Most of LSU’s current players were still starring at the high school level four years ago, content to have a place in the wide-reaching fan base that enjoyed the wild ride as the Tigers claimed the 2007 BCS National Championship.
The handful of current players who were around that season were barely on the radar, true freshmen making minimal impacts or wading through a redshirt season.
So nobody was largely involved in early October of 2007 when LSU climbed to No. 1 in the national rankings for the first time during the regular season since 1959. Nor were any of them on the travel roster for a road trip to Lexington.
Ask any of them about some details from a 43-37 triple-overtime loss to the Wildcats, though, and the ones around back then know the unsavory details. Just in case, though, the entire team got a reminder this week.
The LSU coaches showed their team the game this week as an in-living-color reminder of what can happen when a No. 1-ranked team and heavy favorite takes on an underdog.
“Yeah we watched it and the coaches talked about everything that went wrong that night,” said safety Brandon Taylor, whose brother Curtis was a starting safety that season. “They made sure we understand that we have to be focused this week.”
That loss was only the Tigers’ second as a No. 1 team. Another came later that season to Arkansas, also in triple overtime. Including long runs atop the polls in 1958 and ’59 LSU is 14-3 all-time with the No. 1 target on its back.
Tigers coach Les Miles joins Paul Dietzel as the only coaches in program history who have guided teams to the top spot in the ranking in two different regular seasons.
Kentucky is 3-9 all-time against top-ranked teams, 1-1 against the Tigers – they lost 9-0 against them in 1959. That was the Wildcats’ first win against a No. 1 foe since 1964. This week UK faces No. 1 for the third time in five seasons.
The Cats are 39-179-5 record all-time vs. ranked opposition (4-23-1 vs. the Tigers), but haven’t beaten a ranked foe on the road since toppling LSU 39-36 in 1998.
For now anyway.
It’s hard to imagine any pair of backs being more valuable to their team’s offense, though.
Ware’s 318 rushing yards and three touchdowns and Ford’s 300 and six scores have come against three ranked teams. Their success and different styles have become the personality of an offense producing 350 total yards a game and holding onto the ball for 33:47 each game – second in the SEC.
Ware said the running backs’ goals are to “put a foot on the throat” of the defense. There’s also some self-preservation involved.
“If you don’t hit that person, he’s going to hit you,” Ware said.
The backs have gotten used to the hot-hand theory that Miles and running backs coach Frank Wilson have relied on. Sooner or later, though, is it possible both backs could be in a game at the same time?
“That would be pretty nasty,” Ware said with a smile. “I haven’t thought about that.”
Along the line
Senior T-Bob Hebert’s availability for the Kentucky game is up in the air after he suffered a head injury at West Virginia last week.
He and starting right tackle Alex Hurst both missed time against the Mountaineers with concussion symptoms.
Not that injuries on the offensive line are anything new for the Tigers. Nor is players shuffling to fill spots.
With Hebert and Hurst out, Will Blackwell moved from right guard to left and he was joined on that side by Chris Faulk – who came off the bench because he’d gotten dinged in a 19-6 victory at Mississippi State nine days earlier.
Josh Williford filled in at right guard tackle alongside Greg Shaw, who started at left tackle for Faulk but moved without a hiccup when Hurst got hurt.
“During camp we moved around a lot, so it’s no big deal to any of us,” Blackwell said. “To me it’s not a big deal. Just swapping the stance and the footwork is a little different.”
Blackwell also had a little personal redemption in mind.
In the win at State, Blackwell got pulled after a series when he was flagged twice and missed a block that led to a sack.
“After Mississippi State, I wasn’t real pleased with my performance,” he said. “I felt like I played better (last week) and am looking forward to just getting better.”
Wildcats freshman running back Josh Clemons is off to a nice start this season, leading UK with 200 rushing yards, anchored by a 128-yard outing against Central Michigan two weeks ago.
In a 27-13 triumph over the Chippewas, Clemons’ 87-yard touchdown scamper was Kentucky’s longest since 1970. His rushing touchdown run against Western Kentucky in the season opener was the first by a Wildcats freshman since 1993.
Crunchin’ the numbers
--- LSU is second in the SEC and fourth nationally in rushing defense, allowing only 53.2 yards a game and 1.9 yards a carry. The Tigers are fifth in the league in total defense, giving up 289 yards.
--- On 50 opponent possessions, the Tigers have forced a three-and-out or a turnover 24 times (48%).
--- Offensively LSU is tied for second in points per game (38.8) despite not ranking in the top six in any other offensive category. The Tigers are seventh in rushing offense (171 yards per game), eighth in pass offense (179 ypg) and ninth in total offense (350 ypg).
--- The LSU line has allowed only three sacks in four games, the second fewest in the SEC. Kentucky has given up 16 sacks, tied for last in the league.
--- LSU has forced 11 turnovers this season and scored on eight ensuing drives. The Tigers lead the SEC in TO margin at +2 a game.
--- Kentucky’s offense is last in the SEC in scoring offense with 17 points a game, 10th in rushing offense (123 ypg), 10th in pass offense (157.8 ypg) and 10th in total offense (280.8 ypg).
--- The Wildcats defense is sixth in scoring defense (22 points per game), 11th in rush defense (203.8 ypg), 12th in yards-per-carry (5.1), fourth in pass defense (162.2 ypg) and 10th in total defense (363 ypg).
--- Kentucky is tied for second in the SEC with seven interceptions. The Wildcats are 5-0 under second-year coach Joker Phillips when they win the turnover battle, 1-7 when they don’t.
--- Coverage teams on special teams are strengths for UK. The Cats are third in the SEC in punting (41.7 yards per punt) and second in kickoff coverage (net average of 48.9).
--- The Wildcats are also the least penalized team in the SEC with only 14 accepted flags for 112 yards.
--- Despite a 48-10 loss to Florida last week, Kentucky’s offense generated the most total yards (299) and rushing yards (134) against the Gators this season.
--- Ten different receivers caught passes for UK last week.
--- Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan tops the league with 46 tackles – 22 solo, 24 assisted – and is tied for the league lead for tackles for loss with 5½. Wildcats safety Winston Guy ranks third with 41 stops.
--- Cats’ receiver La’Rod King is tied for first in the SEC with four touchdown catches, third with 19 catches and tied for fourth with 276 yards.
Moving the chains
--- This is LSU’s first morning kickoff at Tiger Stadium since 2008 when that season began with a 10 a.m. game against Appalachian State in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav’s arrival. The Tigers kicked off at 11 a.m. against Tulane at the Superdome in 2007 and also had a pre-noon start time against Mississippi State in 2006.
--- History will be made Saturday as for the first time, an LSU football game in Tiger Stadium will be broadcast on the radio in Spanish. The game can be heard on KDDK-FM (105.5) in the Baton Rouge area and KGLA-AM (1540) and KGLA-FM (105.7) in the New Orleans area.
--- LSU will roll out a text messaging service Saturday to assist fans with questions and other issues that may arise during football games at Tiger Stadium. LSU TEXT is a service provided by the athletic department in an effort to assist in the following areas: Guest services, security, stadium, facilities within the stadium, and unruly fans. For fans wishing to use the system, simply text “LSU” <space>, your issue and location to 69050. A member of LSU’s game management team will respond to your text.
PREVIEW: Reputation (and a ranking) to uphold