It almost feels as though LSU has played this game before: a Pac 12 opponent making a return trip to Tiger Stadium under a head coach in a measuring stick season after taking over a train-wrecked program.
It was 2006 when Arizona head coach Mike Stoops—in his third season after the Great John Mackovic Mutiny of 2003—brought his veteran Wildcats into Tiger Stadium hoping to prove they had come further than Tucson-to-Baton Rouge as a program from the last time the two teams met; a 59-13 whipping at the hands of the eventual 2003 National Champion Tigers.
As it turned out, the only thing that changed was the venue. LSU toyed with Arizona to the count of 45-3. The score only tells part of the story, though. Arizona could only muster 156 yards of total offense, was forced into four turnovers and didn’t net that field goal until the 4th quarter. It was the type of beating that led Stoops to say after the game, “…Obviously we weren’t ready for this.”
Fast forward to present day. Steve Sarkisian is in his fourth season at Washington after replacing Tyrone Willingham who was a combined 11-37 in four seasons in Seattle including an 0-12 effort (or lack thereof) in 2008. After a 5-7 debut season in 2009, “Sark” has led the Huskies to back-to-back bowl appearances and has the U-Dub faithful hoping to take the next step to be able to compete with the nation’s elite—or at least not be totally embarrassed in such games. Members of his first recruiting class are now seniors and a Week 2 trip to Baton Rouge (the same week ‘Zona visited in ’06) is though to be a chance to gauge the program’s progress.
Unfortunately for Sarkisian, this group of Tigers may be the most talented Les Miles has fielded since that 2006 squad which yielded four first round NFL draft picks in the following April’s draft. The role of then fourth-year junior JaMarcus Russell will be played by another prototype NFL passer in his fourth yeah, Zach Mettenberger. A quintet of Tiger rushers then (Hester, Williams, Broussard, Scott, Vincent) is rivaled by the current group (Blue, Hilliard, Ford, Ware, and Hill). The 2006 defense boasted two All-Americans, Glenn Dorsey and LaRon Landry. The 2012 unit has three: Eric Reid, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
Aside from the obvious talent disparity, making matters worse for the Huskies are the injuries they sustained in a season-opening 21-12 snoozer against San Diego State. Starting running back Jessie Callier is done for the year with a torn ACL and right tackle Ben Riva will miss the LSU game with a broken forearm. For a team that managed merely 106 rushing yards against San Diego State, the prospect of attempting to rush against LSU must be as daunting as pitting Harry the Husky in a live mascot duel against Mike the Tiger.
In a perfect (Washington) purple and gold world, new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will stack the box and stop LSU from rushing and force Mettenberger to beat them with the pass. Making only his second FBS start, perhaps Mettenberger might make mistakes similar to the poor throw at the goal line against North Texas that was intercepted. Meanwhile, quarterback Keith Price can make enough plays with his arm against an inexperienced half of LSU’s secondary to keep the Huskies in it with a chance to win late.
In the real world, however, the Huskies defense allowed 199 rushing yards to the Aztecs last week and 482 rush yards in last year’s Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor.
Expect to see a replay of a game in Tiger Stadium from six seasons ago. LSU forces a Pac 12 opponent to be one dimensional and mistake prone while doing pretty much whatever it wants offensively.
Arizona wasn’t ready for LSU in 2006 and Washington won’t be either on Saturday night.
LSU 41, Washington 10
Matt Moscona is the host of “After Further Review” weekdays from 3-6pm CT on 104.5 ESPN Baton Rouge and 1045espn.com