LSU hoping Idaho is no ULM

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
8:00
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Cue up the "The SEC doesn't play anybody out of conference" complaints.

True or not, LSU is hearing that this week as it prepares to host 0-2 Idaho. The Vandals are not only winless, they are coming off a 2-10 season. And, Idaho is one of the WAC's "left behind" schools destined for a future of wondering whether their league will continue to exist after it was pillaged in recent years during conference realignment.

It makes for a compelling story, but not necessarily in the context of an opponent for a national championship contender like No. 3 LSU.

That was true, of course, until what happened last weekend in Little Rock, Ark.

Louisiana-Monroe, a middling Sun Belt Conference program often mentioned as a candidate to drop back to the FCS, upset another would-be SEC West national title contender, Arkansas. Perfect timing for LSU, which probably needed something for focus during a week where the biggest complaints from fans are about the schedule, not the team.

"It will be mentioned at meetings," said LSU coach Les Miles of ULM's win on Monday. He has stuck with the theme, going so far as to pick on a smaller-than-usual gathering of reporters at his Wednesday news conference that they weren't taking the opponent seriously enough.

He was joking.

We think.

Three things to watch

1. Keeping it interesting: The would-be stumbling blocks on LSU's schedule, with one notable exception Nov. 3, look less and less daunting. Auburn's season is on the verge of disaster. Florida sort of struggles along. South Carolina is still looking for a quarterback. And we've covered what happened to Arkansas. With LSU looking so solid early, especially in last week's 41-3 win over Washington, will the schedule keep the Tigers' focused? That question is particularly relevant this week.

2. Secondary test: LSU's secondary passed its test against Keith Price and Washington with flying colors. This week, Idaho quarterback Dominique Blackman presents another challenge, coming off a 30-for-37, 352-yard performance in his Idaho debut against a pretty good Bowling Green defense in a 21-13 loss.

3. Pitch-and-catch: Speaking of Nov. 3, the widely held assumption is that the Tigers won't get past that Alabama test without an efficient passing game. Zach Mettenberger has looked capable of making a difference, but will opponents like Idaho give him enough competition -- and enough opportunities to throw -- to get the passing game fine-tuned for tougher showdowns in the future?

Tigers to watch:

1. CB Jalen Mills: Idaho's a throwing team and opponents so far have been reluctant to throw at highly-regarded junior Tharold Simon. That means more action for Mills, who had seven tackles and his first career interception last week against Washington.

2. RB Spencer Ware: The junior looked like his old self in limited carries last week against Washington. Will Ware, the starter at the beginning of 2011, continue to push Alfred Blue for more carries?

3. WR-KR Odell Beckham Jr.: After a nightmare of a game against Washington -- he dropped three passes and fumbled away the opening kickoff -- Beckham will look to regain form this week. Usually, the hardest area for smaller programs to compete against bigger programs is special teams, where quality depth gets exposed. Given that, look for Beckham to make plays in the return game like he did two weeks ago when he ran a punt back for a touchdown against North Texas.

Vandals to watch

1. Blackman: A former Washington recruit, Blackman is a big, strong thrower who looks to be the centerpiece of the offense. Given time to throw, he has the skills capable of making things interesting. He didn't start the first game of the season, a 20-3 loss to Eastern Washington.

2. WR Jahri Level: He must love the new quarterback. After getting no catches in the season opener, he had 10 for 119 yards against Bowling Green. He forms a capable junior college transfer receving tandem along with Najee Lovett (10 rec, 128 yards).

3. P Bobby Cowan: Coming off of a season where he was second in the nation in punting average (46.4 yards a punt), Cowan will have an all-American showdown with LSU's Brad Wing, the returning AP All-American. Cowan, who is averaging 39.8 yards per punt, was a Football Writers Association of America all-American last year.

Key Matchup

Blackman vs. LSU's secondary: In a short time, Blackman has proven he can sling it and LSU's young defensive backs -- the Tigers play three freshmen and a sophomore among their top seven in the secondary -- have proven they can cover. Both will continue to develop against each other.

By the numbers

40: The number of consecutive non-conference regular-season wins LSU will have recorded with a win Saturday, an FBS first.

20: Consecutive wins for LSU at Tiger Stadium with a win Saturday.

279: LSU's rushing yards per game, second in the SEC and 11th in the nation.

Gary Laney | email

Reporter, GeauxTigerNation

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