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Evaluating the Bayou Bengals halfway through a strange season

Not many would have predicted that the defending national champions would have started the season at 2-2. To be fair, LSU lost an absurd amount of talent in the NFL Draft and then saw some key players opt out over COVID-19 concerns (most notably standout wide receiver Ja'marr Chase).  Still, not many football fans or experts were predicting a loss to Missouri.  However, LSU seemed to right the ship last week with a 52-24 blowout of South Carolina.  South Carolina is the team who handed Auburn that disappointing 30-22 loss two weeks ago.  So, the question has become whether LSU is truly righting the ship after that 1-2 start or was the home blowout of the Gamecocks an anomaly?

The main issues for the Bayou Bengals this year have been on the defensive side of the ball.  Bo Pelini's unit has often seemed to be out of place on their pre-snap alignments leading to consistent big plays by the opposition.  There was the one memorable play which became a viral hit sensation against Missouri, when the closest defender on a Missouri touchdown seemed to be al least 20 yards away.  Even last week in their win, the defense struggled with allowing chunk plays.  Through four games, LSU has allowed 32 plays of more than 20 yards, good for 90th nationally.  Sometimes a team can help out a spotty secondary with a good pass rush and that is exactly the recipe LSU used for their win.  The Bayou Bengals are tied for 22nd nationally with 14 sacks.  LSU's defense is allowing 471.8 yards/game and 30 points/game.  South Carolina moved the ball against LSU to the tune of 403 yards, but LSU's defense was able to get pressure (5 sacks) and stop the Gamecocks on third down (3/10). It is uncertain if the defense has truly turned a corner or just faced some worse offenses. LSU does have a good pass rush led by freshman sensation B.J. Ojulari, but there are still way too many big plays allowed to truly stop an opposition offense.

If the Bayou Bengals' defense cannot stop the opposition then the offense will have to outscore the opposition.  Of course, with LSU's potent offense they are capable of doing just that.  The offense, led by Myles Brennan and now T.J. Finley filling in for the injured Brennan, has averaged 42 points/game, a mark which is good for 3rd in the this year's high-scoring SEC.  Whoever is at quarterback will continue to look for Terrance Marshall Jr. as often as possible.  In the win against South Carolina, LSU had their best rushing output of the season.  This should help to ease the pressure on the true freshman Finley until Brennan is able to return from injury.

The blowout of South Carolina encapsulated LSU's season. The Bayou Bengals have an offense capable of dropping at least 50 points on any team in the SEC on any given Saturday.  However, the defense will continue to struggle with allowing big plays, although their pass rush will help them get some stops.  LSU's offense is capable of beating anyone in the SEC, yes even Alabama, but their defense is equally capable of losing to anyone in the SEC, with the exception of Vanderbilt.

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