Season so far: TCU, W 37-27; UAB, W 56-17; Kent State, W 45-13; Auburn, W 35-21; at Georgia, L 44-41; at Mississippi State, W 59-26
Still to go: Florida, at Ole Miss, Furman, at Alabama, Texas A&M, Arkansas
If you want the clearest indication of how LSU is different this time, all you have to do is go to the NCAA's statistics website. One of the things you might notice is this:
There are the Bayou Bengals, led by none other than Zach Mettenberger, sitting fourth in the nation in passing efficiency. You might know the names of a couple of the quarterbacks at the schools sandwiched around LSU: Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel.
In fact, LSU is on track this year to have its most explosive season on offense. Ever. The Tigers are averaging 488.8 yards a game, more than 35 yards clear of the 451.5 per-game average of the 2001 team, the current record holder in that category. The Bayou Bengals are churning out 45.5 points each game, which would mark a touchdown increase from the 38.6 scored by the 2007 squad.
That's one of the reasons why this weekend's game against Florida is so important for LSU. When you look at the list of defenses the Tigers have played, none of them are really that impressive. In fact, here are the respective national ranks in total defense of the Tigers' first-half foes: 33, 114, 111, 96, 66, 37. Florida is second in total defense in the NCAA, allowing 217 yards a game. Something has to give.
But while we're speaking about unimpressive defenses, did we mention LSU's? The Tigers aren't terrible or anything -- they rank 44th in total defense and 52nd in scoring defense -- but they are thoroughly mediocre by SEC standards, even in a year when the SEC has a touch of Big 12 in it. They rank seventh in total and scoring defense. And some of the peripheral or situational numbers are even worse. They are 12th in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score 90 percent of the time, and 13th in tackles for loss. The Tigers rank 11th in first downs allowed.
That's probably not anything to worry about against Florida, which has improved under Tyler Murphy but is still relatively pedestrian by 2013 SEC standards. But with Ole Miss and Texas A&M still on the docket, it's a concern as the season wears on. Trying to beat the Aggies by outscoring Johnny Manziel does not sound like a promising strategy. Heck, trying to beat the Dawgs by outscoring Aaron Murray didn't work out for LSU.
Even with that loss, though, LSU still controls its own destiny in the SEC West. If they win out, the Tigers go to Atlanta with a chance at the national title on the line. Whether they do it with offense or defense is inconsequential, though making sure they have a little bit of both is probably the safest way to go.