- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Shaquille O’Neal -- make that Dr. Shaquille O’Neal -- was in the house Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.
His diagnosis had a decided purple-and-gold tinge to it.
“We’re coming after you, Alabama,” O’Neal proclaimed.
Make that LSU and everybody else in college football.
But after the monsoon Jeremy Hill and LSU unleashed on Auburn in the kind of rainy, windy night on the Bayou that only a duck would have loved, maybe Shaq is on to something.
Why not LSU?
The No. 6 Tigers weren’t real thrilled with themselves over the way they slopped around in the second half of their 35-21 win, and Auburn’s fight and grit had something to do with that. But this is clearly an LSU team that nobody should discount in the SEC race.
“One thing about it is that we’re capable of a lot more,” said Hill, who romped for 184 yards and three touchdowns, 152 of those yards coming in the first half. “We just need to make sure we don’t let off the gas. You’ve got to do that for four quarters, the way we came out to start the game.
“That’s what it’s going to take to keep this thing going.”
LSU (4-0) led 21-0 at the half and had a chance to go up by four touchdowns midway through the third quarter, but bogged down inside the Auburn 20 and then came up short on fourth down when Les Miles called for a fake field goal.
It didn’t help that LSU’s defense gave up 333 yards of total offense in the second half, and Auburn ran 85 offensive plays in the game.
“The reason they had the ball as much as they did is that we kept giving it back to them,” Miles said. “We’re pleased, but not satisfied. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to finish the game.”
Still, for a team that lost seven underclassmen a year ago to the NFL draft -- including six defensive starters -- it hardly has the feel of rebuilding.
Reloading is more like it.
Lost in the uproar over LSU’s collapse against Clemson last season in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and then the mass exodus of juniors leaving early for the NFL draft was that this is a program that’s stockpiled talent and developed that talent as well as anybody in the country over the last few years.
Maybe that’s why Miles squinted his eyes ever so confidently this offseason anytime somebody quizzed him about the challenge of overcoming the loss of so many key players and keeping pace with the other kingpins in the league.
Five SEC teams opened the season ranked ahead of LSU in the polls. But four weeks in -- and having some actual games to use as fodder -- it’s difficult to point to four teams in this league that are better than the Tigers.
Florida was dealt a huge blow Saturday with the season-ending injury to quarterback Jeff Driskel, while Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M have all already lost games.
It’s true that LSU is playing a slew of young guys on defense and has given up too many big plays this season, but defensive coordinator John Chavis knew it would be imperative to build some depth before LSU hit the teeth of its SEC schedule. Plus, the Tigers have two future pros in the middle in defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson.
So while the defense is a ways from being a finished product, the biggest difference with the Tigers is how explosive and balanced they are on offense.
First-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has made an obvious difference, and the pieces are in place to give more than a few defenses in this league fits. The Tigers have scored 35 or more points and racked up more than 400 yards in total offense in all four of their games this season.
“We know what we can be. You saw it in the first half,” said Hill, whose 49-yard touchdown run came on the Tigers’ first possession. “That’s the way it needs to be for the whole game.”
So how good are these Tigers?
We'll find out a lot more next week when they visit No. 9 Georgia in what will be the second top-10 matchup of the month involving SEC teams.
It was Alabama versus Texas A&M last week in College Station, and that game turned into a 49-42 shootout won by the Crimson Tide.
We could be in for another wild ride next week in Athens, especially with the way Georgia and LSU are scoring points.
In the past, it would have been difficult to imagine the Tigers being equipped to win an Xbox-type score-a-thon. But not so much anymore.
“We have shown flashes of breaking the mold of that old LSU team,” Zach Mettenberger said. “We do have explosive playmakers on offense, and we can make plays. We just need to learn to focus on every play and for four quarters.
“We’ve shown that we can still be a very effective offense even when we’re not playing our best. I’m just really anxious to see what this offense can be when we play four quarters and execute on every play.”
3hDavid M. Hale