I got in touch with Pelican State Sports to preview this weekend's big game. Head over to his site to see my answers to his questions. Here's what he had to say in response to mine.
1. You guys are coming off a humiliating loss in Gainesville. How does that game change your expectations for the season? You're def. still in the Western Division race if you can win out, but do you still feel like the Tigers can compete for a repeat national title? Could the Tigers win a repeat matchup with the Gators in Atlanta?
Well, the expectations have changed just a little bit. History and common sense told me before the season that LSU would have a tougher year than the last one, but like every year I drank the Kool-aid and expect them to win every game. The Florida game was probably a good game for LSU, to show them that they are going to have to fight for every inch this year and won't simply overwhelm teams with their athleticism.
I still expect LSU to win the West, for one simple reason: The Alabama game is at home. If that were in Tuscaloosa, I would say that Alabama would win. But I know that the Tiger fan will be in rare form for that November 8th tilt, and it will be hard for Bama to get the W. However, based on what they have done so far this year, I do not expect LSU to contend for the national title. LSU never seriously contends in even-numbered years because that's when they have to go on the road to Gainesville and Auburn. Plus this year's other east opponents are USC on the road and UGA at home – not an easy slate by any means. So, I think if LSU wins the West and makes an appearance in the title game, I will count the year a success.
As for winning a rematch with the Gators, not right now. But who knows what will happen the rest of the season. Percy Harvin could blow a Pirelli, or Tebow could overdose on communion wafers and all of a sudden Urban can't adjust. Jarrett Lee could turn into the second coming of, um....ah, um, well somebody who can throw consistently. But as the teams are right now, I don't think LSU would win a rematch.
2. Tell us about any significant injuries the Tigers have. How is Ricky Jean-Francois doing? How will injuries will affect LSU's play against the Gamecocks?
According to Miles, Ricky Jean-Francois is 'questionable.' Since Les is famously reluctant to give out complete, relevant, or even remotely factual injury information, you may take from that what you want. One other injury could affect the Tigers. True freshman quarterback Jordan Jefferson will likely not play and make take a redshirt with a shoulder injury. Jefferson is a 6-4, 210 pound dual threat guy from Destrehan, Louisiana. Coming into the season, many expected him to get snaps an Ryan Periilloux 2007 type role, but that hasn't played out. He has gotten only a few snaps, and very few meaningful ones.
3. You guys are playing a lot of new players after graduating a number of guys from last year's championship team. Who is one Tiger who Gamecocks fans probably haven't heard much about, and how do you think he'll impact Saturday night's game?
Good question. I think one Tiger likely to break out at some point is Terrance Tolliver, a wide receiver. Tolliver is big, 6-5 and 210 or so, and also blindingly fast. He plays on some as a third receiver, and has shown an ability to get open deep. If Lee/Hatch/whoever can get the ball down the field to him, Tolliver should be able to take advantage of the Gamecocks' nickel cornerbacks. Of course, with Demetrius Byrd, Brandon LaFell and Richard Dickson also out in the route catching passes, it may be tough to get Tolliver some touches.
4. Jarrett Lee had a somewhat rough game against the Gators, throwing two interceptions. Is Lee still Les Miles's man, or is it possible we'll see Andrew Hatch if Lee falters? How do you think LSU's offense will do against South Carolina's defense?
I think we will see Hatch. I think Crowton and Miles love having a change of pace quarterback, and right now, that's Hatch. I mean, how crazy is it that LSU's "athletic" quarterback is a Mormon Harvard transfer? That's LSU, blowing stereotypes out of the water.....I think LSU's offense will move the ball, but it all hinges on quarterback play. LSU's offensive line failed to dominate the line against Florida. I don't know if that was because of scheme or what, but if it was scheme then I expect South Carolina to do the same thing that Florida did. That means that Lee/Hatch/whoever will have to throw the ball effectively for LSU to win and for Charles Scott to wear out the defensive front running the ball. My expectation is that LSU will be able to move the ball, though, using safe passes to the backs/receivers to loosen the defense on the edges and open up space inside for Scott.
5. LSU has been known for their defense over the past few years, but this year the D has taken a step back. You've given up points to weak Auburn and MSU offenses, and the Gators shredded you. What's the difference between this Tigers' D and those of past years? Can you guys turn it around?
Well, the obvious difference is the absence of former DC Bo Pelini. But personally, I thought Pelini's defense underperformed at times last year (see those two losses, especially against Kentucky). However, the biggest issue is attrition. The Tigers lost Glen Dorsey, Ali Highsmith, and 3 starting backfield players in Craig Steltz, Chevis Jackson, and Jonathan Zenon. Those guys were all experienced, smart, aggressive players. The players who have taken their places are athletic and aggressive players, but lack the experience and smarts of last year's crew. Further, guys like Dorsey and Steltz were leaders, both by example and vocally. I am not sure that this defense has that kind of player. RJF is a physical stud, but I don't know if he is a leader. Tyson Jackson is good but not great. The defensive backs have been exploited all season.
This defense can be good, but it will never be as good as last year's group was when it was playing well. I think they can be good enough for LSU to win the West, but am unwilling to go any further than that.