BATON ROUGE, La. – Asked to compare his current team to the last one from LSU that he led to an SEC championship, Tigers coach Les Miles said there is a clear distinction between the two.
The 2011 team went undefeated in the regular season and played for a BCS title, but it wasn’t as explosive on offense as his 2015 team, Miles said.
“I think that our football team has the potential to be dominant on offense and defense and special teams,” Miles said. “So with that being said, I don’t know that those teams necessarily had that full package.
“I think with quarterback play, it’s coming. I think the fact that we can throw it to some very talented receivers, the fact that we can run the football. The offensive line is going to give us protection and come off the football. I think offensively, defensively and special teams ... it’s a great group of young men. They work hard. They want for the season to turn right.”
It’s off to a great start after Miles’ Tigers (2-0, 2-0 SEC) bludgeoned Auburn 45-21 on Saturday, notching its second victory in as many games against SEC West opposition. The Tigers vaulted to No. 8 in the newest Associated Press Top 25 after Leonard Fournette and his teammates ran wild against an Auburn team that some had projected as a potential College Football Playoff contender before the season.
And yet the 2015 LSU Tigers still have a long way to go before they can consider themselves equals to the revered 2011 team. With the exception of a thrilling overtime win at Alabama, LSU beat every SEC opponent by double digits during the regular season that year and won seven of its nine SEC games by at least three touchdowns.
Those Tigers won with suffocating defense. Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan were rock solid up front and the playmakers on the back end, led by Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Eric Reid, were nothing short of exceptional. You could always count on Claiborne or Mathieu to make a big play or two on special teams as well.
We haven’t necessarily seen that winning formula on display early in the 2015 season, although Kevin Steele’s improving pass rush has already generated eight sacks and the defense has thoroughly dominated the first halves of both games.
Even if the defense fails to match its 2011 predecessor – and that would be a lofty goal, as ESPN’s defensive efficiency metric shows that the 2011 Tigers had the fifth-best defense in the FBS over the last decade – Miles seems correct in saying there might be more to like about this all-around team.
The memory from 2011 that is seared into most LSU fans’ brains comes from its last game of that anticlimactic season, when Alabama shut out the Tigers 21-0 in the BCS National Championship. LSU mustered only 92 yards of offense in arguably the most pitiful offensive performance in school history.
With Fournette running the way he has so far and with his offensive teammates forming what looks to be an excellent supporting cast, perhaps not even Alabama’s renowned 2011 defense would be able to force a goose egg upon these Tigers.
They’re good, and as sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris further establishes himself, they’re only going to keep improving. We haven’t come close to seeing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s full arsenal yet, which is a scary proposition for the remaining defenses on the Tigers’ schedule.
“[On the sidelines against Auburn] I heard, ‘Let’s make a point. Let’s show how we play. Let’s show the rest of the conference,’” Miles said. “I think there’s significant leadership there. I enjoyed our offense getting back in and reasserting themselves.”
They certainly did that on Saturday, although we should acknowledge here that this breakout performance came against a reeling Auburn team that nearly lost to FCS Jacksonville State the previous Saturday. It’s risky to even consider equating what we’ve seen from LSU this season with the accomplishments of a team that will go down as one of the best in school history, particularly when a sloppy performance two weekends ago nearly allowed Mississippi State to rally for a last-second win against the Tigers.
They have a long way to go and some daunting games ahead – remember, LSU still must play at Ole Miss and Alabama this season – but the Tigers’ massive potential is obvious. To match or surpass the 2011 Tigers, they have to prove that Saturday’s explosive outing will be more than a one-time occurrence.
“[The victory over Auburn is] a momentum-builder,” LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White said. “I feel like if we continue to do the things that we’re doing, we’re going to have a special season.”