In some situations we have had time to allow reader participation forming questions, but our familiarity with Alabama fans alerted us that we would be weeding out all sorts of corn dog questions (where did that come from, anyway?). Thus, we take full responsibility for the questions about LSU and appreciate Ben Love’s answers.
Here are the questions and answers:
1. Has enough time passed that LSU followers think in terms of this week’s game being against Alabama rather than against Nick Saban?
For the most part I think so, but there’s always going to be at least a small portion of the LSU fan base that can’t give it up and doesn’t want to. That vocal minority feels personally deceived and back-stabbed by Saban, even though it’s clear to most with any kind of objectivity that the man took his swing in the pros and when he wanted to come back to his preferred college game, one of the best gigs in America was open while LSU’s was not. Still, objectivity is not a strong suit of fans, so that group will be heard from until the moment Saban leaves Tuscaloosa … if not long after. But for the majority of LSU fans, this has become about unseating Bama atop the West pecking order the last few years and not Saban. These people just want to see the Tigers in Atlanta every December and could care less who LSU has to go through to get there.
2. Has the LSU-Alabama game become the No. 1 rivalry for both fan bases?
Yes for LSU. Maybe for Alabama. One of the most difficult questions you can ask a Tiger fan historically is just that – Who’s your chief rival? Through different periods of history it’s been Tulane and Ole Miss and Alabama and Auburn and now Alabama again. Along the way LSU and Arkansas also tried to force a “Battle for the Boot” rivalry that largely failed, and the Tigers have also had an interesting cross-division fling brewing with Florida. But, in the cyclical world of LSU rivals, it’s definitely been Alabama since Saban arrived, not just because of that angle but because Bama has been LSU’s toughest opposition. As for the Tide, I’d just have to imagine it’s hard to supplant Auburn. That rivalry is a force of nature the likes of which you don’t see in many other places across the American sports landscape. So I’ll say it’s not as much of a slam-dunk for the Alabama side of things, but, hey, there is a reason this bad boy has been the CBS primetime game for so long running. America loves it some LSU-Alabama.
3. His slow start and unfortunate Heisman pose notwithstanding, is Leonard Fournette a probable Heisman candidate in his sophomore season?
No doubt about it. Part of the rationale is his ridiculous skill set and rare combination of size (6-1, 230), strength and speed. The other part, though, and this is just as critical – LSU is struggling to develop a passing game of the present and future, so it’s clear just how much the offense will have to lean on Fournette, who will watch Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee leave a cluttered backfield after this season. He’s really come on since the Florida game, and Fournette is unequivocally the Tigers’ lead back heading into the contest this Saturday night. Maybe the only thing holding back his 2015 Heisman campaign? LSU will lose at least two starting offensive linemen, including left tackle La’el Collins, and could have to replace even more should an underclassman like Jerald Hawkins decide to test NFL waters.
No. A thousand times over, no. Quite the contrary, Les Miles and the LSU staff have said publicly a few times, dating back to SEC Media Day in July, that Harris is the more naturally talented of the two and has more tools on the gridiron. This is a situation where a head coach and offensive coordinator (Cam Cameron) have opted to go with a guy who is more limited because he has a much better grasp of the offense and can not only execute it as drawn up but communicate it properly in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage with checks. It became abundantly clear to the staff after the Auburn debacle, which was Harris’ only start of the season, that the freshman couldn’t do those things and that he threw the entire offense out of whack. So it would be fair to say LSU’s decision makers have settled on Jennings for 2014 and are willing to take their chances in slug-fests now that the defense is reinvigorated.
I actually think it’s the Alabama running game versus LSU’s run defense that will determine the winner Saturday night in Death Valley. My thinking: The Tigers have been much improved against the run lately, holding Florida to 123 yards on the ground in Gainesville and then Kentucky and Ole Miss to 71 and 137 yards, respectively, in Baton Rouge. But John Chavis’ defense hasn’t faced a rushing attack like the Tide’s, either in the style of approach or level of effectiveness, in some time if at all this campaign. If LSU can continue to hold its own up front against a physical Alabama offensive line, then I don’t see many scenarios in which Cooper will beat a stout secondary that has Bama in second- or third-and-long situations. However, if there’s a leak in the dam early for LSU and Alabama is having success on the ground, Chavis will commit more resources to playing the run and that will leave Cooper in potentially advantageous one-on-one matchups.