#MACtion coming to Baton Rouge to stare down the Master of Chaos himself really shouldn't feel so...anticlimactic.
What to Watch For On Saturday
Once again we're going to be relatively short and to the point here. LSU is a heavy favorite and is going to win this game. Kent State is about a middle-of-the-pack MAC team with a first-year head coach (albeit one that has coached against LSU before) and a true freshman quarterback, that could likely be without their offensive weapon in all-purpose back Dri Archer.
This game is about one thing. The Tigers continuing to refine their own game before Auburn comes to town next week to begin conference play.
Through two games, LSU has shown a decided more improved passing game that has been remarkably efficient and productive. But in some sort of Bizarro Warp Zone, the Tiger rushing attack has been rather inconsistent, while the defense looks downright iffy. We're still at way too small of a sample size to draw any long-term conclusions for better OR worse, but it's incredibly important that this Tiger squad do what last year's did not. Take advantage of these cupcake games to get better.
The Flashes are coached by Paul Haynes, whom some might remember (not many I'd wager -- even their own fans want to forget) served as Arkansas' defensive coordinator last season. He was also an assistant on the Ohio State staff during the 2008 BCS Championship Game. So realistically...he doesn't have a great point of reference for this LSU team at all, does he?
Statistically, they don't look great. KSU is 1-1, with the victory coming against Liberty University, 17-10. They held the mighty...(/googles) Flames to just 33 yards rushing, but turned around and allowed 219 yards to Bowling Green last week, in a 41-22 loss. If that's not enough, through the two games opposing quarterbacks have completed a whopping 70 percent of their passes. Not a good thought given the game Zach Mettenberger is coming off of.
Don't get me wrong, five-touchdown nights are outstanding, but personally, I'd like to see LSU get closer to that 219-yard rushing total than to what the passing game was able to accomplish. The Tiger backs have had their success, but a couple of longer runs have obscured the fact that the down-in, down-out success isn't quite what we'd like to be. It's easier for a good defense to stop a one-dimensional offense, regardless of whether that offense is run- OR pass-heavy. So if LSU can find that extra dimension, it'd be nice.
Although, if the Tigers are forced to milk the passing game the way they have the run in recent seasons, that would at least make for a more colorful brand of chaos.
On defense, LSU has held opponents to 3.97 yards per carry through the first two weeks. Kent State is averaging 3.96. This would be a good time to pad the former number. Doing that could require more...
LSU got a lot of freshmen on the field last week, and there have been reports that that may only escalate in this one. There's a lot to speculate about there. It wasn't hard to see that some players checked out once LSU was up 28-0 last weekend. Leaking talk about playing more freshmen, especially at positions like corner, where the starters are pretty established, could be a motivational ploy. It could also be more of a message to other vets at the nickel and dime positions, setting the stage for guys like Tre'davious White and Rashard Robinson to see more time that was coming anyway.
The biggest position under the microscope here has to be linebacker. They were rough last weekend, most obviously in the second quarter. D.J. Welter, Tahj Jones, Kwon Alexander, Lorenzo Phillips, and Debo Jones all had some really rough plays. Even as Lamar Louis and Lamin Barrow came up with 7 tackles, they just didn't make a ton of plays. On one play, linebackers would squat in their gaps too long and get caught in the wash. On the next one, they'd overreact, over-pursue and lose their gap discipline. Nobody really tackled all that well, and everybody looked awkward and tentative in coverage at times.
We know there's talent at the position, and guys that have gotten the job done before. They just need to get their games on point. Attention to detail and chemistry are likely the leading factors. Without Kevin Minter around, somebody has to step up and set the tone. You'd expect that to be a senior like Barrow, and it still can be. But he has to do the job.
On offense, as important as it is for this team to establish the run, it's also crucial to continue to get more reps and more diversity in the passing game. Last week, LSU spent most of the game in the I-formation with either one or two wideouts, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry getting the overwhelming majority of the targets. I'm very sure that the coaching staff would like to keep things relatively vanilla, but Travin Dural doesn't need to be getting his first significant share of the receiving action in a conference game. Ditto a player like Desean Smith. It'd be nice to see them get some gameplan experience this week. Likewise, more of the quick passing and a screen game.
That extends back on to the defense for guys like Christian LaCouture, Tashawn Bower, Jeryl Brazil and Ricky Jefferson. Brazil managed a few snaps last week, but another advantage of having a speed weapon like that in your backfield is making teams prepare for it, and for that to happen he needs to see a few more touches. Likewise, for all the talk Ricky Jefferson received during fall camp, he really hasn't seen the field that much.
The Right Hand
Part of solidifying the defense and running game involves solidifying the personnel rotations for these spots. Paul noted in his assessment of the UAB game that the best combination of linebackers might be Barrow, Louis and Alexander, and I'm inclined to agree. Barrow's the veteran, and Louis, while scatterbrained, was definitely the most active of the group against the Blazers. Alexander has the most big-play ability, but really has to learn to play under control and pursue better -- the latter of which was a real problem for him against TCU. He also brings the biggest load at the point of attack, and has a good sense of timing as a blitzer. Kent State's quarterback Colin Reardon has been somewhat effective as a runner through two games, so having somebody in position to corral him could be key.
Behind them, if Craig Loston is still dinged up there's no reason to risk him here. Corey Thompson, reportedly, is closer to 100 percent from his dislocated shoulder, and it'd be nice to see a lot of him, either in place of Loston or next to him. Ronald Martin has really struggled in both games, especially with tackling. Micah Eugene could also get a little more time back there, as compared to his usual nickel/dime position. And of course, there's the oft-discussed Jefferson. We know that all of these guys, as well as Jerqwinick Sandolph, will get in the game at different times this season. But it seems the staff hasn't really settled on a rotation than here, or at linebacker yet. It'd be nice to have that in place before the defense is staring down Todd Gurley and Aaron Murray.
Along the offensive line the rotation of players appears to be set, but building some more chemistry between La'El Collins, Vadal Alexander, Elliot Porter, Trai Turner and Jerald Hawkins is incredibly important. While I think there's a bit more experience here than most people are giving the line credit for, that experience is not in this current setup. All five of these guys are playing next to somebody they didn't play next to very much (if at all) last season. Collins and Alexander were at different positions, and Porter and Hawkins are still new starters. That's an oft-undersold factor for offensive lines. How they communicate and fit together can be a puzzle, and it can take time, even for really talented units, to come together.
And while I'm of the belief that run blocking is a larger factor in the running game inconsistency than the backs themselves, working Jeremy Hill back into the offense in a larger role would probably help. Hill and Terrance Magee in particular, could use some more reps in the passing game as well.