Who would have thought that LSU’s week three game against Central Michigan could prove to be a defining moment for the 2021 season, Ed Orgeron, and the program.
The Tigers have underwhelmed in getting off to a 1-1 start with a loss to UCLA and a win over FCS McNeese State.
LSU’s offense currently ranks 11th in the Southeastern Conference in scoring, 13th in completion percentage, and seventh in passing yardage. The running game is even worse. The Tigers are averaging 87 yards per game on 2.9 yards per carry, with a grand total of one rushing touchdown.
It’s never a good sign when you’re neck and neck with Vanderbilt in total yardage.
Defensively, LSU ranks near the bottom of the conference as well, allowing 22.5 points per game and ranking ninth in the league in yards allowed (312.5).
Central Michigan represents the final dress rehearsal before the start of the SEC portion of the schedule, and LSU cannot afford to enter conference play at 1-2.
Former Florida coach Jim McElwain is 12-10 since taking over the Chippewas program in 2019 after CMU went 1-11 the prior year. After a 10-point loss to Missouri, they dominated FCS Robert Morris 45-0 last weekend.
McElwain has built his team up on the foundation of a strong rushing game. The Chippewas average 242 yards per game on the ground on more than five yards per carry.
Their passing game has been pretty effective as well, putting up 253 and three touchdowns over the first two weeks.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Tigers aren’t tested by Central Michigan after what we’ve seen to start the season.
The first priority for the Tigers is establishing that running game. LSU only has six runs of 10 or more this season. The Chippewas allowed 5.9 yards per carry to Missouri, so if Ty Davis-Price and company can’t get going Saturday night, it could be a very long season indeed.
Improving their execution in all phases of the offense has to happen. Quarterback Max Johnson has struggled with his accuracy at times, and seems less confident in the pocket than he did in his starts to end the 2020 season.
Additionally, his receivers have to help Johnson out by holding on to the football. LSU wideouts have eight drops in two games, a disturbing stat that cannot become a trend.
What it has led to is a number of abbreviated drives. LSU is 10-for-31 (32.3%) on third down this season. The Tigers have shown that they can’t rely on the big play, so being able to consistently move the ball up and down the field is a must.
LSU went three-and-out five times against McNeese, and punted seven times.
Central Michigan is no pushover. The Chippewas are serious contenders for the MAC title. They have the ability to shorten the game by running the ball, and a quarterback in Jacob Sirmon who will present a solid challenge for the LSU secondary.
McElwain has been to Tiger Stadium, and this home crowd will not match those he faced as an assistant at Alabama or at Florida.
LSU has a lot to prove on Saturday night.
They have the talent, but as the saying goes, “it’s not about the skill, it’s about the will.”
Do the Tigers want to be great? Are they capable of being great? We won’t know for certain after tomorrow night, but we’ll get closer to the answer.
Who: LSU Tigers (1-1) vs Central Michigan Chippewas (1-1)
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge
Watch: SEC Network
Listen: 103.7 The Game (Pregame begins at 5)