LSU football: Predicting how October will go
LSU comes out of its first open date of the season this week.
The No. 4 Tigers are 4-0, but other than their 45-38 victory at then-No. 4 Texas in Week 2 they have been untested. Their other victories came against Georgia Southern, Northwestern State and Vanderbilt.
They’ll be heavily favored again when they finish their non-conference schedule by hosting Utah State on Saturday, but overall October will be a much more challenging month than September was.
Before we get to the schedule there are personal issues to be addressed. The most pressing is the absence of wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., who underwent foot surgery after being injured against Vanderbilt on Sept. 21. He figures to miss all of October, at least.
In his absence, Stephen Sullivan moves back to wide receiver after having been converted to tight end in the offseason. Sullivan, like Marshall, is a big target and can be productive in the slot, though he probably won’t be as productive as Marshall (20 catches, 304 yards, 6 TDS in 2019).
Given how efficient and explosive the passing game has been with Joe Burrow throwing to Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase, the absence of Marshall is something the Tigers can mitigate. However, the tight ends hadn’t been significant contributors even with Sullivan.
The Tigers defense has endured a series of injuries that have mostly impacted the front seven – Rashard Lawrence, Glen Logan, K’Lavon Chaisson and Michael Divinity Jr. They are all at various stages of recuperation and LSU shouldn’t need any of them to handle Utah State, but the Tigers will need them in short order after that.
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One other personnel note is the long-awaited return of guard Ed Ingram from suspension. The offensive line has been OK but not great and left guard has been a bit of a concern with Adrian Magee backed up by Chasen Hones. If Ingram gets up to speed and can upgrade the position, it could be significant as LSU tries to get its running game on track.
There’s still time for the Tigers to put all the pieces together ahead of the heart of the SEC schedule, but October will be a crucial month.
Here’s what to look for in the upcoming month:
Oct. 5 – Utah State
The Aggies are a bit more of a challenge than Georgia Southern or Northwestern State – and perhaps even Vanderbilt. But like the others they are more of a sparring partner than a serious threat to the Tigers won-lost record.
But this is the last bit of sparring the Tigers can do. Look for them to hold out or limit the snaps for injured/beat up players, focus on getting the running game going, demonstrate defensive improvement, ease Sullivan and Ingram back into the swing of things and get Burrow and other starters out of there before the fourth quarter of what should be a fairly easy victory.
Oct. 12 – Florida
The Gators defense will provide the biggest test to date for LSU’s record-setting passing game. The points and yards won’t come nearly as easily as they have thus far and Burrow, passing game coordinator Joe Brady and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger will have their patience tested for the first time.
As for Florida’s offense, it will be a month removed from the injury to Feleipe Franks and the Gators should stay close to LSU’s pace if the Tigers defense plays as it has thus far.
It will be lower scoring, it will be tight, but the LSU defense will start to look a little more like the LSU defense and the Tigers will escape.
Oct. 19 – at Mississippi State
The Bulldogs, like the Gators, have had to deal with a quarterback injury and they can’t win this game if it turns into a shootout.
LSU’s last trip to Starkville was a drubbing (a 37-7 Bulldogs win), but this one will turn out much better as the Tigers improve to 7-0.
Oct. 26 – Auburn
Auburn remembers last season when Cole Tracy kicked a winning field goal as time expired to give the Tigers a big win in Jordan-Hare.
Auburn already has a big SEC road victory in its triumph at Texas A&M last week and by late October, Bo Nix’s maturation at quarterback will be more advanced.
But it will be the third game of three straight SEC road games (with an open date thrown in) and it will be a bit more than Auburn can handle.
LSU will be 8-0, 4-0 in the SEC and ranked No. 4 if not higher as it heads into its second open date.
Then comes Halloween followed by the annual early November showdown with you know who.