BATON ROUGE, La. -- There is a lot to like about what No. 8 LSU (2-0, 2-0 SEC) has accomplished thus far, but let’s nitpick for a moment.
The Tigers’ defense has not been very good in the second half of its first two games.
To be fair, game situations -- LSU led by double digits at halftime in both games -- played some part in the way opposing offenses have improved their production starting in the third quarter. And yet the Tigers acknowledge they need to do a better job of playing a complete game.
"We’ll see what the problem is and I guarantee we’ll get it fixed," LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White said after LSU surrendered 190 yards and three touchdowns in the second half of its 45-21 win against Auburn last Saturday.
If the Tigers had played in the second half like they did in the first, LSU’s defense would easily rank among the nation’s best. Accounting for first-half production only, LSU has surrendered three total points and ranks third nationally in total offense (average of 89.5 yards allowed in the first half), yards per play (2.98) and points allowed per opponent drive (0.25). The Tigers are sixth nationally against the run (27.5 yards allowed) and 15th against the pass (62).
LSU is one of only three defenses, along with Duke and West Virginia, that have not allowed a first-half touchdown.
Those numbers are a big reason why LSU seemed to be in control against both Mississippi State and Auburn when it returned to the locker room at halftime, but the stats aren’t as pretty for the third and fourth quarters.
Auburn’s complete inability to slow down Leonard Fournette prevented Gus Malzahn’s team from threatening LSU’s big lead last Saturday, even if Auburn’s offense enjoyed a much more productive second half.
On Auburn’s biggest offensive play of the game, a 65-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jeremy Johnson, White and safeties Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams all converged on Johnson at the Auburn 45-yard line and nobody made the tackle.
"Us as competitors and as a defense, we don’t want things like that to happen," Jefferson said. "I made some mistakes that I need to correct. So did the team, but they have my back and those guys know I go hard for them every play."
Even though LSU carried a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter of the opener against Mississippi State, that advantage nearly evaporated because of the defense’s inability to stop Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott. He completed 19 of his last 24 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown, although LSU held on for a 21-19 win.
It’s too early in the season and the sample size is too small to call LSU’s second-half slowdowns a trend. Perhaps it’s as simple as losing focus because of the big leads, as defensive end Tashawn Bower indicated.
"I feel like sometimes a player might see the score go up and they might kind of lose focus on their job a little bit. And then you know that happens," Bower said. "It happens not just to us, a lot of people, a lot of teams."
Taking into account only second-half stats, LSU has allowed five touchdowns and is 104th nationally in yards allowed (229.5 yards on average in the second half), 95th in yards per play (6.04), 58th against the run (74.0) and 118th against the pass (155.5).
The most important stat is that LSU is 2-0 in the win-loss column, but the Tigers recognize that there are games ahead on the schedule when similar second-half defensive performances might result in defeat.
They believe they will clean up those issues as they continue to accumulate game reps and the season progresses.
"We’ve got to step it up and keep the pedal to the floor, keep playing fast," linebacker Deion Jones said. "That’s something that’s going to keep going, keep getting better week after week."