LSU 2012 Football Schedule: Keys to Each Game
It's about that time where we begin to focus on the college football regular season. Spring ball is over, and we're only a couple of months away from the good stuff finally taking place.
The LSU Tigers season didn't quite end the way they would have like last year, but they returned with a team that many would say is more talented than last year's. This team will of course still be a force defensively, they're as deep as anyone in the backfield and may finally have a passing game with quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
But when you play in the SEC, you always have to worry about the schedule. While this may be nothing compared to the schedule the Tigers had last year, there are still a handful of games that could give the Tigers problems and prevent them from accomplishing their goals.
Vs. North Texas
Key: Get off to a quick start.
This is one of the few games on the Tigers' schedule that they shouldn't be worried about. North Texas is a team located in the Sun Belt Conference and it's won a combined total of 10 games in the last three years. The Mean Green didn't do much of anything right last year and truly have no advantage heading into this matchup.
As long as the Tigers play their brand of football, this is a contest that shouldn't be close whatsoever. Play LSU defense, score a couple touchdowns and the Tigers begin the season 1-0 with a fairly easy victory.
Key: Contain Keith Price.
The Huskies bring back seven starters on both sides of the ball and have the offense to compete with nearly any team in the country. With quarterback Keith Price leading the way, he gives Washington a chance to win any game.
That's why the key to winning this matchup is containing the star quarterback. The Huskies sure can't rely on their defense that was ranked 108th in the country, but when Price plays well, this Washington team is tough to stop. There were a total of six games last year in which Price completed more than 70 percent of his passes, resulting in a 5-1 record.
LSU has the defense to slowdown the junior quarterback, and it will be the key to victory.
Key: Prevent third-down conversions.
Idaho finished with only two wins last season and a lot of that had to do with lack of talent. But it's also difficult to win football games when you can't convert on third down. The Vandals converted a hideous 29 percent last season, which was dead last in the WAC and good for 114th in the country.
It's pretty safe to say that the Tigers would likely win this matchup regardless, but in the two victories Idaho finished with last year they converted 41 percent on third downs.
Key: Generate pressure.
Nobody is quite sure who the starting quarterback will be for Auburn this season. It's either going to be Clint Moseley, Kiehl Frazier or true-freshman Zeke Pike. Regardless of who it is, the starter will have little game experience and a lot to learn in a short amount of time.
Auburn should be a much better team than it was last season with of their young players returning, but this is still a team that allowed 32 sacks last season. The best way to force a quarterback into making mistakes is to pressure him early and often—especially a young quarterback that will likely be a first-year starter.
LSU is obviously pretty good at getting after the quarterback as they finished last year with 38 sacks, which was best in the SEC and tied for 12th in the country. Expect to see head coach Les Miles and company dial up the pressure in this matchup and look for their fifth victory in six meetings over Auburn.
Key: Don't fall for the trap.
There is simply no way I see Towson upsetting the Tigers in this matchup. The spread for this game will likely be at least 40 points and LSU will likely cover fairly easily. If you want to make a slight case for Towson to cover, you could say this is a trap game for LSU.
No, not because of the overwhelming talent the team from the CAA has, but the fact that this game is between two road games against Auburn and Florida. This shouldn't affect the outcome of the game, but hey, I tried.
Key: Prevent third-down conversions.
Much like the game against Idaho, this will be the key to victory over the Florida Gators. Last season, Florida was ranked 11th in the SEC, converting just 32 percent of its third downs. In the seven victories, Florida upped that percentage to a little over 42 percent, but in six losses, the percentage dropped to a disappointing 20 percent.
The Gators return majority of their underrated defense, but have several issues on the offensive side of the ball. With the status of a starting quarterback up in the air and lack of depth at the running back position, the offense remains a huge question mark for this team.
If LSU can hold the Gators on offense like they did last year in the 41-11 victory, the Tigers should have no problem winning their third straight over Florida.
Vs. South Carolina
Key: Contain Marcus Lattimore.
These two teams haven't met since 2008, so finding any trends to go off of from these current rosters is impossible. But with Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore coming back, the Tigers must step up and do what they can to slow him down.
In the last two seasons, South Carolina is 14-1 when they rush for at least 150 yards on the ground. The school is 8-0 in the last two years when Lattimore hits 100 yards by himself. We all know that LSU has the playmakers on defense to make things difficult for Lattimore, but this is a Heisman candidate running back who's coming off an injury and he will be eager to prove that he's still one of the premier college runners.
It's going to be a battle that's worth watching, but if the Tigers can make the Gamecocks look elsewhere for offensive production, expect to see LSU to win its fifth in a row over South Carolina.
At Texas A&M
Key: Protect the quarterback.
The Aggies may be one of the newbies of the conference, but they have one thing going for them, and that's the fact that they rush the passes extremely well. They return eight starters from a unit that was ranked first in the country with 51 sacks.
The Tigers did a solid job last season at protecting the quarterback, allowing only 18 sacks, which was good for second in the SEC. In the one loss last season, the Tigers gave up four sacks last year, which can't happen against a team like Texas A&M. The Aggies are 16-5 in the last three years when they rack up at least three sacks in a single contest.
LSU has an experienced offensive line, which should help them in this matchup, but they have to keep Zach Mettenberger upright in order to win.
Key: Put last year in the past.
These two teams met twice last season, each team won one game, and Alabama ended up winning the more important game. By this point in the season the past should be forgotten, but during the week leading up to this matchup, it's going to be brought up over and over again.
It's important that Les Miles doesn't let his team fall into the trap and has his squad prepared for the task at hand. Sure, you can play this game with a chip on your shoulder, but don't over think things to where you take yourself out of the game.
This Tiger team is likely more talented than it was last season and they've shown they can beat Alabama—they just happened to have a bad game at the most unlikely time. The game will be played in Tiger Stadium, a place where LSU has won four of their last six games against Alabama.
The Tigers have proven they can beat any team in the country; this may be more of a mental game more than anything this time around.
Vs. Mississippi State
Key: Generate pressure.
The Bulldogs lost two of its best offensive players in quarterback Chris Relf and workhorse running back Vick Ballard during the offseason. This year's starting quarterback Tyler Russell has done a fabulous job throughout the spring and it looks like he can become a solid player over time.
The problem is that Mississippi State also lost three key offensive linemen from a unit that was already shaky at protecting the quarterback (allowed 25 sacks last year). What is crazier about that stat is that 22 of those sacks came in losses, which means that when you got to the Bulldogs quarterback, they ended up losing the game.
Russell is entering his junior season and doesn't have much on the field experience. The Tigers are 24-3 in the last five seasons when they pick up at least three sacks. I'll say generating pressure is the obvious advantage here, as LSU looks for its 13th straight victory over the Bulldogs.
Vs. Ole Miss
Key: Hold them in the red zone.
Ole Miss returns eight starters on the offensive side of the ball, but I'm not sure that's a good thing for a team that averaged only 16 points per game. The Rebels had one of the worst offenses in the country last season and show little signs of changing those numbers this year.
What makes things even worse is that Ole Miss couldn't finish drives off when given the opportunities. The Rebels only scored 76 percent of the time when they reached the red zone, which was by far the worst in the SEC and 97th in the country. Only 52 percent of those scores went for touchdowns, which was tied with Syracuse for 99th in the country.
LSU has won the last two meetings against the Rebels and should have no problem making it three in a row, especially if they play solid defense and prevent this horrible offense from putting seven on the board.
Key: Make Arkansas one-dimensional.
Last season LSU beat down Arkansas by a score of 41-17 and forced a total of three turnovers.
However, now the Razorbacks will have a new weapon back on the field this season in running back Knile Davis. He's a back who rushed for more than 1,300 yards and scored 14 total touchdowns before injuring his ankle in 2010. With him back on the field, it gives this already-explosive offense a much-needed running game.
Last season Arkansas had one of the top passing games in the country, but its running game ranked 81st overall. This put more pressure on Wilson and made things much easier for opposing defenses as their offense was very one-dimensional.
If the Razorbacks running game can get going, it will certainly keep LSU's defense on its toes. In last year's meeting, Arkansas only managed 47 yards on the ground, which was the second-lowest total all season for the Razorbacks.