The Tiger offense has turned the page. I’m not going back to the other page. You already read it. The mood in press conferences has been different, and things figure to be different this time around. The backfield is loaded. The offensive line is largely back. The wide receivers have the talent, and there is a new trigger man. I love this unit. It should showcase itself Saturday.
LSU Offensive Line vs. North Texas Defensive Line
LSU returns 78 starts on the first unit, and senior Josh Dworaczyk adds 26 to that. He’s your sixth man. This could be one of the best Tiger lines in school history. The left side is oozing with raw talent. Chris Faulk and La’El Collins were offered by every school in the country coming out of Louisiana. Both have futures in the NFL. There aren’t too many schools who have a left tackle at left guard. LSU does. The right side is downright massive. Alex Hurst and Josh Williford are 665 lbs. of full steam ahead over there. That leaves three-year starter P.J. Lonergan at center. He’s as good as they come there in the presnap game, and he’s plenty good after he gets rid of it, too. Tough to find a hole there.
North Texas is veteran up front on the defensive side. They return three starters and a senior there. That’s the good news. The bad? Those four weren’t huge impact guys last year. None of them were in the top seven tacklers a season ago. Tevin Cantley is a 6-feet-4-inch, 311 lb., senior defensive tackle. He’s a space eater who had just 17 stops in 2011. Ryan Boutwell joins him in there. He’s more active. Brandon McCoy had 44 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year coming off the edge. K.C. Obi is the lone non-returner there, but he played a good bit last season.
McCoy is the playmaker for North Texas here, but he’s going to get a face full of Faulk for the majority of the night. That won’t be fun. Collins, Lonergan and Williford should be able to handle the big tackles with relative ease. Hurst will deal with Obi. LSU should absolutely own the line of scrimmage here. Zach Mettenberger will have all day, and the running game should have its way as well. Alabama ran for 347 last year against these guys. That number sounds manageable.
LSU Running Backs vs. North Texas Linebackers
This is the best stable in the country. Les Miles announced this week that Alfred Blue is the starter. He was fourth string last year. Blue is the best back on the team, in my opinion. He makes LSU the most unpredictable by personnel. He pass protects, catches the ball, runs between the tackles and is crisp around the end. He’s also a home run threat. Kenny Hilliard will likely be second. He’s a bruiser. Spencer Ware will get his carries. I’m curious to see him run against a tired defense. It looks like that may be his role this year. He always had to soften them up last year. Michael Ford has been cleared. He'll be the edge guy once again. Don’t count out Jeremy Hill. Expect him in the second half. J.C. Copeland leads the charge, and he may turn out to be the best fullback LSU has had since Quinn Johnson.
Zachary Orr is the captain of the North Texas defense. The junior middle linebacker is a real talent who racks up tackles from the middle of the field. He led the team with 74 last year and returns to build on that this year. He’s about the same size as Kevin Minter, and they play a similar style. Sophomore Michael Stojkovic started as a freshman last year, and he finished fifth on the team in stops with 48. His 3.5 stops for loss led the team last season. That’s a scary low number. Senior Jeremy Phillips mans the other side.
Orr’s name will be heard time and time again Saturday. LSU is going to run, run, run, and Orr should be around the ball all night. The problem is, Orr will be tackling fresh legs for four quarters. I like Hilliard to lead the team in yards, because I think Blue will sit for some of the second half. I can't wait to watch Hill who may be the best of the bunch when it’s all said and done. Hill has exceptional vision and has trimmed the bad weight. He may be a touch rusty out of the gate, but that won’t last long. Ware will be interesting. He may run with a little something to prove. He was the lead horse last year and that is not the case any more. The good news for LSU is that any of these guys can carry the load.
LSU Quarterbacks and Wide Recievers vs. North Texas Defensive Backs
It’s time for Mettenberger to make his mark. He will. Early. The junior has enjoyed a great spring, summer and fall. Now the lights come on. He’s got all the throws, and he’s not a kid. He’s been out of high school for three years and understands the game. Metenberger moves very well in the pocket and always keeps his eyes down the field. He’s a big play waiting to happen. You won’t have to wait long. The outside has some name cache’, but the production remains to be seen. Odell Beckham will step forward as both a big play threat and sure handed target. Jarvis Landry should explode this year in his second go around. The sentiment is that James Wright is the No. 3 man with Russell Shepard and Kadron Boone right behind him. Terrence Magee has made the transition into the slot, and he can excel there. He’s plenty athletic. All six of those guys will catch a ball Saturday night.
This is where things get dicey for North Texas. The entire secondary is new, and seven of last year‘s top eight are gone. Marcus Trice, an Oklahoma transfer, is the biggest name, but he’s inexperienced. The corners are juniors, Hilbert Jackson and D.Q. Johnson. Those two guys have decent size but were not highly recruited and have never started.
This is trouble for the visitors. I expect LSU to be wide open all night long, and Mettenberger isn’t going to miss. Watch Wright. We’ve heard tons of good things, and he had a big spring. It’s time for him to prove he’s ready to make that next step. If he can't do it against this group, that’s trouble. I think Magee is another to take a look at because you know what you’re getting from Beckham and Landry. He’s taken the move the right way, and he can help the team. Stephen Rivers will take his first snaps as a Tiger Saturday night. He’s the No. 2 quarterback. I’m curious to see how he handles himself. The score will be safe, so Rivers won’t be under the gun. Miles will let him throw the ball 8-12 times. I think you can expect a nice night from the redshirt freshman. There isn’t a ton of breaking down to do here. North Texas is not going to be good in the secondary, and LSU’s passing game is going to be efficient this year. Big edge to the Tigers.
North Texas is going to have to blitz to have any shot. Bringing four won’t get to Mettenberger, and if he sits back there long enough those receivers are going to get loose. I think LSU plays a little bit vanilla in this one, but shots will be taken. It starts with the ground game, and truthfully LSU could run all night and escape with a win. When North Texas brings an eighth man into the box, Mettenberger will check and hit the big play. As I did with the defense, here are some players to watch: Jeremy Hill, James Wright, Elliot Porter, Stephen Rivers.
Prediction: LSU 52, UNT 7