Week 13 of the college football season is here, and it’s LSU’s final regular season game against the 1-10 Rice Owls as part of the annual SEC So-Con Saturday.
It’s probably the only real cupcake game on LSU’s schedule this year, and with a cold snap I doubt there will be much enthusiasm. Still, it’s senior night, and one last time to see the Tigers live in and in person, in Death Valley.
What to Watch For On Saturday
Low key, one of my all-time favorite individual sketches.
Rice will enter this game 1-10 as a 40-plus-point underdog. They’re going to leave it 1-11 in year one under Mike Bloomgren. They’re easily the worst team on LSU’s schedule, much more so than Arkansas last week and even FCS Southeastern back in September.
That said, after six weeks that’s featured Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama, a team that LSU can not only out-talent, but clearly out class, could be a welcome respite for a number of reasons.
That isn’t to say the Tiger offense should come out and light this team up for some crazy crooked number. Your team is what it is by week 11, and LSU’s offense is still going to be limited. Strive just for some general efficiency. In a game like this, that alone will get you over the point spread. And I’m a firm believer that confidence can be contagious over the week leading into what’s going to be a very big match-up with Texas A&M.
What’s more, the Owls offer some added value of stylistic symmetry to the Aggies, albeit with much less substance. Bloomgren is a former Stanford offensive coordinator, and he brings a more pro-style look to Rice, similar to what the LSU defense will see next week. Likewise, the Owls run a 4-2-5 defense similar to the Aggies as well.
The talent levels aren’t in the same ballpark, obviously, but LSU’s defense can still get some live action snaps at things like run fits versus a two-back pro set, against lead blockers and pulling guards. This may be the first game in some time Dave Aranda gets to mostly use his base defensive personnel, without a nickel in.
On the offensive side of the ball, Joe Burrow gets a chance to see some pre-snap looks from an eight-man DB front. The coverages might not be quite the same, and the talent level will certainly be disparate, but there’s some value in seeing those alignments and making adjustments.
Like I said, it’s probably not realistic to expect the LSU offense to come out gangbusters in this. And to be honest, that’s probably not what they need to focus on, either.
I’ve talked about it for a long time, but big things on offense tend to start from the smaller ones. LSU can’t fix all of their offensive problems at once, but they can focus on doing some little things well. Stay on schedule. Convert third downs. Turn red zone appearances into touchdowns, not just field goals.
For Burrow and the passing game, taking what the defense gives is a good place to start. Against Arkansas, he committed some of his biggest mistakes with bad reads on option plays and pressing to make plays down the field as a passer. Take the easy completion when it’s there, and just focus on running the offense. Hitting a couple deep balls where the receivers just run by the defense? That probably isn’t replicable against a better team. Good decisions can be.
Old and New
Call it sentimental, but senior night always means something to me. A lot of the guys that will be introduced Saturday night may never play any appreciable amount of football again, and all of them have busted their asses for LSU, even if its just been on the practice field and in the weight room.
Guys like Foster Moreau, John Battle and Garrett Brumfield have been key leaders for this team. Nick Brossette patiently waited his turn behind some of the best running backs in program history, battled through injuries on the field and all kinds of adversity and tragedy off of it, and if he can put together a big night against Rice, he’ll have a chance to go out with a 1,000 yard season as a senior. Cole Tracy may have only had one year here, but he’s had as big of an impact as anybody could hope, and may well win the Groza Award this year.
But by the same token, LSU’s coaches should have an opportunity to assess some future talent as well, via the new redshirt rules. Players that have yet to see the field can get snaps in this game and still maintain a redshirt. And while Orgeron and Co. certainly want to see the starters come out and take care of business, they’ll also certainly try and get players like Myles Brennan out on the field and see if they can evaluate just where they are at before the offseason gets here.
Other players that could benefit from some snaps include skill guys like Jaray Jenkins and Tae Provens, and linemen like Cameron Wire and Dare Rosenthal. Offseason battles at offensive line and receiver are likely going to be very intense, so anybody that has a chance to make an impression in game action would be wise to take it.
Of course, the rest of the team will need to do their jobs to give those players that opportunity.