The Other Huddle: LSU

Mississippi State will visit LSU this weekend in a huge early season SEC Western Division match-up. The winner gets a leg up in the race to Atlanta, while the loser falls a step behind and loses a potential tie breaker. Both teams are undefeated and eager for that first positive step up the conference ladder. Tiger Sports Digest publisher Ben Love shares his thoughts about this weekend's game.

The Tigers lost a handful of NFL players off of last season's potent offense that scored 59 points against Geoff Collins' Bulldog defense in 2013.

Les Miles and his staff are breaking in some new play makers on the offensive side of the football, namely quarterback Anthony Jennings.

To say the Tigers have been pretty vanilla in the early going is putting it mildly.

Over 70% of the offensive play calls for called for Jennings to hand the ball off to one of the Tigers' talented running backs.

Balance is the name of the game when it comes to SEC play, but Love reports that the offensive script has not been all that surprising.

"Part of that is a function of playing Sam Houston State and ULM the last two weeks," explained Love. "Les Miles makes no apologies about the offense’s lack of creativity or diversity in games like those.

And, going back to the Wisconsin game, the Badgers’ top two interior defensive linemen went out in the second half, basically begging the Tigers to pound away up the gut with Kenny Hilliard.

So the reality is situations have dictated LSU be somewhat run-heavy, but the fact that Anthony Jennings & Co. (outside of Travin Dural) haven’t built a solid, trustworthy rapport entering SEC play is a bit unhealthy for the development of the passing game."

Earlier this week, every member of the Bulldog secondary that was made available to the media referenced LSU speed merchant Travin Dural and his impressive yards per catch average.

While the LSU passing game is still a work in progress, it is clear that Les Miles has a true deep threat in Dural when he elects to take a shot down the field.

"Had he not suffered a serious injury during Fall Camp of his first season on campus (2012), we’d have seen this from Dural a lot sooner," said Love. "The staff has loved him ever since he arrived from Breaux Bridge, and now he’s become the natural heir to the throne (and to the passing targets) left behind by Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.

At 6-foot-2 and some change, he has some height but what’s most impressive about Dural is his ability to high-point the football, going up in traffic and plucking balls over the heads of defensive backs.

He’s now the obvious deep threat in LSU’s offense, and, in my opinion, he’s made Jennings look a lot better than he would otherwise in his action this season and last. If he can remain healthy, Dural’s among the SEC’s best vertical weapons."

Much has been made about the Tigers' early departures to NFL. Perhaps the unit most hard hit is the defensive line.

Former Bulldog assistant coach Brick Haley just keeps reloading on the Tigers' defensive front wall.

"Brick Haley has really had no problems getting the defensive end situation squared away in 2014," explained Love. "Starters Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are playing well, but not rushing the passer as well as they’re capable of yet, while sophomore Tashawn Bower is the slam-dunk choice for first rotational player.

Deondre Clark rounds out the top four, but he probably plays 5-7 meaningful snaps a game. The harder hurdle has been defensive tackle. Quentin Thomas has played through a partial bicep tear, and Christian Lacouture is the other usual starter. Those two along with true freshman Davon Godchaux are the three that play, in for 90-95% of the meaningful snaps.

I’d say they’ve been okay, but they are what they are – three guys in starting or heavy rotational roles for the first time in their college careers."

The LSU offensive line has been pretty solid in the early season despite a round of musical chairs, but the center position has been a little unsettled with a pair of players starting games, Elliot Porter and Ethan Pocic.

Porter returned to action last week as Pocic sat out with injury.

"Elliott Porter will start. And I’m not so sure Mississippi State fans will hate hearing that," said Love. "He was very rusty in his first action back from suspension against ULM, saying it was difficult to get back into calling checks in live game action and handling the physical load.

But, despite the fact that Ethan Pocic (ankle) is supposedly back to practice and good to play, Miles says Porter will start. It has been hinted, however, that Pocic could start elsewhere along the LSU line. What was projected to be a strength of the team (offensive line) prior to the season is now an area where the Tigers seem to be scrambling a bit, with Miles openly discussing the possibility of a shakeup in the front five for the game Saturday night. Lot of unknowns here."

Most are expecting a low scoring, grind it out, defensive, slobberknocker of a affair when the Bulldogs and Tigers tee it up Saturday night.

Quarterback Anthony Jennings talked about being a game manager last week and one would expect the LSU coaching staff to do some things early on to get Jennings into a rhythm and take some of the SEC opening night jitters away.

Geoff Collins and his defensive staff will work hard to put the game in Jennings' hands and force him to make some plays on his own.

"I would expect this LSU offense in that type of scenario to run a series of screens, draws and two-receiver patterns with plenty of pass protection left in for Jennings," said Love. "Seriously. It’s so far from last season, when Zach Mettenberger could stand on a left hash and throw a 15-yard dart of an out route across the right hash.

Now, the emphasis is on retaining possession and, especially at home, accepting that punting isn’t a bad option with the way LSU’s defense is playing.

At least until Jennings develops more or Brandon Harris grasps the playbook well enough to get to the field, it’s more about the team concept than ever for the Tigers. Play to your strengths, and those would not be bombing away versus a six-DB Mississippi State set with pass rushers coming in on an undecided LSU offensive line."

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