LSU's performance by the numbers: The good, the bad and the uncertain

Leonard Fournette has rushed 73 times for 631 yards and eight touchdowns in just three games this season. Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sport

With a third of the season already gone, No. 9 LSU (3-0) is right where it wants to be -- in the thick of the SEC race and a popular early pick to reach the College Football Playoff.

Ahead of Saturday's meeting with Eastern Michigan (1-3), let's examine some of the statistical good and bad signs for the Tigers with the help of the ESPN Stats & Information database.


Leonard Fournette's rushing: Have you heard this Fournette fella is off to a decent start? OK, maybe a little better than decent. LSU's star running back is the breakout performer of the season's first month, leading all FBS rushers with 210.3 yards per game and threatening the school's single-game rushing record in each of the last two weeks with consecutive 200-yard efforts. The sophomore is on pace for one of the best rushing seasons in SEC history.

First-half defense: The Tigers have been ferocious early in games, ranking among two FBS defenses (along with West Virginia) that have not allowed a first-half touchdown. Before halftime, the Tigers have surrendered 2.96 yards per play (second behind Boston College's 2.21) and just 11 opponent plays that went for at least 10 yards (tied for third). LSU's six points allowed in the first half rank second behind West Virginia's zero.

Turnovers: LSU is the only team in the FBS that has yet to lose a turnover. Coming into the season with a new starting quarterback, Brandon Harris, that's the best you could have hoped for by this point. LSU's defense hasn't been a turnover-generating machine -- its three takeaways rank 108th -- but the Tigers are tied for 32nd with a plus-three turnover margin and are tied for 49th with a plus-10 margin in points off turnovers.

Sack total rises: The Tigers are tied for 29th in the FBS with nine sacks. That's a respectable total that ties for fifth among SEC teams, but it signifies a much-needed improvement from last year. LSU's total of 19 sacks last season tied for 100th nationally. LSU had eight sacks through three games last season, although seven of them came in a win against FCS Sam Houston State. The Tigers totaled 11 sacks in eight SEC games last season. In its two conference games this year, LSU recorded eight sacks.


Penalties linger: This is perhaps the most concerning trend to date, as penalties have already wiped out touchdowns, third-down conversions and turnovers. LSU nearly blew a game it controlled against Mississippi State thanks in part to 95 penalty yards. Same for last Saturday's win against Syracuse, when LSU's 120 penalty yards kept the score closer than it otherwise would have been. LSU is averaging 9.33 penalties per game (117th) and 86 penalty yards per game (No. 121). The Tigers have accumulated 151 yards in penalties more than their opponents, a margin that is worse than that of all but two teams.

Second-half defense: As good as Kevin Steele's defense has been in the first half, it has experienced more than its share of lapses after intermission. The Tigers' average of 19.33 points allowed in the second half ranks 115th. They are surrendering 5.73 yards per play, nearly twice what they allow in the first half and 88th in the FBS. And 23 percent of opposing offenses' plays have covered at least 10 yards (111th).

Passing offense: With Fournette getting so much work, the passing game has been virtually nonexistent. The Tigers' passing performance hasn't been awful -- they have generally done OK when they've thrown the ball, save the four dropped passes against Syracuse -- but the numbers are ugly. Their average of 100.7 passing yards per game ranks last among Power 5 offenses and their percentage of completions that go for a first down or touchdown (51.7) is 95th. Only four FBS teams have fewer passing touchdowns than LSU's two.


Brandon Harris' QB play: Harris hasn't put the ball in the air much (29-for-47, 302 yards, 2 TDs), but he's done some nice things both running and passing. That's why he ranks in the top 20 in ESPN's Adjusted Total Quarterback Rating metric (19th with a 78.8 on a 1-100 scale) despite the limited opportunities. Long-term, however, we simply haven't seen enough of the passing game to know what to expect from the Tigers' sophomore starter.

Red zone offense: The Tigers have scored on 11 of 12 trips inside an opponent's 20-yard line, but their 66.7 percent TD rate (eight red zone TDs) ranks 40th nationally. Not bad, not great.

Third-down offense: After converting just three of 10 third downs against Syracuse, LSU is now 13-for-34 overall, with its 38.2 percent conversion rate ranking 78th in the FBS. That's not very good, but it's a small sample size. Plus, the Tigers are actually averaging 7.65 yards per play on third down, best in the SEC and 11th overall. If they can cut back on the penalties that produce third-and-long situations, the conversion rate should rise.