It's time to bring back a feature I ran earlier this season, prior to the LSU-Wisconsin opener in Houston. I call it "Expected & Unknown," and the contents below are exactly what that title would lead you to, well, expect.
Here's my final pregame take on the mysteries remaining in the Tigers' game plan heading into the cross-division meeting with Florida in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium tomorrow (6:30 p.m., SEC Network) contrasted by a few items I feel like I know at this point, compiled via a series of interviews, the developments of the week and occasionally educated guesses or hunches.
WHAT I EXPECT
Harris to start, both quarterbacks to play
- Assuming freshman Brandon Harris is far enough removed from his ankle sprain at Auburn that he’s at or near 100 percent, this feels like a certainty. Jumping from sophomore Anthony Jennings to Harris and back to Jennings in the starting lineup over a three-week stretch would create too much chaos in an offense already lacking continuity. It would also serve to dent Harris’ confidence – not what he needs if he’s the signal caller of the future, which even the coaching staff has given indications Harris is. But Harris isn’t ready to do it by himself. They both play at Florida, and the hot hand takes the majority of the second-half snaps. More confusion and head-shaking going forward next week if it ends up being Jennings, less if it’s Harris.
A low-scoring ballgame and third-down struggles for all
- A recent Over/Under I saw for this game, on Bovada for those wondering, was at 47. What? Who’s going to score all those points? Not these two teams, not from what I’ve seen. Not unless LSU’s defense continues to leak like a sieve to a fairly one-dimensional team and it becomes contagious for Florida’s defenders. I’m forecasting a much lower score, with the winning team probably being closer to 13-17 points. And a big part of the reason is third-down futility from the Gators and Tigers so far in 2014. LSU ranks 104th in the country converting 34.7 percent of the time while Florida is next in line, 105th in the FBS at 34.3 percent. Doesn’t strike me as a trend that’s going to reverse itself overnight just because both teams are desperate for a win.
Dural to remind folks of his presence and capabilities
- A game-by-game snapshot of Dural’s stats this season: Wisconsin – 3 catches, 151 yards, 1 TD; Sam Houston State – 3/140/3; ULM – 6/79/0; Mississippi State – 6/124/0; New Mexico State – 3/40/1; Auburn – 1/40/0 … Just a healthy hunch, but I think Dural gets off the two-game schneid. Part of the rationale is that his two-game dip coincided with Harris dominating time at quarterback. I expect to see some Jennings, which in turn means some more Dural. Also, Florida made a move last week to bring corner Brian Poole inside for nickel coverage. That means true freshman Jalen Tabor was more often on an island at corner. He’s talented, but very young; I think that spells possible success for Dural or Malachi Dupre in certain situations.
Beckwith to have his best game to date in an LSU uniform
- He’s certainly in position to. Let’s add up all the factors (a not-so-subtle DMX reference): Florida is turning to a potentially shaken quarterback and will run often, Beckwith excels against the run and in particular against runs from non-spread sets, the sophomore is coming off a six-tackle performance on the road and has been empowered by a recent bump up to starter at middle linebacker. It feels like a formula for success for a 6-foot-2, 245-pound physical tackler. Beckwith will have to execute, but this is set up well for him to put a stranglehold on the job.
The secondary will look better than it has in SEC play
- It almost has to, right? And there’s also no doubt that Jeff Driskel and the Florida offense are coming at a much-needed time, but I still think one point made by Les Miles earlier this week is valid and applies here. For many of the big-hitters conceded in the passing game last week at Auburn, LSU’s experienced players in the back four were in good position. A mixture of bad luck, bad timing and just flat-out great plays by stud receivers did the Tigers in this respect. Those guys have some pride, and I think they’ll put forth a much better showing in Gainesville. I will make no such promises about the front seven and run defense.
WHAT I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE
Will LSU commit to the freshmen running backs?
- I’ve written about this a time or two since the Auburn game, but it’s pretty clear the two backs cooking with gas currently are freshmen Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams. It stands to reason that Frank Wilson play them most and LSU’s offense continue to feed them, but will that actually happen? Maybe more importantly from a big-picture view: Can the Tigers do better on second-and-manageable? Fournette and Williams ripped off several decent runs on first down last week only for LSU to go backwards on second down or stall out. With an offensive line starting to play better under increased time in spread(ish) sets, LSU has the ability to pick up first downs on the ground. Can they do it at Florida and will the right personnel tote the rock more times than not?
When it is time to pass, how will it look?
- One could make a strong case that LSU didn’t exactly put Harris in the best position to succeed in his debut start a week ago. Granted, he was inaccurate on his own right, often throwing high, but there was a steady dose of run-run-pass early in that ballgame. Against Florida will that again be the case? And just how much will Miles and Cam Cameron trust each of these young quarterbacks to turn it loose when Florida decides to commit all its resources to plugging the run? It’s a virtual certainty that LSU won’t be able to win in the Swamp without a semblance of a passing game. We’ll all see Saturday night if Cameron has made enough improvements or modifications from the Auburn debacle to get the Tigers by what is a tough defense.
Can LSU’s ‘D’ avoid nail status this time around?
- Turn back that memory machine about two years. A few weeks after LSU lost a 14-6 grinder in the Swamp, in a game where UF ran counter after counter at the Tigers’ D-Line from an unbalanced, stacked set, Miles blew up when a reporter referred back to the game as a “hammer-and-nail” scenario when you know who was the nail? Well, John Chavis’ men are going to have to show some resiliency and improvement to avoid that same fate in 2014 when they return to Gainesville. LSU is giving up a mind-blowing 300 yards rushing per game in SEC action, which plays into the hands of a Florida offense struggling to find an identity in the passing game. So will LSU’s defense finally make a stand this season or will it be more of the same?