BATON ROUGE, La. — Not to toot our own horns — OK, so this is actually a blatant horn-tooting — but last week’s assessment of the five things LSU needed to do in order to beat Jacksonville State ended up being fairly accurate.
Get Brandon Harris comfortable? Didn’t happen, so he was yanked.
Protect the quarterback? For the most part LSU succeeded here, allowing one sack.
Clean up special teams? Boy, did the Tigers ever, returning a punt for a touchdown and smothering Jacksonville State’s return game.
The point here is you should pay attention to this five things that are about to be mentioned. They’ll be important, listed in order from least to most.
5. Neutralize A.J. Jefferson
LSU outside linebacker Arden Key has some competition for the distinction of being the SEC’s premier edge rusher*, and near the very top of that list is Mississippi State defensive end A.J. Jefferson. (*= non-Myles Garrett Division).
Jefferson is tied with Key for the conference lead with three sacks, and is also better than capable against the run with six tackles for loss. The Tigers have seen flashes of brilliance on tight end DeSean Smith’s 2 catches this year (a 19-yard first down and a 46-yard touchdown), but this may be a game where the tight ends spend time helping out on Jefferson in the trenches.
4. Force-feed Malachi Dupre
Receiver Malachi Dupre has as many drops as catches (three apiece) through two games. After a number of defections at the position this summer from players looking for more wide-open offenses, LSU doesn’t have the depth at receiver to afford Dupre’s fare on the struggle bus.
Slants, bubble screens, whatever — find some nice, easy patterns for Dupre to run and get the ball to him so he can get his mojo back.
the ancient Japanese poet Basho Les Miles noted earlier this week, “I’ve had some really good receivers, I mean, guys that have played in the NFL, and I probably should not use their name, but who had some troubles, and what they do is they go back to the basics. They fix it. They tie their mind to their hands.”
3. Properly read the read-option
Dak Prescott may be gone, but the Bulldogs aren’t going to change what they do well behind center.
Last week sophomore Nick Fitzgerald set the single-game school record for rushing yards by a quarterback, gaining 195 yards on 17 attempts in a 27-14 win over South Carolina. Fitzgerald is MSU’s leading rusher by a long shot after that performance, averaging 10.4 yards per carry.
LSU got some practice against QB sleight-of-hand tricks with Jacksonville State’s Eli Jenkins last week, and for the most part held him in check outside of a couple long gains. The Tigers need to do it again.
2. Use the pass to open up the run game
State has not played against rushing attacks that can be described as “competent” in South Alabama and South Carolina, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact the Dogs have been damn good against the run. Opponents are averaging just 2.1 yards per carry, and if MSU loads the box it will be tough sledding even if Leonard Fournette returns from an ankle sprain as expected.
Thus, presumed starting quarterback Danny Etling needs to provide a reasonable facsimile of his Jacksonville State second quarter (6 of 8, 100 yards) to make life easier for Fournette and Derrius Guice.
1. Get off to a fast start
If you’re reading this, you’ve scored as many points as the LSU offense in the first quarter this season. That’s an issue.
People harp on Les Miles’ dedication to old-school offense, and that harping is not unwarranted. But ground-and-pound can work if you get out to an early lead and dominate time of possession. That’s actually the finest recipe around for winning football. But it’s predicated on the whole “having an early lead” thing. Keep-away is far more effective when you’re up two scores than when you’re down two scores, with LSU’s loss to Wisconsin and win over Jacksonville State providing the compelling argument in both directions.