By: Trey Mongrue
Just as fast as the season started, things seemed bleak for the LSU Tigers football team. After a half and some change of football had been played, the Tigers found their necks under the boot of Wisconsin.
However, performing escape act that even makes David Blaine raise an eyebrow, LSU somehow left Houston with a notch in the win column and now return to Baton Rouge to rechristen the now larger Tiger Stadium in the home opener against Sam Houston State.
After beginning the season against a ranked opponent, Saturday’s game with the Bearkats opens a stretch of games where LSU should have it easy before starting Southeastern Conference play against Mississippi State on September 20th. That said, these games are still important for Les Miles.
He recognizes that, despite the win over the Badgers, the Tigers still have much to improve on if they want to make a serious play for an SEC title.
“The number of misfires that stopped us from controlling the game and playing like we’re capable of will all be addressed,” said Miles. “We’re a blue collar team that will fight like hell and scrap you.”
LSU Offense vs. Sam Houston State Defense
Entering the season, the big question regarding LSU’s offensive output was always about the production of the passing game. With veterans Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and top freshman Leonard Fournette filling up the depth chart behind a veteran offensive line, it was always assumed that LSU would be able to run the ball. But after one half of football against Wisconsin, the Tigers could only muster a measly 16 rushing yards. 114 yards and a Hilliard touchdown in the second half righted the ship for the most part, but a red flag was definitely raised. The Tigers should find holes against a SHSU defense that was gashed for 317 rushing yards in a 56-35 loss to Eastern Washington two weeks ago. This is the perfect opportunity for Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to feed the ball to Fournette and let him build up his confidence after the Wisconsin defense welcomed him to college football by holding him to just 2.3 yards per carry. If this game goes as expected, freshman quarterback Brandon Harris should get a lot of second half snaps as well.
LSU Defense vs. Sam Houston State Offense
Like the running game, the LSU front seven turned in a Jekyll and Hyde performance against Wisconsin. In the first half, it seemed like every time somebody in the Wisconsin backfield got the ball, he was able to make it to the second level of defense with ease. But after the Badger’s first drive of the second half, the LSU defense, thanks in large part to the third quarter emergence of linebacker Kwon Alexander, finally stymied the Wisconsin offense, holding it to just two total first downs in the game’s final 22 minutes. Now, maybe that had something to do with the Badgers inexplicably keeping running back Melvin Gordon III on the sideline for much of the half, but still, the LSU defense found a spark. Led by sophomore quarterback Jared Johnson and his 703 passing yards to go along with a 62-percent pass completion rate in two games, the Bearkats possess one of the most high-powered offenses in the Football Championship subdivision. They will move the ball, but LSU’s defense is just too talented to let that happen consistently.
Miles and junior Jamie Keehn seem to be made for each other in that they are both very trick-or-treat when it comes to their duties as coach and punter. Keehn was sent out to punt eight times against Wisconsin and he finished with a solid average of 42.5 yards per punt, including a long of 64. But as was the case many times last season, Keehn would inexplicably shank one punt. The latest was a 19-yarder that went out of bounds to setup a Wisconsin field goal. Keehn has the talent, but he also seems like a ticking time bomb that could cost LSU some valuable field position down the road. As for a high-scoring team like Sam Houston State, none of its touchdowns have come via special teams. In fact, placekicker Luc Swimberghe has just attempted – and converted – three field goals in two games. All came within the manageable range of less than 40 yards.
Having made two consecutive FCS Championship games in 2011 and 2012 under head coach Willie Fritz, the Bearkats have recruited well in recent years and are probably just as good as – if not better than – some lower-tier Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Now under first year coach K.C. Keeler, the Bearkats are in a bit of transition, particularly on defense, which should make things much easier for LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings who showed some promise with a good second half against Wisconsin. This game has all the makings of a nice confidence-builder for a young LSU team.
LSU 45, Sam Houston State 17