By Casey Gisclair
So much for it being pretty easy to stop Leonard Fournette, eh?
The LSU football team absolutely destroyed Auburn 45-21 on Saturday afternoon, dominating the Plainsmen in the trenches on both sides of the ball en route to one of the most impressive wins by any college football team this season.
Up next is an east coast road trip to Syracuse – a game that some say is a potential trap game because of a long flight to New York and a brutally early kickoff at noon (EST).
The Orange are 3-0 on the young season, but almost no college football aficionado would consider Syracuse a College Football Playoff contender.
Flawed up and down their depth chart, with injuries and an overall lack of talent, LSU should have a pretty easy go – assuming that they show up ready to play.
LSU Offense vs. Syracuse Defense
The LSU offense is scary good when it plays like it did on Saturday afternoon against Auburn. The Tigers accumulated 485 total yards and 411 rushing yards in a devastating, physical victory – one of the most dominant performances ever against a Will Muschamp-coached defense. The difference between LSU’s offense on Saturday compared to the debacle in the season-opener was simple: the Tigers opened up the playbook and lived a little.
The Tigers still ran the football three times more than they passed, I understand that, but they ran the ball out of less predictable formations. The Tigers did the majority of their running out of the shotgun in sets that make it impossible to clog the box defensively because you have to respect the receivers on the edges.
By now, it’s no secret that Leonard Fournette is a stainless steel robotized monster whose only purpose is crushing defenses and winning Heisman Trophies. That’s a given by now, but don’t sleep on Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams, or even Brandon Harris in a spread-based running game, either.
In the opposing huddle, Syracuse is stingy on defense, allowing 334.3 yards per game in three wins. The Orange are dominant against the rush, allowing just 46 yards rushing per game and 1.5 yards per carry. They can be had in the secondary, though, yielding 287.7 yards per game through the air. If LSU can contain junior linebacker Luke Arciniega and junior defensive end Ron Thompson (Syracuse players who have combined for seven sacks this season), the Tigers should break the Orange’s defense in the second half and find ways to both run and throw with ease.
LSU Defense vs. Syracuse Offense
It’s becoming pretty clear early on this season that first year LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron’s teachings have become gospel to the Tigers ferocious front. LSU was impressive against the run early last season, but they surely are dominant now. Aside from a few fluky long garbage time rushes in the Auburn game, it would have been a near-shutout for the LSU run defense for a second-straight week – this time against a usually good Auburn offense.
Sophomore defensive tackle Davon Godchaux is a demon in the middle with three sacks through two games. Junior linebacker and LSU’s second-leading tackler, Kendell Beckwith, isn’t too shabby, either, with 15 tackles already this season. The Tigers’ leading tackler, senior linebacker Deion Jones (20), will be out for one half because of a targeting violation in the second half of the Auburn game, but junior Duke Riley should fill in nicely in his place.
Luckily, the Tigers will be facing a team in near-shambles. Syracuse’s offense is a mess. The Orange are down to their third-string quarterback after starter Terrel Hunt tore his Achilles in the season-opener and backup Eric Dungey went down on Saturday with a head injury. Assuming that Dungey can’t play, the Orange will turn to a revolving door that features both Austin Wilson and Zack Mahoney.
Neither quarterback is a SEC-caliber signal caller, nor have they had any semblance of success against Central Michigan. To get by and survive, the Orange will try and lean heavily on halfback Jordan Fredericks and an experienced offensive line.
A lot of LSU’s shoddy first game special teams work was fixed in Week 2. The Tigers punted the ball much more effectively against Auburn, flipping the field every time they needed Jamie Keehn on the field. The coverage units let Kerryon Johnson slip a 40-yard return, but that’s just one small blemish on a group that has great speed.
Against Syracuse, LSU will be going up against some of the best specialists in the ACC. Kicker Cole Murphy is accurate and is 5-of-6 on the young season. Orange punter Riley Dixon is a good one, as well. He’s punted the ball inside the 20-yard-line in 9 of his 14 kicks this season. Five of those punts were also 50 or more yards. But Syracuse has also had a punt blocked this year, and their coverage units have looked a little shaky. LSU may be able to get one of its return men out on the edges to make a big play.
There is a high possibility that LSU plays flat against Syracuse for the first quarter and a half of this game. A long trip, combined with a brutally early kickoff time against a sneaky-good foe are all recipes that make this scenario very probable, but at the end of the day, there’s absolutely no way that Syracuse’s offense will be able to have sustained success against LSU’s defense with a third-string quarterback under center. The Orange’s stout run-defense will start strong, but will be broken late in a game that will move LSU to 3-0 on the season.
LSU 38, Syracuse 13
LSU Tigers (2-0) vs. Syracuse Orange (3-0)
Carrier Dome (49,262); Syracuse, NY
Saturday, Sept. 26; 11:00 a.m.
TV: ESPN; Radio: 98.1 FM