This is the last tune up before the SEC grind begins. LSU welcomes a visitor from the MAC in Kent St. who, ironically, is coached by former Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes. That means for the second consecutive week LSU will face a team coached by a former Arkansas coordinator. The Tiger offense lit it up last week, and the expectation is that the same will happen Saturday night. Still, there are areas to improve and players to get extended action. For the first time in a little while it’s actually fun to write about the Tiger offense.
LSU Offensive Line vs. Kent St. Defensive Line
This unit was masterful in pass protection last week. Zach Mettenberger stood back there all night and scorched the UAB secondary. The running game is still a work in progress, though. The consistent push just isn’t quite there. LSU has held off the injury bug through two weeks, so you’ll see La’El Collins, Vadal Alexander, Elliot Porter, Trai Turner and Jerald Hawkins as the first group. I watched the second group rather closely last week, and I was impressed with Ethan Pocic at center. The second unit went, left to right, Josh Boutte, Jonah Austin, Pocic, Fehoko Fanaika and Evan Washington. The odds are that those guys will be out there at some point this week.
The Kent St. defensive front is small. They’ll move some guys around to try to disguise things, but the guys they have out there are not physically imposing. The left defensive end is senior Mark Fackler who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 255 lbs. He’s got nine tackles in two games. Nate Terhune, a sophomore, is the nose tackle, and he’s just 265 lbs. At 6-foot-4, that’s pretty wiry. Roosevelt Nix is down in the trenches with Terhune. He’s only 5-foot-10, but he can play. Nix was 1st Team All-MAC last year and found his way into plenty of backfields. You’ll see Nate Vance down on the line of scrimmage at 6-foot-1 and 230 lbs. Zach Hitchens is the speed rusher. He’s got a pair of sacks. Teams are only rushing for 3.7 yards per carry on Kent St., which is very respectable.
This is the week that the ground game gets going. LSU has a massive size advantage up front here. The Tigers average 315 lbs. per man against just 254 for Kent St. It’s pretty easy to see which way this one will go. The Golden Flashes have gotten a little bit of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, collecting six sacks in two games, and the defensive line has combined for 5.5 of those. Hitchens will likely test Collins and Hawkins, but those guys have been outstanding. I just don’t think Kent St. poses much of a threat. I know it’s been fun to watch this passing attack for two games, but look for the ground game to steal the show this week.
LSU Running Backs vs. Kent St. Linebackers
I think it was pretty obvious last week that Jeremy Hill is the best back on the team. When he checked in, he found some creases and gobbled up more yardage than the other backs have. He ran for about eight yards a pop, and his workload will just increase. I’m still not sold on Alfred Blue right now. He’s got the talent, but he’s not showing any change of direction. Terrence Magee continues to run hard, and he’ll get his touches. Kenny Hilliard was relegated to the garbage carries last week. As I said, the ground game hasn’t been as consistent as Les Miles would like. LSU is rushing for four yards per carry. That’s got to come up a little bit.
The Kent St. alignment will look a little bit like TCU’s did against LSU. Two traditional linebackers will play, and they’ll be joined around the line of scrimmage by what is essentially another safety. Kent St. calls it the Star linebacker spot, and that will be Jordan Italiano’s job. The sophomore has seven tackles on the year, and he’s basically a strong side linebacker. The weak side is manned by DeVante’ Strickland, a junior from Columbus. He’s a player. Through two games he’s got 14 tackles, 10 of which are unassisted. He’s a stocky 231 lbs., and he’s around the ball constantly. Matt Dellinger is the middle linebacker, and he leads the team with 18 tackles. Dellinger never comes off the field, and he’s the leader of the defense. He may be a little undersized, but he’s a great tackler.
Get ready for a serious dosage of Hill early in this one. I think Miles knows that Hill is the guy. He finally broke down this week and spoke positively of Hill for the first time all fall. The other guys are nice backs, but Hill is a star. Once SEC play begins, 33 is getting the rock. He may not start, but he’ll get his carries so that he’s sharp for Auburn week. I think LSU goes run-heavy this week and really eats up yards on the ground. Kent St. is too small to deal with these guys, and that’s going to make for a boring football game. Keep an eye on Blue again. Maybe he just needs one big play to break out of this funk he’s in. All four backs will play, and I think the running game takes a big step forward this week.
LSU Quarterbacks and Receivers vs. Kent St. Secondary
Any time you do something that no one in LSU’s history has done, it’s impressive. This group managed that twice last week when Mettenberger threw for five touchdowns and Odell Beckham ran a field goal back 109 yards. Last week was eye candy for LSU fans as the passing game lit up the sky for three quarters. Mettenberger has been deadly accurate, and the wide outs are catching the ball. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are putting on a clinic. The questions remain: Will a third option present itself, and will that third option be the tight ends or running backs? It’s weird that Travin Dural has caught the first third down pass of the game two consecutive weeks and weirder that he hasn’t caught another one. You haven’t seen the last of him. Kadron Boone is playing a lot of football, he’s just not catching any footballs. James Wright’s time has been carved into by Dural. We saw Quantavius Leslie grab a screen pass last week. Travis Dickson was back in action last week although most of his time was spent blocking. DeSean Smith caught his first pass, an early strike from Mettenberger along the sideline. Dillon Gordon and Logan Stokes continue to pave the way for the ground game. I was disappointed in Anthony Jennings’ playing time, but you already know that. I don’t think Miles had to pull him for whiffing that snap. He’s got to play through some mistakes.
I wouldn’t say that Kent St.’s secondary has been very good. Liberty and Bowling Green have completed 70 percent of their throws for an average of 273 yards per game against the Flashes. Not so hot. No one in the Kent St. secondary is taller than 6-feet, and no one back there weighs 200 lbs., either. It’s a group built on speed and athleticism. Darius Polk is the No. 1 corner. He’s a senior. Junior Dylan Farrington mans the other side. They’ve only combined to break up one pass between them. The safeties are Luke Wollet and Keenan Stills. Wollet isn’t afraid to sneak up to the line of scrimmage. He’s got 15 tackles already.
I think LSU will be efficient throwing the ball once again. I’m a pretty firm believer in this new attack. I just don’t think it will be put to much use this week. Look for Beckham and Landry to find open space and grab multiple balls, but it don’t expect five more touchdowns. I’m calling for a little bit more involvement from Dural who should catch more than one pass this week. He needs to be ready to go for SEC play. Of all the speculation about his play, the tight ends and the running backs, I buy Dural the most. That play he made last week was really nice. I don’t expect the Tigers to put too much on film for Auburn here. It will be vanilla, and that’s ok. I’ll say for the final time (until Furman) that Jennings will get in there and throw four or five passes. Maybe this time he’ll throw one past the line of scrimmage. Isn’t that crazy? All in all, it will be an effective, quiet night for this group.
I think I made it pretty clear that I think LSU goes to the ground game this week. The shear mismatch in size would dictate that. I see a good amount of action for Jeremy Hill on the way. The things to watch are the tackles in pass protection and the guys not named Mettenberger, Landry or Beckham. I think Les Miles would like to run for more than 250 and have a clean game in the turnover department. Kent St. forced a ton of turnovers last season but hasn’t forced one through two games. Mettenberger hasn’t played with fire this year, and that needs to continue. I see him completing most of his throws Saturday and grabbing a seat for the fourth quarter. Look for multiple catches from Dural and a few completions from Anthony Jennings. As is usually the case, this is a total mismatch. LSU cruises.
Prediction: LSU 45, Kent St. 10