No. 4 LSU vs. No. 3 Oregon
7 p.m./Cowboys Stadium/Arlington, Texas/ABC
In the spotlight
CB/Nickel back Tyrann Mathieu
2010 season stats: 57 tackles, 8½ tackles for loss, 4½ sacks, 2 int., seven pass breakups, 1 QB hurry, 5 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries
-- Facing the kind of offense that will feast on trying to get the defense out of position, LSU will rely heavily on Mathieu to roam where he needs to track down the ball and keep the Ducks from getting loose beyond the line of scrimmage. If Mathieu introduces himself early and often to LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, the Tigers should benefit.
In the spotlight
RB LaMichael James
2010 stats: 294-1,731 rushing and 21 TDs; 17-208 receiving and 3 TDs
-- No back was as big a key to his team’s offense last season than the electric James, the 2010 Doak Walker Award winner. James is at his best when the Ducks’ fast-tempo scheme is clicking and he finds room past the front wall and kicks his speed into high gear. If he consistently reaches the LSU secondary, especially if the game remains close, Oregon’s offense could thrive and find some level of redemption from the loss to Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game – and perhaps a launching point to get back there this season.
Three keys to the game
- Slow ’em down or keep ’em off the field: Oregon’s offense doesn’t make its intentions a mystery. The Ducks want to snap the ball as quickly as possible to catch a defense off-guard and to wear them down. For LSU to have a shot, the defense needs to find ways to either slow Oregon’s pace or get back to the sideline as quickly as possible with turnovers or three-and-outs.
- Ware the defense down: Yeah, it’s a bad pun. The Tigers’ offense will start with a grind-it-out running game because of an advantage up front and sophomore Spencer Ware figures to be the horse pulling the LSU wagon most of the day. If he can gash the Ducks for a handful of big runs and also pound away at their underbelly, the Tigers will establish the tempo they want and set up play-action opportunities for Jarrett Lee and his talented receiving corps.
- Something special: This game has the makings of a bowl game because the two teams are so evenly matched and their strengths figure to keep the game close from kickoff to final gun. That means one team has to find a foothold somewhere along the line and a lot of times that comes on special teams. The Tigers have a lot of holes to fill in those units, but could get that started off nicely with a return-game touchdown to turn this game around.
From a highlight reel standpoint, Oregon is undoubtedly the flashier, shinier team in this matchup of national heavyweights. But wins and losses aren’t decided by who makes the most TV clips. Most of the time, who wins the battle up front and whose defense is able to take the opposing offense out of rhythm are bigger keys. Those two advantages fall squarely in LSU’s favor and offset the Tigers’ uncertainty on offense with the three pre-season camp changes due to suspension and injury – at quarterback, a receiver spot and left guard. Oregon’s offense will find some success, but LSU will create turnovers to stem the tide and lean on an experienced offensive line and the legs of a talented running back crew to wear the Ducks down: LSU 31, Oregon 21