LSU hits the decompression chamber this weekend, as Western Kentucky makes the second bluegrass state team to enter Tiger Stadium, this time for homecoming. The Hilltoppers will be out to harsh the Tigers' buzz after last week's big'n versus Bama. LSU has a clear path to Atlanta, the only key now is to take these final three steps. On another note, Saturday can represent Les Miles' 100th victory as a head coach if the players can go get it for him.
We'll be brief here, because, frankly this is a fairly nondescript game and the only thing to really watch for is the offense finding it's groove again. I actually will be relying on Poseur's reaction piece, the box score and my DVR to watch this one, as I'll be in New Orleans for a good friend's bachelor party.
What to Watch For on Saturday
It might seem funny to say about a directional school from the Sun Belt, but Western Kentucky might be the second-best opponent in LSU's final three regular-season games. Maybe that's as much a commentary on how bad Ole Miss is, but WKU comes to Baton Rouge on a five-game winning streak, and with two more games against North Texas and Troy (who combined have a total of five wins), they're in prime position to reach bowl eligibility. Whether that actually lands them a bowl bid is another question, but nonetheless there's optimism under second-year head coach Willie Taggert.
The headliner is running back Bobby Rainey, No. 4 in the country in rushing yards per game, and pretty much the entire Hilltopper offense (41 percent of the team's total yardage). A tough, compact runner at just 5-8 and 200 pounds or so, Rainey leads the nation in carries and does it by a pretty solid margin -- he averages 29 carries per game when no other back averages more than 25. If you saw the season opener against Kentucky, first of all, you have my sympathies, but secondly, you probably came away with a measure of respect for Rainey, as his 105 yards on 28 carries not only kept the Hilltoppers in the game, but nearly got them a win.
Quarterback Kawaun Jakes is nothing special (54-percent completions at 6.7 ypa, 7 touchdowns and 11 picks), but WKU has also been pretty solid on defense. Coordinator Lance Guidry is a little infamous in LSU circles (some of you might remember that he's Janzen Jackson father, and picked up his first FBS college job shortly after his son switched commitments from LSU to Tennessee), but he's managed to lead a unit that ranks solidly in the middle of the pack nationally, and ahead of teams like Oregon, Auburn, Arkansas and of course, Ole Miss in some areas. Linebacker Andrew Jackson is the headliner on that side of the ball for WKU, with 90 tackles (20th in the country) and 13.5 tackles-for-loss (No. 7 nationally).
Granted, all of this has come against Sun Belt competition, but my point is that LSU has had worse homecoming opponents.
After a season low in yardage and points last week in the Tussle in Tuscaloosa, the Tigers will be looking to get back to their incredibly efficient ways. The gameplan will be what it's always been -- establish the run, keep the passing situations manageable and allow the quarterbacks to take a few shots down the field at the right times. Special teams will keep the opponent in bad field position and let the defense have its chew toy. If LSU holds true to form, that should resume this week without much of a letdown.
And nobody on the offense needs a little makeup work more than Jarrett Lee. Coming off his first truly bad game against Alabama, Lee needs a good dusting off, and I expect the coaching staff to do just that. Lee will remain the starter, and go back to doing the things he does well. Throw down field off play-action and throw the quick slants, curls and comebacks that have made this passing game so efficient. Put last week behind him, and focus on the next play. He's played too well this season to let last week bring him down.
Jordan Jefferson will, of course, continue to do Jordan Jefferson things -- hand the ball off, run some option and throw the occasional pass. These two halves have combined to make a pretty good whole ever since Jefferson returned to the lineup, and this week will be about getting them locked together again. If the offense can get humming early, we might even see a few reps for Zach Mettenberger.
It should go without saying that getting the running game back in gear will play a role. Spencer Ware hasn't had a 100-yard day in more than a month, but I have a feeling the carries will be spread out evenly amongst him, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue. The more important thing to watch will be the offensive line's performance against an undersized WKU defensive line. Having P.J. Lonergan back to health would be nice, and allow Will Blackwell and whomever is playing right guard (T-Bob Hebert or the banged-up Josh Williford) to get to the second level and get a block on Jackson when LSU runs the inside zone. Watch for Kenny Hilliard. His blocking from the fullback spot last week was commendable (hell, all three fullbacks made some really nice blocks last week), and that might earn him a few more reps this week in order to save wear-n-tear on the other backs.
Another Brick in the Wall
I will neither confirm nor deny that this song is a peace-offering to Poseur for using Drowning Pool last week.
It's all down to the closing stretch now. WKU and a shit-tastic Ole Miss team are all that stands between LSU and a potential (unless the ‘Backs somehow gack to Tennessee or Mississippi State) Western Division Championship Game against Arkansas. The Tigers have done a fantastic job of maintaining focus and taking care of business week-in and week-out this season. Last week was a win none of us will ever forget, but that's over and done with, and there are three more games on this schedule to get through. Keep the right mindset, and get through this week without any major injuries. It would be nice to see some playing time for the little-used veterans and freshmen on this team, like the aforementioned Mettenberger and Hilliard, and guys like Jermauria Rasco, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone, Craig Loston, Derrick Bryant, Ronnie Vinson, Chancey Aghayere and Luke Muncie.
LSU's depth wound of playing a big role last week, and it should play another role this week in setting up the final stretch run.
The other challenge for the coaching staff is, simply, to remind this team of the fact that there IS three more games on the schedule. Yeah, the Bama win was huge. And yeah, it sets up everything else that will happen next. But those things still have to happen. The pins are set up, LSU just has to knock them down. And that process begins on Saturday.