Who has the edge?
Not sure who will start and how much either Jarrett Lee or Jordan Jefferson will play, but there’s no question about how valuable the tandem is to the Tigers – particularly when you check last week and see how much Lee’s off day affected the offense. Kawaun James has decent numbers for Western Kentucky – 1,370 yards and 7 TDs. But the Tigers’ dual threat is an advantage.
Running back: Even
Depth is a major edge to LSU, but like last week, the opponent boasts the best single back on the field in Bobby Rainey. Though undersized at 5-foot-8 and 205 pounds, Rainey is a major reason behind the Hilltoppers’ five-game winning streak. He has rushed for 1,169 yards and nine TDs and is fourth in the Football Bowl Sub-Division with 129.9 yards per game on the ground. Rainey also has 30 receptions for 298 yards and three more scores. Michael Ford re-emerged as the kind of gamebreaker he has flashed at times with 72 yards vs. Alabama’s stingy defense, but Spencer Ware struggled.
Receivers/tight ends: LSU
WKU has only eight touchdown receptions in nine games and no receiver has more than 380 yards. Rueben Randle alone 35 catches for 657 yards and seven scores and Odell Beckham Jr. is due for a big day as well. LSU will likely try to balance the offense back out after last week and try to get Lee’s confidence restored, so the edge here is likely to be pronounced early and often.
Offensive line: LSU
The Tigers’ front five adjusted and improved as he game against Alabama went on and opened up enough operating room for Ford against the best defense LSU will face this season. Lee and Jefferson faced some pressure, but were only sacked once and hurried five other times by the Crimson Tide. Like the QBs, look for the Tigers’ o-line to work out some frustration at WKU’s expense.
Defensive line: LSU
The Tigers’ two interior tackles had arguably their best performances of the season against Alabama’s burly offensive line – Bennie Logan with 5 tackles and a blocked field goal and Mike Brockers with four stops. Add in Sam Montgomery’s two sacks and it’s not a stretch to call LSU’s d-line one of the major forces behind the big win. Western Kentucky has been stout up front as well, with the four starters combining for nine of the Hilltoppers’ 24 sacks.
Linebackers: Western Kentucky
Two of Western Kentucky’s top three tacklers operate in the middle – Andrew Jackson with an eye-popping 90 tackles and 13½ for loss and Xavius Boyd with 46. For the Hilltoppers to stick close to LSU, those two have to help control the Tigers’ running game and not surrender big plays on simple plays. LSU’s linebackers showed some progress last week, with Ryan Baker leading the way with 8 tackles vs. the grind-it-out Alabama offense. But there’s still just not a level of consistency there for the Tigers.
Derius Brooks is a force for WKU at cornerback with four interceptions and seven pass breakups. That’s about where the comparisons ends in the defensive backfield. Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid, Brandon Taylor, Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon and Ron Brooks solidified themselves as the best secondary in the country by spearheading a suffocating second-half performance last week. With 12 interceptions among them and the ability to run blitz and disrupt any play, this group has no peer.
Special teams: LSU
Brad Wing and Drew Alleman have carved a spot as arguably the best punter-kicker tandem in the country and freshman James Hairston has been a nice complement with his booming kickoffs. The Tigers’ return game has leveled out somewhat lately, but Claiborne, Mathieu, Beckham, Brooks and Russell Shepard give LSU plenty of talented options there. Western Kentucky has gotten a solid season from punter Hendrix Brakefield (41.6 yards per punt, 12 of 50 yards or more and 18 downed inside the 20-yard-line). And John Evans averages 30.9 yards on kickoffs. But the Hilltoppers are 4-of-15 on field goals and have done very little on punt returns.