BATON ROUGE, La. — The questions heading into the last three LSU gamedays have been tough to answer, to say the least.
Who will be the head coach? Who will be the offensive coordinator? Why is everyone hurt? Why isn’t there a game today? You know, tough questions.
But today, the questions are about football, a refreshing change of pace to the speculation and legalese that has dominated the Bayou this month. So, when LSU takes the field to face Ole Miss on Saturday, here are the five most pressing issues to watch for.
1. How many carries will Leonard Fournette accumulate?
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has said all week that Fournette won’t be restricted Saturday. But he’s also said that he wants to mix Derrius Guice into the equation as more than just an emergency option.
The safe prediction is to assume that both players will carry at least 15 times, like how returning starter Todd Gurley and newfound superstar Nick Chubb balanced a similar situation in 2014. Fournette will start and he’ll get a majority of the carries, but Guice will get more than the three carries he received last time Fournette played.
2. Who will cover Evan Engram?
It’s only fitting that as we stretch toward Halloween, LSU is about to face a matchup nightmare.
Tight end Evan Engram is too big to be covered by cornerbacks, too quick to be covered by linebackers and too physical to be covered by safeties. On a normal defense.
Expect safety Jamal Adams to be matched up with Engram when LSU is in a base or nickel defense, and expect that pairing to be as physical as it gets. But don’t be surprised to see shutdown cornerback Tre’Davious White to go one-on-one with Engram on key passing downs, as to take away Chad Kelly’s favorite target from the start.
Speaking of which…
3. Will Chad Kelly challenge Tre’ White deep?
Any quarterback who has tried to throw deep on White this year has regretted it.
But Kelly isn’t just any quarterback. And the Ole Miss offense loves to press the ball downfield quickly and indiscriminately. Heck, Kelly has attempted 40 and 33 passes the last two times he’s faced Alabama.
So yes, expect Kelly to attack White down the sideline and in the seam. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work out very well.
4. Will LSU’s vertical passing game continue its growth?
Last weekend’s win over Southern Miss was the first time all year that LSU established a downfield passing attack, with wide receivers Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark stepping up as veritable play-making threats.
But will LSU continue to stress this? If you go solely on the words that Ed Orgeron and quarterback Danny Etling have said this week, probably. But there’s a deeper issue at hand.
Throwing deep is either a luxury or a crutch. Teams throw deep when they can experiment and when they have to, not when games are tight. And if LSU is entrenched in a close game, the Tigers will feed Fournette and Guice and let the deep passing game return to its previous status as a wrinkle, not a table-setter.
5. Will Ed Orgeron’s emotions get the best of him?
No. Probably not.
Orgeron is as intense as they come, but he manages that intensity pretty well. This week hasn’t been about him, nor will Saturday when he looks across the field and sees his close friend Hugh Freeze wearing the uniform that he once wore when he was in Hugh’s shoes.
Nor will Orgeron be focused on the importance of this game to his future. A win Saturday helps cement Orgeron’s status as a bona fide head coaching candidate, either at LSU or elsewhere if it comes to that. But that won’t be Orgeron’s focus. His focus will be on winning the game.
Will he win? Well, that’s a sixth question. I’m only allowed five.