By Casey Gisclair
We’ve waited long enough, Tiger fans.
Football is back, and there will be a Saturday night ballgame in Death Valley this weekend.
The LSU football team will open its 2015 season on Saturday night against McNeese State – a Southland Conference foe coming off a 6-5 season.
The game figures to be pretty simple for the Tigers. LSU is a huge Las Vegas favorite against the outmatched Cowboys, who are receiving a six-figure payday to make the trip to Baton Rouge.
Saturday’s matchup also will likely mark the first home start in the career of quarterback Brandon Harris. The sophomore signal caller is widely expected to take the first snap after working double time throughout the summer while junior Anthony Jennings was suspended.
Miles said LSU has had a good offseason, and the Tigers are ready to roll.
LSU Offense vs. McNeese St. Defense
Harris’ mettle will be tested on opening night against a McNeese defense that will probably have a hard time keeping up with the sheer size and strength of the LSU offense.
The Cowboys are a pretty good Southland Conference defense – a group that held opponents to 21 or fewer points in five games last season, but the Cowboy defense lacks the size and speed of LSU, who returns a slew of offensive linemen and returns most of its skill players.
Sophomore halfback Leonard Fournette should have holes to run through, against a defensive line that is pretty good, but undersized – a group led by names like Cameron Smith, Ed Duplessis and Marval Bourgeois. The Tigers will combat that with an offensive line that returns William Clapp, Ethan Pocic, Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander.
Senior cornerback Gabe Hamner has had a nice camp for McNeese State this summer, and he’ll be one of the Cowboys top secondary defenders on Saturday night. Hamner will be tested heavily by Harris or Jennings and the entire LSU fleet of receivers, including Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, in a passing attack Tigers fans will be studying from start-to-finish.
LSU Defense vs. McNeese St. Offense
The LSU defense is loaded on paper. With returnees like Tre’Davious White, Davon Godchaux, Christian LaCouture and Kendell Beckwith, the Tigers appear primed and ready to build on last season’s defensive success.
LSU was No. 1 in the SEC in total defense, and outside a poor showing in the Music City Bowl against Notre Dame, the Tigers were awfully stingy in the second half of the 2014 season. McNeese will enter the 2015 season looking for answers after scoring just 49 combined points in the final three games last season (all losses).
Freshman halfback Benjamin Jones will be the Cowboys starter this fall after having a huge spring. Jones was named the team’s MVP in its spring game after posting 58 rushing and 67 receiving yards to go along with three touchdowns. Jones will be joined by a revolving door at quarterback – including Daniel Sams, Joe Lissard and Shane McCarley. Cowboys coach Matt Viator said several guys are likely to see time under center this fall.
Backup and younger players usually decide special teams plays. Given the Tigers vast depth advantage over McNeese State, this facet of Saturday’s game could be the most lopsided in LSU’s favor.
The Tigers are always explosive on special teams under Les Miles, who heavily emphasizes that aspect of the game in his preparation. It’s unlikely LSU will feature Leonard Fournette as a kick returner this fall, and will likely defer to speedsters such as Tre’Davious White, Donte Jackson and several others in the return game.
At kicker, LSU has a bit of a question mark with Colby Delahoussaye’s struggles to end last season. That’s about the only soft spot on a unit that should have the size, speed and athleticism advantage to outmatch and outwit just about anyone in the country.
This game shouldn’t be close. The Tigers can probably beat McNeese State without throwing a pass at all.
However, considering that Miles will evaluate Harris’ improvement in a live game situation, expect LSU to hang a pretty crooked number on the Cowboys, who just don’t have the personnel to matchup. The Cowboys scared Nebraska to open the season last fall, but lightning won’t strike twice. LSU wins big.
LSU 45, McNeese State 3