yards and Missouri more than 500.

Pelini’s defenses improved over his first three seasons at Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers competed in the Big XII. In four games in 2008, his defense permitted opposing offenses to compile more than 400 yards and more than 30 points, including Oklahoma exploding for 508 yards and 55 points. The next season, only Colorado racked up more than 400 yards. In their final season in the conference, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were the sole teams that exceeded 400 offensive yards.

Pelini’s defenses did struggle after joining the Big Ten in 2011. In their inaugural season, five opponents gained more than 400 yards from scrimmage, three of which scored more than 30 points. The next season, four offenses exceeded 400 yards and 35 points with two surpassing 600 yards and three scoring more than 40 points. In 2013, the Cornhuskers allowed more than 400 yards to five opponents with three of those scoring 34 or more points. In his final season in Lincoln, four teams compiled more than 400 yards, including Wisconsin’s 627 yards and 59 points.

Offense Deserves Some Blame

LSU’s offense cannot escape criticism for the embarrassing start. The Tigers’ offense was held under 100 rushing yards in both defeats. That ineptitude included averaging only 2.1 rushing yards per attempt against Mississippi State and 2.5 at Missouri. More glaring are the struggles to convert on third down, succeeding only nine times in 39 attempts. Those failures include just five out of 17 conversions against the Bulldogs and zero out of ten at Missouri.

Early Outcomes Dictate The Final Record?

In the past 20 seasons, LSU has started 1-2 in Southeastern Conference contests four times. In 2000, the Tigers started 3-3 overall with a loss to Alabama-Birmingham. They rallied to finish 7-4 and beating Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl. The following season, they were 4-3 at the end of October then won six straight, including victories in the SEC Championship Game and in the Sugar Bowl. As the defending national champions in 2004, they managed to win six games to close the regular season but lost their bowl game. The last 1-2 SEC start, occurring in 2014, resulted in a 4-4 conference tally. That squad concluded an 8-5 season with a defeat in the Music City Bowl. Obviously, losing two of the first three conference games does not guarantee any specific final result based the recent results.

Fortunate Timing For Cancellation

LSU caught a break with the postponement of the game at Florida. The offense has shown a terrible imbalance in run/pass ratios. The defense has looked like they have never practiced together before hitting the field. Two weeks to reset before facing an opponent will benefit the entire team.

Myles Brennan sustained an injury at Missouri which made him listed as doubtful to play against the Gators. That would have left Ed Orgeron choosing between two freshmen to start as quarterback. Neither T.J. Finley nor Max Johnson has taken a snap in a collegiate game.

Additionally, Orgeron has hinted at revamping the defensive scheme. Obviously, changes are needed. Missouri’s receivers were running downfield with no defender within five yards of them during several plays.  Whether the alterations include simplification of formations or schemes or just inserting different players, the defense needs upgrades.

Time will tell if Orgeron can halt the decline. In his first full season at LSU in 2017, the Tigers struggled early as well. They were 3-2 at the end of September. Those struggles included a rout by 30 points at Mississippi State and a loss at home to Troy. His team responded by winning three straight and six of the  seven remaining regular season contests. Can he turn around this season too?

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