LSU defeated Western Kentucky 48-20 in a game defined by an efficient passing night from Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris despite off and on heavy rainfall throughout and a bend but don’t break defensive performance. The following are the grades the Tigers deserve based on that performance.
Western Kentucky regularly stacked as many as nine in the box to slow the nation’s leading rusher, LSU’s Leonard Fournette. The Hilltoppers all but dared LSU quarterback Brandon Harris to beat them with his arm. Harris responded with the best game of his career, passing for a career-high 286 yards and three touchdowns, two of which were more than 50 yards. Despite WKU’s efforts to slow him, Fournette, the Heisman Trophy front-runner, finished with a workman-like 150 yards and a short touchdown run on 26 carries. Harris and the Tigers offense did take a while to get going with a lull between early in the first quarter to late in the second quarter, but they came to life in the second half. The Tigers outscored WKU 34-13 in the final two quarters to pull away after holding just a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Despite playing a non-Power Five opponent, the Tigers defense did allow a season-high 409 total yards against the Hilltoppers. But the unit was opportunistic and sometimes dominant in minimizing the damage by WKU’s senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, who has put up big numbers all season and came in as the nation’s most efficient passer. The Tigers forced two turnovers, including Jamal Adams’ interception. Still, the Tigers showed their usual susceptibility to big plays. The most glaring was the 39-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to Antwane Grant as a result of a blown coverage in the third quarter. Running back D’Andre Ferby also had a 35-yard run that set up Doughty’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Wales in the second quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
While nothing spectacular, the Tigers special teams were effective throughout Saturday night. Kicker Trent Domingue went 2-for-2 on field goals with a long of 43 yards. Punter Jamie Keehn averaged 40.3 yards on four punts, while kick returners Foster Moreau and Darrel Williams combined to average 15.7 yards on three returns. The Tigers did allow 17.9 yards on seven WKU kickoff returns, including one of 30 yards.
After appearing to be caught a little off guard by Western Kentucky on both sides of the football early, Les Miles and his staff made great adjustments in the second half to turn a close game into a blowout. The Hilltoppers seemed bent on stopping Fournette’s big runs and making Harris beat them with his arm. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron clearly did a good job of preparing Harris for that strategy. Once he calmed down and took advantage of the one-on-one coverage his more talented receivers had, the game wasn’t close at all. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s defense gave up some big plays, which has been a knock all season, but the unit pressured Doughty enough to keep him under his season average for passing. The defense also had two big takeaways.
The undefeated Tigers needed to take care of business against a potentially dangerous Western Kentucky team and they did. The victory sets up a huge showdown in two weeks when LSU (7-0, 4-0 SEC) travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on SEC West rival Alabama (7-1, 4-1) in a game with division, conference and College Football Playoff implications.