By Andrew Alexander
Saturday night’s slugfest in the Swamp was the epitome of a Les Miles win.
A last second field goal combined with nearly another clock-management fiasco was enough to give even the healthiest Tiger fan minor heart palpitations. The tenth year LSU coach reached the 100 win plateau with a 30-27 victory over Florida Saturday night, joining the legendary Charlie McClendon (137 wins in 18 years) as the only two Tiger football coaches to reach the triple digit victory club.
After notching their first conference victory of the season, LSU returns to Tiger Stadium and turns its attention to the Kentucky Wildcats, who are off to their hottest start since the 2007 season. Wins over Vanderbilt and South Carolina gave the Wildcats consecutive SEC victories for the first time since 2009.
Buckle up your chinstraps because this isn’t your daddy’s Wildcat team.
“They have gotten better each week,” Miles said of Kentucky. “They’re in good position to play in that conference on their side. So, it’s going to be a very quality Kentucky team.”
LSU OFFENSE vs. KENTUCKY DEFENSE
The Tigers’ offensive unit is still flawed, but Saturday night in a hostile road environment LSU won by emphasizing its power running game and minimizing turnovers. Freshman running back Leonard Fournette finally notched his break out game, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over the Gators, while senior running back Kenny Hilliard added another goal line touchdown to his résumé. Anthony Jennings guided the LSU offense to a turnover-free night, a stark contrast to his three-turnover performance in the first quarter against New Mexico state two weeks ago. The Tigers have turned the ball over just one time (the last second Hail Mary against Mississippi State) in three SEC games and rank third in the conference in turnover margin at +8. With Jennings at the helm of the LSU offense, the Tigers may not be flashy, but they are making strides towards offensive efficiency, converting 7-of-16 third downs against the Gators. Kentucky boasts an impressive pass defense ranked third in the conference, allowing 191.5 yards per game. The Wildcats have forced 11 interceptions, returning three for touchdowns, and are second in the league in turnover margin. LSU will try to exploit an average Kentucky rush defense, allowing 152 yards per game. Senior linebacker Bud Dupree, the active SEC sacks leader with 19, will try to take advantage of an LSU offensive line that has given up 15 sacks this season, second worst in the SEC.
LSU DEFENSE vs. KENTUCKY OFFENSE
After surrendering an average of 568 yards in its first two SEC games, the LSU defense turned in a respectable performance against a mediocre Florida offensive unit. The Tigers forced three turnovers and withstood a late Gator attack, highlighted by a goal-line stand for the ages to limit Florida to a game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter. Of course the goal line stand was only necessary because of a blown coverage that resulted in a 73-yard Demarcus Robinson reception. Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles leads a potent Wildcat offensive attack averaging 36 points and nearly 450 yards. Towles has thrown for 10 touchdowns, while rushing for two more through six games. The Wildcats do not boast a dominant rusher, instead spreading the load between three 200+ yard rushers in Jojo Kemp, Braylon Heard and Stanley Williams. This is not a typical Wildcats offense, largely because of the fresh infusion of talent second year coach Mark Stoops has recruited. Overall, 147 of Kentucky’s 171 points have been scored by players who did not play last season. One question still remains: how did this team only score 17 points on Vanderbilt?EDGE: LSU
Can you say COLBY DELAHOUSSAYE? The sophomore kicker redeemed himself from an earlier missed PAT and booted a 50-yard field goal to beat Florida last weekend. Delahoussaye has yet to miss a field goal in 2014, while Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis is just 10-for-15 this season. The Wildcats average nearly 28 yards on kick returns, second in the SEC, thanks in large part to Stanley Williams’ 36 yards per game average, while LSU ranks fifth in kickoff coverage with a net average of 41.2 yards. Florida’s Andre Debose dominated LSU’s punt coverage unit last week, but fortunately for the Tigers, Kentucky’s punt returner Demarco Robinson is averaging only nine yards a game.
Three factors to consider for this more-intriguing-than-expected SEC contest. Both teams boast a +8 turnover margin, but the Wildcats are tied for the most penalty yardage per game at 59. LSU ranks third in the SEC in time of possession at 33:02 and clock control was an important factor in the Tigers win at Florida. LSU’s red zone offensive efficiency has been impressive considering the youth at quarterback. The Tigers are 23-26 with 20 touchdowns in the red zone. By contrast, the Wildcats are 17-20 with just 11 touchdowns. The team that takes care of business in the red zone will win on Saturday. And that team is LSU.
LSU 24, Kentucky 20