LSU / SEC Week 8 Picks

The Tigers are back in action (if you can call it that) against the War Eagles of East Alabama Male College this Saturday. LSU stands at 5-1 on a one-game losing streak; Auburn at 5-2 on a two-game losing streak. But there is a giant perception gap between the two teams. LSU has a human poll average of 9.5, while Auburn is considered the 39th best team by the human pollsters.

So the question going in to this weekend is: Where do perception and reality cross with these teams? It’s a question I struggle with.

On body of work, LSU has a single win over a non-patsy team with a winning record (4-3 Georgia). Auburn also has just one (5-1 West Virginia, which itself has a questionable resume this season). On stats, LSU has a very poor offense (112th in total offense) and a decent defense (35th in total defense) while Auburn has a very good offense (No. 8 ) and a poor defense (No. 72).

LSU lost to No. 1 Florida in a game that reflects its character (no offense, decent defense – though thoroughly gamed by Urban Meyer) while Auburn lost to Arkansas and Kentucky (both 3-3) in games where their offensive production diminished greatly. And that’s a trend that started against Tennessee. Going in to Knoxville, Auburn was averaging 526 yards and 45 points per game. But in the three games since, Auburn’s production had dropped by 143 yards and 24 points per game. And the big problem is in the passing game. Before the Tennessee game, Chris Todd had just one game where he threw for fewer than 250 yards (against MSU, when Auburn ran for 390 yards). Since then he has thrown for 235 yards (UT), 133 yards (Ark) and 95 yards (UK). His sole TD pass against Tennessee was his last of the season after tossing 12 in the first four games.

Could it be the return of Todd’s “dead arm”? I wouldn’t call it live at this point.

LSU, on the other hand, has been a fairly consistent, unspectacular team. Leaving aside the Florida game for the moment, LSU’s offense operated in a pretty right range through its first five games. The low yardage total was 263 against MSU and the high was 368 against Georgia. There’s a consistent balance between rush / pass yards (except for the MSU game) and a scoring range in each game between 20 and 31. There may not be much to like about the LSU offense, but there’s at least an identity.

Until the Florida game, of course. But I think it’s important to understand Florida’s defense (No. 2 nationally in total defense) is simply much better than LSU’s offense. The Tigers certainly could have done more in that game, but the stats there aren’t too concerning as a trend. Come Nov. 7 at Bama (No. 1 total defense), it’ll be a concern, but not this week.

Defensively, after being burned for 478 yards by Washington and holding Vandy to 210, LSU has also operated in a tight range. The best showing was against USL (272 yards) and the worst against MSU (374 yards). Nobody has put 200 rushing yards or 250 passing yards on the Tigers since the Washington opener, so there’s a measure of consistency there.

So what’s the reality? I think it’s this (right now): LSU is a decent team that is missing some key elements. Surely not the No. 9.5 team in the country, but that identity is apparent. Auburn, on the other hand, has become something of late that doesn’t resemble the team that started 5-0. It seems that they have themselves a quarterback problem again, and that weakness exposes the known problems on defense.

Might Chris Todd return to early-season form? Maybe. But given his “dead arm” history, recent performance and what I saw in the Kentucky game, I’m not going to count on it. At the least, LSU needs to make him prove himself. Focus on the run, give Todd some opportunities to hit single-covered receivers if he can. Maybe he does that and LSU digs itself a hole. But that’s clearly where LSU needs to be defensively.

After the Florida game, I think it’s a given that LSU will open up the offense. OK, “a given” is too much faith to put in Leslie & Co., but I would hope that’s the case. A return of the mysteriously-absent Russell Shepard, getting Jordan Jefferson out of the pocket and – God I hope – no more Jefferson running the “option”.

Once again I’m projecting a prediction on what I think LSU should do in the game. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

LSU 28 – 17

Elsewhere in the SEC:

Tennessee at No. 2 Alabama. I expect to see the Florida Crompton (11-19, 93 yards, 2 INT) rather than the Georgia Crompton (20-27, 310 yards, 1 INT, 4 TD) in this game. Tennessee might be able to keep Bama’s run game in check (Vols are No. 31 in rush defense), but they don’t have the horses to overcome Fonzie’s defense.

Alabama 17 – 10

No. 1 Florida at Mississippi State. MSU isn’t quite as bad as their record indicates (3-4 with wins only over Jackson State, Vandy and Middle Tennessee). They’ve averaged 26 points in their four losses (Auburn, LSU, Georgia Tech, Houston), so they can move the ball. But they gave up an average of 38 points in those games. Should the offensive brownout at Florida continue, might the Bulldogs have a chance? A slight one, perhaps. But Meyer and Tebow are too good at game management to let that happen.

Gators 38 – 26

Arkansas at Ole Miss. If ever there was a chance for Ole Miss to regain some respectability, it’s this game. The Rebels have shown absolutely nothing to like this season. Amazing stat: It looks good that Ole Miss held UAB to 121 yards passing until you see that the Blazers got 23 – yes, 23 – passing yards against Southern Miss. And 74 against Texas A&M. Sorry, I can’t buy the defensive stats of the Rebels (No. 23 in total defense), and their offense shows no reason to like them.

Arkansas 48 – 20

Vanderbilt at South Carolina. As a running team, Vandy has an advantage of not needing to worry much about the Cocks’ stout pass defense. But outside of their patsies, Vandy is averaging 8.4 a games and has zero wins.

Cocks 28 – 9

LA-Monroe at Kentucky. Patsy game alert!

Kentucky 35 – 13

P.S. I forgot to do a weekly wrap up last week (I blame the LSU open date). I was 5-1 for the week; 46-7 for the season.

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