Season Only Halfway But Auburn Will Determine Course

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Tigers Have To Overcome Youth and Lack of Depth on Offensive Line

By John Ventola

To say the 2017 LSU football season has been unusual thus far would be an understatement. Even more unusual is the fact this proud LSU alumnus, and 64-year season ticket holder, has been to only one home game this season.

No, it has nothing to do with the Tigers’ disappointing 4-2 start. Travel commitments

LSU

LSU Has To Continue Improvement Against Auburn

have limited my Tiger Stadium attendance to the Chattanooga game only. Mercifully, a long-planned trip to the Caribbean resulted in my missing the embarrassing road loss to Mississippi State, and the lackluster home victory over Syracuse. The very next week my annual trip to Notre Dame for a game caused me to miss the Troy debacle. Whew!

While it was a relief to see Coach Ed Orgeron right the ship last week and defeat Florida by one, the Tigers will have to step up their game to avoid going 8-4 this season. One thing in their favor are the relative weaknesses and coaching uncertainty of four of the remaining league opponents. Kevin Sumlin (Texas A & M), Bret Bielema (Arkansas), and Butch Jones (Tennessee) are each on proverbial hot seats (varying temperatures) after their teams have suffered embarrassing blowouts, and blown leads, during the season’s first half.

Ole Miss, meanwhile, is staggering after Hugh Freeze resigned in July and replaced on an interim basis by Matt Luke. The Rebels were outscored 110-26 the last two weekends as they were soundly thumped by Alabama and Auburn on the road.

The home games versus Texas A & M and Arkansas plus road tilts against Ole Miss and Tennessee should all go in the Tigers’ victory ledger if LSU brings game plans and

SEC

Auburn Game Will Be Catalyst For Either A Good Or Mediocre Season

execution exhibited against Florida. However, any, or all, of those same contests could result in losses if LSU shows up with the mindset it brought to the Mississippi State and Troy defeats.

It was nice that LSU could exact some revenge for last year’s controversial loss to Florida by overcoming Gator runners totaling yardage after stepping out of bounds, but fact remains the Tigers failed to control the game after jumping on top 17-3. A lucky spin—-for LSU—by Florida’s holder on extra point attempts caused a missed kick after the Gators’ last touchdown, and handed Coach O a much needed victory following the disappointing loss to Troy.

Anytime a college team loses three first-round draft selections and a host of other key contributors, fans (except those of Alabama, maybe) should expect some level of performance decline. LSU’s weakness, besides taking Mississippi State and Troy lightly, is offensive line experience and depth.

Already thin because of the graduation of star center Ethan Pocic, the dismissal of guard Maea Teuhema, and injuries. the Tigers staff have had to force feed young lineman on techniques to properly carry out complicated blocking angles required by new offensive coordinator’s Matt Canada’s multiple movement scheme. Tomorrow,

newspaper

Young Offensive Linemen Key Players This Season

starting tackle Toby Weathersby and K.J. Malone are questionable. Three true freshmen, left tackle Saahdig Charles, right guard Ed Ingram, and right tackle Justin Deculus could be in the lineup against Auburn.

Their play will determine which Tigers squad wins Saturday. Not many teams can be successful in the SEC starting one or two, much less three freshmen, in the offensive line. Derrius Guice and Danny Etling need blocking and protection to have the space and time to make their own contributions. Canada’s fast paced jet sweeps did damage in Florida, and relieved some of the direct pressure on the young linemen, but more will be needed against the likes of Auburn and Alabama.

Orgeron has already made some questionable coaching moves, overreacting and “dumbing down” Canada’s offensive package after the Starkville blowout. It got the team—-and particularly its young offensive linemen—-through the Syracuse game (today’s Syracuse upset of defending national champion Clemson should be a

hat

Key And Other Defenders Have To Step Up While Offense Stays Aggressive

confidence booster), but hampered the team when Troy held them scoreless in the first half. The “vanilla package” took away from the decided talent advantage of the Tigers, and a second-half rally fell short.

Dave Aranda continues to do solid things with some veterans and young, speedy defenders, but even his unit has been hard hit to replace talent the caliber of Jamal Adams and Kendell Beckwith.

Well, 4 and 2 after the first six. This season could take a positive turn Saturday, or it could start a second half decline that no true LSU Tiger fan would like to see.

A lot depends on the maturation process and improvement of LSU’s young offensive linemen. Game statistics for Guice and Etling will tell the real story. Duplication of the Mississippi State offensive game yardage, or the lack of proficiency displayed in the first half against Troy will not be good.

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ByJohn


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