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LSU wide receiver Malachi Dupre (15) reaches for a pass against Auburn defensive back Jonathon Mincy (6) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, in Auburn, Ala. The pass fell incomplete.

With the West Division of the Southeastern Conference experiencing uprisings this season at Ole Miss and Mississippi State, somebody is having to slide down the league ladder.

That somebody right now is LSU.

The Tigers own the most West titles since 2000 -- five, to Auburn's four and Alabama's three -- but are off to an 0-2 league start following a 34-29 home loss to Mississippi State on Sept. 20 and a 41-7 defeat at Auburn last Saturday night. LSU trailed in each of those games by at least three touchdowns entering the fourth quarter.

"This is not what we wanted," LSU coach Les Miles said Saturday night in his news conference at Auburn. "Offensively we've got to get better, because when you put a defense on the field as often as we did tonight, it's very difficult for them to play a consistent game. We have to execute better, and we have to get better.

"The good news with this team is that they are a hard-working group of men, and they will do the right things."

There is no guaranteed victory in this season's West for the Tigers, who are 4-2 overall but have no out-of-conference games remaining. Their two cross-divisional foes -- Florida and Kentucky -- are a combined 7-2 so far.

LSU visits Florida this Saturday night.

"I've been around this program for so long, and I'm not used to this at all," Tigers senior tackle La'el Collins said Saturday night. "We've always been a team that dominated people and imposed our will on them. Florida is always hard to beat at home, and they always have great players. We've got to stay focused and keep our minds in the game."

LSU's struggles can be attributed to several factors, most notably instability at quarterback. While their six West counterparts are set with Dak Prescott (Mississippi State), Kenny Hill (Texas A&M), Nick Marshall (Auburn), Bo Wallace (Ole Miss), Blake Sims (Alabama) and Brandon Allen (Arkansas), the Tigers have bounced between sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris.

Jennings began the season as the starter but was a tepid 13-of-26 for 157 yards in the loss to Mississippi State. With the Tigers trailing 34-16 with under four minutes to play, Harris entered the game and delivered two touchdown drives before having a Hail Mary intercepted as time expired.

Harris came off the bench on Sept. 27 to lead LSU to seven touchdowns on seven possessions against New Mexico State, which earned him a first career start at Auburn. That start proved disastrous, as Harris completed just 3 of 14 passes for 58 yards.

"It was awful," Harris told reporters afterward. "From the start to the finish, everything about it was awful. Our coaching staff does a great job each week of preparing us for each game and each opponent, but I flat-out came out and played terrible."

Said Miles: "We hope that he continues to grow and mature, and we think he will. We still feel like both guys can improve and that both guys will make us better."

Miles had not named Saturday's starter as of Tuesday evening.

Harris has been surrounded by several fellow freshmen who arrived highly touted in Baton Rouge and have been active during the first half of the season. Tailback Leonard Fournette, despite his gaffe of striking the Heisman pose after a short touchdown run against Sam Houston State, has 66 carries for 364 yards (5.5 per carry) and four scores.

In SEC games, Fournette has 17 carries for 80 yards but became secondary in the offensive plans once the Tigers fell behind by multiple scores. Heralded receiver Malachi Dupre has 10 catches for 249 yards and four touchdowns, while fellow newcomer Trey Quinn has 11 receptions for 117 yards.

"We've got a lot of young guys playing big-time roles right now," Collins said. "It's just a process, and the only thing I can do as a leader is uplift them and encourage them and let them know that the rest of the team is behind them."

Unsettled quarterback play and the need for freshmen to shine sooner rather than later are concerns matched by a defense that is showing the effects of so many early departures to the NFL draft the past two years. There was no answer for Prescott or Marshall, who combined for 699 total yards against LSU.

Should the Tigers lose Saturday in Gainesville, they would have their first 0-3 SEC start since 1999, when Gerry DiNardo's fifth and final LSU team lost its first seven league games.

"The challenge is us," Miles said. "It's not about Florida or the teams we'll be facing later on. We need to play better than this, and I know that this football team will fight to get better."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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