The air was certainly let out of LSU's tires in week one against UCLA. Led by plenty of offseason fuel about improvements in a number of different key areas, the Tigers succombed to many of the issues that were huge storylines throughout 2020.
For the first time in two years, this team will have a little home field advantage in Baton Rouge to return to. Death Valley is 100% capacity and even after the disappointing loss, the buzz around having a full stadium is enough to inspire fans to come to Saturday night's game against McNeese State. Here are a few predictions with how the purple and gold will play.
Score Prediction: LSU 44, McNeese State 17
Anything less than a dominant start to the home part of the team's schedule will only add fuel to the fire of a monumental letdown to start the season. LSU is heavily favored in this game as it should be but the focus won't be on how many points the team wins by.
No winning score would change the perception of this team in a positive way. The focus will be on execution, playcalling and most importantly, improving on the mistakes made against the Bruins. Offensively, that means finding some consistency in both protecting quarterback Max Johnson and diversifying the running attack.
LSU's offensive line was bullied at the line of scrimmage and should be able to bounce back against a Cowboys defense that allowed 42 points to Division II West Florida. Even without starting tackles Austin Deculus and Cam Wire, the offense should have no issues moving the ball down the field.
Of course the second part of that will be how can LSU attack the outside running lanes a bit more consistently after being bottled up against UCLA up the middle. Hitting the outside isn't necessarily Tyrion Davis-Price's strength but Corey Kiner and Armoni Goodwin will likely see additional reps and coach Ed Orgeron said John Emery and Kevontre Bradford likely won't be cleared to play.
Johnson himself could also use this game as a precursor of what having protection for a full 60 minutes will feel like. He simply wasn't able to take many shots downfield a week ago because of all the pressure but the offense should be able to get what it wants, allowing for potentially a number of receivers to have explosive evenings.
For the defense, there are two areas fans and critics will want to see shored up. Stopping the run and limiting the impact of the crossing route. Orgeron said earlier this week the coaching staff spent four hours on Sunday coming up with drills on being able to better coach the players how to defend those crossing routes.
It's a part of the opposing offensive gameplans that many of the teams LSU faces this season will try to take advantage of. Starting the process of slowing that down, potentially inserting linebacker Mike Jones Jr. in the rotation, might do wonders for defending this play. Jones came to LSU known for his coverage skills, which would be useful from keeping tight ends and slot receivers break free.
Along the defensive line, LSU needs to set the tone in the run game. Dating back to last year, this unit has never had an issue with putting pressure on the quarterback. But defending the run has been a problem and last week, Zach Charbonnet got to the edge and consistently broke off big runs. The Bruins ran past LSU for ten rushing plays of 10 yards or more, which must change against McNeese.
How LSU handles the mistakes of last week will be the ultimate judgement of this game. If the breakdowns in protection and coverage continue, it'll be a painful awakening that this team is in for a very rough season.