Season report card: LSU

The report cards have been handed out on the Bayou, and we take a look at the Tigers’ grades:

OFFENSE: The Tigers started showing signs of life on offense, particularly in the passing game, in the second half of their 21-17 loss to Alabama and had their best stretch offensively the next two weeks in wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss. It was a rough first part of the season for first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but he played better down the stretch. The Tigers were plagued by injuries and other defections in their offensive line and probably waited too long to unleash freshman running back Jeremy Hill, who had just 13 carries in the Tigers’ first six games, but finished with 755 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. There just wasn’t enough consistency offensively, evidenced by the fact that LSU finished 10th in the SEC in total offense. The Tigers were held to 20 or fewer points in four of their eight SEC contests and didn’t score a touchdown in their 14-6 loss to Florida. Their 219-yard performance in their 25-24 meltdown against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss was an ugly end to what was a lackluster season on the offensive side of the ball. GRADE: C

DEFENSE: Buoyed by one of the most talented defensive front-sevens in college football, LSU played at a high level for most of the season. The Tigers finished No. 8 nationally in total defense (307.6 yards per game) and No. 12 nationally in scoring defense (17.5 points per game). They held seven of their eight SEC opponents to 23 or fewer points and kept eight of their FBS foes to 17 points or fewer. For the most part, John Chavis’ defense did its part. LSU was masterful in making the right adjustments and putting the clamps on Johnny Manziel in the 24-19 win at Texas A&M and lost at Florida despite giving up just 237 yards and 14 points. The Tigers also tied for the SEC lead with 33 forced turnovers. Not being able to get off the field at key times, though, keeps LSU’s defensive grade from being an A. Florida put together touchdown drives of 77 and 85 yards in the second half to escape. Alabama’s game-winning touchdown drive in the final 1:34 was a real killer. Up until that point, the Tigers had been dominant defensively. LSU also couldn’t get Clemson stopped at the end of the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss and gave up a 26-yard completion on fourth-and-16 to keep that drive alive. GRADE: B+

OVERALL: The Tigers had some big wins. They won at Texas A&M and knocked off South Carolina at home when the Gamecocks were ranked No. 3 nationally. The 21-17 loss to Alabama was disappointing, but at least the Tigers’ offense came alive in that game in the second half. They say last impressions are what counts, and the final image we have of LSU in 2012 is the Tigers gagging away that game to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Hill didn’t carry the ball in the fourth quarter after rushing for 124 yards on 12 carries in the first three quarters, and LSU played right into Clemson’s hands by throwing the ball two straight times late and allowing Clemson to keep all of its timeouts and drive for the winning field goal. That loss put a stain on an otherwise solid 10-win season -- a season that started with the Tigers ranked No. 3 nationally and thinking national championship. GRADE: B-