On Saturday, September 3rd, 2011, all eyes will be on Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. No, it won't be to see how Tony Romo does with the Dallas Cowboys, but rather, for what is arguably the biggest game of the 2011 college football season. The fourth ranked LSU Tigers will meet the third ranked Oregon Ducks in front of 80,000 strong on Saturday in a matchup that could make or break each others season.
There are several intriguing player matchups in this game, but there are certain ones that could be real difference makers.
This game is the biggest opening game of a college football season we've seen in years and will be worth every penny. Let's start counting down the days to Saturday!
The matchup between Oregon's offensive line and the d-line of the Tigers is going to be very intriguing. Returning Oregon Ducks left guard Carson York is looking to have another great year up front, clearing way for LaMichael James to run through the gaps and hopefully for a Heisman Trophy.
On Saturday, a rotation of the LSU Tiger's defensive tackles will try to not allow these hopes to become a reality. One DT in particular should provide an interesting matchup against York. That young man is true freshman and top-five nationwide recruit Anthony Johnson.
Johnson has yet to play a game in college, but if his game from high school or even his nickname "the Freak" translates at all to this game, the York/Johnson battle should be an interesting one. At 310 pounds, Johnson runs an astonishing 4.8 second 40, and racked up 17.5 sacks in his senior season in high school. This should give York a run for his money in keeping Johnson in the defensive backfield, allowing his QB and star RB time to make a play.
Look out for this matchup on Saturday.
One of the key matchups integral to the success of the LSU Tiger's offense against the Ducks will be their receivers' ability to get open. With Jarrett Lee set to start, he might require some more time in the pocket and thus, the routes of his receivers will be extended.
The battle between Rueben Randle and Ducks CB Anthony Gildon will be one to look out for. This is just Gildon's first year as a starter, and so far, in three seasons with Oregon, he hasn't really done anything to stand out. On the other hand, Randle was second on LSU in receiving in 2010 with 544 yards and three TDs.
For his recruiting year (2009), Randle was the No. 1 receiving prospect in the nation, and that could prove costly if Gildon cannot contain him come Saturday. If Gildon did not have John Boyett helping him out at free safety when he gets burned, the Ducks would be in a lot of trouble.
Sophomore FB J.C. Copeland will be given the immense task of protecting QB Jarrett Lee as his last line of defense against the Oregon Ducks' LBs.
Copeland's main concern should be Ducks strong side LB Josh Kaddu. In 2010, Kaddu put up 32 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, and had 2.5 sacks. Copeland, on the other hand, is entering his first real season with the Tigers, and was initially recruited as a defensive lineman. This could be beneficial for the Tigers, though, as he has a good sense of what to expect in the blocking game and can dig his feet into the turf and hold his ground.
Tigers QB Jarrett Lee is going to require protection in this game to allow himself to get comfortable in the starting role, at least protection early on. Copeland is integral to Lee's success, and Kaddu might just be too much for him to handle.
One thing is nearly guaranteed going into the Oregon and LSU game, and that is LSU will be pass rushing. With the majority of the Ducks' plays not having a fullback in the backfield to protect QB Darron Thomas, LSU LB Ryan Baker is going to try and make Thomas' day a living hell.
Luckily for Thomas, he could be the Cam Newton of 2011, and is probably the best scrambling QB in the nation. On the flip-side, Baker put up 85 tackles in 2010, and had 7 total sacks. If Baker gets by the Ducks' offensive line, Thomas should watch out.
Baker's speed could be the deal breaker here. His speed should allow him to get past the Ducks' offensive line and straight to the quarterback. Thomas, however, is elusive himself, and it should be interesting to see how his decision-making changes throughout the game based on how much pressure Baker is able to put on him.
The advantage at the running back position in this game is pretty obvious; Oregon wins this category. LaMichael James is one of the favorites for the Heisman in 2011, and after putting up 1,731 yards and 21 TDs in 2010, why shouldn't he be? His counterpart for LSU, Spencer Ware, will try to fill the hole made by Stevan Ridley as he went to the New England Patriots in the 2011 NFL draft.
Ware, on the other hand, doesn't really have any numbers to show besides his 102-yard performance against Texas A&M in the 2011 Cotton Bowl. Ware will be a star, and could potentially break out against the Ducks, but he is just not on the same level of James. LSU does enter the game with a strong and fast defensive line, which should help slow James down, but he could just be that good and overpower them for multiple long runs. Ware should be a nice complimentary receiver for Jarrett Lee out of the backfield, but other than that, don't expect him to be all that effective in the season's opening game.
If the Ducks win over LSU, James will be one of the big reasons why. If he does perform like Ducks fans have come to know and love, the Ducks probably will come away with victory.
Although Oregon was kept under 40 points just three times in 2010, and usually dominated their opponents, LSU's stingy defense could keep this game very tight, and the kickers on either side will be very important in deciding the outcome of the game.
For LSU, they are bringing Drew Alleman in, who has no experience as a kicker in a big-time college football game, whereas Oregon's Rob Beard went 10-for-13 with a long of 42 in 2010.
If this game comes down to a field goal, it looks as though Oregon will have the advantage, and that could be a game-changer, whether you want to believe it or not.
The quarterback battle in Saturday's game between the LSU Tigers and Oregon Ducks could be the most interesting of all the matchups. Jarrett Lee is thrown under center for LSU due to off-field issues with the law for starter Jordan Jefferson, and Darron Thomas is coming off a tremendous season for the Ducks, helping them to the BCS Championship Game.
Thomas enters the 2011 college football season riding a high, and much like LaMichael James, he is in the preseason Heisman talk. Thomas is coming off a 2,881-yard season in which he threw 30 TDs with just nine interceptions. His opposition, Jarrett Lee, is the starting quarterback for the first time in two seasons and has a lot to prove.
Oregon's defensive line and corner backs aren't all that experienced and could seriously aid Lee in throwing the ball down field or getting it off to Ware in the backfield. Regardless, it is hard to argue with the numbers Thomas put up last season. It should be very interesting to see if Oregon elects to pass with the amount of rushers LSU will be sending on Thomas, and how he reacts and adjusts to the rush. Expect a close quarterback matchup in this one.