LSU’s season is effectively on the line Saturday when the No. 21 Tigers play host to Jacksonville State in their home opener.
After all, LSU dropped the first game of the season, 16-14, to Wisconsin a weekend ago and will have to run the table if the team wants to fulfill those championship expectations. Jacksonville State coach John Grass knows that all too well.
The third-year coach of the Gamecocks just beat North Alabama last Saturday. To replicate that same outcome against a desperate LSU team looking to regroup, well, he knows it won’t come as easily.
“I’ve been looking for a hornet’s nest to stick my head into,” Grass said during the Ohio Valley Conference teleconference on Tuesday. “I’m about ready to do it. It’s a difficult challenge — the first home game coming off a disappointing loss. They’re a very talented team and the atmosphere in Baton Rouge is going to be electric. They’re going to play with a lot of energy and we’re going to have to go down there, respond and handle the stage and the environment. That’s a tough task.
“I feel like they’re as talented as any team in the country. The only defense more talented might be Alabama’s. We’ve got our work cut out for us. They’re a great football team and a big SEC West challenge.”
You may not look to Jacksonville State’s defeat of North Alabama as a reference point, but perhaps last year’s tilt with Auburn shows what kind of team the Gamecocks have.
Auburn needed overtime to secure a 27-20 home victory over Jacksonville State last September. While there are some comparisons to be made between the two Tigers, Grass suggested his team’s success is not as much about the opponent.
“You want to say that you believe you can win any game you go into,” he said. “You don’t look at who you’re playing; it’s about how we play. You make that improvement from Game 1 to Game 2; you play better than last Thursday. The game at Auburn doesn’t hurt. That proved that what we preach — it’s how we play — even though we didn’t make enough plays to win that game. That was on us as well, so hopefully we’ll go out and play this week and play good ourselves.”
It might be even more simple than that.
LSU’s offense was not exactly a juggernaut in the Wisconsin game, yet Heisman Trophy hopeful Leonard Fournette mustered 138 yards on 23 carries. He also hauled in 3 receptions for 38 yards.
To some, such as Grass, Fournette is way past being an elite college football player. He’ll be the focal point of the Jacksonville State defensive game plan. Executing may be another story.
“He has size, strength, vision, every move you want in a running back to have,” Grass explained. “He’s the complete package. He’s a bigger guy, runs as fast as he needs to. He’s very powerful and doesn’t mind contact. He can run around you and run over you. Everything you want in a running back, if you dialed it up, it has his name on it.
“He’s got a long NFL future ahead of him. He’s going to make his plays and you’re not going to stop him. You try to contain him and not let him have too many explosive players. If you don’t get him before he starts, it’ll be a long night for anybody.”