By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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FLORIDA ST. (9/4)
(Neutral Site in Orlando)
In a non-conference rematch of last season's crazy 1 point loss, #5 LSU will face #8 Florida State at Camping World Stadium, the Tigers traveling to the same location for the second consecutive game (vs Purdue for the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl).
That'll bring a good dose of familiarity for what is essentially a road setting in Orlando, Florida, just as the Superdome was for FSU last September.
Just like the prior face-off, LSU will be without suspended Maason Smith, a former All-SEC Freshman DL who's special athletic abilities afford the Tigers a near impossible matchup migraine; However, other than Maason, our 2023 Tigers appear to be available or fully healthy heading into Sunday, at least at the time of writing (Monday morning).
Facing #8 FSU, Kelly's Tigers will be in the battle of their lives straight from the outset, taking on dual threat QB Jordan Travis.
Travis skewered LSU through the air or on the ground with the RPO game for 291 total yards plus a pair of passing TDs, all while finishing 11/17 on 3rd down as FSU amassed 392 total yards on Matt House's debut defense.
Regardless, House's defense stalled the Seminoles on four key red zone drives, FSU only scoring 3 points from those trips. These stands included a trio of goal line stops when LSU's defense had their backs against the wall....facing the prospects of a growing double digit deficit and an impotent offense continously giving FSU the ball.
That will be where this game is won or lost: in the details, on critical downs, inside the red zone, plays made with only a split second to spare to get one foot in bounds, making that catch before the big hit arrives, or escaping a collapsing pocket before everything goes to hell.
Expect a good game from FSU's Travis against our secondary, but watch our front seven clamp down on their running game; new LSU #18 Mekhi Wingo will make a necessary impact, rated as the SEC's #1 overall run defender on PFF, ranking among the top 5 nationally. Aiding Wingo is the hard charging pursuit and violent play of Harold Perkins, Omar Speights and Major Burns.
One big question:
Perhaps Bradyn Swinson's relentless harassment off the edge could pay dividends in landing hits on Travis, or is Week 1 the time for elite level athlete DE Quency Wiggins to shine as a Tiger?
Could DL Coach John Jancek trust freshmen Dashawn Womack or Jaxon Howard with an opportunity to shut down Jordan Travis in their first collegiate appearance?? Both possess the athleticism and may play snaps on 3rd down.
Containing Travis' RPO deception will be a colossal key in keeping FSU's offense on the sidelines, controlling time of possession and tempo, as well as giving Cooks / Steeples' secondary time to adjust & figure out assignments.
Watch for FSU's receivers, including transfer arrival stud and Louisiana native Keon Coleman, to run constant scissor routes against our corners and nickels, exposing any missed communication, blown assignment or lackadaisical coverage by DBU 2023.
Receivers streaking downfield on scissor routes (running clueless DBs into each other) or pass-catching tight ends have repeatedly become a nightmare for our DBs to defend during our 3 straight opening defeats (Miss St 2020, UCLA 2021, FSU 2022).
FSU will regret not taking more down field shots against Steeples' corners and Cooks' safeties last season, beating our 2022 patchwork secondary over the top or over the middle on more than a few occasions.
Intriguingly, FSU were still ineffective inside the red zone, with key pass breakups from Mekhi Garner and 2023 starter Sage Ryan preventing touchdowns at critical points during last fall's ugly but dramatic contest.
Watch for Travis and co to take more shots and test our new & inexperienced secondary lineup early and often if it works...and this time, don't expect their offense to get conservative if our secondary can't stop the passing game.
They'll run it until we stop it.
LSU's defensive keys?
-Shut Travis down in the red zone and contain his RPO dual threat abilities.
-Expose FSU's lack of depth at the skill positions by wearing down ball carriers thanks to punishing hits or all other manner of savagery.
-Tackle. Tackle. Tackle. Minimize explosive plays after the catch or after first contact. There were many missed sack opportunities vs Travis last season, mostly due to overly aggressive angles and a failure to wrap up. We must finish in the backfield when we've got 'em dead to rights.
Although FSU ended up winning 24-23, they lost their heads holding a double digit lead.
Mike Norvell's squad entered the game as underdogs and left puffing their chests after a great escape.....had LSU made it to overtime, Jayden Daniels would've continued to gas their depleted defense.
Offensively, LSU must expose Florida State's inability to cover over the middle in that soft center, attacking their secondary and LBs with crossing routes and mesh patterns early could pay massive dividends in wearing down their defenders.
Open up proceedings by throwing the ball, showing a large dose of quick striking slants and inside routes, then, once you've forced FSU to chase after the catch for multiple plays, begin gouging the Seminole front with the run game, stretching their defense every which way....tossing in some outlet passes to tight ends or backs, while rotating in a flurry of different profile RBs for FSU to deal with.
-Helping Will Campbell or Emery Jones with FSU DE Jared Verse, usually by deploying that extra in-line tight end for certain packages, however the battle between Campbell / Jones vs Verse will be something special to behold for a second straight year. Future 1st round picks going at it on the biggest stage.
-Pushing the ball downfield early and often, and calling plays that allow our receivers to make magic happen after the catch.
-Dictate the line of scrimmage, especially inside the red zone where Denbrock and BK love to punch the ball into the end zone on the ground.
Because of the strength, continuity & chemistry from both offenses, alongside the lack of in-season rhythm as far as tackling or defensive assignments, I expect an old fashioned shootout in week 1 between these storied top 10 programs.
-Despite coverage miscues and a spirited display from opposition QB Jordan Travis, a pair of timely turnovers from House's defense (Ryan INT, Jones FF / Wingo FR) will jettison Jayden Daniels and Co to a statement week 1 victory.
-Proving to be too much offensively for FSU to deal with, thanks to those two turnovers, Kelly's Tigers capitalize on their extra possessions and score 40+ points on the Seminoles, led by massive contributions from Malik Nabers, Aaron Anderson (1 rushing TD on reverse, 77 yards receiving, 64 return yards), and QB Daniels rushing for 55 yards alongside 310 through the air.
Rounding out the scoring, expect veteran starter Noah Cain and freshman wunderkind Kaleb Jackson to punch in rushing scores inside the red zone.
Defensively, as we mentioned Saivion Jones, Sage Ryan and Mekhi Wingo create turnovers, but Zy Alexander also balls out: 4 tackles, 2 PBUs and 0.5 tackle for loss; Harold Perkins sacks Travis and bats down a pass during an otherwise quieter outing as we also adjust to his new role.
143 Yards, 8 Catches, 2 TDs
1.5 Sacks, 3 TFLs, 5 Tackles, 1 FF
By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
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