September 27, 2010
Les Miles has never been accused of eloquence at the mike, but he's not exactly prone to blowing smoke, either. When he said Saturday night he's "excited" to be 4-0 after a 20-14 win over West Virginia, I believe him. Given the alternatives, it's not hard to see why he was upset with the boo birds that came out for the Tiger offense in the fourth quarter – loudly, on multiple occasions – for an undefeated team with a lead over a ranked opponent.
On the other hand, anyone who actually had to watch LSU's offense trudge on and off the field between wildly off-target third-down passes by quarterback Jordan Jefferson for the better part of three hours has a right to defend his own sense of offensive decency. Jefferson, in his 19th career start, finished the night 10-of-22 passing for 75 yards, three chain-moving completions and two interceptions, the second leading to a short-field Mountaineer touchdown to open the second half. The offense's only touchdown "drive" took all four downs to cover seven yards following a West Virginia fumble in the first quarter, and the first field goal came directly via an interception that set Jefferson and Co. up in WVU territory, where they promptly turned in the second of their five three-and-outs.
It was desperate enough in the second half that coaches felt compelled to dust off 2008 pick-six king Jarrett Lee for a few snaps in the fourth quarter, to no particular effect. You don't have to condone the booing to kind of get it.
Again, this is a team that won one of the bigger games on its schedule thanks to a truly nasty looking defense and more big plays from the special teams, which contributed a blocked field goal and another punt return for touchdown by the spectacular Patrick Peterson, who also provided the winning margin against North Carolina. One of the overt themes coming into the season, though, was how far the offense had come from the unit that finished dead last in the SEC in total yards last year. Through four games, the answer is looking like "a half-step back." The Tigers will go into October ranked last in the conference (and in the bottom ten nationally) in passing and pass efficiency, and a dismal 102nd in total offense.
Tthat's with four current top-20 outfits – Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Arkansas – still to come. If Miles chooses to focus on the positive, he has every right. But fans who still remember the 4-5 slide in 2008 and 4-4 finish in 2009 that followed perfect September records the last two years have just as many reasons to brace themselves for the other shoe to drop.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.