I don't know that this week's trip to Syracuse generated a whole lot of enthusiasm this summer, but right now, the thought of Leonard Fournette shining at the home of legends like Jim Brown and Ernie Davis seems much cooler, doesn't it?
What to Watch For on Saturday
Blocking out LSU's schedule this summer, the thought I kept coming back to was that if the Tigers could get past Mississippi State and Auburn, they'd have a great shot at being undefeated when the season's final gauntlet in November begins with Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Not only does that appear to be true right now, but maybe even more so than I originally thought, as both of the SEC games in October look much easier at the moment.
But stretches like that are a mental test for any college football team, no matter how talented -- look at Ohio State, and they're just two weeks into their cake walk. And this trip to Upstate New York is kind of a good way to lead things off.
Without a doubt, LSU has Syracuse overmatched, physically. The Orange are likely starting a fourth-string, walk-on quarterback as well. But between a very long road trip and a very early kickoff, there's a lot here to tax the Tigers' ability to focus and show up ready for a strong effort. That's going to be something to watch here. Can LSU come out and make a statement early on, like last week, or do they stumble through a few drives with mistakes that give the Orange some life?
It might not matter against Eastern Michigan or Western Kentucky, but it definitely will at South Carolina or at home versus Florida. A good parallel for me would be LSU's last trip to Tulane in 2007. Early kickoff, in a dome (albeit one that had a much more friendly crowd) against a team that had nothing to lose and everything to gain. And while the final score had LSU winning comfortably, Tulane managed to give the Tigers hell for three quarters that day.
And furthermore, Syracuse also offers another chance for the Tiger defense to work against an up-tempo, spread-style team that likes to run a lot of packaged concepts, or run-pass combo plays. LSU gave up a touchdown on one last week, and they'll likely see them again from several more opponents.
The Orange aren't ranked, but make no mistake, this is still something of a spotlight game. LSU will be playing just a couple hours from New York City, and after his performance last week you can bet there's going to be a lot of eyes on Leonard Fournette. Yeah, the whole Jim Brown thing seems clichéd as hell, but make no mistake, this is a real spotlight opportunity. The East Coast is going to be dialed in to this timeslot coming out of the ESPN College Gameday closing, and Syracuse is 3-0 and can boast one of the nation's best run defenses thus far after allowing just 140 yards on 92 carries to date. Yeah, the ranking drops to 38th in S&P+ when the schedule and other factors are considered, but that still creates an opportunity for Fournette and his team to impress a number of fans and dilatant sportswriters that might not watch him play again until LSU heads to Alabama.
Syracuse has allowed just five 100-yard rushers in Head Coach Scott Shafer's two-plus seasons, so while their run defense is somewhat padded by their schedule, it's still a big point of emphasis. The defensive front is undersized (the starting D-line averages 281 pounds a man) but quick (9.6 tackles for loss per game ranks 6th in the country), and you can bet they'll want to do everything in their power to avoid being made famous by No. 7.
Seriously, Tray Matthews' isn't going to have another highlight that gets replayed as often as whatever it was he attempted to do to Fournette last week.
Anyways, per our friends at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, the ‘Cuse linebacking corps will want to flood the passing lanes in the middle of the field, which is one of the areas Brandon Harris has thrown most of his passes.
So, after watching Cam Cameron trust Harris to make a few more plays on early downs last week, the next expansion of LSU's passing game may involve more "shot" plays -- deep throws, particularly down the sidelines. For one, we know Harris has the arm for it, and there is size and speed at the receiver position to make plays on those routes. In fact, if I wanted to over-analyze things, I could almost suggest that Cam Cameron has held those plays back a little to focus more on some of Harris' question marks. We know the kid can sling it down the field. Although that's admittedly far-fetched. But more importantly, Harris has had a bit of a tendency towards coming out a bit wild and throwing high early on. On sideline routes, that results in a ball sailing out of bounds or hitting the turf. Over the middle of the field it can lead to turnovers or receivers getting hung out to dry a bit. We saw the latter last week on a pass to Colin Jeter.
Do NOT Expect
The "pitch count" questions are already starting to come re: No. 7, and Les Miles wisely described it as a fluid in-game situation, which is exactly what it should be. Securing victory is the key, but "how many carries is too many" is kind of a Potter Stewart deal: you know it when you see it.
So while yeah, another 200-plus yard effort in a major media market could help ratchet Fournette's Heisman credentials up a little tighter, hopefully it's not needed. These next two games should be a great opportunity to rotate in lots of players, much in the way the opener with McNeese would have allowed. So watch for lots of chances for Darrel Williams and in particular Derrius Guice. He's probably the second-most talented back on the team, so gearing him up for a bigger load when needed would be smart. Likewise, LSU may want to continue cycling in and out receivers as well. Last week we saw the first significant work for DeSean Smith and Trey Quinn, but spring superstar D.J. Chark is still yet to see the field on offense. In fact, LSU's yet to even line up with four true receivers out there. Whether that's due to the new-found strength at tight end remains to be seen, but it's something to watch.
Hell, it's not even a bad idea to work Anthony Jennings into the second half, either this week or next. He's still just one play from being needed, so getting him some reps is hardly a bad idea. Although Harris can still use plenty himself.