Tucson, Ariz. • Arizona Stadium
September 6th, 2003 • 7:00 PM MST
Radio: KNST (Brian Jefferies, Les Josephson)
Television: TBS (Ron Thulin, Charles Davis, Craig Sager and Erin Andrews)
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LSU AT A GLANCE
Coach: Nick Saban (26-12, 3 years)
Offense: Pro style
2002 Record: 8-5; SEC West: 5-3/T1st (Lost to Texas in the Cotton Bowl)
Site: Baton Rouge, LA
Series Record: LSU leads 1-0
Last Meeting: The Tigers held off the Wildcats 27-26 in 1984.
LAST TIME OUT
The Wildcats jumped out to a 35-0 lead before calling off the dogs in the second half of a 42-7 win over UTEP. LSU had no trouble with Louisiana-Monroe, dominating in a 49-7 win.
WHEN LSU HAS THE BALL
LSU likes to run the football to set up the pass and usually does both pretty well. Matt Mauck is the quarterback, edging out Marcus Randall for the starting spot. Both quarterbacks are very capable, but Mauk adds an added dimension of maturity. The 6-2 junior spent three years in the Cubs farm system before heading to LSU to play college football. Mauk has great mobility and runs the offense very well.
Randall is no slouch and has the better arm of the two. He gives the Tigers great depth at the quarterback spot and showed his big play ability by hooking up with Michael Clayton on a 66-yard scoring strike against Louisiana-Monroe.
"They are going to run some of their key core plays at you and demand that you stop them before they go away from those plays," John Mackovic noted.
The strength of the Tigers is their offensive line. Four starters return from a year ago to a unit that is big, physical and flat out talented. It is because of this unit that the Tigers run the ball so well. No starter is under 6-4 and only one is less than 300 pounds. Rodney Reed is "only" 290 pounds, but he's been praised for his work ethic and desire to battle in the trenches. Andrew Whitworth (6-7, 325) has NFL first rounder written all over him.
"They have experience on the offensive line, and they are mashers," said John Mackovic. "They like to get right up on you and just wear you down."
The Tigers are loaded at running back and can throw a number of talented runners at you. Joseph Addai will likely get the bulk of the carries, but Justin Vincent and Alley Broussard will get their touches. Addai had 81 yards rushing last week on only 15 touches. Broussard is a true freshman who has some people talking.
With a strong running game, the Tigers are excellent with the play action pass. The Tigers have a very good receiving corps that will really test the Wildcat secondary. Michael Clayton is among the SEC's best pass catchers and is an amazing athlete who can change a game on both sides of the ball. Devery Henderson's presence on the opposite side means that you can't just focus on Clayton.
"These guys will be as good as any group in the Pac-10," said Mackovic. "They (UA's cornerbacks) are going to have a lot of work to do. If we're off too far, they are going to throw a lot of underneath things. They let them run if you get right up on them, and they will go deep. I suspect that they will try to go deep through the coverage."
The Wildcats did not show much of the 3-4 defense against UTEP and instead played predominantly in a five defensive back set that featured Clay Hardt as a rover. The Cats won't tip their hand as to what they'll play this week, but players and coaches alike have been touting the defense's versatility.
The biggest test for the Wildcat defense will be their ability to compete up front. The defensive line lacks depth and they could wear down after a constant pounding from the excellent LSU o-line. Arizona was able to dominate the UTEP front, but that won't be the case Saturday night.
"We were able to hold them (UTEP) to 71 yards rushing. That will be much tougher this week against LSU because they come with a stronger attack, and they come with bigger linemen who are stronger and more physical to match up against," said Mackovic. "We were able to dominate a little bit at a couple positions, but I don't think we'll be able to do that this week."
WHEN ARIZONA HAS THE BALL
The Cats showed that there is hope on offense in the win over UTEP. Ryan O'Hara played well and Nic Costa played fantastic. Both QB's give the Cats a different dimension, but Costa and his legs should get the start. Costa is one of the fastest players on the team and has a cannon for a left arm. He throws very well on the run and the roll out pass could become a staple of this offense.
O'Hara played like a redshirt freshman and showed a little rust but made a number of big plays, including a 79-yard scoring strike to Lance Relford. Both passers will see action, but expect Mackovic to ride the hot hand against this week's tougher opponent.
The running game showed signs of life, after being among the worst in the nation last season. Mike Bell had 119 yards rushing against UTEP and looked like the type of player that was so highly touted out of high school. The bad news for the Wildcats is that both Clarence Farmer and Chris Henry are questionable with injuries, so physical runner Beau Carr moves up the depth chart after missing all of training camp while focusing on academics.
The Wildcat offensive line played great against UTEP, but will face a stiff test against a huge front four of the Tigers.
The biggest problem for the Arizona line is the lack of depth. The Cats really have just seven available scholarship linemen and will slide guys around to plug any holes. Brandon Phillips is the biggest player of the bunch and the Cats will have to do some scheming to compensate for the talent and size of LSU.
The Wildcat receivers could be in for a long day, at least from a physical standpoint. The Tigers like to bump and run and pound receivers off the line. The Cats spent a lot of time in training camp to work on escaping physical DB's, so they should be prepared. Unlike last season, the Cats lack that one go-to guy like Bobby Wade, but they have four reliable receivers in Relford, Biren Ealy, Ricky Williams and Mike Jefferson. Tight end Steve Fleming gives the Cats another added dimension in the passing game.
LSU plays a fairly traditional 4-3 defense and their defensive line is among the biggest in college football.
"Their defensive line is almost as big as our offensive line," Mackovic said. "That's a rarity in college football."
The defense is a specialty of Saban's and will provide a stiff test for the Wildcats. The one weakness could be the defensive backfield, which lacks some depth, but managed to hold Louisiana-Monroe to less than 200 yards passing and picked off one pass.
OUTLOOK: This is a stiff test for the Wildcats. On paper LSU is the superior ball club. Arizona's performance against UTEP has given Wildcat fans hope and the team believes they have nothing to lose. Line depth could be a big problem for Arizona as both of LSU's lines are very good. LSU should win this game, but the Cats won't roll over. A Wildcat win would be an upset, but not as big an upset as it would have appeared to be a few weeks ago.