Hail to the Chief

Ninth-ranked LSU and Washington open the season on Saturday as both teams try to erase the lingering thoughts from the 2008 campaign.

Washington officials are dubbing Saturday’s matchup with LSU as the beginning of the “Sark Era”, as first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian will coach his first game in Husky Stadium as a Dawg.


While Husky fans are elated to kick off the new beginning, LSU fans will be signing their own rendition of ‘Hail to the Chief’ as the Tigers will look to erase the nightmare that still clouds their minds – last season.


Expunging those memories from last year’s 8-5 finish begins on the defensive side of the ball and the man responsible for that assignment is new defensive coordinator John “the Chief” Chavis.

Gameweek Links:
  • Scout Watch
  • Almost Here
  • As Ready as Ever
  • Depth Chart Surprises
  • All About Respect
  • All About Washington
  • D.J. Returns to UW
  • Q&A: LSU Style
  • McCarthy Faced Adversity
  • Q&A: UW Style
  • Finding a Plan

    Chavis, along with the help of new defensive line coach Brick Haley and first-year secondary coach Ron Cooper, has spent countless hours at the LSU Football Operations Building since January trying to sort out the answers as to why the Tigers went from being one of the top defensive units in the conference to the brink of being a cellar dweller.


    Last year, LSU was ninth in the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense and team defense with 24.2 points and 325.5 yards allowed, respectively. Some optimists will say that Jarrett Lee’s seven pick-sixes shouldn’t count against the defense, so we’ll take that into consideration and that drops the points yielded to only 20.3 points a game which would be good for seventh in the league.


    Seventh, ninth, and especially eleventh – where LSU’s pass defense ranked in the conference – isn’t going to win championships, and it certainly isn’t going to make for very many enjoyable Sunday mornings around Louisiana’s Capitol City.


    The Tigers’ defensive troops have caught their fair share of criticism for last season’s demise, but there are others who must also shoulder some responsibility.


    The obvious is Lee and he will be the first to tell you that he didn’t play up to par in 2008. But what about some questionable calls that put the young redshirt freshman in a precarious spot? Or how about an offensive line that seemed to fall asleep at the wheel during various stretches? What about a lack of senior leadership on both sides of the ball? And how about some decisions by the coaching staff that still cause many to scratch their head?


    All of the above is true to some degree, but the bottom line is LSU did not do what it needed to do, or what it should have done, because last year’s squad did not have 8-5 talent. Les Miles admits it, and you will not hear any of the players say otherwise.


    The trip to Washington is all about regaining the respect that LSU had prior to 2008, and that goes for everyone associated with the team – from the players all the way up the food chain to the staff.


    Fans and everyone outside the state of Washington fully expect LSU to hand the Huskies their 15th straight loss dating back to 2007, and it all starts with stopping UW’s triggerman.



    Key on Locker


    When Washington quarterback Jake Locker steps under center on Saturday, it will be 343 days since he last took a snap in a game. Locker broke the thumb on his throwing hand against Stanford last year in week four of the season. He was trying to be the lead blocker on a reverse and when he tried to break his fall, well you know the outcome.


    UW has moved away from a hybrid spread offense that didn’t seem to work very well under Tyrone Willingham. Sarkisian doesn’t want to see Locker run as much as he has in the past, but if you take that element out of his game then you have an average quarterback at best.


    Unless Locker has dramatically improved as a passer, you have to wonder if a more conventional pro-style offense will play into his strengths. One look at his stats in 16 collegiate games – 1,166 yards and 16 TDs rushing; 48.7 completion percentage, 2,574 yards passing, 15 TDs and 15 INTs – says that Locker isn’t going to sit in the pocket and pick LSU apart.

    Washington's hopes lie with Jake Locker

    The Tigers’ secondary was porous last season as it got carved up to the tune of 215 yards a game – 73rd in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks. It should be improved this year with Cooper at the helm and more experienced corners in Patrick Peterson, Jai Eugene and Chris Hawkins. A looming question that could affect the secondary in an adverse way is how will Chad Jones handle making the calls in the defensive backfield, and will Brandon Taylor (assuming he gets the start) pan out at strong safety after spending time at corner last year and in the spring?


    On the other end of Locker’s passes will be D’Andre Goodwin, who was the fourth leading receiver in the Pac-10 last year (60-692-1 TD) and tops for the Huskies. UW also returns three of its next four leading pass catchers in wideouts Jermaine Kearse (20-310-2 TDs) and Devin Aguilar (20-246) along with tight end Kavario Middleton (12-82). Collectively, they averaged less than 12 yards a catch and accounted for only four touchdowns.


    True freshman James Johnson, a 6-1, 190-pound three-star wide receiver, will see significant playing time and may even start in an effort to put more playmakers on the field. And they’ll need more big-play threat than the veterans provided last year against LSU or it will be a very long evening.


    To keep LSU’s defense honest, UW will have to find some semblance of a running game and it will be a “by committee approach” led by redshirt freshman Chris Polk, who is expected to start. Willie Griffin is considered the most reliable runner and is the leading returning rusher from last season (65-219-1 TD), but he’s hardly a homerun threat with his longest rush covering all of 17 yards.


    The projected starting offensive line for UW has a combined 63 starts between them and averages 6-foot-5, 298 pounds across the front. The edges are guarded by Ben Ossai (6-6, 335) on the left and Cody Habben (6-6, 295) on the right. Sarkisian did some shifting around recently to get his most experienced guys on the perimeter as Ossai spent most of fall camp at left guard but is now back at his natural position.


    LSU’s defensive line may have four new starters in Rahim Alem, Drake Nevis, Al Woods and Pep Levingston. Charles Alexander could get the start in place of Nevis and if he gets the call then that four-man front will have combined for 20 career starts. Replace Alexander with Nevis then that total number of starts is cut in half to nine.


    The Tigers D-line is quick and has looked good throughout fall camp, but with three freshmen on the two-deep – Josh Downs, Lavar Edwards and Chancey Aghayere – combined with Levingston’s broken hand, there are some question marks.


    The same can be said at linebacker where Jacob Cutrera has missed most of fall camp. There is experienced depth on the Tigers’ side with Kelvin Sheppard and Perry Riley returning as starters, along with Harry Coleman, who started at strong safety last year but is slated to start at Sam linebacker.



    Just Manage the Game


    LSU’s offensive attack should be more diversified with Jordan Jefferson under center as he gives the Tigers a running threat. But if everything we’ve heard comes to fruition then don’t expect to see the young sophomore run as much as he did last year (49-134-1 TD) when he was the team’s fourth leading rusher.


    Jefferson’s overall passing stats last year (36-73-419-1-4 TDs) won’t strike fear in opposing corners. But he’s shown that he can manage the game and he carries himself much different than someone who turned only 19 years old 11 days ago. Oh, and don’t forget about this true freshman named Russell Shepard who just might get a little playing time.


    Brandon LaFell (63-929-8 TDs) will make things a lot smoother for Jefferson, and will this be Terrance Toliver’s breakout game that Tiger fans have been waiting for?


    Jefferson and co. will face a new defensive look from the Huskies with Nick Holt making the move from USC, along with Sarkisian. The Husky pass defense fared better than LSU in passing yards allowed – 211 to 215 for 62nd in the nation – but UW gave up 24 touchdowns compared to LSU’s 15, and opponents completed nearly 67 percent of their passes.


    The big problems for the Huskies last year, however, was on the ground where they finished No. 117 in the country (third to last), allowing 5.7 yards a carry and just under 241 yards a game.


    Chuck "the Truck" will be tough to stop on Saturday

    The good news is that Washington, who returns 10 of 11 starters on defense, can’t be much worse in 2009 and they at least have some hope with Holt coming over. The bad news is that LSU’s stable of running backs is as good as any other in the country led by the SEC’s second leading returning rusher in Charles Scott (217-1,174-18 TDs).


    The Tigers’ offensive line, while relatively young with two new sophomore starters, should not have much difficulty with UW’s defensive front.


    The linebackers are considered the strength of UW’s defense with Donald Butler, E.J. Savannah and Mason Foster slated to start. Foster led the Huskies with 105 stops last year and Butler was fourth with 69. Savannah is the one to keep an eye on as he had a team-leading 111 stops as a sophomore in 2007, but left the team during fall camp prior to the ’08 campaign after butting heads with Willingham on more than one occasion.


    When you add it all up, UW’s defense gave up 38.6 points and 451.8 yards a game, good for next to last and dead last in the conference, respectively. Enough said!



    Replacing David


    After three years of splitting the uprights 75 percent of the time on field goals and 98.5 percent of the time on PATs, Colt David has finally moved on. Josh Jasper finally gets his chance to stand on center stage and Derek Helton takes over for Brady Dalfrey on punts.


    Trindon Holliday, Ron Brooks and Keiland Williams could all get a chance to return a kickoff, while Holliday is expected to handle the punts unless he muffs one.


    LSU’s return game has underachieved for too many years and the Tigers may never have anyone back deep with as much speed as Holliday. There's no better time to show that world-class speed than on Saturday.



    How We See It


    Both teams have questions to answer, but Washington’s far outweigh their visitors.


    UW fans want to see their Dawgs play with passion and intensity, and the same can be said for those gold clad fans that make the 2,300-plus mile trek out West.


    Washington didn’t have 0-12 talent last year, but they didn’t have 8-5 talent either, even with a healthy Jake Locker.


    The only time these two teams have met in football was in 1984 when Washington made the cross-country trip to Baton Rouge and got hammered 40-14.


    Les Miles has consulted with a sleep specialist to get some advice on how to handle the late kickoff – 7:30 local and 9:30 Baton Rouge time – but that shouldn’t be a problem, and it definitely will not be a valid excuse if the Tigers do not show up to play.


    The only way No. 9-ranked LSU loses this is if the Tigers are sleeping at the wheel and that’s not likely to happen with the bevy of Tiger fans roaring inside Husky Stadium.


    Things were bad for the Huskies in 1984, but 2009 is just a tad bit worse…


    LSU 40, Washington 13

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