On the other sideline in Tiger Stadium this weekend will be Southern Conference foe Furman (3-4, 2-2). The Paladins won't provide any significant challenges for the home team (LSU is favored by 46.5 points), but that doesn't mean the Bayou Bengals can't take anything away from the non-conference tilt.
Here are three areas where I believe LSU can sharpen the blade, so to speak, versus Furman.
1. Buy into defensive youth even more
The secondary has made a wholesale switch during the past three games, committing to two true freshmen in regular rotational roles. Tre'Davious White has cemented himself as LSU's second starting corner, and Rashard Robinson is entrenched as the Tigers' third corner, playing in all nickel and dime packages on an island. On top of that defensive line coach Brick Haley has slowly but surely begun to trot out more of DTs Christian Lacouture and Quentin Thomas as well as DE Tashwan Bower to spell starters along LSU's front four, and John Chavis gave Lamar Louis a little more run that usual at middle linebacker in the second half in Oxford last Saturday.
That's all fine and well in the case of the back-seven guys, but, against Furman, they need to play even more – a lot more, in fact. It's not a long-term commitment to handle the rotation that way once Alabama, Texas A&M and Arkansas pop up on the schedule; however, given the opponent, it's time to see what some of those guys can do in extended action with the lights on in Death Valley. Plus, Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson could certainly use a light game on the interior of the defensive line. And, at Mike linebacker, the more there's competition between Louis and D.J. Welter, the better both will ultimately play. Louis showed a spark at Ole Miss, and this would be a good game to reward him and see if he can keep it up. Finally, in the secondary, this wouldn't be a bad time to get Corey Thompson reengaged at safety and also see how freshman Rickey Jefferson performs in a few game situations.
2. Get Zach back on track
There are two distinctly different trains of thought when it comes to LSU's quarterbacks in this game: One is to get the game into backup Anthony Jennings' hands as soon as possible to get him experience, and two is to let starter Zach Mettenberger regain some confidence after two less-than-stellar weeks in a row. Let me save you some time and tell you which one LSU always opts for under Les Miles (see above bolded statement). But, in this particular instance, it does at least make some modicum of sense. Against Florida, Mettenberger was 9-of-17 passing for 152 yards. Against Ole Miss: 19-of-33 for 274 yards and one touchdown to go with three first-half interceptions.
For LSU to make any noise the rest of the season, and keep up with the scoring fest that will ensue versus A&M and could happen at Alabama, Mettenberger and the passing game will have to click at a level much more reminiscent of the first six games in 2013. It's my expectation that Miles and Cam Cameron will leave Mettenberger in for a full three quarters versus Furman. That's a lot of time not going to Jennings, so it needs to be worth it. As for Jennings, he's thrown one pass this season for 11 yards. I give him a puncher's chance at replicating those numbers in two or three series' worth of fourth-quarter run on Saturday night, possibly a little more. But this game under center will be more about reasserting Zach then getting the future ready.
3. Keep things light for the starting O-Line
There are a lot of places on the field where LSU could use a healing weekend, and, considering the upcoming bye week, it's paramount those areas (and specific players) get the benefit of the full two weeks and don't re-injure themselves against Furman. That is the case at wide receiver with Jarvis Landry and defensive end with Jordan Allen, but it's most glaring along the offensive line for the Tigers. Last week in Oxford, left tackle La'el Collins had to leave the field briefly with an injury (making way for Evan Washington) as did center Elliott Porter (true freshman Ethan Pocic subbed in for Porter).
The Furman game is a perfect opportunity to spell the likes of Collins, Porter and even sophomore left guard Vadal Alexander, who has a history of injuries in his brief LSU career. They'll all start, unless something unexpected happens, but the offensive line could go for a nice hockey-style line change at halftime or shortly thereafter. The Tigers have to have a healthy offensive front going to Tuscaloosa, not only to protect Mettenberger but to ensure that Jeremy Hill and the ground game are part of the offensive equation. Plus, more experience for Washington, Pocic, Jonah Austin and even Fehoko Fanaika will make them all the more prepared to step into one of these final three SEC games should injury strike again.
Extra Point: Take advantage of another home recruiting weekend
Obviously this won't be a weekend that resembles the gathering that took place when Florida came to town (or even close to the flood of prospects that's expected when the Aggies roll into Baton Rouge), but it is important for the team to find its footing again publicly after the unexpected loss at Ole Miss and impress some of the recruits on hand. Among the short listed anticipated to be in attendance Saturday are 2014 commits Trey Quinn, Ed Paris and D.J. Chark along with Malachi Dupre, still uncommitted. Three of those four are receivers, putting all the more emphasis on Mettenberger and the offense getting back on track.
What will you be looking for in the Furman game?