LSU building on recent gains during open week
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) A season that recently looked on the brink of spiraling out of control is once again full of promise for LSU.
Ever since a players-only meeting following a blow-out loss at Auburn, the Tigers (7-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference, No. 19 CFP ) have made major strides on the field and in the rankings, climbing from unranked back up to No. 16 on the heels of a three-game winning streak in conference play.
''I didn't think our season was in trouble,'' senior tailback Kenny Hilliard said this week. ''We had a meeting and we told ourselves not to worry. ... We had to try to end up at 10-2 and see where we would be. Since then everything has been clicking.
''We've had two losses in previous years here and we still had a good season,'' Hilliard added. ''The year they won the national championship (2007), they were 10-2. That attitude of not giving up isn't just us, this team. That type of attitude has been here forever.''
Maybe not forever, but arguably in recent history. LSU is seeking its fifth-straight 10-win season, but it didn't look likely in early October.
The Tigers stumbled against Mississippi State, 34-29, a result which snapped the Bulldogs' 14-year losing streak against LSU. Two weeks later, LSU was run out of Auburn, 41-7, dropping the Tigers to 0-2 in league play for the first time in 13 years.
LSU has responded with victories against Florida, Kentucky and then-No. 3 Ole Miss and now have their first weekend off of the season before hosting No. 3 Alabama on Nov. 8.
The Tigers intend to use the extra week of preparation to consolidate positive gains on both sides of the ball during the streak.
The veteran offensive line has been helping the running game chew up yards, while the defensive front seven has started keeping opposing ground games under control.
In the past three games, LSU's four tailbacks - Leonard Fournette, Terrence Magee, Hilliard and Darrel Williams - have accounted for 717 rushing yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Fournette, a true freshman, has led the way with a pair of 100-yard games.
''Improving as an offense is the reason for the winning streak,'' junior left guard Vadal Alexander said. ''We could have let things fall off track after the Auburn game, but we have character guys - veterans, who wouldn't let it happen. We have better chemistry and better relationships on the offensive line.
''You can tell how we have gotten better as the weeks have gone on,'' Alexander continued. ''The Florida win was a boost for us, but we knew we had to keep improving. If we didn't improve, that would have just been one game. That's our mindset for the rest of the season. We have to improve each week.''
The LSU defense was torched by Mississippi State and Auburn for 75 points and 1,136 yards combined, including 600 yards on the ground. But, there has been a sudden turn-around for the Tigers defense. The last three opponents have averaged 282 total yards per game, including just 110 yards rushing.
''We have focused on improving each week,'' senior safety Ronald Martin said. ''Our intensity level on the practice field has increased. It's amazing how we are flying around. Guys are jumping around and making plays at practice.''
Defensive coordinator John Chavis challenged his unit after the Auburn game to step up, Martin said, ''and we have.''