LSU stumbled through SEC play last year and finished below .500 for the first time since 1999.
After getting this season off to a winning start, the Tigers will try to begin conference play in strong fashion when they host Vanderbilt on Saturday night for the first time in almost five years.
The 11th-ranked Tigers went 3-5 in the highly competitive SEC last season, losing their last four games - three at home - to end up third in the West. It was the first time they finished below .500 in conference play since going 1-7 in 1999.
LSU, two seasons removed from winning the national title, will rely on quarterback Jordan Jefferson and wide receiver Terrance Toliver to help it avoid similar struggles within the conference.
The duo were key in getting the Tigers' 2009 season off to a positive start with a 31-23 win at Washington on Saturday.
Jefferson, a sophomore, went 11 for 19 for 172 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 42 yards on eight carries. Toliver caught four passes for 117 yards and a career-high two TDs. The junior doubled his scoring total from all of last year, when he managed 22 receptions for 257 yards in a reserve role.
"We knew Terrance was going to get the ball a lot (Saturday)," said Jefferson, who will get his first start at Tiger Stadium after starting three road games last year, including a 38-3 win over Georgia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. "They were coming with corner blitzes, and I just fed him the ball."
With Jefferson and Toliver commanding the offense, Tigers coach Les Miles is hoping for a better performance defensively.
Senior linebacker Jacob Cutrera returned an interception 29 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, but the defense managed one sack while allowing 478 yards - 321 through the air. The Tigers allowed 215.4 passing yards per game last year, ranking only better than Mississippi's 221.7 in the SEC. They also gave up 15 passing scores compared to eight interceptions, a far cry from the 23 picks and 19 TDs from the previous season.
Those struggles prompted Miles to hire John Chavis as defensive coordinator. Chavis held the same position at Tennessee from 1995-2008.
"I think our new defensive coaches did a good job. The team was in position to make tackles and do things," Miles said. "We missed some tackles early on.
"At times I saw that Tiger defense that I want it to be."
LSU is 20-7-1 all-time against Vanderbilt, winning the last five meetings. Despite being conference rivals, the teams haven't met since the Tigers won 34-6 at Nashville on Oct. 8, 2005. They last played in Baton Rouge on Oct. 30, 2004, a 24-7 win for LSU as it improved to 10-2-1 there in the all-time series.
The Commodores split eight conference games last year, dropping four of the last five as part of a 2-6 stretch. That came after they opened the season with five consecutive wins to climb as high as 13th in the AP poll.
Vanderbilt opened this season with last Saturday's 45-0 win over Football Championship Subdivision team Western Carolina. The Commodores generated 433 rushing yards with five of their six touchdowns coming on the ground, and the defense held the Catamounts to 115 yards.
"I thought it was a good win," coach Bobby Johnson said. "We got off to a very good start. Our defense played like we expected them to play. It gives us a good starting point and maybe we can move forward. Obviously, this week the competition is going to be a whole lot better.
"Offensively, we're realistic. We're not going to be able to run the ball as easily against LSU as we did against Western Carolina."
Vanderbilt's rushing game is led by freshmen Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. Norman had 105 yards and two touchdowns last weekend, while Stacy ran for 133 and a score.