Is LSU's improved offense ready for SEC? 

September, 17, 2012
9/17/12
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Quick, name the highest-scoring offense in the SEC.

Aaron Murray and Georgia? No.

Alabama? Guess again.

Try LSU, an offense that coming into the season needed to get its act together. LSU is scoring 48.3 points per game, leading the SEC in rushing and completing 72 percent of its passes.

So what if the stats have been piled up in a 41-14 victory over North Texas and Saturday's 63-14 victory over Idaho? Remember all those jokes about the Tigers' struggle to cross the 50 in the 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS title game?

So far, opponents have been happy if LSU only gets past the 50.

"The sky's the limit for us," quarterback Zach Mettenberger said.

For high-scoring offenses, the sky tends to turn gray and rainy once SEC defenses start lining up against them. The Tigers, who have yet to face an SEC defense, will see conference foes in eight of their final nine games, starting Saturday at Auburn.

Auburn's defense has been porous so far, ranking 13th out of 14 SEC teams and allowing 442 yards a game. On paper, LSU should be able to at least come close to keeping its pace.

But is this an offense built to thrive against the bulk of the league?

LSU's running attack, which leads the SEC in both yards (269.3 a game) and yards per carry (5.9) is your prototypical physical SEC attack. But as the Alabama BCS title game debacle -- plus struggles against Georgia and Arkansas -- showed last season, teams must be able to throw it efficiently because elite SEC defenses are far more equipped to combat a physical running game than the Tigers' first three opponents.

Playing against two non-BCS programs and a Pac-12 team, the Tigers have a passer rating of 159.3, up from 147.3 a season ago. The 2012 figure would have led the league in 2011. But stacked up against its SEC rivals who have mostly played similar schedules, LSU's passer rating ranks sixth in the league.

The Tigers are also near the bottom of the league, 12th out of 14 teams, with 203 passing yards a game. A year ago, that would have been good for fifth in the league, and it's 51 yards better than what the Tigers threw for last year. LSU is throwing for fewer touchdowns (four in three games, meaning 1.3 a game, compared to 1.6 a game last season, but both of these figures are partly due to LSU's preference to run against the opponents it has faced.

A concern: Mettenberger has already thrown two red-zone interceptions and LSU has failed to score points on three trips to the red zone this season. Last season, the Tigers failed to score in the red zone just four times all season. With high-end SEC defenses physically able to defend the run better in goal-line situations than what LSU has seen, Mettenberger will have to make better decisions near the goal line because he might have to make throws for LSU to punch it in at times.

After the Idaho game, when a Mettenberger red-zone interception not only stopped an LSU drive, but led to a Vandals touchdown after a 94-yard return, LSU coach Les Miles pledged that there would not be a repeat of the red-zone issue.

"Any time you play your better opponents, you can't afford to give seven points," LSU coach Les Miles said. "You get down in there, it's plus-three [field goal], or it's seven. It's got to happen routinely. And it will from now on."
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