The Tigers haven't really had their cupcake game yet with the McNeese cancellation, so that comes on Saturday with the Eastern Michigan Eagles coming to town. Yeah, South Carolina isn't very good and Western Kentucky isn't a big name but both are likely .500-ish ball clubs. EMU hasn't won more than two games in a season since 2011.
The good news there, I suppose, is that at 1-3 the Eagles are already halfway to last year's win total under head coach Chris Creighton. Still we're talking about a team that ranks 119th in the country in F/+ and 115th in S&P+.
What to Watch For on Saturday
The Next Step
Offense is what's sucking up all the oxygen for this team right now -- and for good reason. But LSU's defense is what I'm more interested in this week. EMU has scored 30-plus in three out of their four games, and while I definitely don't expect to see that on Saturday, it does suggest that this is a bunch that knows how to execute their game plan, and will probably come in with some confidence.
And there's no question that we haven't seen a truly great four-quarter effort from this defense yet. I mean, if you can still be disappointed in a performance where you held an opponent to 4.0 yards per play, like last week with Syracuse, it suggests this Tiger defense is capable of much more.
I want to see this unit clean up the penalties and mental errors. Put together a strong effort that doesn't see them lay off and allow an opponent to eat them up underneath. I'm not asking for a shutout, or even holding the Eagles under a certain number. If the backups give up some points with a 35-point lead that's hard to complain about. But create some big play opportunities and get EMU off the field on third down while the offense does its thing. Florida and South Carolina aren't particularly good offenses, but they have smart coaches and more talent than Syracuse. LSU needs to show it can maintain focus.
Frankly, this is one of the times where some stat-padding would be awesome. Snack some picks, sacks, tackles for loss.
By now you've probably at least heard that Eastern Michigan is dead last in the nation in rushing defense at 373 yards per game allowed. I guess they can hang their hat on only ranking 126th in yards per carry allowed at 6.73.
And based on how he's running, you have to consider it a pretty good chance that Leonard Fournette breaks the LSU single-game rushing record of 250 yards. Yeah, setting records against EMU isn't setting it against Ole Miss like Alley Broussard did, but to be honest, I'd be willing to bet he still out-does that number in another game this season.
But with the Eagles keying on No. 7, this week offers another opportunity for Brandon Harris and the LSU passing game to grow a bit. Clean up last week's mistakes and continue to grow in confidence with next week's trip to Columbia.
With EMU running an odd front defense, this should also offer LSU's offensive line a mental test in hitting their marks against a 3-4, given that they'll see one in November against Alabama.
Hey, let's mix metaphors!
Does anybody else find it funny that with maybe the best pure playmaker we've seen in the Les Miles Era, the narrative took all of two games to start capping how many times he can touch the ball?
Not that it's wrong. Any running back can only carry the ball so much, and it's much more important to save Fournette's heavy workloads for the SEC games versus Eastern Michigan. That said, a pitch count for a player like No. 7 isn't about setting a number and yanking him automatically when it comes up. It's about playing well enough as an offense so that he's no longer necessary.
If Fournette has 12 carries for 150 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and LSU is up 35-0, then I'd say those carries are enough. But if those same numbers are only yielding you a 24-7 lead, then I'd say a few more to put things away won't hurt. But that's as much on how his teammates execute as it is Fournette. If the offense and defense function as they should, that will help that pitch count be that much lower.
Shuffling the Deck
The other big benefit to LSU playing its first actual cupcake game is a more opportunity to expand depth a little bit. Get freshmen and other backups some more playing time and figure out exactly who else can help out this team. More snaps for players like Donte Jackson, Trey Quinn, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore, Ed Paris, Tyron Johnson, Nick Brossette, Maea Teuhema, Sione Teuhema and Derrius Guice. A chance for Isiah Washington to get his first real action as well.
And everybody on this list has seen some time to date, but this offers a chance to expand it and for some, take it beyond special teams. Sione Teuhema was a terror on kickoffs in the second half last week, maybe he can add some more speed to the pass-rush at times this week? Guice has been a great space player, but he could use more work learning to read his blocks and run inside a bit. If Jackson is going to see more time on offense, it'd be better to try it a little more this week versus expanding that role against an Alabama or an Ole Miss.
It may not be a popular move, but getting Anthony Jennings a few snaps this week would be a good idea as well. Harris may have this job locked up, but Jennings is still the backup, which means he is a play away from the field. Better to get him some live action now than have him debut in an emergency situation.
Eastern Michigan isn't an opponent that gets anybody excited, but there's still some value here for LSU. Plus it gives us another chance to watch Fournette run, and you'll regret missing any of those.