Finishing and defense will decide who’s No. 1

Had LSU “finished” its game against Auburn, continuing the marvelous defensive play it showed for three quarters Saturday night while dominating those other Tigers, it might have been time to declare LSU a team ready to roll into Alabama on November 9 at 9-0 and ready to decide the national championship then and there.

But the fourth quarter counts.

So despite improving to 4-0 by beating Auburn 35-21, you can’t simply assume what should be consecutive victories over a very flawed Georgia team; Mississippi State, which lost to Auburn; Florida, a team with plenty of question marks and now with its quarterback, Ole Miss and Furman. OK, maybe the trip to surprising Ole Miss could keep things interesting.

But there’s that fourth-quarter thing.

In the season-opening victory over TCU, which, as it turns out, is not nearly as good as many observers thought, LSU saw a lead of 30-17 after three quarters shrink to 30-27 before winning 37-27.

In two foregone conclusions, a 56-17 blowout of UAB followed by last week’s 45-13 rout of Kent State, LSU failed to score in the fourth quarter against UAB and then didn’t score in the final 10:55 to Kent State, which lost 34-0 to Penn State on Saturday. Significant? Maybe not on the surface, but when you consider the debacle of a fourth quarter LSU had against Auburn, perhaps.

While the boxscore reads a 7-7 tie in the final period, LSU had to muster all it had on defense to keep it from being a one-touchdown game in the final minutes. That’s not how you make a statement or get ready for what will be your biggest game of the season.

Clearly LSU has superior defensive talent. The Tigers are super quick, close in such a hurry it’s stunning, and must drive opposing offensive coordinators nuts.

But it’s not able to put outstanding pressure on quarterbacks. Auburn was sacked once and the stats show only two QB hurries.

Of course, you could argue that two things were at play Saturday night after public-address announcer Dan Borne declared the chance of rain as never. First, it was raining and at times, pretty hard, and second, LSU was up three touchdowns five seconds into the fourth quarter, which would understandably make a team relax.

About that rain.

LSU coach Les Miles, who might have called it a stiff dew or something convoluted like that, is also the same guy who calls Ohio State “Ohio” because he’s a Michigan man doesn’t want to say Ohio State and called Arkansas Ar-can-sas, pronouncing the last “s” just because. His obtuse way of talking and describing things is well documented through the years, but not knowing or acknowledging when it’s raining, well, that’s pretty weird.

All that being said, in a season in which it appears that offenses are wide open and defenses are trying to catch up, it’s time to remind of that old saying that offense sells tickets but defense wins championships.

Alabama might have outscored Texas A&M 49-42. Points are going up all over. LSU might have scored five touchdowns on Auburn.

But when it’s all said and done, on November 9 in Tuscaloosa and on December 7 in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game and on January 6, 2014, in Pasadena for the BCS national-title game, the team that plays the best defense and “finishes” will end up No. 1.