At this point, LSU is what it is
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Face it. LSU at 8-2 is a pleasant surprise.
The Tigers are probably never going to beat Alabama and may never fully explain how they beat Georgia by 20 points.
But 8-2 is 8-2 and pretty good for a team that was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West.
How they could have gotten out of this schedule, I wouldn’t venture a guess.
You could even call it a major accomplishment that they had rational people thinking they had puncher’s chance to beat Alabama. LSU even threw a big party in anticipation of it.
Nobody ever said it was going to be pretty.
And it rarely is. It certainly wasn’t Saturday night as the Tigers beat Arkansas 24-17.
And then on Sundays you watch the Saints and… every time the Saints clear their throat, points go rushing up to the scoreboard.
Snap your fingers, another touchdown.
It looks so easy, so fluid, artistry at work, football poetry in motion.
That’s the Saints.
That ain’t LSU.
LSU wins games the way paint dries, the way teeth are pulled. It’s about as spell-bounding as road construction.
The Tigers are the ugly winners, by hook or by crook.
There’s something to be said for that, by the way.
We’re well beyond the point in the season where style points are really in play.
OK, point spreads were in play Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, but that’s another quirky story.
Point is, you might as well accept it. This is no longer a work in progress. This is what LSU is.
And it ain’t going to win any beauty pageants. They’re trying to work around it.
The Tigers still get to hang around the top ten, get mentioned (as an afterthought) in the CFP rankings because somehow they keep winning.
There’s no real explanation for how.
Oh, the defense is really good. And seems to have gotten better as the season goes on.
The defensive line, for instance, must have taken head coach Ed Orgeron’s post-Bama soul searching over upgrading the talent level there personally — despite missing starting nose guard Breiden Fehoko, they put together their most dominant performance of the season.
Overall, the Hogs managed just 16 yards rushing and 216 total yards, 122 of them in a nutty fourth quarter that made things interesting when two Arkansas touchdown materialized, seemingly out of nowhere.
Yeah, it was Arkansas, winless in the SEC. But that’s also the same Razorbacks who had averaged just over 400 yards per game in their last four outings.
So that defense keeps them in every game.
It kept Arkansas in the game with another lackluster performance.
It wasn’t an Alabama hangover and it wasn’t the near-freezing temperatures.
It was what LSU’s offense is.
And nobody seems to know what that is.
It showed promise early in the season’s budding stages.
Then it took some baby steps.
Then it became that classic “work in progress.”
Then it was the stat-less wonders, with production defying the pedestrian numbers it put up.
But we’re 10 games into the season now.
By now, what you see is what it is.
For lack of a better term, let’s call it the “Max Protect” offense, which is never easy on the eyes.
No, it’s not what Orgeron wants. Certainly not what offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger wants.
In fact, they start out every game with good intentions.
You can almost see it in their actions. This is the game to open it up. This is the game to spread it out. This is the game to get everybody involved and light up the scoreboard.
They come out of the gates throwing most every game.
But after a couple of quarterback sacks or blown-up screen passes, it’s like a New Year’s resolution forgotten and discarded after three days.
The offensive line gets most of the blame. But quarterback Joe Burrow has to share some. He can make most of the throws, but his “pocket presence” still needs work. He takes more sacks than he needs to.
Against Arkansas Burrow connected early with a 40-yard touchdown bomb … encouraging.
But the old problems soon returned.
Orgeron almost sounded apologetic when describing what happened next, when the coaches on the headsets finally agreed amongst one another that, “We’ve got to run the ball.”
To their credit they did with a monster 14-play 77-yard drive that had only one forward pass.
But for the most part they were again resigned to “max protect,” which packs as many people in as tight as possible, which leaves on one or two receivers to try to get open for pass-catching duty.
They’re not afraid to throw. They seem to be afraid to drop back.
It is what it is, which isn’t pretty.