The LSU Tigers will actually play a football game this Saturday.
Last weekend’s postponed game is behind the team and, even if the fans and media haven’t focused a lick on Southern Miss, the players and coaches have spent all week preparing for the Tigers’ last non-conference tilt of the season.
As Ed Orgeron often says, it’s not about the opponent; it’s all about LSU. With that in mind, here are five questions about the LSU Tigers that come to mind when thinking about this weekend’s game.
1. Will LSU be rusty?
Short answer: Probably not. I know there’s an impulse to assume that a team has “lost momentum” or regressed after a period of time away from the field, but that’s simply not how football works. If that were true, the teams in the College Football Playoff would look terrible after a month off.
It might take a drive or two for the offense to find rhythm, but that’s natural. Remember, LSU’s first drive against Missouri gained 11 yards and spanned only 45 seconds, but the team recovered to score 42 points. Don’t worry about rust. It won’t be a factor.
2. Can Derrius Guice assert himself as a true feature back?
Against Missouri, Guice was exceptional. He averaged more than nine yards per carry and gashed the defense for three touchdowns while filling in for the injured Leonard Fournette. Now with another opportunity to be LSU’s featured running back, the pressure on Guice might be even bigger. Teams can’t overlook him as just a spell back anymore. He’s a threat.
If Guice can put together another 100-yard, three-touchdown kind of performance, he might play his way into splitting carries with Fournette when No. 7 gets healthy. Orgeron has expressed interest in using formations with Fournette and Guice on the field at the same time, so that might already be in the works. But a dominant showing from Guice could go a long way to proving to LSU that Fournette doesn’t need to be the end-all, be-all for the offense to thrive.
3. How will the offensive line hold up?
With left guard Will Clapp sidelined by a shoulder injury, LSU’s offensive line will look very different this weekend. Center Ethan Pocic, coming off an SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week award for the Missouri game, will be bumping out to right tackle. Andy Dodd will be taking over for Pocic at center and right tackle Maea Teuhema will bump inside to left guard, his natural position.
LSU’s O-Line has dealt with injuries and had to shuffle around all season, so I doubt this will be too big of an issue. But if the unit proves that it isn’t up to task, backup guard Garrett Brumfield is available to fill in at Clapp’s spot, which would allow Pocic to move back to center if necessary.
4. How much will the secondary miss Rickey Jefferson?
It’s hard for the LSU secondary to be afraid of anything right now, after it made Missouri’s potent passing offense look so bad that by comparison LSU’s passing offense looked good. But with starting safety Rickey Jefferson out with a broken leg and the No. 6 non-Power 5 passing offense coming into town in Southern Miss, things might get a little complicated.
It will be up to LSU’s transcendent talents like Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams to stabilize the LSU secondary, which I think they’ll be able to. But if not, LSU’s dominating pass rush should take some pressure off the secondary against a team that allowed three sacks to Kentucky, a middle-of-the-line SEC pass rush.
5. Will the Tigers be looking ahead?
Now that the Florida game has been rescheduled, LSU’s next five games are a veritable ringer. The Tigers’ last five games of the season after Southern Miss are all against teams ranked in the most recent AP Top 25 Poll. That stretch begins with an Ole Miss team that is two blown leads away from being the No. 1 team in the country next weekend.
I wouldn’t be shocked if LSU was looking ahead, if even on a subconscious level. But I don’t think that will manifest itself in an LSU loss. If anything, maybe LSU just won’t cover the somewhat-outrageous 21-point spread it’s expected to win by. Southern Miss is a good team that can score a lot of points, but LSU should be able to take care of the Golden Eagles without exhausting too much energy before the meat of its SEC schedule.