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1. We touched on this back in the spring, but how are things feeling among Southeastern fans now that the first matchup in nearly 70 years is about to go down?
Well cook me up a Tommy’s Pizza and get a round of Gnarly Barley from Blackened Brew, box up some Mariner’s Kickin’ Chicken ‘cuz Hammond, America, is coming to town!
This will be the biggest crowd Southeastern has ever played in front of as well as the first time in a few years the team has been on prime time cable. As much as I’d like to downplay it, this game is a big deal for the program and school, regardless of the score. I’m looking forward to seeing Lion Nation show up in Baton Rouge. We’re going to make sure tailgate season gets kicked off right for both schools.
As you mentioned, it’s the first matchup since 1949. In that matchup LSU was up by such a large margin they ended up sending their starters out of the stadium to run drills on the practice field midway through the game (true story). I’d like to think Saturday will go a little better than that for the Lions here in 2018.
2. Any big takeaways from SLU’s tough season-opening loss at UL-Monroe?
I mentioned back in the summer that it was going to take a mighty effort to unseat returning starter Lorenzo Nunez at quarterback, but that’s exactly what we got from newcomer Chason Virgil. The transfer from Fresno State showed some flashes of real brilliance against the Warhawks. 28 completions on 39 attempts, 358 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception is a nice stat line for your first start. He’s going to have to show more of that brilliance for the Lions to have success in Death Valley.
With Virgil now seemingly cemented as the main quarterback, it does give the Lions the advantage of moving Nunez around. Nunez was the Southland Conference’s Newcomer of the Year last season, and he may be the best all-around athlete on the team. He’ll line up at running back, wide receiver, and quarterback now that he’s free to roam.
While the offense showed a lot of promise up in Monroe, the defense didn’t answer any of it’s many questions. The Lions are replacing almost all of their defensive production from a season ago and it showed. ULM racked up 554 yards of offense while Southeastern only hurried the quarterback twice and never notched a sack. Finding ways to get to the quarterback is going to be priority one against LSU, as you can bet the Tigers want to give both Burrow and Brennan plenty of chances to drop back.
3. Any first impressions of new head coach Frank Scelfo?
He came in with the reputation of a quarterback guru and looks the part so far. Virgil and Nunez both have good arms and enough athleticism to make plays with their feet. That raw talent and Scelfo’s coaching could go a long way for the Lions. I think the pairing of he and offensive coordinator Greg Stevens is going to give a lot of defenses trouble in the Southland.
I was impressed with how the team came out and played in Monroe. It was Scelfo’s first game as a head coach and it was on the road at an FBS school. The Warhawks scored on their first drive but Southeastern didn’t even blink. The game didn’t end the way the Lions were hoping, but they fought til the final second and that says a lot about the coaching staff and team.
4. Players to know for the Lions?
Having already talked about Virgil, here are some others to keep your eye on:
No. 5 JUWAN PETIT-FRERE (WR, Jr.) — I’m writing this one in all caps for good reason. He was dynamite as a kick returner last season, earning All-America honors. If Thursday’s game was any indication you can expect him to be heavily involved with the offense this year. Five catches for 148 yards and two scores against ULM, including a 59-yarder where he caught the ball in traffic and simply outran everybody. He’s only 5’7 playing wideout, but he’s got the wheels to make big plays. Watch for him on sweeps and reverses, too.
No. 10 Lorenzo Nunez (QB, Jr.) — He’s listed as a QB, but he won’t take a ton of snaps there. Nunez played both quarterback and receiver while at South Carolina, and Southeastern is now expanding that even further by occasionally lining him up in the backfield. At 6-3, 205 lbs, he’s built like more of a prototypical receiver than most of the rest of SLU’s wideout corp. Against a talented LSU secondary he’ll be fun to watch for one-on-one matchups.
No. 42 Tamarcus Russell (LB, Sr.) — No relation. He notched 20 tackles against UL-Monroe. It should be noted that the Warhawks ran 96 offensive plays, but still, this guy is a tackling machine. He is going to be leaned on to hold the middle of the defense together here in the early season.
No. 7 Xavier Lewis (DB, Jr.) — The Lions were hoping the LSU transfer would lock down one of the corner spots and he played well early in the ULM game. Unfortunately, his debut was cut short when a targeting penalty sent him to the locker room halfway through the second quarter. He’ll be back in Tiger Stadium and facing his old team.
5. Best hopes for how this game comes out, and prediction?
The Lions need to come out of this game healthy as they immediately turn around and go into one of their biggest games of the year next Saturday. Central Arkansas comes to Hammond, and the Bears are expected to be one of the best in the Southland. These money games are great for the athletic department’s budget and for exposure, but Southland play is the main goal of the season.
Southeastern has a lot of questions on defense that need to be answered, and LSU has plenty of questions on offense even after the big win against Miami. I expect the Tigers to try to get Joe Burrow into a rhythm early, which means Southeastern needs to find a pass rush. Lions defensive coordinator Louie Cioffi is running a 3-4 and wants to be aggressive, so it’ll be interesting to see how much he sells out to bring pressure. Southeastern has athletes in the secondary, but LSU’s receivers are all sizeable and quick. A clean pocket for Burrow will mean a long night for the Lions.
On the offensive side of the ball, look for the Lions to try to find success on the ground. As well as the offense moved the ball last week, they only put up 72 rushing yards against the Warhawks. LSU’s front seven isn’t the optimal opponent to try to figure out your run game against, but if you can manage success against them you can do it against anyone. On the outside, Nunez is capable of giving any cornerback a battle and Petit-Frere has big play ability. It won’t be the toughest matchup for LSU’s secondary, but they can’t fall asleep at the wheel either.
Southeastern gets their punches in, but the Tigers take care of business 48-20.