It's a shame that we think of one of just seven home games in this way, but the truth is, we're not going to remember this game unless something bad happens. Games like this are a cold hard reality of modern college football, but they still serve a purpose from time to time.
What To Watch For Saturday
There's something of an advantage to where UAB sits on this schedule, in that they offer LSU a bit of a beginners' or remedial course for future opponents. The Blazers aren't a particularly great team under second-year head coach Garrick McGee, but they run a pro-style offense and a 3-4 defense, two things that the Tigers will see later this season against Georgia, Florida (somewhat) and Alabama.
That is not to say at all that this game will, in any way, be comparable in terms of talent to those programs, but with an offensive line that's still growing, a lesson in some of the basic alignments and assignments versus a 3-4 team certainly can't hurt. It may not be the exact scheme as Todd Grantham or Nick Saban's defenses (hell, Bama uses 4 linemen as much or more than they use 3), but its close enough that it won't be Greek for the offense to see how plays fit against such a front. Auburn, State and Ole Miss are all 4-man line defenses.
On offense, you may remember McGee as the offensive coordinator for much of Bobby Petrino's tenure in Arkansas. So it's no surprise that he runs a similar style of offense, mixing in spread looks with lots of 12 and 21 personnel (1 back, 2 TE/2 backs, 1 TE) groups. Again, it's UAB, but that's a very different look from the constant four- and five-wide shotgun formations LSU saw last week against TCU. In terms of plays, look for some of the standbys we used to look for against Arkansas, such as the shallow cross (another favorite of Mark Richt's offense at Georgia), Y-Ytick and assorted screens, in addition to a power- and zone-based running scheme. Plus some tempo looks. UAB has been fairly pass-happy under McGee, but does have a returning 1,000-yard rusher in Darrin Reaves. Wide receiver Jamarcus Nelson is also coming off a big day versus Troy.
LSU's goals for this week should be as follows: win (duh), avoid injuries and get better as a team. It gets said a lot that teams improve the most from week one to week two. I find that relatively nebulous -- last year's Tigers monkey stomped a solid Washington team in week two, but continued to dick around with the likes of Wyoming, Towson and Auburn.
Nonetheless, it's imperative that this team build on last week's big win over TCU. Continue to do the things they did well, and work on the rough spots that. Things like:
- Create more push in the power running game, particularly up the middle. As good as the passing game looked last week, LSU doesn't want to be a team that relies on draws, delays and traps in the running game.
- Get better linebacker play. D.J. Welter was kind of the fan/media whipping boy in week one, but it's not like any of his mates were much better. This was expected to be the strength of the 2013 defense, and it'd be a real shock for them to have another rough outing.
- An improved pass-rush on third down. TCU completed seven out of 13 last week, and the inability of the defense to get pressure with four was a big part of that. Granted, Jordan Allen might've had a few more sacks without the left tackle's great tackling technique, but still.
- More special teams consistency. Aside from Jamie Keehn's shank and the 100-yard return touchdown, the outfit was relatively solid. Still, avoiding those mistakes against a cupcake would be progress. Including in LSU's own return game.
- Clean up the little things in the passing game, like drops from the receivers and pass-protection from the running backs. Odell Beckham Jr.'s drops were somewhat overstated by some, but still, it'd be nice to see him avoid them this week. UAB's starting secondary has three guys six-feet or taller, so this will also be a chance for ODB and Jarvis Landry to work against bigger corners, something that gave them trouble last year. Likewise, players like Travin Dural need to attack the ball when it comes their way.
- Get Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard back into their respective grooves. Running hard and breaking tackles like we know they can.
Overall, the best way for LSU to do all of this would be, quite frankly, to treat this game like a typical lay-up and pad some stats. UAB allowed Troy's quarterback to complete more than 90 percent of his throws last week. I'm not suggesting Zach Mettenberger match that, but even with a drop or two, he should be able to get his completion percentage closer to that range than to the 50 percent he finished with last Saturday.
If you notice, I didn't mention red zone offense. That's because if the offense can clean up a lot of these little things and continue to move the ball, those issues should mostly take care of themselves. Schematically, I would expect a little more of the same that we saw last week with a few more wrinkles worked in. Cameron and the offensive staff should still be trying to figure out exactly what this team does well, plus what they can, and need to, build on.
The playtime rotation was a little odd last week, in so far as well expected to see more of some of the freshmen and other newcomers, along with some unexpected late injuries.
Ricky Jefferson, Christian LaCouture, Tashawn Bower and Tre'davious White were all expected to see a lot of time, but White was strictly out there on special teams, and LaCouture saw just a handful of snaps. The other two were completely MIA. There can be a lot of reasons for this, whether it was concerns about the inexperience, the matchup or just the "fog of war" so to speak. You want to put a guy in, don't like the situation, so you say you'll do it next drive, which becomes the next drive again, so on and so forth. Against a cupcake team like UAB, that should change.
Travis Dickson, Tahj Jones and Corey Thompson are all expected to return after missing TCU with some minor injuries. Dickson's return in particular could be interesting. LSU didn't really do as many two-tight-end sets as I would expect, especially in the Ace formation. Dickson's absence might've played a role in that -- DeSean Smith saw some red zone reps, but they might be reluctant to throw him into a larger role than that right away. Dickson's much better blocking and catching in space than Dillon Gordon, and he's likely more ready for the heavy reps than Smith. Watch for him on the field in the second TE/H-back role.
Jones' return shouldn't be underestimated. He's a senior that knows the defense as well or better than anybody on the team, and his abilities in coverage could free up some personnel groups in nickel and Mustang. Those units really struggled against underneath receivers last week.
Likewise, players like Travin Dural, Quantavious Leslie, Kenny Hilliard and Anthony Jennings could all be out there. Hopefully so, in the case of Jennings. If he's LSU's quarterback of the future, it's really imperative that he get some reps at some point, preferably doing something besides handing the ball off. At this stage in the season the first-team offense still needs plenty of work, but hopefully Jennings will be on the field by the third quarter for more than just a QB sneak or some token carries and handoffs. It would also be a good idea to give White or Jeryl Brazil some return work to save the wear-and-tear on ODB.