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LSU vs. Jacksonville State: What to Watch For

One foot in front of the other.

LSU v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

And life goes on as they say. For a season that is said by so many to be over, LSU will play its home opener Saturday night against perennial FCS powerhouse Jacksonville State.

What to Watch For Saturday Night

Baby Steps

Let’s make one thing crystal clear regarding this game. There is zero chance that we will see all of the issues that were on display last week fixed in this game. Even if the Tiger offense revs up and drops 70 on JSU the way a top-five team is supposed to when they play an FCS team, that will not change what happened against Wisconsin. Frankly, it’s unrealistic to think that such a thing would happen over the course of a week.

Meaningful improvement from a disaster of that magnitude is a slow process. But it’s still a process that can have its first steps this week.

There is no reason to believe LSU can’t push this team around and score at least 40 points, even if that means running the hell out of the ball. But that shouldn’t involve many touches for Leonard Fournette, if any at all given that he didn’t look 100 percent last weekend, and dinged his ankle again at the end of the game. I’d just as soon see him save those carries for the next two games, which are far more important.

And frankly, Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams and Nick Brossette all need the game action.

More important, of course, is the passing game and its efficiency. If Brandon Harris is going to be the quarterback here, then he needs to step up and show he can get beyond last week. Complete at least 60 percent of his passes, convert third downs when asked and throw touchdown passes when presented with the opportunity. If receivers get tackled short of the goal-line on runs after the catch that’s one thing, but if guys get open down the field he has to take advantage. Period.

If he can’t, then this coaching staff needs to give Danny Etling a shot now. Not for the first time against a Mississippi State or Auburn. Now. Even if Harris plays great, ideally Etling should receive a couple of second-half drives, though track record tells us that will likely feature a lot of handing off.

And if we see another three-and-out, 0-for-3 passing performance like Harris led the Wisconsin game off with, then Etling time should come much sooner than later.

New Faces

Between the play of some veterans last week, and it being such a major stage, I can understand not necessarily wanting to throw too many freshmen out on the field, aside from Michael Divinity and Rashard Lawrence.

This week, however, is a prime opportunity to expand rotations at positions like wide receiver, running back, defensive line and defensive back to give some of those younger players a chance for game reps before the pressure really gets intense.

Regardless of what is going on with Malachi Dupre, LSU needs to get a better idea of what it has in guys like D.J. Chark, Jazz Ferguson, Derrick Dillon and Drake Davis. Ditto for Savion Smith, who missed on the Wisconsin trip for discipline-related reasons.

Having Frank Herron back on the defensive line should help spare some snaps for Davon Godchaux after last week’s massive workload. More opportunities for Lawrence and Glenn Logan as well. And maybe Sci Martin to sub in for Arden Key at times.

Spreading the News

Some pundits will say there’s no value for LSU in a game like this, but that’s not true for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Jacksonville State is one of the best FCS programs out there, and could likely beat a number of lower-rung Group-of-Five teams that LSU might have typically scheduled in this spot.

Secondly, the no-huddle, packaged-based type of spread offense that the Gamecocks run should give Dave Aranda an inkling of how other teams that have offenses closer to this style -- Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Southern Miss -- will attack his defense.

Much like Wisconsin, I expect them to try and find ways to isolate LSU’s outside linebackers, particularly on the field side, in coverage. It’s going to be a little harder to do with Arden Key, as he’ll move around based on the matchup, but the Badgers succeeded in that as well for a big play to a tight end.

For the Tigers, the coverages are a little simpler against these types of teams, with man-to-man coverage outside so that the safeties can roll down to help defend the run and cover slot receivers, so linebackers are a little freer to handle run and pass. Roc Thomas is a former big-time recruit for Auburn, so there’s some talent here and you can expect quarterback Eli Jenkins to try and bluff the defense as much possible to create more space for him. The defensive line will need to shed blocks much better than last week, and inside linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley will have to play tight, or this offense will definitely try to hen-peck the Tigers to death with three- and four-yard gains.

How the Tigers read and react to these plays, and how Aranda attacks this style of offense, regardless of success, will be something that future opponents will definitely be watching.

A Group Effort

Look, I get it. You’re frustrated, tired, or just plain pissed off. At Les Miles. Joe Alleva, LSU, what have you. The season is over and all that other stuff.

Play-calling, offensive philosophy, passing game, FCS scheduling, parking, the lack of beer in Tiger Stadium, all of it. Some of you are talking tough about giving up your tickets (you won’t), or calling into radio shows or writing in to message boards to say you “hate to say I told you so” (and you don’t). Boycotts, walk-outs, GoFundMes for buyouts, all of it. Fine.

I don’t even blame most of you. Hell, I’m probably missing this game live myself, as I’ll be spending the day working in my house (hopefully the only home game I miss).

But when you’re in that stadium, remember that LSU football is more than just Les Miles. Or any of those other things. It’s about those players, on that field. It’s about the experience that you’re only going to get a handful of times this season. If you truly can’t enjoy it, don’t go. But if you do, be a fan. Be loud. Cheer for the Tigers. Don’t be one of those shitty fans that boo every incomplete pass. Support the Tigers for 60 minutes, as hard as you’d like to see them play.

We don’t know how this season will turn out for Les Miles, or anybody. We only know that we can keep moving forward through these next 11 games. So just do that. For LSU.