LSU’s midterm grade is in the books and with the exception of one major letdown, the Tigers are right where most pundits thought they might be and perhaps a little ahead of schedule in some regards.
Splitting road games at Auburn and Florida and grinding out another road victory at South Carolina leaves No. 11-ranked LSU (5-1, 3-1 SEC) squarely in the hunt in the league race, although the degree of defeat to the Gators tarnished the Tigers national championship aspirations for now.
LSU’s latest test — Saturday’s 24-17 triumph against the Gamecocks — wasn’t achieved easily. It required a late-game surge from the offensive line and a suffocating defensive performance throughout the second half.
But just getting back on track was enough for LSU coach Les Miles for now.
“It looked like I thought it would look,” Miles said Sunday. “Certainly it was a great effort. I saw defensive improvement, offensive improvement. Sloppy, not quite exactly what we wanted, but a step in the right direction. We get a win on the road in this conference.
It’s nice to be looking forward to five games at home. It really makes, obviously, the next game have a little more importance to it.”
Not that it wasn’t already important enough.
No. 7 Georgia (6-1, 3-1) visits Tiger Stadium on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. showdown between top-10 SEC foes. The battle with the Bulldogs launches a stretch of five consecutive home games for LSU and is a game anticipated since the preseason, when Georgia was anointed No. 1 in most polls.
For the Tigers, the win at South Carolina was a step forward for more reasons than the simple fact that it began the recovery process from a 51-21 loss the week before at Florida.
LSU’s dual-quarterback rotation of freshman Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch seemed to click as well as it has against any SEC opponent this season.
Lee hit on 16-of-26 passes for 189 yards and uncorked a handful of timely downfield throws. He was intercepted once, a turnover that set up the Gamecocks’ go-ahead TD right before halftime. But Lee continued to show an uncanny ability to remain unflappable after a mistake.
Hatch completed 2-of-3 throws for 10 yards and a score and ran five times for 19 yards.
“I think we’re further along at quarterback in the progression there,” Miles said of the two-QB system. “I think we need to take steps again this week, but I like the way we are using our quarterbacks in and out.
“I think it’s still evolving and I think it really is based on game plans. What’s the best way to attack an opponent. We feel like we have some real advantages in certain areas” with both quarterbacks.