BATON ROUGE, La. Two games into the season, third-ranked LSU is now playing without two of its top players and a projected starter at a third spot.
It's just a little hard to tell when they've won their first two games by a combined score of 82-17.
"We have a quality two-deep," LSU head coach Les Miles said. "We lose a guy and someone has to step into the breach. That guy has to play to the responsibility of the position."
The big losses to the lineup so far are 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu at cornerback and punt returner, left tackle Chris Faulk and linebacker Tahj Jones.
Mathieu was dismissed in August for failed drug tests, Jones is barred from playing because of unspecified academic matters and Faulk hurt his left knee in practice last week, requiring surgery that is expected to sideline him for the season.
Mathieu's replacement at cornerback has been freshman Jalen Mills, who had seven tackles and an interception during the Tigers' 41-3 demolition of Washington last Saturday night.
"From his high school film, you could see Mills' competitive nature," Miles said. "You don't know how that competitiveness will translate to our campus. Does he fit? Is he starry-eyed? For him, it happened right away. While he's defending passes or tackling, you just see the competitiveness in him."
Josh Dworaczyk, a sixth-year senior who missed the 2011 season with a knee injury, stepped in for Faulk at left tackle. Dworaczyk, who was the starting left guard during the 2009-10 campaigns, had no problems taking over for Faulk.
The Tigers rushed for 242 yards against Washington. The first LSU touchdown a 21-yard run by Alfred Blue came behind the left side of the line. Moreover, quarterback Zach Mettenberger was not sacked after being sacked twice in the first week by the North Texas defense.
"When Josh was at left guard, he was always used as our backup left tackle," Miles said. "He can step in at any left side slot. We are fortunate to have him."
Odell Beckham Jr. is the punt returner in Mathieu's absence. He's averaged 13.2 yards on six punt returns. Beckham returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown against North Texas. He had another punt return for a touchdown nullified by a penalty in the game against the Mean Green.
Luke Muncie has replaced Jones in the starting lineup. Through two games, Muncie has six tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage.
With three ex-reserves now playing starting roles, Miles seemed satisfied with the way his team overwhelmed Washington.
"We had to be ready to play and we were," Miles said Monday. "Our football team approached that game correctly."
Miles added, however, that the Tigers "are not ready to play our best opponents yet."
Regardless, the next team on LSU's schedule is not one of its best opponents.
Winless Idaho visits Tiger Stadium this Saturday night.
The Vandals have lost their first two games to FCS member Eastern Washington and Mid-America Conference member Bowling Green.
Miles stressed Monday that the Tigers must focus on themselves and not the opponent as they get ready for their Southeastern Conference opener at Auburn the following weekend.
"We do not take anybody lightly," Miles said. "If we are going to improve, our team has to make strides this week against this opponent. If we bring the intensity we need to, we'll accomplish something this Saturday."
If the Tigers were at full strength, Dworaczyk, Mills and Muncie could have expected a lot of playing time this weekend. Instead, it is now some of their backups who could see more action if LSU exerts full command over the game and does not falter like Arkansas did against Louisiana-Monroe last Saturday.
"I'm sure it will be mentioned in our meetings," said Miles, referring to the Razorbacks' upset loss. "There is one of those games like that every year. You have to respect every team you play."