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LSU vs. Northwestern State: What To Watch For

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Tigers are back in Death Valley for one last trip to the bakery against the in-state FCS Demons.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 LSU at Texas Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LSU is back in Tiger Stadium for what will probably prove to be the season’s only real cupcake game of the 2019 schedule, in the FCS Northwestern State Demons.

Yes, Georgia Southern was quick work, and Utah State will be over-matched as well, but both of those teams should at least be decent — and Utah State will still bring one of the better quarterbacks on LSU’s schedule here in a few weeks.

No, the pride of Natchitoches aren’t even a particularly good FCS team, and they’ll be summarily devoured by the Tigers on Saturday. The only real question is of how long that’ll take.

If weeks one and two are any indication, it won’t take long.

What To Watch For On Saturday


Clearance

The goals for this game are:

  1. Keep players healthy, and
  2. Play to your standard as a program.

While LSU probably won’t be quite as vanilla offensively, the hope is that we’ll see them dispatch the Demons in a similar fashion to Georgia Southern. Take the field on offense and defense and dominate an opponent that you’re better than.

The defense needs to wash the taste of last week’s performance out of its mouth, and the offense needs to continue to develop and improve upon what we’ve seen to date. Yes, as good as it is, it can get better.

But more importantly than those two details are the general idea of simply playing to the standard of what Ed Orgeron has wanted to establish for this program. The idea of blocking out the noise, not worrying about the external factors and just playing the best that you can. Sounds simple enough when you’re playing a team that just can’t hang with you athletically, but if it were easy, every college football team would do it.

Yes, there won’t be a ton to draw out of this game in the big picture, but as a general rule good teams beat the heck out of the teams that they should.

Back to Business

Job one for this defense fixing the things we saw involves a pretty simple function — tackling.

It’s one of those things that almost always hallmarks a bad defense, and a fix that usually creates results on its own. LSU’s problems against defense weren’t solely about bad tackling, but that’s the first issue that they can fix right away.

We know that, as of right now, they’ll be without Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan up front, and one would think any other players that are less than 100-percent will be held back or limited as well. But for the regulars that are out there, this is a chance to show that last week’s game was last week’s game. Players like Grant Delpit, Kary Vincent, Jacob Phillips and Jacoby Stevens all struggled making plays consistently in space.

Northwestern State will also run an uptempo spread offense, so there should at least be some similar applications in terms of run fits and some coverage responsibilities. We saw this defense dominate Georgia Southern, and even in the overall struggles of the Texas game, there was a goal-line stand to be proud of. Get back to doing what you do.

Business Development

On the other side of the ball, it’s easy to say that the offense just needs to keep doing what it’s been doing. But there should be an opportunity here to develop this group even further.

Joe Burrow may be off to the best start of any quarterback in the country (!!!!!!), but there’s still room for this offense to grow. There are other receiving targets that may need to be relied upon at some point; veterans like Derrick Dillon, Racey McMath and Stephen Sullivan, or younger players like Trey Palmer. Burrow has done a good job of getting a lot of players involved through two games, and that needs to continue.

There’s also the running game. The raw numbers aren’t there yet, but LSU’s offensive line current ranks 33rd nationally in line yards per carry — the amount of yardage that is blocked for in a given situation — and per ESPN’s Bill Connelly, had a rushing success rate of 50 percent versus Texas last week (the national average is about 41 percent). So even if they only rushed for 102 net yards on the day, they’re at least being efficient.

So build on that.

Yes, being able to throw the ball is great, and a refreshing change! But the best offenses are still the ones that can attack a defense in as many ways as possible. So if the Tigers can learn to really wear people out running the ball as well as throwing it, it’ll make the attack that much more effective.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire has done his job very well to date — his personal success rate was 66.6 percent against Texas — but freshmen John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price have more potential. Holding them back in a week two, big-time match-up against a blitz-heavy defense makes some sense. But let’s get them an opportunity to get more reps, both to help get them more experience at game speed, as well as help clean up the areas of their game that still need it.

Part of what made the 2013 offense so potent was that they had a Jeremy Hill in the backfield, who could grind out first downs and also rip off his share of big plays. That’s another facet it would be nice to see this offense develop for the future.

And of course, this game should represent another prime opportunity to get Myles Brennan some snaps as well. Maybe even with the first team, if Burrow and comes out firing early on. There may even be an opportunity for third-stringer Peter Parrish late as well. Thanks to the new four-game redshirt rule, there’s a lot of wisdom in emptying the bench and giving players an opportunity. We know that Parrish is a long-term investment, but a chance to get a read on where he is early on would be nice.

This principle applies to the defense as well; get linemen like Nelson Jenkins, Jarrell Cherry or Travez Moor out there, freshmen DBs like Marcel Brooks and Cordale Flott and younger linebackers like Damone Clark and Micah Baskerville.

And Saturday’s will be LSU’s best opportunity to do that this season.