Billy's internet isn't working quite right, so he asked me to post his North Texas preview. Yeah, he didn't think that idea through. I don't get to pretend to be an editor that often...
F--- you, Hurricane Isaac. Now that it's out of the way and you don't have to hear some really douche-y rant about how much this natural disaster affected my life (when we all know there are people suffering worse anyway and all that), we can actually discuss LSU's season opener.
LSU has been fortunate in that there's next to no chance of this storm affecting team prep enough for an opponent of the Mean Green's caliber. LSU will win this game, likely in dominant fashion. The interrupted prep might make this a little sloppier than the average opener -- and LSU's openers have generally had their sloppy moments in the Les Miles' era anyway. Hell, it's damn sure affected my typical level of blog prep.* Never mind that the storm damage in Laplace may have me at home helping out with my folks instead of going to the game anyway.
*Ed. Note - The hurricane cut short ATVS two-a-days. You do not want to see Billy after the tenth suicide run.
Still, I refuse to let it get me down. Football season's back y'all! So awaaaaaay we go...
What to Watch For on Saturday Night
There are only 12 football games every regular season, and you really hate to discount one completely, but this game is what it is: a dress rehearsal. North Texas isn't that good, and they're certainly not good enough to beat LSU even with the Isaac (again, F--- YOU Isaac)-affected week of prep. The Mean Green barely got over the 4,000 yard mark in total offense in 2011, and lost 1,100 of those yards from running back Lance Dunbar.*
*Ed. Note - LSU's offense last season average a whopping 13.3 more yards/game than North Texas' 341.8. I know what you're thinking... there was an offense that gained less yards than LSU? Yup.
We'll be watching LSU. Watching how Zach Mettenberger and an unproven, yet not totally inexperienced receiving corps functions. How Alfred Blue adjusts to the starting running back slot. And of course, how a number of freshmen defenders integrate into the defensive back seven.
Like most openers against patsies, expect the offense to be fairly basic and stick to some of the core concepts of the offense.* Runs like the inside zone, or tight, the outside zone, or stretch, and the power-O toss. The passing concepts will probably focus on the simple ones like vertical and quick, with a couple of basic tags mixed in for certain situations, and perhaps a screen or two.
*Ed. Note - These core concepts will move beyond last year's "oh please, God, don't turn the ball over" and into these crazy concepts like the forward pass, which is this totally innovative play. I don't want to spoil it, but you're gonna love it when you see your first forward pass. Very exciting.
Time to check out the new features on the 2012 model Tigers, right? I mean we all know we really want to see what's under the hood...or center, I guess, but there's so much more. Freshman defensive backs! Lots of them, and what's even better, is they get to face one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the country in week two, so seeing how they handle their first game action is no small matter.*
*Ed. Note - I recommend you start drinking scotch now. Lagavulin is quite nice. You need to be in game shape as well, and Washington is going to drive you to drink. Prepare now. That's why this game is on the schedule, to get us in mid-season form.
Don't necessarily watch the mistakes. They're going to happen, because, freshmen. Watch how they recover, and how they learn. To they consistently get pecked to death underneath, do they bite on double-moves or play-action a couple of times, or do they pass receivers off to safeties that aren't helping them over the top? Actually, forget about what I said and DO watch their mistakes. But it's how they come back that is the most important thing. The Mean Green wideouts are a fairly veteran group (two seniors and a junior) with decent size (two starters north of 6-1 and 2-bills), so the Jalens, Mills & Collins, will have their work cut out for them when it comes to getting a good jam in at the line of scrimmage.
The linebackers will be under the microscope as well, particularly Kevin Minter in the middle. If he's going to emerge as a playmaker at the mike spot, it would be nice to see him flex those muscles against a team that will likely still want to run the ball behind a sizeable offensive front. The freshmen ‘backers' first action will be on special teams and then in as rotation guys or backups, but it'll be a good idea to get some of them in before Washington, who will almost certainly throw to their backs and to stud tight end Austin Serferian-Jenkins.
Interestingly enough, the Mean Green didn't give up very many sacks or tackles-for-loss last season, so LSU's defensive line should get a fairly decent warm-up before going after Keith Price.*
*Ed. Note - I predict that our irresistible force is better than their immovable object.
Do NOT Expect
When expectations are this high, it's really, really easy to put the cart before the horse, and expect to see a finished product. Especially when expectations are this high. But a season is a process for every team, even one ranked No. 1. LSU's not going to look perfect here, especially with freshmen in significant roles on defense.*
*Ed. Note - Note the South Carolina game. Season openers are sloppy affairs, as a general rule. Do not panic. That is part of the circle of life.
Offensively, try to pay attention to the process as much as the results.* Team yards-per-play is a good stat to watch -- even with all of last season's success, it's an area where the Tigers could still improve. If LSU's defense and special teams do what they've typically done, the offense may have some short fields and my find themselves working with a large lead much quicker than would be ideal, if your goal is to see the attack in an extended role. But an offense doesn't have to move the ball far to move the ball well. We all know that if LSU suddenly finds itself with a four-plus touchdown lead by the half, Miles will avoid trying to embarrass North Texas, especially with a coach's coach like Dan McCarney on the other sideline. Mettenberger's statline may not feature more than 10-15 passes if the flow of the game asks him to do even less than you would typically expect. Efficiency, particularly on third down and in the redzone, would be a sign that Mettenberger and Co. are on the right track, even if the volume of attempts isn't there. A passing game that looks smooth and well-rehearsed would be a first for an LSU opener in at least the last four years.
*Ed. Note - Did he say Process? He did, didn't he? Someone is gonna be running gassers until he pukes. Way to use the Darth Saban catch phrase, Billy. Great. Now PodKatt's gonna make use all do stadium steps.