Things About LSU You Need To Know
The reason for our cooperation this week is the impending Southeastern Conference football conflict featuring what likely are the two best teams in the league, Alabama and LSU. This SEC West Division game annually has major implications in both the conference and nationally.
Alabama is 8-0 overall and 5-0 in SEC games and ranked first in the nation. LSU, which has lost two three-point road games, is 7-2 in all games and 3-2 in SEC contests and ranked 10th nationally. Both teams are coming off bye weeks.
Kickoff Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be at 7 p.m. CST with CBS televising the game.
Here are Ben Love's answers to my five questions about the 2013 LSU Tigers:
Q: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had a fantastic game against Alabama last year, 24-35 for 298 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Word is that the 6-5, 230-pound senior is better now. Can he really be better than he was against Bama last year?
BL: For the first six games of this season, up until LSU's meeting with Florida, Zach Mettenberger looked better than he did at any point in 2012, including the Alabama game. The former Georgia gunslinger made some strides this offseason any quarterback would going into his second year as a starter, but the influence of Cam Cameron, refining Mettenberger's skillset, is undeniable. He's processed defenses better, gotten the ball out faster and has an extremely high level of trust in both Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry (perhaps a little too much in Beckham). The only question that remains for this Saturday night: Will we see the Mettenberger that transformed LSU's offense through the first six games or the one that notched only 152 yards passing against the Gators and has thrown five picks in the Tigers' two games since? The answer will tell you just how much Cameron got Mett back on track during the bye week.
Q: LSU lost seven defensive players to the NFL draft last year, including the entire defensive line with such stars as Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Where is LSU in the rebuilding process on defense?
BL: Unlike any other LSU defense under John Chavis these last five years, it took this edition a solid half a season to identify reliable depth and, in some cases, starters. The D-Line has remained constant, anchored on the inside by Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, but position coach Brick Haley has been reluctant to play rotational players more than 8-10 snaps a game, leaving LSU's front a lot thinner, depth-wise, than usual. Chavis' linebackers have really been the disappointment of the LSU season, for me, as they were expected to be the most reliable group. Lamin Barrow isn't back to his form from 2012, when he had 104 tackles, and the Mike linebacker position has been a noticeable weak point, whether it's been D.J. Welter or Lamar Louis in there. The secondary is where it took the longest for LSU to get to its best personnel, but they seem to have gotten there and are settling into roles a lot better. True freshmen cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson have really upped the athletic quotient and coverage ability in the defensive backfield. Overall, the Tigers have begun to find their way against the pass but still haven't consistently been able to bottle up the run (especially the spread run) all season.
Q: Connor Neighbors comes from one of the blueblood families of Alabama football, his brother, father, grandfather, uncle, and great uncle all having played for the Crimson Tide. What is his role at LSU?
BL: A former walk-on to the program, Neighbors earned his way into a scholarship for his final season at LSU in 2013. He received limited playing time as a junior in 2012, backing up J.C. Copeland, but he's really expanded his game as a senior and Cam Cameron has enjoyed using him a lot more. It's actually Neighbors' athletic ability – the fact that he is a viable pass-catcher out of the backfield – that has allowed him to see more of the field. Cameron wants to use his fullback as more than just a blocker, and, as a result, I'd say Neighbors has seen about 35-40% of the snaps at the position this fall. Neighbors did suffer a "contusion," according to Les Miles, during the Furman game that sidelined him, but he's expected to be a go Saturday night. Considering Copeland is coming back from a concussion, expect to see a decent bit of Neighbors (who wears No. 43) in Tuscaloosa.
Q: Both Alabama and LSU have played 14 freshmen going into this game, which ranks among high numbers in the nation. Who have been the top first year performers for the Tigers?
BL: The two cornerbacks, Robinson and White, have been hands-down the most important and productive first-year players for LSU. White took over as the defense's second starting cornerback after the first two or three games, and he's kept that spot while improving each week. Robinson, who didn't get the nod from the NCAA Clearinghouse until two days before LSU's opener versus TCU, came on really fast once he got to campus. Hailing from the same high school as Patrick Peterson, Robinson has great physical attributes and could prove to be even better than White by the time next season rolls around. He enters the game as LSU's third corner, playing on an island in nickel and dime sets while Jalen Mills moves inside to cover slot receivers. The Tigers have also gotten good – but less significant – contributions from DT Christian Lacouture, QB Anthony Jennings (short-yardage sneaks), OL Ethan Pocic and DE Kendell Beckwith, whom everyone in LSU Nation is wondering why he doesn't play more.
Q: What is the most important thing that LSU must do on offense and the most important thing the Tigers need to do on defense to defeat Alabama?
BL: Offensively, the Tigers have to get some semblance of a running game going with Jeremy Hill. I expect Mettenberger and the LSU receivers will enjoy at least some level of success against Alabama's secondary, but a one-dimensional LSU team is not very likely to pull off the upset in Bryant-Denny. Furthermore, given the Bayou Bengals' question marks on defense, especially in the name of depth, it would be wise to keep them off the field for stretches at a time to rest. A (relatively) successful rushing attack will accomplish that for LSU. On defense, the Tigers will have to cause turnovers. Period. Chavis' crew hasn't proven all season that they can stop the run consistently, and it's hard for me to see how Saturday night will be any different. With that being said, Alabama in my mind will have advantages moving the ball on the ground and, at times, through the air with A.J. McCarron. So, if you can't stop ‘em, you almost have to count on turning ‘em over.
BONUS QUESTION: How do we pronounce the name of our incoming tailback for 2014 -- For-nay or For-net? Just kidding.
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