Scott Rabalais of the Baton Rouge Advocate and I swapped Q&As this week. Here is his take on Saturday’s game:
1. What’s LSU’s mindset coming into this game? Does Les Miles run up the score if he has a chance?
LSU’s team has been focused on redemption for the way the Tigers played in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 9. They want to start strong and try to improve from week to week through the season. That means starting with a crisp, non-sloppy performance against UNT. Miles has been talking about preparing for UNT and that it is a capable team, but after opening the last three years at Washington, in Atlanta against North Carolina and at Cowboys Stadium against Oregon, most of the focus is on itself. Miles is not one to run the score up. LSU rarely scores in the 50s. It’s only happened four times under Miles, one of those the 56-3 win over UNT in 2005. If the Tigers get a big lead, they will be eager to empty the bench.
2. How does Zach Mettenberger look?
Mettenberger has looked and sounded like a much more experienced player. On the practice field he has displayed a strong arm with good touch, things that were intermittent with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. He is at least the best passer LSU has had since Matt Flynn in 2007. Off the field, Mettenberger has taken leadership of this team, trying to lead by example, first man in the weight room, last to leave sort of thing. Whether that translates into a national championship season remains to be seen. Some LSU fans have referred to him as the Mett-siah, but he doesn’t have to be Cam Newton for LSU to get back to the BCS title game. Zach has a better supporting cast.
3. What should UNT expect from LSU offensively?
As long as Miles is coaching the Tigers they will never stray too far from their principles of being a power running team, but with Mettenberger at the controls you should definitely expect to see LSU explore the vertical passing game. Frankly, they could probably win this game throwing just 15 times, but I think they will want to go deep to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in particular. We’re told to expect a lot of two tight end sets and play action.
4. Is LSU as good as advertised on defense?
Having lost Tyrann Mathieu will be a blow. He wasn’t the best pure cornerback, but he created so much havoc, often resulting in game-changing turnovers. Also, LSU is likely replacing him with a true freshman, Jalen Mills, who I’m sure LSU coaches hope will get tested by UNT in advance of playing Washington and their talented quarterback, Keith Price. LSU also lost Michael Brockers at DT to the NFL and appears to be likely without starting strongside linebacker Tahj Jones because of academics. This was the No. 2 defense in the nation last year, and it would be unfair to expect this one to be quite that good. That said, LSU has a tremendous defensive line led by perhaps the best pair of ends with Sam Montgomery and Barkevious “Ke-Ke” Mingo. And Eric Reid at free safety is also one of the best, along with Tharold Simon at cornerback. The concern is the freshmen LSU will have to play at corner and a the outside linebacker spots in backup roles.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
I think LSU goes for the jugular pretty early, trying to quickly put some distance between itself and UNT with some deep passes. Expect a few blitzes, but the Tigers probably won’t want to show Washington too much, so a straight up 4-3 will likely be what they employ. If LSU can have get up by four touchdowns or so, you will see Miles start to
substitute liberally in the second half.