Saturday's game against Appalachian State marks LSU's fourth straight home game. More importantly, it is the last home game before going on the road for two straight weeks at Alabama and Ole Miss.
It will be hard for the Tigers to improve from their performance last week against North Texas.
But that is not really the point.
Although Appalachian St is a good team, they are a 1-AA school. LSU hopes for the same early lead they got last week. From there, they can rest their starters and let the backups gain valuable experience. This is extremely important because the SEC West showdown between Alabama ranks as the most important game left on the Tigers' schedule and LSU is a tried team. They have played for six straight weeks and will end the season having played 10 consecutive games.
However, Richie Williams and the rest of the Mountaineers hope to catch the Tigers' napping. They are an impressive 6-2, and 4-1 in the Southern Conference. That is good enough for sole possession of first place. They are a high octane team with a high octane leader in Walter Payton hopeful Williams. They possess a potent running and passing game. Their defense is just as formidable. The real question is how will this talent translate against a Division 1, SEC caliber defense like LSU's. Appalachian St's opponents have not exactly been college legends.
Their season began with 24-16 victory against Eastern Kentucky. The nagging defense of the Mountaineers forced four turnovers, two of which led to touchdowns. Williams was 16-31 for 234 yards. He also added 66 yards on foot. Jermane Little emerged as big time receiver with four catches four 107 yards. Corey Lynch had two interceptions and seven tackles. Bandit Monte Smith and Jeremy Wiggins each had 12 tackles.
Against their only other big opponent on their schedule, Kansas, Appalachian St may have given Tiger fans a glimpse of what to expect. The Jayhawks lit it up winning 36-8. The Mountaineers did not even get on the board until the first play of the fourth quarter when Williams connected with Daniel Bettis for a six yard touchdown. Running back Kevin Richardson ran for 67 yards and had 46 yards receiving. Williams was 18-25 for 159 yards.
But it was back to business with a 30-3 win in their next game against Coastal Carolina. Richardson had 178 rushing yards on 18 carries for a 9.9 average. He also ran for three touchdowns. Williams had 270 total yards. He went 13-25 for 185 yards. He added 85 yards on the ground on nine carries. Corey Lynch had two interceptions.
Their momentum continued with a 45-13 win over the Citadel. Williams had 259 passing yards on 20-27 passing and three touchdowns. He also ran for 94 yards. Williams tied the game at 7-7 with a 31 yard touchdown pass to Dexter Jackson. They took the lead when Williams hit Hans Batichan for a 19 yard touchdown in the second quarter. Richardson scampered in for a three yard touchdown to give the Mountaineers a 21-7 lead. At the beginning of the third quarter, Citadel scored to bring them within one touchdown of Appalachian St. Williams quickly fixed that with a touchdown pass to Jermane Little. That created the space they needed to coast to another easy victory.
Their euphoria was short-lived. Furman escaped with a 34-31 victory over the Mountaineers. Furman took the lead with :31 left in the contest. On the kickoff, Jermane Little returned the kick 46 yards. Williams then went on a 31 yard drive that ate up :23 seconds. With three seconds left, Julian Rauch lined up to kick a field goal from the 23. His attempt never got off as Furman blocked it as time expired. Williams had 396 total yards (272 passing, 124 rushing) to become ASU's all time leader in total offense. But that was not enough, as they suffered their second loss of the season.
The Mountaineers bounced back with a 24-7 win over Georgia Southern. Kevin Richardson rushed for 208 yards and had six catches for 77 yards. Williams was 13-20 for 161 yards and had 82 yards on the ground. The defense did not allow a score until a three yard touchdown run with 3:20 remaining in the third quarter. Jeremy Wiggins had 13 tackles.
The wave continued with a 49-17 victory against Wofford. ASU had 566 total yards and scored 28 unanswered second half points to easily secure another victory. The offense averaged 7.5 yards per play. Williams was 19-26 for 249 yards and one touchdown. He also had 73 rushing yards and touchdown on eight carries. Little added six catches for 125 yards.
Last week, the Mountaineers won their homecoming game 35-25 against Chattanooga. And the story of the game was none other than Williams. His 256 passing yards made him the all time leader in passing in ASU history. He was 17-23 with two touchdowns. For his career, he has passed for 6,725 yards. He also had 70 yards rushing on 13 carries with two touchdowns. Richardson added 109 yards on 20 carries. Little had seven catches. This also marks the third straight game where the defense allowed less than 100 yards passing. Also, they have escaped the logjam atop the Southern Conference, and see themselves alone at the top.
But for them to succeed against LSU, Williams will have to find a way to top his usual performance, if that is possible. He is the quarterback in every sense of the word. He ignites the offense in the air and on the ground. He is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, annually awarded to the best player in Division 1-AA. In short, he is the heart of the offense.
Kevin Richardson has really emerged as another backfield threat. He is the leading rusher on the team. That says something because Williams is equally lethal carrying the ball. The backfield could provide headaches for LSU.
The receivers are talented and deep. Williams has an endless list of options on any passing play. Jermane Little is the leading receiver but there are many right behind him. Dexter Jackson, Daniel Bettis, and Hans Batichon are all likely threats for big plays.
The offensive line is what gives Williams his opportunity to shine. The tackles are Grant Oliver and Matt Isenhour. The guards are Kerry Brown and Jeremy Robertson. At center is Scott Suttle.
The defense is a underappreciated unit for the Mountaineers. With all the headlines that the offense generates, it is easy to see how the defense is overlooked. Nevertheless, their effort is just as crucial as the offense's. In eight games this year, they have given up 151 points. Also, in their two losses, they gave up 36 and 34 points. Basically, the offense is going to score points. It is the defense that decides the outcome. How they respond to LSU's offensive attack early will tell how successful ASU will be.
The defensive line has a solid set of bookends. Jason Hunter and Marques Murrell are sack machines that also have an ability to make the quarterback fumble. The tackles are Omarr Byron and Joe Suiter.
The linebackers are led by Zodd Kelly. He is a senior leader who does the things on defense that does not appear on the stat sheet. However, the play of the other two linebackers has been the surprising factor. Charles King moved to middle linebacker after playing on the defensive line last season. Monte Smith also played on the line last season but as switched to the bandit linebacker.
It is the secondary that creates the havoc. The defense allows the secondary to roam freely and pursue the football. With this pressure, it is no wonder that safety Corey Lynch has been such an interception machine. He had two picks in both the Coastal Carolina and Eastern Kentucky games. Jeremy Wiggins is at the other safety where he complements Lynch with his tackling abilities. He registered 12 tackles in the Eastern Kentucky game and had 13 against Georgia Southern. The corners are Dominic Dingle and Jerome Touchstone. Justin Woazeah also plays cornerback.
Julian Rauch will kick and punt. Dexter Jackson will return kicks.
APP. ST. GAME
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