1. Few players in college football have as much buzz as Leonard Fournette right now. Give a little bit of a scouting report to let us know how good he really is.
TSD: He is the genuine article, extremely well-built at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds and a humble superstar whose teammates look to him for leadership as a sophomore. Fournette arrived on campus with all the physical tools, at once able to run over defenders and also past them with blazing speed. It’s the vision for Fournette that has markedly improved over his time at LSU. He’s no longer trying to hit the home run on every single play (although it was there just about every play versus Auburn), using a more mature running style to take what’s there and be slightly more patient. His pass-catching skills are legitimate, too, meaning Fournette really can stay on the field all three downs and LSU not miss a beat.
2. LSU's passing game has not lit the world on fire this year. Assess the passing game and its biggest problems to this point.
TSD: With the exception of Zach Mettenberger’s senior season in 2013, LSU’s passing game hasn’t lit the world on fire under Les Miles since the 2007 national championship season. At some point it’s not the players, it’s the system and the coaching approach offensively. Brandon Harris has the chops to throw it around the yard 30 times a game, but Miles & Co. would prefer to not put the ball in harm’s way (read: turnovers). So far their limiting plan has worked as LSU has no turnovers through two games and last Saturday, versus Auburn, the offense didn’t lose a single yard due to sacks.
So the biggest barrier to entry with the passing game is the style of offense Miles wants to run, which understandably caters to Fournette. But there is still some relative inexperience in the receiving corps with two sophomores (Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural) starting. As for how LSU is utilizing its passing game so far in 2015, it’s been almost all dink and dunk, with a lot of bubble screens and passes behind the line of scrimmage. Establishing a vertical passing game is still on this 2015 LSU offense’s to-do list.
3. Who are some players on offense Syracuse should look out for other than Fournette?
TSD: The Tigers’ best receiver is redshirt junior Travin Dural, a 6-foot-2 speedster who can also go up and get it in the red zone with the best of them as a leaper. LSU also turns to two additional backs after Fournette, and both can be devastating in their own right. Sophomore Darrel Williams is a punishing back at 232 pounds while true freshman Derrius Guice is a brilliant pass-catcher out of the backfield and has an ambitious running style that just doesn’t quit.
4. Defensively, we know LSU is loaded with talent. But are there any areas where they are vulnerable that Syracuse may try to exploit?
TSD: This is one of the top LSU defenses in Miles’ 11 years in Baton Rouge, but I do see two areas where the Tigers are still building. One is in depth in the front six or seven. LSU has a great defensive tackle tandem with Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture, but after them the jury is still out on the options for line coach Ed Orgeron. Ditto at linebacker, where LSU is already going to be without starter Deion Jones for the first half after he picked up a targeting penalty versus Auburn. So if the ‘Cuse decide to go tempo, it’s possible the Orange could get to some of LSU’s unproven depth up front and may have more success moving the football.
The other piece where there’s some uncertainty, at least in my eyes, is in the nickel back position for LSU. That spot has been occupied by Jalen Mills for the last three seasons, but the senior defensive back is out with an injury for at least a few more weeks with an ankle injury. Dwayne Thomas has taken the role over, but he’s had his struggles in coverage early this season after suffering a torn ACL in 2014. Syracuse in general is better off trying to throw against Thomas and the LSU linebackers in coverage than either of the Tigers’ starting two corners.
5. Syracuse loves to blitz and has been stout against the run this season. How do you see the LSU offense attacking the Orange defense?
TSD: Well, Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron prefer to operate with at least one tight end and a fullback, pounding a defensive front into submission all game until it gets tired and wears down. My guess is if Syracuse gets blitz-happy, LSU will go slightly away from its preferred tendencies and go three- and four-wide more often. That will cause some of those blitzers to at least feign coverage of slot receivers, getting them out of the box some to open back up running lanes. It also would facilitate quick bubble screens, one of the best blitz-burning plays out there.