Three Players to Watch: LSU Football at Arkansas

With LSU facing tough defense, offensive role players will need to contribute in addition to team stars
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LSU undoubtedly enters its most difficult matchup of the 2020 season, returning to College Station for the first time since that seven overtime thriller in 2018. Like most games this season, LSU will be relying on a number of younger players to step up but this time it'll be against a top five foe in Texas A&M. 

Coming off its first win in the month of November, the Tigers will be going head-to-head with one of its biggest conference rivals in what will also be its first matchup with a top 25 opponent in 2020 as well. Here are three players to keep a close eye on this week against the Aggies.  

Jaray Jenkins (WR)

Week in and week out, Jenkins continues to show improvement and he's now being rewarded on the field. As part of LSU's 27-24 win over Arkansas, Jenkins brought in three catches for 43 yards and his first touchdown as a member of the purple and gold. 

It was a big first touchdown to record as it was the go ahead score in the fourth quarter that was ultimately the deciding offensive play of the game in the Tigers' win. Jenkins has carved out a consistent role in the offense, primarily in the slot, where he's caught 16 passes for 277 yards and one touchdown on the season.

"It's been a long time since I've been in the endzone," Jenkins said Tuesday. "It was hard to explain, I wished it had come in Tiger Stadium. As a kid, it was my dream to score a touchdown for the Tigers and when it happened I was excited in the moment."

At 6-foot-4, the sophomore out of Jena, Louisiana is getting his time in the limelight and making a difference. With the likely loss of Racey McMath this weekend, who was considered doubtful by Orgeron on Monday, Jenkins could wind up with a larger load of targets against the Aggies. 

"We've got a lot of young guys, I think they're ready, they practice hard and they'll be fine as long as they stick to the script that we got planned," Jenkins said of the younger players on the roster. "I think we'll get another victory."

Dare Rosenthal (OT)

If there's one thing to know about this weekend's matchup with the Aggies, the run game will be the key on both sides of the ball. Texas A&M comes in with the No. 1 rushing attack on offense but its run defense isn't much worse, allowing just 95.7 yards per game on the ground.  

That ranks No. 2 in the SEC behind only Georgia and No. 12 in the country. The LSU offense has proved all season that it runs much more efficiently when it finds a way to get the run game going and that push will start up front with the offensive line. Rosenthal really represents the o-line as a whole in this game but is a key part in the Tigers' success.

He returned after what turned into a two game suspension and split the reps with Cam Wire over at left tackle. The Tigers, particularly in the run game, like to focus on the left side of the line because of guard Ed Ingram's run blocking skills. 

It’s been tradition for LSU to follow up a solid run performance with a dud but that can’t be afforded this weekend against the Aggies.

"I have all the confidence in the world in both of those guys, I'm really happy to have Dare back," center Liam Shanahan said. "They're both really good players and deserve to be on the field which is why they're rotating."

JaCoby Stevens (S)

We're still waiting on that breakout game of the 2020 season from the senior Stevens, who has struggled at times this season but is still putting up gaudy numbers. LSU's newest member to the No. 7 club has recorded 39 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks in the first six games but just hasn't looked as comfortable in the switch to the 4-3 defense.

After spending most of his junior season as a hybrid safety, where he'd play a little closer to the line of scrimmage, Stevens has been all over the field, including as a high safety, which hasn't been his strongest position. He's a playmaker of the highest order but the safety depth has been lacking in 2020, particularly with the most recent loss of Maurice Hampton and Jordan Toles for the Arkansas game.

Playing in College Station seemed to bring out the best in the senior leader, who put together 14 tackles and four tackles for a loss in that 74-72 loss two years ago. It was the breakout performance that helped land him a starting gig in 2019 which he turned into an All-SEC second-team selection as a result. 

A repeat performance in 2020 would be the perfect storm as LSU has struggled in the secondary this season, though it may be beneficial to continue playing him closer to the line of scrimmage.