Here we are in week two already. Y'all promise this season won't move any faster than one week at a time, right? Time to open up the swanky renovated new digs in Tiger Stadium. BRING ON THE SACRIFICE.
What To Watch For
Time to check it all out. The new south end zone upper deck, the new video boards, sound system, the whole deal. We've all seen the photos. By all accounts the construction's gone about as well as it could possibly go, so let's take this baby out for a spin. I, for one, can't wait to see what it all looks like.
As for the product on the field, this game offers a chance for LSU to start polishing out the considerable rough edges we noticed in the season-opener. I'm not looking for a perfect game by any stretch. Certainly not some sort of 500-yard, 50-point output like the Tigers put on UAB in last season's home-opener following a shaky game with TCU. But improvement, and a focused, determined offense.
Honestly, just show up and do what you're supposed to do here on offense and defense.
Keep the Train Moving
So how does LSU keep moving forward here exactly?
On offense, start with the offensive line. Sam Houston State's defense has allowed about 500 yards rushing already in two games and more than 1,000 of total offense. This is a front that LSU should have no problem pushing around.
Against Wisconsin, LSU had to spread the field a bit to create some room at the line of scrimmage. And while that's important to do when the matchup dictates it, this is still a program that wants to use I-formation personnel, so getting some of last week's zone-blocking miscues cleaned up is a great first step. Specifically for Ethan Pocic, who's likely getting the start again at center. Watch for the holes that open up. I don't want to see Kenny Hilliard or Terrence Magee bouncing plays outside too much, or linebackers bouncing off of Leonard Fournette at the line of scrimmage. I want to see nice holes and backs bursting into the secondary.
Overall, if I'm Cam Cameron I wouldn't change too much of last week's gameplan. Keep things basic and continue to try and flesh out exactly what this team does and doesn't do well. Continue to use play-action and move the pocket to create some easy throws for Anthony Jennings, and work to establish, and then build off of the running game.
Tweaks? Try not to be so deliberate with the plays for Leonard Fournette. Try and treat him like any other running back. Don't be afraid to let DeSean Smith atone for last week's drop, and continue to give Trey Quinn and John Diarse chances to show they can be the guys next to Travin Dural. Continue to develop the spread running game out of one-back and three- and four-wide personnel groupings. Yeah, this team is still going to us the I-backs look, but spreading the defense out will likely be the better way to force personnel mismatches in the future.
One of the challenges for the staff will be balancing the need to continue to give so many of the young starters on this team experience, with giving some to the equally young backups. The quarterback rotation is in the spotlight here. Anthony Jennings may look like the guy for now, but you still need to work Brandon Harris in with the No. 1 offense. Not only because Jennings hasn't exactly locked the starting job down yet, but because Harris needs some game action in case of injury.
Likewise, Pocic, Hoko Fanaika, Evan Washington, Melvin Jones, Avery Peterson, Malachi Dupre, D.J. Chark, Tony Upchurch -- all guys that are either still competing for starting jobs or backups that are expected to see significant time -- need to get game action.
And likewise on the other side of the ball, John Chavis needs to continue to build depth and find his rotations at several positions. Up front, get Frank Herron involved in the defensive line rotation along with Christian LaCouture, Quentin Thomas and Davon Godchaux. Continue to give Deondre Clark, Lewis Neal and Tashawn Bower more snaps at defensive end.
At the second level, players like Deion Jones and Kendell Beckwith come to mind. In the secondary, Rashard Robinson should be back and ready to resume competing with Jalen Collins for the other starting corner position. Jamal Adams saw some time in the Mustang package -- which, given that SHSU is a spread, hurry up, no-huddle offense -- should get some frequent deployment.
Remember the Towson Tigers
Now to completely contradict myself.
I know I've spent most of this piece talking about the Bearkats as though this game is essentially a glorified scrimmage. And with good reason -- this is still a top-15 FBS/FCS matchup, and LSU should not have much of a problem taking care of business here.
But I keep thinking back to 2012. LSU, coming off one of the weirder wins of the Miles Era, 12-10 against a royally bad Auburn squad, had a get-right game versus the FCS Towson Tigers. Only the visiting Tigers gave LSU all they wanted. The home team fumbled five times and even trailed briefly before pulling away for a 38-22 win. What should have been a tune-up for that transitioning LSU team wound up something of a nip-tuck affair. I don't know that LSU was ever in any real danger of losing, but they damn sure didn't put forth a great effort or work out any of their issues from the previous week. And honestly, it ended up being indicative of that team, which improved in some ways over the course of the season but still had some wild fluctuations. A strong showing might indicate that the guts and fortitude this team showed in the fourth quarter last week will be the foundation of a team that will keep getting better as the year goes on.
This Sam Houston State team has some similarities to that Towson squad.
They're not just an FCS playoff-caliber program, but one that has made the playoffs the last three years. There may not be a future high draft choice like Terrence West on the roster, but there are a slew of FBS transfer players. In fact, this game marks the second start for receiver LaDarius Brown against LSU. He was in TCU's starting lineup for the 2013 opener. Transfers like Brown have been a big part of head coach K.C. Keeler's program model going back to his days as a very successful head coach at Delaware, where he brought in the likes of Joe Flacco from Pittsburgh and Pat Devlin from Penn State.
And much as Towson viewed their trip to Baton Rouge in 2012, the Bearkats aren't viewing this game as just a paycheck. This is a team that's coming in here looking to make a name for themselves and everybody should expect their best effort.
What's more, SHSU runs an offense heavy on the tempo package -- they ran 105 plays last week in a win over Alabama State. Quarterback Jared Johnson has been incredibly productive with about 350 yards a game this season. And we know that in general with HUNH offenses, if you give them an inch they'll take the yards in bunches once they really get going.
That does bring an added benefit to this game, and the ULM game next week. Both opponents give LSU some contrast from Wisconsin's power-based style, and some work against HUNH teams before the Tigers hit the meat of the SEC schedule and teams like Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M that are all not only spread teams, but high-tempo outfits.
Look, this is still a young team and mistakes are going to happen. Chances are LSU isn't going to work through all of their issues in one week, and as I said last week, we don't really want to see the Tigers peak this early anyway. But bottom line is that there's a lot of benefit to this game, aside from it being many fans' first real live drink from the oasis of LSU football after the long desert of the offseason. Let's just all hope that the Tigers take advantage of the opportunity.