COUNTDOWN: LSU-Utah State Preview

LSU fans probably remember Utah State as a lower-tier football team that came to Tiger Stadium for a bout with Curley Hallman's team, 38-17, on Oct. 2, 1993. But much change has filled the fresh mountain air of Logan, Utah, since then, as Mick Dennehy has taken over as head coach and is slowly resuscitating a program once short of breath.

Unfortunately for the Aggies, they didn't make enough of a statement in their first trip Saturday. Traveling 82 miles south to Salt Lake City, the USU defense allowed 95 yards to Utah running back Marty Johnson and 76 more to Adam Tate, as the Utes beat their in-state rivals, 23-19, in the opener for both teams.

The Utah defense, which ranked No. 10 in the nation last season, turned in another strong effort, holding Utah State tailback Emmett White in check. White, who last season set an NCAA record with 578 all-purpose yards in one game, was held to 81 rushing yards, 14 receiving yards and 17 return yards as the Utes kicked away from him most of the night.

"They did a good job of bottling him up," Dennehy said. "We've got to learn from this film. That's such a big part of our offense."

The Aggies hurt themselves by losing two fumbles, one of them leading to a late first-half field goal. USU quarterback Jose Fuentes also threw three interceptions, including one that ended a scoring threat on the Aggies' first second-half possession.

Dennehy's offense — his team's meal ticket — will also have to improve. Utah State has become one of many pass-happy schools in its region with Dennehy at the helm, utilizing a crazy quilt of formations and sets. If nothing else, the Aggies are fan friendly with Fuentes, a junior, at quarterback and White, a senior, at tailback.

Defensively, not much went right last season for USU last season. Before Big West play started up, the Aggies owned the second-worst defense in the country, and injuries wiped out the secondary even further. But the defense did enough to get them to the conference title game - during which Boise State promptly put 66 points on the scoreboard. USU's defense finished 110 overall in the nation, allowing 452.4 yards per game.

All four starters return in the Aggies' secondary — but that might not be a good thing. If their secondary doesn't continue to improve, USU opponents will travel as much through the air as the Aggies do getting to their away games.

MATCHUP PREVIEW

Utah State rushing offense vs. LSU run defense: For the second straight weekend, LSU will face a super running back from a less-than-super team. Emmett White is the Aggies' bread and butter; he averaged 5.5 yards per carry and 120 yards per game as a junior. He'll get his chances, but he'll also get tired. He hasn't played against linebackers like LSU's yet.

Advantage: LSU

Utah State passing offense vs. LSU pass defense: Orchestrating a pass-heavy offense, USU ranked 21st overall last season with an average of 266 yards through the air. This year's returning receivers, however, are somewhat unproven. The Aggies' aerial attack will provide a good pre-SEC test for LSU's defensive backs.

Advantage: PUSH

LSU rushing offense vs. Utah State run defense: Football stereotypes state that Western teams aren't very strong on defense. Utah State, which allowed more than 400 yards per game last season, fits the stereotype. The Tigers will again choose from a proven stable of runners that includes LaBrandon Toefield, Devery Henderson and Domanick Davis (although Davis will probably play again more in the nickel and dime packages Saturday).

Advantage: LSU

LSU passing offense vs. Utah State pass defense: For the Aggies, the good news is that all four of their 2000 starters return in the secondary. That's also the bad news, since they allowed 255 yards passing and 32.4 points per game. The USU front four, weighing in at 254 pounds per man, won't help much with a pass rush on Rohan Davey, who has  plenty of receiving options when he drops back to pass.

Advantage: LSU

LSU special teams vs. Utah State special teams: Saturday night's game will feature two of the best return men in the nation: Domanick Davis of LSU and Emmett White of Utah State. White set an all-time record last year with 2,628 all-purpose yards. The Tigers' coverage teams are typically solid. Their kicking specialists are usually ... well ...

Advantage: PUSH

Intangibles: Since late July, Saban has said he wants his team to maintain an attitude of dominance. It began with Tulane to open the season. It will need to continue Saturday against Utah State. The Aggies are gearing up for another road game, the second of three straight. This will be the toughest place they'll visit of the three.

Advantage: LSU

Prediction: It could be easy for the Tigers to blow off this game and look ahead to their SEC opener against Auburn, but don't bet on it. Saban needs only to utter three letters - U, A and B - to remind his players disaster can strike at any time. With Rohan Davey and Trev Faulk demanding the very best from their teammates, that's not likely.

Predicted score: LSU 41, Utah State 17

 


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