Know Your Foe: LSU

In this edition of “Know Your Foe,” Ben Love, publisher of TigerSportsDigest on the Scout network, joins us to answer questions about the LSU Tigers as Kentucky prepares to invade Baton Rouge for Saturday’s night’s SEC clash.

1. All the talk leading up to this game seems to be centered on LSU's running game. Has Leonard Fournette lived up to the preseason hype, and how does he compare/contrast with fellow back Kenny Hilliard?

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Before the win at Florida I’d have told you Fournette had not truly lived up to the hype but was still the best back on the team. Weird concept, but that’s how high the bar was set. Now, fresh off a 27-carry, 140-yard performance in the Swamp, Fournette is without question LSU’s lead back and should command a minimum of 60-65% of the running back carries going forward in SEC play. He’s started to showcase more of his talents lately, namely using his physical presence to get into and through holes more decisively without dancing as much. It’s paying dividends for the freshman. Fournette and Hilliard are the two backs most similar in size, with Terrence Magee the preferred change-of-pace option, but Hilliard is still a short-yardage and goal-line favorite for Les Miles and running backs coach Frank Wilson.

2. It sounds like LSU has been using a couple of different quarterbacks at times this season. What does each guy bring to the table, and how might he factor into this game?

Both Anthony Jennings, a sophomore, and Brandon Harris, a true freshman, have played for LSU, but it appears to be Jennings’ show at this point. He’s started all but one contest this season for the Tigers, including the most recent game in Gainesville, when Jennings went wire-to-wire at the position. He’s shown a fair amount of poise in tight situations, even dating back to last year’s miraculous 99-yard comeback drive versus Arkansas, and likes to connect on deep balls and jump balls with Travin Dural. Short of that, it’s hard to decipher what the advantages of Jennings over Harris are. Even Miles has admitted on more than one occasion that Harris is the more talented player. But Harris’ start at Auburn was disastrous, and Miles, giving the indication publicly he’ll play both on Saturday, seems more content with Jennings.

3. Kentucky hasn't always commanded a great deal of respect in these matchups with traditional SEC powers, but this particular UK team comes in with a 5-1 record and a lot of good things being said about it regionally and nationally. Do you sense any change in the way the Tigers view this matchup?

From the standpoint of the fans I think so, but in earnest it feels more because of the home team’s struggles this season than it does the early resurgence of the visiting Wildcats. There’s definitely more respect for Kentucky than usual, though, in particular for the offense and certainly the turnaround job Mark Stoops is engineering. As for the LSU team, it’s a young bunch that’s now seen how difficult it is to scrap together a win in SEC play after getting run over by Mississippi State and trounced by Auburn. Don’t believe they’re taking anyone for granted these days, definitely not a Kentucky team averaging 36.5 points a game.

4. We've been told LSU's secondary is the strength of the defense, a lot of "long" DBs with size and athleticism. Is that an accurate description? Who are the standouts on the back end of the defense?

On paper, that’s a very fair representation of John Chavis’ defense in 2014. It has not necessarily turned out that way in between the lines, however, as LSU surrendered 268 yards passing to both Auburn and Mississippi State, the best two offenses the Tigers have faced through seven games. But the secondary, led by safety Jalen Mills and corners Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White, is beginning to put the pieces together and also getting better, more consistent production from young safeties Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams. They’re a group as a whole that’s required more patience than many expected in the preseason, but the talent is undeniable, starting with the two corners Chavis relies on in single-man coverage basically all game long.

5. A big key should be LSU's ability to pressure Patrick Towles. Can they do it, and who will be most relied on to rush the passer?

A little bit like the secondary, this was an area where much was expected prior to Labor Day weekend, but the pay-off hasn’t been quite as rich. After seven games LSU has only 11 sacks with projected breakout star Danielle Hunter sitting on only one QB takedown. His bookend mate Jermauria Rasco leads the Tigers with two sacks. One thing that’s important to consider: Chavis likes to apply pressure from nickel and dime sets, which should be the majority of what LSU stays in Saturday night. So look for players like Adams and Mills to assist on the pass rush when they creep down into the box.

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