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LSU vs. Wisconsin - August 30, 2014 - 8:00 P.M. Kickoff (ESPN)
0 Day, 0 hour, 0 minute

8/31/14 6:00 am CT

Good morning Tiger Fans,

Whoa, what a game! In what was a classic tale of two halves, the Tigers struggled mightily in the first half but rallied with 21 unanswered points in the second to come away with a huge 28-24 win. With the victory, LSU improved to 88‚Äź28‚Äź5 in season‚Äźopeners, won its school record 12th straight season‚Äźopener and moved to 10‚Äź0 under Les Miles in season openers.

The first two quarters were hard to watch as nothing was going LSU’s way and the Tigers’ highly-touted offensive line was getting pushed around by the Badgers’ relatively young defensive line, but hats off to the Tigers’ coaching staff and players for settling down, making the needed adjustments, never giving up, and turning things around in the second half. If there’s any of you who still question the LSU coaching staff’s ability to make adjustments after that turnaround, I ask that you consider this stat: LSU now has a winning record (22-21) under Les Miles when trailing in the 4th quarter, and they’re the only FBS team in all of football that can stake that claim.

We’ll have lots of time to talk about the problems we saw in the first half, but for today I’d rather focus on the positives, starting with the offense.

I still have some concerns about LSU’s quarterback play, but Anthony Jennings really made big strides in the second half and showed a lot of resiliency, ending with 239 passing yards and two TDs. And while LSU’s wide receivers were a big question mark heading into the contest, I was very encouraged by what I saw of Travin Dural, Trey Quinn and John Diarse. And how ’bout the running of Kenny Hilliard! All summer Miles praised Hilliard and spoke of his great improvement, and that was certainly on display last night as he ended with 110 rushing yards on 18 carries, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter for 92 yards. As for the offensive line, they played like a completely different group in the second half, opening gaping holes for Hilliard to run through, but it’s hard to know at this point how much of that was due to adjustments and how much was due to Wisconsin injuries and lack of depth in their D-line.

As for LSU’s defense, I thought the secondary looked great and lived up to their billing, and I was very impressed with the play of linebacker Kwon Alexander. I was also proud of the way the young defensive line stepped up in the second half and shut down the Badger’s running game. With that said, I’m puzzled as to why Wisconsin didn’t continue to feed Melvin Gordon the ball in the second half after he had such success in the first.

On special teams, I thought Jamie Keehn settled in after badly shanking one punt, and how ’bout the leg of Cameron Gamble! In the return game, I was glad to see Leonard Fournette out there, and although he didn’t live up to the impossible expectations placed upon him, I still think his time will come and he’ll be a very, very special player. 

You know there’s an old adage that says a team improves the most between game one and game two, and considering all of the youth on this year’s team I think that will probably hold true. Eight true freshmen made their debuts last night – Jamal Adams, Donnie Alexander, Deondre Clark, Leonard Fournette, Davon Godchaux, Brandon Harris, Ed Paris and Trey Quinn - and four players made their first career start: Travin Dural, Hoko Fanaika, Christian LaCouture and Quinn.

We’ll have much more on the game in tomorrow’s report, but today I’ll leave you with the following stats and these video highlights provided by LSUSports.net. (Note: The video is in Flash format and therefore it is not viewable on iPhones and iPads without special software.)

8/30/14 6:10 am CT

Good morning, Tiger Fans, it’s Game Day!‚Ä®

The day we’ve all been waiting for is finally here, and we’ll know a lot more about this Tiger team in a matter of hours as the No. 13 LSU Fighting Tigers are set to kickoff their 2014 season tonight at 8:00 CT against the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers. As most of you know, the game will be broadcast to a national audience on ESPN. I'll be watching anxiously to see what this Tiger team is all about, and I’ll be tweeting occasional comments and stats for those of you who follow DandyDonLSU on Twitter. In case you missed it yesterday, here are Times of Interest for Today’s Game.

When the team departed for Houston yesterday, four noteworthy members of the team - Malachi Dupre, Rashard Robinson, Elliot Porter and Maquedious Bain – did not make the trip. Dupre missed a lot of fall camp due to multiple injuries and the word is that he sprained an ankle this week in practice. He is expected to return to action soon, once he recovers, assuming he can remain healthy. As for the other three, it appears that Robinson and Bain are suspended, and it’s unclear whether Porter’s issue is suspension or injury.

Because Dupre missed considerable practice time and was down on the depth chart, I don’t think his absence will impact today’s game as much as the others. Robinson and Porter entered the preseason as projected starters at cornerback and center, respectively. Look for Jalen Collins and Ethan Pocic to fill in for them. Bain was expected to be one of the first reserves off the bench at defensive tackle, and without him I look for true freshman Davon Godchaux to play a bigger role in the rotation.

Coach Miles is expected to address the situation and give a reason for these players’ absence sometime today, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he waited until after the game to keep it from being a bigger distraction than it already is.

Moving on… As promised, today I’ll give you my five keys to an LSU victory. Here we geaux…

Slow Down Melvin Gordon
This one’s obvious. Gordon averaged 7.8 yards per carry last season and is one of the best backs in the country. The combination of a back like Gordon and a massive, experienced offensive line will be a huge test for LSU’s defensive middle. The Tigers front four will need to keep Gordon in check, and the linebackers will need to meet him in the hole and not 5-10 yards down field.

Pound the Rock
Fact 1: LSU has a stable of talented running backs and one of the largest, most experienced offensive lines in the country. Fact 2: Wisconsin’s projected weakness is their front-seven. Fact 3: LSU’s quarterbacks and receivers don’t have a whole heck of a lot of experience. The Tigers will need to make the most of these three facts by pounding the rock and playing smash-mouth football, which should take a lot of pressure off the young quarterbacks. (By the way, reports surfaced last night that Anthony Jennings will get the start for LSU, but that comes as no surprise.)

But Don’t Be One-Dimensional
Following up on the key above, the Tigers will have to pound the rock, but they can’t afford to become too one-dimensional. If they do, the Badgers will stack the box and make them pay. LSU needs to establish the play-action pass early on and air the ball out just enough to keep the defense honest.

Stay Calm; Limit Turnovers & Mistakes
There will be a lot of youth and inexperience on the field for both teams, including at the ever-important quarterback position. Nerves will be rattled, as several players on both sides will be playing their first game of college football. This, combined with the fact that both teams will be playing away from home, creates an atmosphere conducive to turnovers, penalties and mistakes. How the two teams handle this pressure will go a long way in determining the outcome.

Adjust Accordingly
One of the challenges of playing a season-opener against a team with a new quarterback is that you don’t know what you’ll face. There’s no film on Tanner McEvoy as a Badger quarterback, and the Tigers can’t be entirely sure of what challenges he’ll present. Likewise, LSU will be counting on a lot of newcomers who may or may not play as expected on the big stage. The Tigers need to be prepared to turn to Plan B, or Plan C if things aren’t going as anticipated.

In recruiting news, yesterday I mentioned a few LSU targets who would be at NRG Stadium for today’s game. Yesterday I learned of one more - five-star 2015 cornerback Kendall Sheffield (6-0, 181, Missouri City, TX). Sheffield is considered a strong lean to Teas A&M, but LSU and Alabama are very much in the picture.

A couple of reminders before closing out today’s report:

• If you’re heading to NRG Stadium for the game, please note that the standard NFL Bag Policy will be in effect. For more information on what is and is not permissible, please click here.‚Ä®

If you’re looking for a place to watch the game with like-minded Tiger Fans, please check out our page of LSU Alumni Center View-in Parties. ‚Ä®

In closing, I need to extend an apology: Yesterday morning I posted a video of Eric Reid’s highlights as part of my Countdown to Game Day, but I failed to listen to its audio before posting it. (It was very early in the morning and I had my volume turned down so as to not disturb anyone.) Once a couple of my readers called to my attention that it contained a lot of profanity, I gave it a listen and agreed that it was offensive. I removed the video immediately, and I can assure you that I will be be more attentive moving forward.

8/29/14 5:45 am CT

Good morning, Tiger Fans,

With only one day remaining until Game Day, excitement for LSU football is reaching a fever pitch. I’m sure you don’t need much help getting pumped for tomorrow’s contest, but, just in case, here’s a new hype video by LesMiles.net that will do the trick: LSU - Wisconsin Game Trailer.

The LSU football team will depart from Baton Rouge at 1:30 today and will arrive in Houston in time for a walk-though at NRG Stadium at 3:35. Yesterday LSU released a list of Times of Interest and I was happy to see that the Golden Band from Tigerland will be performing for pre-game and at halftime. Click here for the complete list of Times of Interest for tomorrow’s game.

Earlier in the week I gave you our comparisons of the LSU and Wisconsin offenses, and today we’ll do the same with the defenses and special teams. Tomorrow I’ll give you our keys to an LSU victory, and then after that it’ll be time to see how this thing plays out on the field. As a refresher, I’ve included below what we surmised about the offensive units:

QB: Toss-up (QB play could be a big difference-maker in the game)
OL: Slight Advantage LSU‚Ä®
TE: Advantage LSU
RB: Slight Advantage Wisconsin‚Ä®
WR: Advantage LSU 

DL: For teams that posses such great potential on the offensive line, the Tigers’ and the Badgers’ defensive lines are relatively unknown commodities. LSU’s is in better shape than Wisconsin’s, though. Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are two athletic defensive ends who totaled 14.5 tackles for loss last season, and they should give LSU a great pass rush. On the inside, the Tigers will have Christian LaCouture as one starter and either Quintin Thomas or Frank Herron as the other, plus several very talented, though inexperienced backups. As for the Badgers, they lost their entire starting line from last year’s team (two defensive ends and a nose tackle in their standard 3-4-4 formation), and they too will be relying on a lot of relatively inexperienced talent. Their best and most experienced D-lineman appears to be nose tackle Warren Herring who is a redshirt senior. He had four sacks last year as a backup. Slight Advantage LSU

LB: The Tigers have a very deep and fast group of linebackers, headlined by DJ Welter and Kendell Beckwith at middle linebacker, Lamar Louis at strong side linebacker and Kwon Alexander on the weak side. With players like Deion Jones, Ronnie Feist, Duke Riley and others also in the mix, the Tigers should be able to rotate several linebackers who can move well laterally, apply pressure in blitzing situations and be fairly decent in coverage. The unit’s biggest challenge is in replacing Lamin Barrow, who accounted for more than 100 tackles last season. As for Wisconsin, the Badgers will have to replace Chris Borland, who was the best player on the Badgers’ defense a year ago. Add in the fact that Brandon Kelly and Ethan Armstrong graduated at outside linebacker, and a fairly new crop of linebackers will have major responsibilities this season. Tigers’ experience and depth gives LSU the edge. Advantage LSU

DB: Traditionally, the Badgers are tough on the line and at linebacker, but this season, Wisconsin’s strength will be in the secondary. Michael Caputo returns at safety. Caputo was the leading tackler a year ago, and he will be playing with some experience surrounding him at cornerback. Though Wisconsin’s secondary is considered to be a strength in 2014, it still isn’t as strong as LSU’s. With Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson at the corners, Jalen Mills and a revolving door of athletic safeties behind them, few secondaries in the nation can compare to LSU’s. Advantage LSU

Special Teams: The third phase of the game is a tossup at this point. LSU has the legs with Colby Delahoussaye returning as the field goal specialist (he was 12-of-13 last year) and Jamie Kheen returning as the punter. With the departure of James Hairston, LSU will have a new kickoff specialist in either freshman Cameron Gamble or sophomore Trent Domingue. Wisconsin returns its field goal kicker and punter, and while both were solid last year neither was quite as impressive statistically as LSU’s Delahoussaye and Kheen. Like LSU, Wisconsin will turn to a new kickoff specialist this year, freshman Rafael Gaglianone, but he appears to be a special one. In the return game, Kenzel Doe is back to return kickoffs and punts for the Badgers, and he led the Big Ten Conference with a 26.5-yard average on kickoffs last year. In the Capitol One Bowl, Doe showcased his electric athleticism with a 91-yard kickoff return. It appears that LSU will feature speedster Travin Dural in the return game, but they have several other options including sophomore TréDavious White and many talented but unproven freshmen. Even

Intangibles: With the game being played in Houston, LSU will definitely have a huge crowd advantage, and this could be significant for both teams’ inexperienced quarterbacks. Both teams have outstanding records in season openers and in non-conference play. The Badgers have won 16 consecutive season-openers, dating back to 1998, while LSU has won 11 dating back to 2003. LSU currently has the nation’s longest regular-season non-conference winning streak at 45 straight games, but during that same period Wisconsin has won the second most with 43. This one’s close, but the edge goes to Tigers. Advantage LSU

In recruiting news, at least a half-dozen LSU targets will be attending tomorrow night’s game in Houston. According to this article by Jimmy Smith of nola.com, the list of visitors includes several players already committed to LSU for the class of 2015 like in-state running backs Derrius Guice, Nick Brosette and David Ducre, as well as several class of 2016 targets like quarterback Shea Patterson of Calvary Baptist and defensive tackle Ed Alexander of St Thomas Aquinas. Although this game won’t give LSU a chance to show of its facilities and the magic of Tiger Stadium, seeing 60,000+ LSU fans show up to see the Tigers play in a top-class NFL stadium should make quite an impression on the group, especially if the Tigers take care of business as I expect they will.

Well, it’s hard to believe that it’s already time to close out our 100-day countdown to Game Day with the number 1. There are several great Tigers who wore the number 1 (a couple who come to mind are Jimmy Ledoux and Brandon LaFell), but the one who we’ll feature today is the last Tiger starter to wear the number - Eric Reid. Hailing from Dutchtown High School in Geismar, Louisiana, Reid came to LSU in 2010 as one of the nation’s most highly recruited safeties, and he sure did live up to the hype. As a freshman, Reid played in 13 games with three starts and finished the season with 32 tackles and two interceptions. As a sophomore, Reid started in all 13 games, recorded 76 tackles, picked off two interceptions, forced two fumbles and was a second team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press, and he did all this relatively quietly while being often overshadowed by fellow defensive backs Tyran Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. In his third and final year at LSU, Reid was the undisputed leader of a Tiger secondary that was considered among the best in the nation. He finished the year with 91 tackles (42 unassisted), two interceptions, and seven pass breakups, and was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American. 

After his days as a Tiger, Reid was chosen in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers where he remains today. Despite suffering a couple of mild concussions, Reid had a terrific rookie season – 77 tackles and four interceptions – and was elected to the 2014 Pro Bowl.

One more tidbit about Reid: His father, Eric, Sr., was a three-time All-American hurdler for LSU from 1984-87 and is a member of the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.

Oh, and since this is the last day of our countdown, here’s a little lagniappe for the number 1: LSU was named the No. 1 Favorite Game Day Location by Chris Fowler, the No. 1 Top Tailgate Spot by the Associated Press, and the No. 1 Scariest Place to Play by ESPN.com.

I hope you've enjoyed this year’s countdown and found it to be an interesting way to pass the time until the real action begins. If you have suggestions for next year's countdown, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.

 

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