Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The last time LSU played a game of this stature -- against this type of defense -- you got the feeling the Tigers could have played for 12 quarters and still not been able to score a touchdown.
That was four weeks ago, and LSU bowed meekly at home to Florida in a 13-3 loss that saw the Tigers go belly-up on offense.
Everything was in place, too.
A record crowd turned Tiger Stadium into the kind of environment you only get there on the Bayou. The Gators were forced to be somewhat conservative with quarterback Tim Tebow since he was coming off his concussion, and LSU’s defense was terrific all night long.
The only thing missing was a pulse from the LSU offense.
Clearly, the Tigers weren’t ready for that kind of challenge, and they failed miserably.
They get a second chance on Saturday in Tuscaloosa against an Alabama defense just as imposing and just as nasty as the Florida defense.
We’ll see how far the Tigers have come.
“I think we’ve gotten better and really answered some of those challenges beyond that Florida game [offensively],” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Certainly there is a new challenge with every week. I think it was important that we answer some of those issues beyond the Florida game, and we did.
“I feel pretty comfortable that our offense is in position to play well.”
The Tigers (7-1, 4-1 SEC) are coming off their two most complete offensive performances of the season. They averaged 415.5 yards and 36.5 points in their two wins over Tulane and Auburn.
But, then, nobody is going to mistake the defenses at Tulane or Auburn for the one the Tigers will be going up against on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
In four of its five SEC games, Alabama has held its opponents to a single touchdown. South Carolina and Ole Miss never found the end zone against the Tide.
“We’ve got to play Alabama like it's our national championship game,” LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson said following the Tigers’ 42-0 rout of Tulane last week.
That and with some offensive imagination and consistency.
It was almost like the Tigers were scared to let Jefferson attack the Gators down the field four weeks ago. Then again, Jefferson wasn’t very decisive in the pocket and has to be poised enough to step up and make those throws.
He finished with just 96 yards passing against the Gators, who crept closer and closer to the line of scrimmage and sat on all of the Tigers’ short and intermediate routes.
And in the second half, Jefferson was sacked five times. Some of those were protection issues, but he also got himself in trouble by trying to scramble around and not throwing the ball away.
The Tigers converted just one third down the entire game against the Gators, and that came during the first possession of the game.
In a lot of ways, LSU looked like a high school offense with a bunch of NFL-caliber athletes running around on the field.
But after a bye the following week and now two games that have seen this offense click as well as it has all season, the Tigers feel like they’re much more equipped to go in and move the ball and score points against a defense the caliber of Alabama's.
For one, it looks like freshman Russell Shepard is going to see his chances increase. He’s scored touchdowns in each of the last two games.
Senior running back Charles Scott is coming off his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.
And most importantly, Jefferson appears to have matured some as a quarterback and is making quicker, more decisive decisions. He’s completed 66.7 percent of his passes in his last two games for 405 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
But now comes the real test, and at stake for the Tigers is a commanding position in the Western Division race if they can knock off Alabama. If the Crimson Tide win, they clinch the Western Division title and a trip to Atlanta.
“Certainly we felt like we were in position to do good things against Florida,” Miles said. “Any time you finish second in a football game, it’s a very pointed reminder that you have to improve and that you have to continue to improve.
“I think our football team has done that really since that time, I think.”
Consider it a crimson-coated mulligan for the LSU offense. We’ll see what the Tigers do with it.
By Saturday night around 7 o’clock, Miles won’t think. He’ll know ... one way or the other.