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Road to recovery begins in Death Valley for struggling LSU

Chapter one of the 2016 college football season wasn’t kind to LSU.

What chapter two has in store remains to be seen, but at least it will play itself out at a place where opponents dreams historically have gone to die – in Death Valley right after day turns to night.

The LSU football team was humbled last weekend, falling flat in a 16-14 loss to Wisconsin – a game which surprised many experts around the college football landscape who thought the Tigers were among the top teams in college football.

LSU’s first crack at redemption will come on Saturday night at 7 p.m. against Jacksonville State – a team which comes in as a heavy underdog, but which has a history of playing well on big stages.

Last season, Jacksonville State took Auburn to overtime. In 2010, the Gamecocks trumped Ole Miss.

Will more heroics occur this time around? No one yet knows. But Tigers coach Les Miles said his team is not taking anyone lightly – especially after the events that have occurred in the past seven days.

“They are a quality opponent,” Miles said at his Tuesday afternoon luncheon. “They’ve been inside an SEC stadium before and have tasted victory. We look forward to the opportunity and to the challenge. We will be ready to play.”

LSU had better fix its offensive woes on Saturday night – especially along the offensive line and in the passing game.

After an offseason spent promising fans that success would come to the Tigers’ struggling offense, Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin offered a lot of the same for LSU.

The Tigers struggled to throw the ball down the field and were rendered hapless for most of the game, generating just 14 points and 257 total yards.

But Miles said the struggles are just a blip on the radar, and he reiterated throughout the week that the Tigers would score points in abundance this season.

Under center, Brandon Harris is expected to start – even after completing just 12-of-21 passes for 131 yards and two picks against Wisconsin.

Miles hinted backup Danny Etling could see time if Harris struggles, but said the plan is to get the junior quarterback on the right track.

“He’s capable of making the throws,” Miles said of Harris.

On the ground, Leonard Fournette is expected to play after suffering a leg bruise late against the Badgers.

He will be facing a Gamecocks defense that proved stingy against the run on Saturday against North Alabama, allowing just 52 rushing yards on 32 carries.

Gang tackling was a strength in that game for the Gamecocks, and Delwyn Torbert, Joel McCandless, Quan Stoudemire and Marlon Bridges all tied for a team high with seven stops in the game.

Miles said he’d like the Tigers to stretch the field in spread sets, but added power football will always be a staple of LSU.

“We’re awfully good in traditional sets and formations, too,” Miles said.

Defensively, LSU was sound against Wisconsin, bending, but never breaking, despite being on the field for more than 70 snaps and nearly 37-minutes of game action.

But the Tigers will have to be up for the challenge again on Saturday against the Gamecocks – a group always known for its ability to score points.

Jacksonville State features a spread offense, led by quarterback Eli Jenkins.

In the season opener, Jenkins completed 20-of-34 passes for 230 yards. The Jacksonville State quarterback is a dual threat player, who also rushed for 101 yards in the game with a score in the 31-12 victory.

Jenkins said he relishes the opportunity to play in Tiger Stadium, calling the game a chance to show the world what the Gamecocks are capable of doing.

“It gives us a chance to prove that we can play against anyone and play in front of more folks that we would normally not play in front of with the big crowds,” Jenkins said at the team’s news conference this week. “It gives us a chance to show what we got.”

Jacksonville State coach John Grass agreed. He said he doesn’t judge the Tigers by their first-game woes, adding they’re still one of the best teams in the country in his eyes.

“You just don’t know how first games are going to go,” he said.

Saturday’s game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

 

SCOUTING REPORT

LSU offense v. Jacksonville State defense

Advantage: LSU

LSU struggled mightily against the Badgers, but they should be better this week against a lesser foe. At least, one would hope.

 

LSU defense vs. Jacksonville State offense

Advantage: LSU

The Tigers played super well defensively in the opener – all things considered. At home and with a game under their belts, the Tigers should recover in a big way.

 

Special teams

Advantage: Jacksonville State

In the opener, LSU kicked a kickoff out of bounds, shanked countless punts and nearly missed an extra point. It was much of the same from what we saw in 2015 from Bradley Dale Peveto’s troop.

 

DIG’s PICK

LSU 38, Jacksonville State 10

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