It's hard not to look at LSU's 49-21 win over Central Michigan and feel the Tigers didn't take a big step in the right direction. While this team will ultimately be graded on how it competes in SEC play, this weekend was an eye opener from a number of different perspectives.
On offense, LSU was able to play with a little more tempo. Maybe not quite the "warp" speed that will be required as the weeks go along, but there were signs that this offense could be on the verge of busting open. The freshman receivers were captivating to watch, hauling in almost everything Max Johnson threw in their direction.
Johnson himself seemed to grow more patient in the pocket, allowing plays to develop, and with the exception of one throw, showed a lot of poise en route to a 378 yard passing day with five touchdowns. He became just the third quarterback in LSU history to throw for five touchdowns in a game and the first to throw at least three touchdowns in each of his first five starts.
Last week Johnson said there was a noticeable gap between where the team was and where it wants to be and thinks the team closed it slightly on Saturday.
"We closed it a little bit, not as much as we wanted too," Johnson said. "Coach Peetz gave us a lot of confidence to go out there and have fun. We put up a lot of points but I do think there is some stuff where we have to get better."
On defense, the purple and gold stuffed the run, holding a Chippewas offense that averaged 230 yards a game on the ground to just 56 yards on 31 carries. The front seven was flying to the ball, filling all the right gaps and making the tackles.
It wasn't perfect as there were still a few busted assignments the group will need to iron out, but it was a huge momentum boost as LSU heads into Mississippi State.
"I think we took the next step, we're not there yet," coach Ed Orgeron said. "I've told them let's get better, take the next step. We identified some things we needed to get better at and we did, practiced on it all week. Give our coaching staff credit, our players credit and we're gonna go back with the same attitude next week. I think this team is one you'll see get better each week and we're gonna have to.
"I'm proud of the way the defense played today," linebacker Damone Clark said. "I'm excited about our effort, how we were just flying to the ball and just relentless, just playing. We've got a few things to correct but we will get it fixed."
LSU can feel good about the effort against Central Michigan but now is where the going gets tough, starting with an SEC opener at Mississippi State. While the focus this week was slowing down the run game, the Bulldogs air raid attack will put a lot of pressure on the secondary.
Mike Leach is a smart offensive mind and knows one of the weaknesses, that even flared up a little bit against the Chippewas, is attacking the middle of the defense with those crossing routes. Just how far this secondary has come in three weeks time will in large part dictate how the defense holds up.
"It's exciting for what's to come the rest of the season but we know that we still have a couple of things to fix and we're gonna get it done," cornerback Derek Stingley said.