By Casey Gisclair
The easy part of LSU’s schedule is over. The Tigers have successfully navigated through the first half of its season with an unblemished 7-0 record.
Now the hard work shall begin, and LSU needs to make big-time improvements if they want to stay in the winner’s circle.
Sure, the Tigers are unbeaten – the lone undefeated team left in a parity-filled Southeastern Conference race that’s loaded with contenders. However, the schedule stiffens heavily in the final month of the season, and November will pit the Tigers against a who’s who of the best teams in the SEC, including Alabama, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M.
Here are five things the Tigers must do well throughout the stretch of the season if they want to truly emerge as a team that can contend for the College Football Playoff:
The LSU special teams unit is awful. Outside of a fake field goal touchdown against Florida, the unit has done next to nothing well.
The Tigers’ return units are inconsistent and nonexistent – especially in the kickoff game. The team’s coverage units are a complete wreck, having allowed touchdowns on both a kickoff and punt this season. That has to change.
It’s next to impossible to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, even when a team plays its best game. And it’s 100 percent impossible to beat them on the road when you lose the special teams battle.
LSU has talented athletes up and down the depth chart. If it takes putting more starters on the special teams unit, then do it. If it takes giving special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto another assignment within the team, then do it.
Whatever it takes, make it happen, because the Tigers absolutely cannot win it a national or conference championship unless they get a more consistent effort in the game’s third phase.
LSU has been pretty sound defensively this season with one exception. In defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s first season, the Tigers have been prone to allowing big plays in the passing game.
The problem isn’t athleticism or personnel; the Tigers have plenty players who are capable of making plays. The conflict lies in communication and blown coverages – a problem that seems to be getting worse and worse as the season goes on.
How many times this year have we seen a receiver streak down the field unguarded because of a blown assignment? How many times have we seen a linebacker struggle to cover a back or a tight end down the field without the proper safety help he needs?
The answer is too many times. Against some of the passing offenses that the Tigers are about to face, that needs to be corrected.
The Tigers commit far too many penalties – especially pre-snap penalties. Through six games, LSU ranked No. 102 in the country with 7.23 infractions per game.
Those penalties account for 57.92 penalty yards. That math tells me that a lot of the Tigers penalties are of the five-yard variety. Those are bone-headed plays that indicate a lack of discipline – something that no title-winning team can have in its DNA.
If LSU can quit giving away yardage, it would be a huge plus to this team’s arsenal.
In recent weeks, the LSU coaches have done a much better job getting quarterback Brandon Harris in spots to sling the ball down the field. Why not? He’s passed every test that’s been given to him throughout the season.
Look, I get it. Leonard Fournette is good. He might be the most dominant football player in the history of LSU football, but Alabama and Ole Miss are dominant rushing defenses that are going to take him out of his game and put the Tigers into many third and long situations.
Harris has to be a factor in the final few games of the season. He has to make plays both as a passer and as a runner.
The most important stat? Turnovers. Harris has just one all season – a fumble against Eastern Michigan. If the sophomore quarterback can keep the number that low, LSU has a great shot to win every game. If he throws interceptions and has trouble during this upcoming brutal part of the schedule, it’s bad news.
It goes without saying that the Tigers have to remain healthy. That’s the same for any football team around the country.
Harris’ jersey has to stay clean. The same for Fournette.
On the offensive and defensive lines, LSU needs to remain intact because the team’s depth isn’t what it once was due to the heavy attrition the team has seen via early entries into the NFL Draft. Pristine health is key for the Tigers going forward. The team has to stay thin on the injury report to trump its tough foes.