LSU Tigers: Kenny Hilliard

LSU offense more productive with Harris

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- As is often the case after a disappointing loss, many callers were on the warpath last week during LSU coach Les Miles’ radio show.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertNo matter the formation, Brandon Harris has been a more effective quarterback option than Anthony Jennings.
The most common criticism? That LSU’s offense had grown too predictable in the previous weekend’s 34-29 loss to Mississippi State -- particularly before freshman quarterback Brandon Harris replaced Anthony Jennings and nearly engineered a miraculous comeback win.

When one of the more pleasant critics encouraged Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to limit their use of I-formation/two-tight end sets, Miles predicted they would sprinkle in more spread formations in the future.

“I can tell you that we do look forward to expanding the use of spread for both quarterbacks,” Miles said. “That’s a direction that we’re going in. It’s just that right now a personnel group that’s very, very strong for us, especially on the running end, is the two-tights.”

LSU used more shotgun sets with multiple receivers in last week’s 63-7 win against New Mexico State. The Aggies were not a formidable opponent, but that might be a sign of things to come with Harris taking over as the starter this week against Auburn.

“I think Brandon’s more comfortable like that,” running back Leonard Fournette said.

Harris played in a spread offense in high school, so that makes sense. And while Harris said he is also comfortable taking snaps from under center, spreading the field was the best way to attack NMSU's defense.

“You’ve got to go with things that make us successful,” Harris said. “I was comfortable with that in high school, and we tried to come out this week and spread people out and just run the football.”

It wasn’t so much that the Tigers changed their offensive philosophy against NMSU as that they enjoyed much more success once Harris entered the game -- continuing a recent trend.

Using the tight ends

Does LSU use the tight end-heavy package more than most teams, as some callers insinuated? Absolutely.

The Tigers have run 89 plays with at least two tight ends and two running backs, which is the most of any team in the nation. The next-closest teams are Pitt and Boston College, both of which have run 77. Only B.C. (314 plays) utilized that look more than LSU (228) in 2013.

Is that a problem? Miles doesn’t think so -- not when the Tigers’ offensive identity is built upon the running game.

“We have the opportunity to take advantage of people in both two-tights and in spread,” Miles said. “And we have two very, very talented tight ends and it gives the opportunity of running lanes for I-back style of backs, which Leonard Fournette and Kenny Hilliard and those guys are.”

That said, the Tigers actually used the two-tight formation less against NMSU than they had in previous weeks. LSU averaged 20 plays per game using at least two tight ends and two backs through the first four games, but used that look just nine times against NMSU.

It helped that LSU was rarely in short-yardage situations, so the blocker-heavy lineup was not necessary. Rest assured that it will remain part of LSU’s arsenal.

“Obviously everybody knows we have a powerful running game, so it’s something to kind of expect,” receiver John Diarse said.

Multiple receivers

As previously mentioned, LSU didn’t shift to an entirely new scheme with Harris. The Tigers were simply more productive.

The Tigers ran 30 plays, gained 287 yards and scored four times on plays where there were at least three wideouts on the field against NMSU. In the first four games, they averaged 27 plays per game with three wideouts and 163.5 yards per game.

“Every receiver enjoys going out in a three- or four-wide set,” receiver Travin Dural said. “As the game went on, you could tell the receivers went from kind of being mad and frustrated to having more smiles on their face.”

Shotgun

Harris played almost exclusively in mop-up duty prior to the NMSU game, but LSU’s offense has been more dangerous in nearly every way with him at quarterback.

He is 15-for-20 for 316 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while passing out of the shotgun (an average of 15.8 yards per pass attempt) compared to Jennings’ 27-for-52 for 327 yards, two touchdowns and two picks (6.3 ypa). Harris has nine completions of 20-plus yards from the shotgun compared to just four for Jennings.

“We came out in a couple of three- and four-wide sets when [Harris] was in the game, given the situation, and he made some plays,” Dural said. “He made some great throws and did some great things on the ground and he helped us out tremendously.”

LSU has also rushed the ball more effectively out of the shotgun with Harris. The Tigers have 24 runs for 155 yards (6.5 yards per carry) out of the shotgun with the freshman compared to 47 for 205 (4.4 ypc) with Jennings.



Under center

Boosted by his school-record 94-yard touchdown pass to Dural against Sam Houston State, Jennings is actually averaging 13.1 yards per pass attempt after taking snaps from under center. He’s 15-for-31 for 407 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in that scenario. Meanwhile, Harris is 7-for-10 for 78 yards (7.8 ypa), three touchdowns and no interceptions.

LSU has run the ball 115 times and gained 457 yards (3.97 ypc) with Jennings taking the snap from under center compared to 51 attempts for 312 yards (6.12 ypc) with Harris under center.

It’s anybody’s guess whether those trends continue with Harris as the starting quarterback, however. The Tigers might spread the field more now, but power-run formations will surely remain part of LSU’s scheme.

Diarse predicted that Cameron’s philosophy will still change each week based on personnel matchups.

“I think as an offensive coordinator, you kind of look for what works and it just so happened that spreading those guys out from New Mexico State worked for us,” Diarse said. “We kind of stuck with it and it lasted us the whole game. Each and every week, Coach Cam is unpredictable. He’s not a predictable coach at all. He can throw anything at you.”

LSU freshman tracker

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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BATON ROUGE, La. – Plenty of true freshmen played in LSU’s 63-7 rout of New Mexico State on Saturday, but it was Brandon Harris' night.

The young quarterback led the Tigers’ offense to touchdown in all seven of his possessions after replacing a slumping Anthony Jennings. At this point, it will be a major upset if Harris doesn’t make his first career start next Saturday at Auburn.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesBrandon Harris' performance Saturday might have made him LSU's starting quarterback for good.
Let’s take a quick look at the night for Harris and some of the Tigers’ other top freshmen:

S Jamal Adams

What he did: Adams played significant minutes off the bench at safety and tied for fourth on the team with five tackles. He also made a nice pass breakup on a second-and-2 pass near midfield in the first quarter.

What it means: Adams already seemed to be gaining his coaches’ confidence in recent weeks. If defensive back Dwayne Thomas is out for any extensive length of time -- he left Saturday’s game with a right knee injury -- Adams’ role might grow even more.

WR Malachi Dupre

What he did: Dupre made his first career start and led the team with 54 receiving yards on three catches. He caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Harris in the second quarter.

What it means: Dupre’s role in the offense continues to grow. He and Harris clearly have developed a rapport -- Saturday’s touchdown was already their fourth scoring connection -- and that should give the Tigers a strong second option alongside leading receiver Travin Dural.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did: Fournette ran 18 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns, setting new career highs in all three categories. He scored on a 17-yard run and plowed into the end zone for a 5-yard score in the second quarter. He also went 33 yards on his lone reception.

What it means: This was the fourth straight game that Fournette has led the Tigers in rushing, although this was his first 100-yard game. With 322 yards on 56 carries, Fournette is quietly emerging as the Tigers’ top tailback.

DT Davon Godchaux

What he did: Godchaux started for the second time in the last three games and recorded four tackles. His biggest play of the night came when he jarred the ball loose from New Mexico State’s Marquette Washington at the end of a second-quarter run. LSU safety Jalen Mills recovered Washington’s fumble and returned it 36 yards to the NMSU 3. The Tigers scored on the next play to go up 42-7.

What it means: With Quentin Thomas out of the lineup for the time being, Godchaux’s role is playing an important role on the interior of the Tigers’ defensive line. That bunch got shoved around by Mississippi State last week and will face a huge challenge next Saturday from Auburn. LSU needs Godchaux and Christian LaCouture to hold up in the middle of the line in order to have a shot at a road upset.

QB Brandon Harris

What he did: Harris likely settled the questions over who should start at quarterback on Saturday. Jennings had turned the ball over three times and the Tigers led 14-0 when Harris took over in the second quarter. They were up 63-7 when he left the game in the fourth quarter. Harris finished 11-for-14 for 178 yards and three touchdowns, plus he ran five times for 36 yards and two scores.

What it means: Although it seemingly took forever for LSU’s coaches to make the move -- as LSU’s booing fans clearly noticed -- Harris provided an instant spark when he entered the game. The level of difficulty is about to increase exponentially, but he is an obvious choice to start next week even if LSU coach Les Miles made no such public declaration after the game.

RB Darrel Williams

What he did: Williams continues to produce when he gets the ball. He was second on the team behind Fournette with 10 carries and finished with 59 rushing yards. He also caught a pass for an 11-yard gain.

What it means: Everybody got their yards from the Tigers’ backfield on Saturday -- seniors Kenny Hilliard (seven carries, 53 yards) and Terrence Magee (8-62, TD) were also productive -- and we can expect to see Williams remain as a regular contributor in LSU’s backfield timeshare.
BATON ROUGE, La. – The topic du jour at Les Miles’ three Q&A sessions on Wednesday concerned his quarterbacks. Specifically, what will be LSU’s next move in the battle for playing time between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris?

Who will be the starter in Saturday’s game against New Mexico State? It most likely will be Jennings, Miles said on the SEC’s weekly coaches teleconference.

Has Harris – who starred in last Saturday’s fourth-quarter comeback against Mississippi State after Jennings’ dismal outing – made up ground in the race? “Some,” Miles told reporters in his post-practice interview.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsIt appears LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings will get another shot to start after a tough night against Mississippi State.
Will Harris get more than the garbage-time snaps he mostly received to this point? “Look forward to him getting a little bit more playing time. He certainly was deserving,” Miles said on his weekly call-in show.

The problems that revealed themselves in the Mississippi State loss are much greater than simply which player is behind center, but we’ll start there in this week’s storylines for Saturday.

Third-down inefficiency: LSU has been mediocre in nearly every offensive category, but its decline on third down has been striking. That had to be expected with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham all departing from a 2013 offense that led the nation by converting 57 percent of its third downs.

It has been a problem this season, particularly with Jennings at quarterback. ESPN Stats and Information reports that LSU ranks 70th nationally in third-down conversions (41 percent) and has only converted on 38 percent of its third downs with Jennings at quarterback, compared to 63 percent with Harris.

During the last two seasons, Jennings led LSU to a 30-percent conversion rate on third down, while Mettenberger converted 54 percent of the time. The differences are also huge when comparing Mettenberger and Jennings’ Total QBR (97.2 to 37.1), yards per attempt (10.9 to 6.2) and passing touchdowns (nine to two) on third down.

These comparisons are unfair, of course. Mettenberger was a fifth-year senior who ranked second nationally behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston on both third-down QBR and third-down conversions. Meanwhile, Jennings just made his fifth career start. Nonetheless, the dropoff has been substantial and is one of the contributing factors in LSU’s offensive slowdown.

QB comparison: Let’s shift from one comparison that doesn’t look pretty for Jennings to another. Again, different sample sizes paint an unfair picture for Jennings, but the Tigers’ offense has been more productive with Harris at quarterback.

LSU scored a touchdown on two of its three drives against Mississippi State with Harris at quarterback compared to one in 12 with Jennings. Of course, Jennings played against the starters and Harris did not face the Bulldogs’ full defensive arsenal when he entered the game with less than four minutes to play and Mississippi State ahead by double digits. But he was clearly the more productive quarterback last Saturday, leading LSU’s offense to 159 yards in just 12 snaps.

We could make similar statements about the other games in which they appeared. Jennings took the starters’ best shots in the first four games and Harris came on in relief, typically in the second half. But in his smaller sample size, Harris has led the Tigers to more yards per play, a greater percentage of touchdowns per drive and a significantly higher percentage of third-down conversions.

Stopping the run: We discussed this in a post earlier this week, but LSU must shore up its issues defending runs straight up the middle. On designed runs between the tackles, Mississippi State ran for 286 yards – the most allowed by an SEC defense in the last two seasons – averaged 8.2 yards per carry and broke nine runs of 10 yards or longer.

In the first three games, LSU allowed just 52.3 yards on designed runs between the tackles, 3.5 yards per carry and just one run of 10-plus yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Opening it up? With the bulk of the SEC schedule still ahead, this seems like a good week for LSU to work on opening up its offense a bit if it will, in fact, spread the field in future games. But that doesn’t exactly jibe with what works best against New Mexico State’s defense.

The Aggies have been atrocious against the run, surrendering 299.3 rushing yards per game and ranking 123rd out of 125 FBS teams. So perhaps we’ll see plenty of Kenny Hilliard, Leonard Fournette and LSU’s power running game early and the Tigers can work on the passing game once they build a lead.

Dural, then who? If LSU puts the ball in the air more frequently, Travin Dural (18 catches, 494 yards, 4 TDs) is a given as the first option. But then who?

Maybe it will be Malachi Dupre, who delivered a breakout performance last Saturday night against Mississippi State. Fellow freshmen Trey Quinn and John Diarse are also possibilities. After Dural, the Tigers’ next three receivers have only connected with their quarterback for a completion on 19 of the 37 passes in which they were the intended targets.

What to watch in LSU-ULM

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles is a perfect 11-0 as LSU’s coach against in-state opposition and only once – a 24-16 homecoming win over Louisiana Tech in 2009 – has the outcome been particularly close.

LSU (2-0) has beaten its various fellow Louisianans by an average score of 43-7 in the 2000s and has not lost to an in-state opponent since falling 31-28 at Tulane in 1982. In other words, there is good reason that the Tigers were favored late this week to beat Louisiana-Monroe (2-0) by 31 points on Saturday. The day is probably not going to end unhappily for the Tigers.

That said, major-conference coaches are apparently required to remind us of the disastrous possibilities, so that is one of the storylines to watch as Saturday’s kickoff approaches.

1. Monroe’s history: One of the first points that Miles made in his Monday news conference was that ULM has knocked off SEC opposition in the past. In fact, the Warhawks have beaten four teams from the conference: No. 8 Arkansas in the 2012 opener, Alabama in 2007, Mississippi State in 1995 and Kentucky in 1994.

“When we invite an in-state team to play us, we think it makes the majority of the state want to come to that stadium, at that time and watch that game and we’re thankful that this opportunity’s here,” Miles reiterated on his Wednesday call-in show. “We think that ULM is a very, very quality team and will challenge any team and certainly will be a difficult team to play this Saturday in Tiger Stadium.”

Miles didn’t happen to mention that the Warhawks are 4-40-1 overall against SEC teams, though. That includes an 0-2 mark against LSU, which defeated ULM 49-7 in 2003 and 51-0 in 2010.

2. Aidin’ Travin: Let’s assume that receiver Travin Dural will play on Saturday, as Miles predicted, despite Dural having suffered a head injury that required stitches in an auto accident late last Saturday night. The Tigers probably will still need other wideouts to take over some of his production as he works his way back to 100 percent.

Through two games, Dural (six catches, 291 yards, four touchdowns) has been far and away the Tigers’ most prolific receiver. His absurd average of 48.5 yards per catch leads the nation, he’s fourth in receiving yards and tied for second nationally in touchdown catches – all despite being targeted on fewer than half as many passes (15) as national leader Amari Cooper of Alabama (32).

Redshirt freshman John Diarse (4-77, TD) and true freshmen Trey Quinn (3-37) and Malachi Dupre (2-23, TD) would probably be the leading candidates for extra looks if Dural isn’t 100 percent on Saturday.
3. Jennings vs. Harris: LSU quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris figure to have their battle for playing time continue on Saturday. ESPN Stats & Information reports that their production is similar, although their workload isn’t particularly comparable.

In 113 plays with Jennings under center, LSU’s offense averaged 6.5 yards per play and scored touchdowns on 35 percent of its possessions. Jennings posted the best single-game Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of any player this season when he scored a 98.7 last week against Sam Houston State by going 7-for-13 for 188 yards and three touchdowns and rushing eight times for 43 yards.

Harris took 27 snaps last week against SHSU after getting only three (one series) in the opener against Wisconsin. He led five drives and the Tigers scored three touchdowns against SHSU, including one on a 46-yard Harris run.

In Harris’ 30 total plays, LSU averaged 6.9 yards per play and the Tigers have run the ball 83 percent of the time, compared to 70 percent with Jennings under center.

4. Playing the pass: Another interesting matchup pits LSU’s defense, which is third nationally in opponent Total QBR at 5.3 – only Baylor (4.4) and Florida (5.1) are better according to ESPN Stats & Information – against an active ULM passing game.

The Warhawks have already attempted 86 passes with only one getting intercepted. LSU, meanwhile, has picked off four passes out of 52 opponent pass attempts. The Tigers’ pass defense leads the nation by allowing a 32.7 completion percentage and ranks seventh by allowing 3.96 yards per pass attempt. LSU is also tied for 13th with seven sacks, while ULM is tied for fourth with 10.

LSU got all seven of its sacks last Saturday against SHSU, but ULM presents a different challenge for the Tigers. ULM quarterback Pete Thomas (47-85, 573 yards, 2 TDs, INT) runs the Warhawks’ no-huddle spread offense at a brisk pace. He wouldn’t rank 10th in the nation in pass attempts if the Warhawks’ offense moved slowly. ULM has surrendered four sacks, so pass-rushers like Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco will have to move quickly to earn a quarterback takedown.

5. Pounding the run: Thus far, LSU has run the ball on 73 percent of its plays (105 of 144), which creates an interesting matchup for Saturday. ULM is tied for ninth nationally against the run, surrendering just 57.5 rushing yards per game. Opponents Wake Forest and Idaho averaged 1.8 yards per carry (115 yards on 63 attempts) against the Warhawks. Wake Forest actually had 27 attempts for minus-3 rushing yards and finished with just 94 yards of total offense in a 17-10 loss.

Kenny Hilliard leads the Tigers with 165 rushing yards on 29 carries and freshman Leonard Fournette is second with 110 yards on 21 attempts.

LSU notes: Miles rubs in record

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- When LSU's Anthony Jennings and Travin Dural hooked up for a 94-yard touchdown pass in last week's 56-0 win against Sam Houston State, they removed a current LSU assistant coach from the program's record books.

On his Wednesday night call-in show, Tigers coach Les Miles gleefully recalled tight ends coach Steve Ensminger's reaction -- perhaps overdramatizing the situation just a tad -- when his 36-year-old record was finally eclipsed.

"I looked around and I saw Steve Ensminger and he was going through a real tough time -- tears in his eyes, very emotional," Miles said. "I said, ‘Steve, what's wrong?' I thought something had happened. Somebody ran over his foot or something. He said, ‘Nothing. I'm hanging in there.' And I didn't really know what had gone on until I found out later that he held a record since [1978]."

Ensminger connected with Carlos Carson on an 82-yard passing touchdown against Georgia in 1978, a program record that stood all those years until Jennings-to-Dural last Saturday. So what did Miles do after the game to his assistant, whom he described as "a great coach and a great guy and loves his Tigers?"

He humorously twisted the knife even deeper, with an assist from the record-breaking quarterback and receiver.

"We gave what was the game ball to Anthony Jennings and Travin Dural to give to, then, Steve Ensminger," Miles said. "Here's what the ball said: the ball said: ‘Records were meant to be broken. The new record holders,' and then they signed their names and then listed what they had accomplished and they handed it to Steve."

NFL Tigers: The NFL announced on Wednesday that LSU had more active players on league rosters for opening weekend than any other college program. The Tigers' total of 38 was one better than USC, two better than Alabama and four up on Georgia.

LSU's total will increase to 40 this week with receiver Dwayne Bowe's return from a one-game suspension to open the season and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard's signing with the Miami Dolphins.

"Really I brought that to my team. I said, ‘OK, how many do you think are in this room?' And honestly there are a number. There may be as many as 38 yet again, right in that room," Miles said. "And I said, ‘But the balance is how do you work, how do you learn and how do you improve?' And if they do that, we may have another group that way. We have talent, we just need to play best."

Freshman DT practicing: Freshman Trey Lealaimatafao has recovered from a summertime arm injury and returned to the practice field this week, Miles said.

Lealaimatafao could get "into some live work here pretty quick. It's probably next week," Miles said, confirming that the freshman defensive tackle has been fully cleared to practice.

He's obviously off to a late start since the injury forced the former U.S. Army All-American to miss all of preseason camp and the first two weeks of the season, but Miles wouldn't guarantee that Lealaimatafao will redshirt this season.

"It's too early to tell," Miles said. "When he gets involved in the practices, should he be further ahead than we might guess, he might step in front of some guys. But it's likely that it'll take some time to evaluate him and see how he goes. I can tell you I think he learns [fast] and we expected him to be in the mix right now if he had not sustained injury."

Magee's workload: Two separate callers chastised Miles for not getting senior tailback Terrence Magee enough carries in the first two games.

Magee has carried the ball 12 times for 35 yards (2.9 yards per carry) compared to 14 carries for 65 yards (4.6 ypc) by freshman Darrel Williams, 21 for 110 (5.2 ypc) by freshman Leonard Fournette and 29 for 165 (5.7 ypc) by senior Kenny Hilliard. Fournette and Hilliard have also caught two passes apiece compared to none for Magee and Williams.

However, Miles insisted that Magee has not been demoted as one caller alleged.

"We want to give him a number of opportunities," Miles said, "and we will do so as we go forward and I am sensitive to the fact that he hasn't gotten enough carries and want to make that happen."

What to watch in LSU-SHSU

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If LSU’s history against FCS opponents is any indication, Saturday night’s game against Sam Houston State probably will not be particularly competitive.

The Tigers are 9-0 all-time against FCS teams, including 6-0 since Les Miles became LSU’s coach in 2005, and winning by an average score of 38-10 under Miles.

Even if the Tigers win comfortably, there is still plenty to watch on Saturday night. Here are five storylines that LSU fans should keep in mind as kickoff approaches.

1. New Tiger Stadium: Saturday will offer many LSU fans their first glimpse at new and improved Tiger Stadium, which underwent an $85 million renovation during the offseason. With the addition of a new club level to enclose the south end zone, the 90-year-old venue will now seat 102,321 fans -- making it the fifth-largest on-campus stadium in the country.

“[The players] have always played in front of a stadium that was full and loud. They would not recognize Tiger Stadium any other way,” Miles said. “We’re spoiled, we’re expectant, we play to the expectations of our fans. We’re very much on the same page with them. … I would certainly say that christening the stadium is something that both the team and certainly the fans and the faithful should understand should be a loud and very enthusiastic crowd.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Jennings
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Jennings rallied the Tigers against Wisconsin, but expect backup Brandon Harris to get more reps this weekend.
 Enclosing the south end of the stadium might change how wind affects kicks and punts somewhat, so it might take some time to re-evaluate LSU’s game-play strategies in the reconfigured venue.

But the main difference will be the increased decibel level that comes along with adding nearly 10,000 new seats to the old venue.

“I can imagine that there will be a little difference in wind. I’m certain it will be louder,” Miles said. “It looks, to me, beautiful, so if you like grand venues to play in, I think it should be just what you want.”

2. Quarterback reps: Sophomore Anthony Jennings won the right to start last week against Wisconsin, and he played all but one offensive series against the Badgers. But don’t be surprised if we see a lot more of freshman Brandon Harris under center this week.

Jennings is 2-0 as a starter, with those wins coming against Big Ten squads Iowa and Wisconsin, but he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in either game. He was 9-for-21 for 239 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin, but the Tigers’ offense struggled mightily for most of the game before rallying from a 24-7 deficit for a 28-24 win. To his credit, Jennings was 4-for-6 for 119 yards and a touchdown in the second half, aiding the Tigers in their comeback bid.

Nonetheless, the Tigers need for Harris to show he can handle an increased workload against opponents like Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe if he is to help them during SEC play. The next two weeks will be huge for the freshman to prove himself. Otherwise, we’re going to see a lot of Jennings down the stretch.

3. Defending against tempo: With games against high-speed offenses like Auburn’s and Texas A&M’s ahead, Saturday’s game offers a nice warmup for those SEC showdowns.

Granted, Sam Houston State is an FCS program, but the Bearkats have former FBS players like running back Jalen Overstreet (Texas) and receiver LaDarius Brown (TCU) on the roster, as well as a dual-threat quarterback, Jared Johnson, who is averaging 351.5 passing yards per game.

The Bearkats ran 105 plays for 685 yards in last week’s 51-20 win over Alabama State so it’s clear that they want to maintain a quick tempo just like the SEC offensive juggernauts the Tigers will face down the road.

“Chief [defensive coordinator John Chavis] has us really doing a lot of up-tempo stuff right now because that’s the type of offense they are,” safety Jalen Mills said. “So as soon as the play is over, less celebrating and more looking to the sideline and getting the play and lining up.”

4. Debuts continue: Should LSU take a comfortable lead by halftime, we might see several members of the Tigers’ impressive 2014 recruiting class -- plus a number of redshirt freshmen -- make their college debuts on Saturday.

 Nine true freshmen played against Wisconsin, and we could see several more over the next two weekends. Among the youngsters we’re intrigued to see are receivers Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark, running back Darrel Williams and defensive linemen Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain.

Keep an eye on the positional rotations in the second half and see which inexperienced players have earned the chance for a trial by fire. That could tell you who the coaches hope might be able to help them later in the season.

5. Fournette’s follow-up: Speaking of freshmen, tailback Leonard Fournette made a quiet debut last week with 18 rushing yards on eight carries and an average of 23.4 yards on five kickoff returns.

The Tigers mostly rode senior Kenny Hilliard in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin, but Fournette and Terrence Magee should get much more of an opportunity to break some runs against SHSU.

As with Harris, it would be beneficial for Fournette to build some confidence in out-of-conference play before the Tigers host Mississippi State in a key SEC West game on Sept. 20. Our bet is that the Fournette shows off more of the skillset that made him the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect for 2014 over the next two weekends.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Through three quarters Saturday night, Kenny Hilliard and LSU’s offensive line had done nothing to give their coaches confidence that they’d dominate the fourth quarter against a stiff Wisconsin defense.

LSU’s running game had accounted for next to nothing, and it didn’t appear that anyone was going to break through since the Tigers were in desperation mode and the Badgers carried a double-digit lead into the final period.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hillard
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesKenny Hilliard served as LSU's closer against Wisconsin, rushing for 102 of his 110 yards in the fourth quarter.
“[The offensive linemen] were pretty upset because we had 16 yards in the first half,” Hilliard said. “They knew we were better than that.”

It took some time for them to prove it, but they were right. The Tigers wore down Wisconsin’s defensive front -- and it certainly helped that two of the Badgers’ starting linemen left the game with injuries -- and took over in the fourth quarter. While Hilliard, Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee had found little or no running room earlier in the game, Hilliard was able to blow through big holes inthe fourth quarter -- and the Tigers kept feeding him.

He entered the fourth quarter with seven carries for eight yards -- while Fournette had seven carries for 21 yards through three quarters and Magee had five attempts for six yards -- but Hilliard essentially was LSU’s offense toward the end of the game. The senior carried 11 times for 102 yards in the fourth quarter alone, finishing with 18 totes for 110 yards and the go-ahead 28-yard touchdown.

Four of Hilliard’s 11 fourth-quarter carries achieved first downs. A fifth was the touchdown that gave LSU its first lead of the night with 9:41 to play.

“At the end of the day, they ran the ball well and they made a gigantic play,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “The last touchdown they got broke the game open.”

Before LSU kneeled to run out the clock on its final two snaps, Hilliard ran the ball on 10 of the Tigers’ previous 12 plays. He got the ball all three times before the kneeldowns, forcing the Badgers to use their three timeouts and achieving the crucial first down that secured the win with a 4-yard gain on his final run of the night. On the Tigers’ go-ahead touchdown drive, Hilliard got the ball on all three plays, running for gains of 17 and eight before his 28-yard scoring run.

It was as dramatic a turnaround as even the most loyal LSU supporter could have imagined.

“That’s something with our offense,” Hilliard said. “Whomever can get in there and get the hot hand and first downs will basically stay in the game.”

But what does Hilliard’s Saturday success mean moving forward? He has played the role of fourth-quarter punisher in LSU’s offense before, but opportunities to become the Tigers’ featured back have been rare.

Fournette didn’t make the immediate splash many media members had predicted, but he and Magee will still get their share of the workload. As Hilliard said, this was a time where the Tigers found a late spark on a night that had been full of frustration and stuck with what had started working.

“I felt like Kenny Hilliard played hard,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I like Leonard Fournette’s contribution, did just what we asked him to do, ran hard, returned a couple of kicks. We’re a blue-collar team that will fight like hell and get in competitive games and scrap you. This was one of those times.”

Even after his strong first outing, Hilliard’s vision of his backfield role didn’t seem to change.

He has been one cog in a multifaceted LSU running game throughout his career, and Hilliard doesn’t expect the Tigers to alter that philosophy. He and Magee still expect to help Fournette and fellow freshman Darrel Williams develop bigger roles as the season progresses.

“That’s how it was for us when me and Terrence came in,” Hilliard said. “Guys like Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, they were able to take us underneath their wings and show us the way. That’s what we’re here for. We have to help lift each other and stay positive.”

LSU freshman tracker

August, 31, 2014
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So it wasn’t a Heisman Trophy-caliber debut for LSU freshman Leonard Fournette. The Tigers’ coaches understandably rode the defense and veteran running back Kenny Hilliard late as No. 13 LSU scored 21 unanswered points to beat No. 14 Wisconsin 28-24 on Saturday night.

But the Tigers did get Fournette and eight other true freshmen -- receiver Trey Quinn, quarterback Brandon Harris, defensive backs Ed Paris and Jamal Adams, defensive linemen Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark, linebacker Donnie Alexander and kicker Cameron Gamble -- on the field Saturday in Houston during the comeback win. Here’s a quick recap of the top three.

RB Leonard Fournette

What he did: Fournette looked tentative on both kickoff returns and runs out of the backfield. He returned five kickoffs for 117 yards, with a long of 33 yards, and ran eight times for 18 yards. The explosive running everyone expected was nowhere to be found, although the offensive line didn’t give him much room to run, either. Fournette and Terrence Magee (6-8) took a backseat to Hilliard (18-110, TD) in the second half as the Tigers mounted their comeback.

What it means: Because of the hype built around the nation’s top overall prospect, anything less than 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns would have been a letdown. Fournette’s time will come, but he didn’t make much of an impact in his college debut. Perhaps he’ll find more of a groove over the next couple of weeks when he should have more room to run against Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe.

WR Trey Quinn

What he did: Quinn was the only LSU true freshman to start on Saturday. The record-setting receiver caught one pass for 11 yards and ran 2 yards on a reverse. But easily his biggest play of the night came when he went in motion on a two-point conversion attempt and was wide open when he caught Anthony Jennings’ pass to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 24-21 with 12:08 left in the game.

What it means: It was clear coming in that Quinn would play a big role after he generated a lot of buzz during preseason camp. He made one of the Tigers’ biggest plays during their comeback. They played only four receivers all night – sophomore Travin Dural (3-151, TD) and redshirt freshman John Diarse (2-48, TD) also made some huge catches – so it’s clear that we should expect Quinn to rank among LSU’s top wideouts moving forward.

QB Brandon Harris

What he did: Harris played one series in the second quarter and the Tigers went backward, literally and figuratively. They lost 9 yards on the possession – Harris ran once for a loss of a yard and later was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down – and also had to burn a timeout when Harris was unable to get the play in quickly enough from the sideline. Jennings returned on the next possession and played the rest of the game at quarterback.

What it means: As with Fournette, this was an unimpressive debut for Harris. He looked a bit lost on the field, in a game where the Tigers couldn’t afford to fall much further behind. Jennings floundered a bit early, but he hit a couple of huge passes and gave LSU enough in the second half to mount a comeback. You can’t say Jennings completely solidified his position as LSU’s full-time quarterback – he finished 9-for-21 for 239 yards and two touchdowns – but Harris certainly didn’t do anything to prove that he deserves the job yet.

Five questions about LSU-Wisconsin

August, 28, 2014
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One of college football’s most anticipated openers will kick off Saturday night in Houston, with No. 13 LSU taking on No. 14 Wisconsin -- two programs that might reside in different conferences, but share similar philosophies about playing mean-spirited, physical football.

Both teams have aspirations of competing in the inaugural College Football Playoff, and Saturday’s outcome might eventually rank among the top determining factors in whether they make it into the four-team field.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five questions facing the two teams as their matchup approaches.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Magee
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSenior Terrence Magee should be a key piece to LSU's running game this season.
1. Who gets the most carries?

Those around the LSU program say it looks like it’s only a matter of time before freshman running back Leonard Fournette shows why he was the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit. But will Fournette’s time come in this game? LSU coach Les Miles has praised veterans Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard throughout August. The seniors have earned their touches, too, so it will be intriguing to observe how LSU distributes the carries between the vets and the young phenom.

2. How will LSU fare in the passing game?

Wisconsin has plenty of holes to fill on defense, but the one area with a veteran presence is its secondary (and the Badgers were 17th nationally against the pass last season, allowing 202.5 yards per game). That would seem like an advantage against an LSU offense that must replace not only its quarterback, but the only receivers who did much of anything last fall, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.

The Tigers have some super-talented youngsters like freshmen Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, but many of the team’s wideouts will be playing their first college games. Keep an eye on whether LSU uses its talented group of tight ends and running backs in the passing game. The tight ends will almost certainly get more looks as pass-catchers in 2014 while the young quarterbacks and receivers settle into their roles.

3. Can either team stop the opponent’s run?

Wisconsin obliterated South Carolina’s run defense for 293 yards in its last outing, a 34-24 loss in the Capital One Bowl. Heisman Trophy contender Melvin Gordon ran 25 times for 143 yards in that game. So it would probably be misguided to assume that LSU’s reconstructed front seven is going to completely shut down a Badgers running game that includes Gordon, Corey Clement and four returning starters on the offensive line.

Likewise, Wisconsin lost its entire starting front seven on defense, so the Badgers will probably have some difficulty against an LSU line that also returns four starters -- particularly since backs like Fournette, Magee and Hilliard will be running behind them.

4. How will Wisconsin look up front on D?

Let’s say this one more time: Wisconsin lost every single starter along the defensive line and at linebacker from one of the nation’s best defenses in 2013. We’re talking about standouts like Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Chris Borland and defensive linemen Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer who helped Wisconsin finish as the nation’s No. 7 defense overall (305.1 ypg) and No. 5 against the run (102.5).

It’s not like the cupboard is bare, though. ESPN Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett listed sophomore linebacker Vince Biegel as a potential playmaker, and the Badgers have others back like linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch and defensive linemen Warren Herring and redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih who should keep defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 defense clicking.

Asking that many new players to function adequately against a veteran LSU front will be asking a lot, though. Wisconsin’s production along the defensive front might be the determining factor in this game.

5. Who FINISHES at quarterback?

Never mind who starts, who’s going to finish this game at quarterback for either team? That might have a much greater impact on this season than who takes the first snaps for either Wisconsin or LSU.

Miles and Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen have tiptoed around questions asking whether the starting quarterback will be Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris at LSU or Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy at Wisconsin. But if this is a close game, their choices on who leads their offenses in the fourth quarter -- and how those players perform in such a situation -- might tell us much more about where these competitions are headed.

Front seven key for LSU, Wisconsin D

August, 26, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- For all the headlines generated by quarterback battles and freshman superstars, one thing seems abundantly clear about Saturday’s showdown between No. 13 LSU and No. 14 Wisconsin. The team whose defensive front seven has the more effective outing will probably be the victor.

Since both teams have defensive fronts with questions to answer, that only makes this point more clear.

[+] EnlargeLamar Louis
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsLamar Louis and LSU's defense will have their hands full with Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon.
 “We have a young front, they have a young front, so both defenses in general, they’re definitely going to be targeted in this game,” LSU tight end Logan Stokes said. “We’re going to do our best to get after that D-line, and they’re going to do it to us, too. So yeah, both defenses are going to be pressured. Defensive line-wise, it’s going to be a measuring stick for both of them.”

Both offenses return key pieces that will allow them to hammer most opponents into submission. It starts with four returning starters from two offensive lines that frequently had their way in 2013.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, opposing defenders didn’t make first contact with a Wisconsin ball carrier last season until he had already gained an average of 3.95 yards per carry -- an average that ranked fourth in the nation behind only Oregon (4.28), Ohio State (4.28) and Auburn (4.23). LSU finished 23 in that category, with Tiger runners averaging 3.03 yards before contact on each rush.

And with the star power either returning or added to the Badger and Tiger backfields, there is no reason to believe this season will be much different for either team. Freshman phenom Leonard Fournette joins the senior duo of Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard to give LSU what should become a phenomenal running game. And it will have to be exceptional to match what Melvin Gordon brings to Wisconsin’s backfield. The Heisman Trophy candidate ran for 1,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and averaged 7.8 yards per carry last fall.

The key, said LSU strongside linebacker Lamar Louis, is to respect Gordon’s explosive game, but not to be in awe of his abilities. After all, the Tigers have faced plenty of top-tier backs in SEC play and even in their own practices.

“He’s a good back, speedy back, makes good cuts, good decisions. I think he’s up for the Heisman Trophy, so he’s a good back,” Louis said. “I’ll say what [defensive coordinator John Chavis] tells us all the time, it’s not someone who we haven’t faced in these past years. It’s not someone who we don’t practice against in Terrence Magee, Leonard Fournette, Jeremy Hill. So we’ll be ready. But yeah, we’re not taking him lightly.”

The Tigers and Badgers have plenty to prove up front on defense, so they can’t afford to take any opponent lightly.

LSU must replace both starting defensive tackles and will break in new starters at two different linebacker positions after an offseason retooling. And Wisconsin’s roster turnover was even more severe, as it loses every starting defensive lineman and linebacker from a 2013 defense that ranked fifth nationally against the run, surrendering 102.5 yards per game.

That means focusing more on Wisconsin’s general defensive tendencies instead of on specific personnel during game preparation.

 “It’s kind of weird not being able to have any film to really watch on guys that’s new to [starting], but the thing that we have to do is make sure that we prepare ourselves for the scheme that those guys run,” LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins said. “I think we’ve done a great job of that, and I think we’re still doing a great job with it. Just pretty much prepare, when you look at the program and the tradition of the team, nothing really changes.”

Wisconsin must also do the same thing when preparing for Chavis’ defense. The philosophy remains the same, but it’s more difficult for the Badgers to know much about Louis in his new spot at strongside linebacker or how Kwon Alexander fits at weakside linebacker after playing strongside in 2013. And it’s even tougher to know what to expect from the host of redshirt defensive tackles -- most notably Frank Herron -- who will make their college debuts on Saturday.

The possibilities probably excite Gordon if he hopes to build Heisman buzz, Louis admitted.

“I think it’s going to be more big for him than us,” Louis said. “If I’m a Heisman Trophy running back, and I play LSU for the opener, it doesn’t get any bigger than that. So we know what’s at stake for us and for him and what he can benefit from, so we’re going to have our head on a swivel, and we’re going to be ready.”

And it works the other way, as well. Wisconsin boasts what should be a great offensive line and one of the nation’s best backs. Shutting down a bunch like that would legitimize all of the preseason happy talk surrounding an LSU defense that is reportedly on the rise.

“We have great players on our defensive line, maybe guys that didn’t play last year, but I think we’re going to get a chance to see them on Saturday,” Stokes said. “Frank Herron and guys like that didn’t play last year and were redshirted and have been doing nothing but making plays since fall camp started. So we’re going to get a chance to see those guys. I’m looking forward to it.”

High five: Five items from Week 3

August, 22, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. – Each week during LSU’s preseason practice, we will review five things we learned that week.

Here are five items from the Tigers’ third week of preseason camp:

1. Both QBs will play: Les Miles has been incredibly tight-lipped about LSU’s quarterback battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. But this week he offered a few nuggets about the Tigers’ plans for the quarterbacks.

For one thing, Miles said on his weekly radio show that he expects both of them to play in the Aug. 30 opener against Wisconsin. A day earlier, Miles said after a team scrimmage that he expects to inform the contenders who will start against the Badgers when the coaching staff nails down the specifics of the game plan next Thursday.

2. Pocic makes a move: Miles hasn’t out and out said Ethan Pocic will start at center against Wisconsin, but it’s evident that Miles believes that he could. Each time the versatile sophomore’s name has come up in news conferences in the last two weeks, Miles has said something along the lines of, “I think Pocic is looking forward to playing a lot of football in the first game.”

Even if he he splits time with senior Elliott Porter, the more Pocic plays this season, the better. The Tigers will lose a ton of experience from this line after the season. Porter, La’el Collins, Fehoko Fanaika and Evan Washington are all seniors and underclassmen Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins will be eligible for the NFL draft after the season.

It would be highly beneficial for what could be an explosive 2015 team if offensive line coach Jeff Grimes can get players such as Pocic and some of the other linemen who will play next season on the field this fall.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hilliard
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsKenny Hilliard will get his share of touches, even with Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette around at LSU.
3. Good camp for Hilliard: Leonard Fournette mania is in full effect – and for good reason, as the freshman tailback is going to be a star – but Kenny Hilliard’s name has consistently been the first one Miles mentioned when discussing the running backs lately. The senior has been something of an afterthought for much of his LSU career, rushing for a total of 1,100 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first three seasons, but he has trimmed down and reportedly has run the ball well in scrimmages.

We probably won’t see a perfectly even time-share in the Tigers’ backfield, but it seems clear that both Hilliard and freshman Darrel Williams will get their touches, too, alongside Fournette and senior Terrence Magee.

4. Highlight of the week: Have you ever wondered whether teams practice the crazy lateral plays that sometimes occur at the end of games when one team is aiming for a last-second, desperation score? They do. In fact, LSU worked on that very scenario in practice this week. I off-handedly talked to a handful of players after Thursday’s practice about memorable events from the week, and one that came up was how quickly an offensive lineman motored with the ball after catching one of those laterals. The lineman whose speed caught teammates’ attention? Mr. Pocic. All 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds of him.

5. Valentine on his way?: Defensive tackle signee Travonte Valentine’s eligibility case might finally wrap up in the next several days. He told The (Baton Rouge) Advocate that he tentatively plans to arrive at LSU on Saturday, pending clearance from the SEC office. He hinted that another SEC program might have presented a case to the league office that delayed his enrollment, even after the NCAA recently cleared him academically. Miles said after Tuesday’s scrimmage that he expected the big defensive lineman – the No. 164 prospect in the ESPN 300 and the No. 11 defensive tackle – to be on campus within the next several days, so perhaps the case will be resolved shortly.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Brandon Harris and Leonard Fournette have been waiting for this opportunity since well before they became roommates at LSU this summer.

With barely a week to go before they make their college debuts against Wisconsin, Fournette and Harris -- ESPN’s No. 1 and 37 overall prospects in the ESPN 300 -- have done nothing to slow the hype about what their futures hold.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLeonard Fournette is one of several standout freshmen expected to get extensive playing time for LSU.
“We’ve talked about this since before we got here, just dreaming it up, texting all the time during the season and hearing about him breaking every record and doing this and that,” Harris said of Fournette, the only player ever to win Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year award twice. “So nothing surprises me, what he does.”

LSU fans’ expectations are sky high over what Fournette might accomplish once the running back takes the field in purple and gold. But they aren’t much lower for the other offensive skill-position standouts who helped him make the Tigers’ 2014 recruiting class one of the best in school history.

You have early enrollee Harris, who is still competing with Anthony Jennings to become the starting quarterback. Harris clearly outplayed Jennings in LSU’s spring game and has flashed impressive running ability as well as a powerful throwing arm.

“At practice, man, his arm is so live,” Fournette marveled. “Everything with him is [hard]. Sometimes it’ll be hard to catch.”

And then there are receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, who are among the candidates to step into departed stars Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham’s roles as the Tigers’ go-to pass-catchers.

Dupre was ESPN’s top receiver prospect, No. 17 overall, and Quinn was the No. 3 receiver and ranked No. 29 overall on the ESPN 300. But asking them to immediately fill in for Landry and Beckham, who combined for 2,345 of LSU’s 3,263 receiving yards last season, is an awfully tall order.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Dupre said. “I’ll leave it up to the coaches to make the proper game calls and just do what I do and make plays and try to be the best that I can be and not worry about what they did in the past. But also definitely try and pick up where they left off at because they were definitely two great receivers. Hopefully I can become as good as they were, but we’ll see what happens.”

In truth, it’s Quinn who appears more ready to take over a big role at wideout. Dupre dealt with an undisclosed injury for a portion of preseason camp -- he participated in his first scrimmage on Tuesday and LSU coach Les Miles said he should be fine now -- but Quinn has already turned heads among coaches and teammates.

He might not look like a prototypical NFL prospect -- LSU’s roster lists him at 6-foot and 194 pounds -- but don’t bother labeling Quinn as a possession receiver. Not to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, anyway.

“He’s not a possession receiver at all. He can run, he’s tough, he can catch,” Cameron said. “I had [Denver Broncos receiver] Wes Welker as a rookie and … he got labeled that possession guy and I watched him run by corners on the outside every day in practice. So he’s a football player, he’s an outside receiver, he’s a blocker, he’s smart. All he needs is time and college experience and I think he’ll be an outstanding player.”

In fact, many an LSU veteran has complimented Quinn in particular for acting like he belonged as soon as he arrived on campus. Then again, football has typically come easily for Quinn, who set a national career record with 6,566 receiving yards at Barbe High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He knows his pinch-me moments are still ahead next week when LSU’s fall semester begins and then he caps the week by facing a ranked opponent in his first college game.

“I think I’m going to go through that first week of college with everybody being on campus, just seeing numbers and numbers of students, and by that first Saturday in Houston, that’s going to be that athletic part where I’m just like, ‘Wow. I’m an LSU Tiger, I play football,’” Quinn predicted. “And it’s go time from there. There’s no looking back.”

That’s the way most LSU freshmen think, and it’s particularly the case among the four freshman stars who are still trying to carve out a niche for their first SEC season. All four players would admit that they have a lot to learn, but they were recruited to contribute immediately and it seems highly likely that all four will do so.

Fournette will absolutely get his share of the carries alongside seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard and fellow signee Darrel Williams. LSU lacks proven receivers other than Travin Dural, so Miles said Dupre, Quinn and freshman D.J. Chark will all play roles in the passing game. And even if Harris doesn’t start against Wisconsin, it would be a major surprise if he fails to see the field.

Not only will the members of that group contribute, Miles said, they will hold their own. That’s the LSU way.

“Young players are going to play,” Miles said. “I say that with the idea that they’re talented and they were recruited to fill that void and we’re going to coach them hard. We’re going to make sure that we try to anticipate mistakes and avoid them. But yeah, I’m not anticipating just terrible growing pains there.”
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU's scrimmage on Tuesday was particularly useful, Tigers coach Les Miles said, because his team plays such a similar style to opening opponent Wisconsin.

Tuesday marked the first time that the 13th-ranked Tigers turned their attention to No. 14 Wisconsin during a scrimmage, so their similar methods made it easier for LSU to mimic what it will face on Aug. 30.

“We were able to accommodate both offense and defense to some extent exactly what Wisconsin would be like,” Miles said. “Our defense has the ability to kind of mimic, if you will, their defense. And our offense certainly is very similar.”

For the most part, LSU’s starting units went against the reserves in a scrimmage that lasted approximately 120 plays. Miles said the team avoided any serious injuries and that he remains impressed with the way John Chavis’ defense is performing.

“I thought that they tackled well and it was very difficult to get balls off,” Miles said. “But again, I think that that defense is pretty special.”

Senior tailbacks Kenny Hilliard -- whom Miles said ran for more than 100 yards -- and Terrence Magee also stood out.

“Kenny had a really good camp and today I’d have to say Kenny was a very special back, and I think [Magee] was a special back today, too,” Miles said. “It was really, really exciting to watch.”

As for the quarterback battle, Miles still didn’t offer any updates on where the battle stands between Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings. He said the quarterbacks tossed three touchdowns and two interceptions, but didn’t specify whether Harris, Jennings or one of the walk-ons made those throws.

“I don’t know that there’s been separation from one from the other, but both provide a very high level of execution today,” Miles said of Harris and Jennings.

He did say that it’s possible that both Harris and Jennings will play against Wisconsin, adding that the coaching staff will probably inform the quarterback contenders of their starting decision at their Thursday meetings next week.

“I think there’s an opportunity to see both quarterbacks play,” Miles said. “... We have a full game week and several practices this week left, so I think I’ll wait before I describe exactly how we’d like to play these guys.”

Among the other updates that Miles provided after the scrimmage:
  • Defensive tackle Quentin Thomas scrimmaged for the first time after he was once feared to be lost for the season with a biceps injury. “He’s got full range of motion, but he just needs a little bit of rehabilitation workout -- basically weight room and football,” Miles said.
  • Freshman receiver Malachi Dupre participated for the first time after missing the first two scrimmages with an undisclosed injury. He “caught a couple balls” on Tuesday. “He’s beyond what was an early injury and he’s really just getting back to health,” Miles said. “I think he’ll maintain this opportunity to play from this point forward.”
  • The Tigers worked on special teams on Tuesday and punter Jamie Keehn “punted the heck out of it.” Trent Domingue and Cameron Gamble “both kicked the ball extremely well” on kickoffs and Colby Delahoussaye also attempted a couple of field goals.
  • A couple of position battles continue on the offensive line. Both Elliott Porter and Ethan Pocic worked at center on Tuesday and “Pocic is looking forward to playing a lot of football in the first game,” Miles said. At right guard, it’s still Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington. Even if Fanaika does in fact lead for the starting spot, Washington appears to be one of the Tigers’ top reserves at multiple positions. “The one thing about it is Washington is going to play in four spots, so it’s still ... both guys will play,” Miles said.
  • Freshman defensive tackle signee Travonte Valentine has still not arrived at LSU yet after a lengthy wait to earn academic eligibility. Valentine tweeted on Monday that he had been cleared to enroll, but Miles said there were still some administrative hurdles that the freshman must clear before he joins the team. “I think he shows up here, or has the opportunity to show up here, in the next two or three days,” Miles said.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Frank Wilson's job could have been awfully difficult this season if the wrong personalities existed within his running backs room at LSU.

Wilson -- the Tigers' recruiting coordinator and running backs coach -- just bolstered his depth chart by adding the nation's top overall prospect, Leonard Fournette, plus Darrel Williams, who rushed for 2,200 yards as a high school senior. If the other scholarship tailbacks on the roster, seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, were jealous types, the dynamic in Wilson's meeting room could easily have turned poisonous.

Instead, it seems to be the exact opposite.

"They're so humble," Wilson said of Magee and Hilliard. "They've been so patient in their careers and they understand what it is to be a young pro and put themselves in position to embark on this senior year and have great success. So to have both of those guys here who are unselfish and lead our group is certainly positive for us."

[+] EnlargeLSU's Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertTerrence Magee is wearing the No. 18 jersey this season -- given to LSU's top leaders each fall -- in part because of his mentorship of young running backs like Leonard Fournette (7).
Even during spring practice, a few months before Fournette and Williams arrived on campus, Magee and Hilliard answered frequent questions about the new signees without balking. Despite the possibility that the Tigers' top back might become a freshman, the veterans immediately embraced the newcomers in an effort to get them ready for the Aug. 30 opener against Wisconsin.

"I've been happy with that," Fournette said. "They're still teaching us, all the young running backs. Without them, we'd kind of be lost. Every day they teach us and we get better."

And they're happy to teach, Hilliard said, just as Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue, James Stampley and J.C. Copeland did for him as a freshman in 2011.

"They were all brothers to us," Hilliard said. "They all took us underneath their wing and carried us."

The freshmen seem to be taking the right approach, as well.

"One thing I love about Darrel -- just like I love about Leonard -- I love his attitude," Magee said. "He might call me 20 times a day to ask me, ‘What do I do on this?' or 'What do I do on that?' He was blowing me up [the night before preseason camp opened]. But you like guys like that because they want to learn. For me, I want to teach him because I want to look back and say I was able to help that guy get to where he is today."

That's exactly the kind of selflessness those at LSU expected from Magee. The coaches handed him the No. 18 jersey for the season -- an honor that goes to one of the Tigers' top leaders each fall. And leadership is what he has shown toward Fournette, who might be the most heavily-hyped recruit in LSU history.

"You know when you meet someone and you know you're kind of alike? That's how it is with me and Terrence," Fournette said. "I enjoy being around him. He's another jokester. He likes to have fun and I think the brotherhood that we're creating, it's fun.

Fournette continued, "Without him I'd be lost. Every day he's taking his time after practice, he's coming by my house teaching me and telling me this is what this call means, this is what that call means. So that means a lot. I'm catching on faster outside of football practice with him helping me."

Magee and Hilliard aren't na´ve about what the 2014 season holds. They know that despite rushing for a combined 936 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as Jeremy Hill's backups, they will probably touch the ball fewer times as the freshmen adapt to SEC football.

All of them envision some sort of backfield timeshare, as that has become a common feature of LSU's running game in recent seasons.

"I think all of us are going to get a lot of carries, a lot of play and contribute to the team," Williams predicted.

And that's just fine with Magee and Hilliard.

Some players view their senior seasons as a final chance to shine -- and show NFL scouts that they're worthy of becoming draft picks. LSU's senior backs certainly hold that mindset, but realize they can think that way without being selfish toward their young teammates.

"When things get hard and people question our team, when it's tough out there when we're practicing, [his predecessors wearing No. 18 were] the first guys to step up and just lead this team, show everybody how it's done. ‘Follow me. Watch me,' " Magee said. "I really admire that about those guys. Sometimes you have young guys and they're looking around and looking for somebody to follow. Each guy that I've seen wear that since I've been here, they got it."

He and Hilliard seem to have willing followers in the two freshman backs.

"I really don't think about [starting] because we're still learning and the veterans are teaching us," Fournette said. "I don't expect to come in and right away in the game and start. So I'm just following Kenny and Terrence."

Fortunately for LSU, and for the future of its running game, Magee and Hilliard seem to be two good players for a freshman to follow.
BATON ROUGE, La. – Danielle Hunter led what LSU coach Les Miles described as a “dominant” effort by the Tigers’ defense in Saturday’s second preseason scrimmage.

The junior defensive end had nine tackles and four tackles for loss during the 120-play scrimmage at Tiger Stadium, with linebackers D.J. Welter and Kendell Beckwith and cornerback Rashard Robinson also drawing praise from Miles.

That said, Miles hesitated to declare a victor following the day’s competition, which featured multiple situational scenarios and special-teams work.

“It was nip and tuck,” Miles said. “It was difficult to move the ball and when we did, we had to earn it. They made us earn it. I thought it was really an even go, to be honest. Very physical. Big lines, defensive lines and offensive lines having at it.”

Following his pattern following previous scrimmages from the spring and earlier this week, Miles didn’t offer any specifics about his quarterbacks’ performances.

He said collectively they completed 20 of about 40 to 45 pass attempts and tossed three touchdowns. Miles wouldn’t say who caught the touchdowns, although he did say that nine different players caught a pass. He did reveal that freshman safety Austin Suits provided the day’s lone turnover, an interception.

The quarterback competition between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris still remains close, Miles said.

“There’s days where one quarterback shines a little bit more than the other quarterback. That’s something that everybody sees,” Miles said. “And then there’s those days where the other quarterback shines and the other guy can’t get out of his shadow. It’s just the way it is and it just takes time to put them in position and in situations enough to have them operate the offense so that you know really what it is you’re going to do with them.”

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLeonard Fournette, who didn't participate on Wednesday, saw action in Saturday's scrimmage.
LSU’s four running backs all averaged about 14 carries, with the leading rusher going for about 60 yards and others finishing with 43 and 41 -- again, with no specifics on the players’ identities.

Freshman Leonard Fournette, who did not face full contact during Wednesday’s first scrimmage while nursing an injury, picked up a loose ball and “went a long way and certainly looked good” on a broken play against the scout team, Miles said. He also singled out senior Kenny Hilliard and freshman Darrel Williams for their power running.

“I think Kenny Hilliard is poised to have a really big year,” Miles said. “And I think Darrel Williams is learning behind him, and I think Darrel Williams is going to be a very good back here.”

Freshman receiver Malachi Dupre did not compete in either scrimmage, but Miles said he expects the nation’s top 2014 wideout prospect to return on Monday -- which could benefit the Tigers with the Aug. 30 opener against Wisconsin less than two weeks away.

“We expect him to be back on Monday, and that’s really good news because there’s going to be some things that he can do that he’s done naturally in his life forever that we’ll want to use in this game,” Miles said.

The Tigers will scrimmage again on Tuesday, this time in preparation for the Wisconsin game instead of the ones versus ones work that dominated Saturday’s scrimmage.

While Christian LaCouture and Frank Herron were the starting defensive tackles on Saturday, junior Quentin Thomas -- once thought to be out for the season with a torn bicep -- might be nearing a return. He didn’t play on Saturday, but might actually be back in time for the Wisconsin scrimmage.

“I don’t know that he played in this one at all, but he was in position to,” Miles said. “He did some individual [drills] and kind of decided rather than to go live into this one, to hold him. So he’ll probably get that opportunity in what will be the middle-of-the-week Wisconsin scrimmage that we’ve got coming up.”

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Brad Edwards discusses LSU coach Les Miles' decision to start freshman QB Brandon Harris on the road vs. Auburn.
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