Dig Baton Rouge

Gameday Preview: LSU vs. Western Kentucky

By Casey Gisclair
@Casey_Gisclair

The Mad Hatter strikes again!

With LSU locked in a 28-28 battle with unbeaten Florida, the Tigers used some special teams magic to secure a 35-28 victory and improve to 6-0 in 2015.

Next up is a Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are a cupcake, right?

Wrong.

The Hilltoppers are 6-1 on the season and already have a road win against an SEC foe – albeit against lowly Vanderbilt.

Western Kentucky’s offense is one of the best in the country – a unit that has scored 49 or more points in four-straight weeks.

LSU is still heavily favored, but it won’t be Eastern Michigan reincarnated. These Hilltoppers can sling it – possessing one of the most prolific passing offenses in college football.

LSU OFFENSE vs. WESTERN KENTUCKY DEFENSE

The bickering of LSU fans that want the Tigers to throw the football more has drowned out the fact that the LSU offense is on fire. The Tigers have scored 34 or more points in five-straight games, including the 35-point, 423-yard outing the team posted on Saturday against Florida.

Sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris has emerged as an adept passer in recent weeks and is on the verge of being considered a high-end SEC starter. Harris’ six touchdowns to zero interceptions on 108 passing attempts have been a huge surprise to LSU fans who were becoming accustomed to the passing game ineptitude that existed in 2014 with Anthony Jennings under center.

Did I mention Leonard Fournette? The one-man wrecking ball has 1,202 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season.

Western Kentucky’s defense isn’t stout. The Hilltoppers allowed 38 points to Louisiana Tech and Indiana, and they allowed 28 to both Middle Tennessee and North Texas. T.J. McCollum, Nick Holt and Branden Leston make most of the tackles for the Hilltoppers, but it really doesn’t matter too much. Western Kentucky’s idea of defense is mostly to play it just well enough so that its offense can outscore opponents in a shootout.

ADVANTAGE: LSU

LSU DEFENSE VS. WESTERN KENTUCKY OFFENSE

One of the best players in college football is coming to Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. His name is Brandon Doughty. The Hilltoppers’ quarterback is an absolute beast and easily one of the best offensive players in the country.

Doughty has completed 74.1 percent of his passes for 24 touchdowns and has thrown only four interceptions. His 2,709 passing yards are also among the best in the country as well. The challenge of the Western Kentucky offense is its unpredictability. The Hilltoppers pass slightly more than they run – though not by much. In the passing game, Doughty spreads the ball around to several players, including Taywan Taylor, Nicholas Norris, Tyler Higbee, Jared Dangerfield and Antwane Grant – all players who have 20 or more receptions this season.

For the LSU defense, the challenge will be to get consistent pressure on Doughty to force him into making errant passes. That will put the onus heavily on the Tigers’ front seven, including guys like Arden Key, Kendell Beckwith, Davon Godchaux and Frank Herron. In coverage, LSU’s nickel and dime players have to be better. There were far too many guys running down the field unguarded against the Gators. LSU’s blue-chip talent should be favored in this matchup, but it’s a lot closer than people think.

Advantage: LSU

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bradley Dale Peveto special teams monster once again reared its ugly head against Florida on Saturday. Allowing a punt return for a touchdown is unacceptable, and it’s a mistake that’s going to get the Tigers beat in the back-end of the schedule when the competition stiffens. Against Western Kentucky, the Tigers will be challenged.

Hilltoppers kicker Garrett Schwettman is 9-of-10 on field goals this season with a long of 46 yards. Return man Kylen Towner is also dangerous, owning one return touchdown already and a hefty 30.6-yard return average. Until we see better consistent play from the LSU coverage units (aka not giving up a return touchdown), we’re favoring the Tigers’ opponent without hesitation every, single week.

Advantage: Western Kentucky

PREDICTION

If LSU is up for this game, they’ll win handily and have no problems. The Hilltoppers are a system offense, and elite athletes usually soundly defeat systems. However, it’s awfully hard to pick an incredibly lopsided win for the Tigers in this one because of how terribly the team looked against Eastern Michigan.

That was bad, bad football. So with not much faith in LSU’s ability to be up for this game and with confidence in Western Kentucky being a quality opponent, this score will be a bit more of a shootout than it probably should be. LSU will be able to move the ball at will, but the Hilltoppers will make things interesting.

LSU 45, Western Kentucky 21

No. 5 LSU Tigers (6-0, 4-0) vs. Western Kentucky (6-1, 4-1)
Tiger Stadium (102,321); Baton Rouge, La.
Saturday, Oct. 24; 6:00 p.m.
TV: ESPNU; Radio: 98.1 FM

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