Mandatory Credit: Photo by Matthew Hinton/AP/Shutterstock (13369718c) Defensive end BJ Ojulari (18) runs during the first half of an NCAA football game against Florida State, in New Orleans LSU football, New Orleans, United States – 04 Sep 2022
LSU (2-1) vs New Mexico (2-1)
Game time: Saturday, Sept. 24, 6:30 PM CT
TV/Streaming: SEC Network+ and ESPN+
Radio: 105.3 FM (New Orleans), 98.1 FM (Baton Rouge) and 103.7 FM (Lafayette)
What’s at stake
There’s more at stake for LSU than New Mexico; a decisive win, and they sustain the momentum they’ve built over the last couple of weeks. A narrow win or worst-case scenario for Tiger fans, a loss, and all that momentum is immediately wiped out, and the questions start to arise.
For New Mexico, it’s a win-win situation. LSU is paying New Mexico 1.6M dollars just to show up and play; if the Lobos somehow pull off a win in Baton Rouge, you’ll be hearing a lot of groaning from Louisiana’s capital city, and New Mexico will be this week’s version of Appalachian State.
When LSU has the ball
The Tigers will be without star receiver Kayshon Boutte on offense. Brian Kelly announced on Thursday that Boutte would have an excused leave from the team to be with his girlfriend as they expect the birth of their first child.
So, who steps up? Look for Jayden Daniels to have another big game this week; he continues to improve from week to week and, with each game, has a better command of the offense. Daniels leads the team in rushing with 225 yards through the first three games, though I’ve been pounding the table for weeks that this is a trend that has to change for the longevity of Daniels’ health.
Last week was supposed to be John Emery JR’s coming out party, it was his first game back from suspension, he looked outstanding all camp long but received limited opportunities last week against Mississippi State. The few opportunities he did have he mustered up a pedestrian 2.9 yards-per-carry.
The Tigers are facing another 3-3-5 defense this week against New Mexico State defensive coordinator Rocky Long, and it will look very similar to the 3-3-5 they saw last week as they advance from the pupil to the teacher, moving on from Mississippi State’s Zach Arnett to his mentor Rocky Long.
It seems like an excellent opportunity to get Daniels even more comfortable with the passing game. In Boutte’s absence, look for Malik Nabers, Jaray Jenkins, and Brian Thomas Jr to lead the way. But not just that, if you listen closely, you can hear me pounding the table yet again for Kelly and his staff to shift the burden of the ground game away from his star quarterback and into the hands of his talented running backs. Will this be the game that Emery takes control?
When New Mexico has the ball
New Mexico offensive coordinator Derek Warehime runs a version of the spread offense that uses a lot of RPO’s or run-pass options. It’s been described as a hybrid option/air-raid offense which has principles taken from both offenses. You should expect to see a lot of pace and tempo on Saturday night when New Mexico has the ball. The Lobo’s are led by senior quarterback Miles Kendrick. This is a team that tries to take what the defense gives them, whether it’s running it, or taking a shot vertically down the field. There’s a lot of option principles mixed in with what Warehime wants to do offensively.
This Tiger defense did a tremendous job last week against Mississippi State, most notably in the second half. With the talent they have, I have a hard time seeing New Mexico’s offense keeping up with LSU.
This is probably a game where you’ll see some guys like BJ Ojulari, Jay Ward, and Ali Gaye make plays early and often and then take a large portion of the second half off to get reps to some of the younger, less experienced guys.
Key Tigers to watch
I’m interested to see how LSU uses Harold Perkins and how much playing time he’ll see this week. This is a true freshman that’s been playing lights out through the first three weeks and has been used in a variety of ways defensively for the Tigers. They’ve lined him up at linebacker, he’s made coverage plays, he’s blitzed from the linebacker spot and gotten to the quarterback, and last week against Mississippi State, they stuck him on the edge opposite of BJ Ojulari and let him rush from the edge. We’re talking about an 18-year-old that’s only been on campus a matter of months and is already playing like he might be the next big thing for LSU’s defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, with Boutte out, I expect Brian Thomas Jr to get more opportunities in the passing game. With his size and athleticism at the receiver position, he could explode onto the scene at any moment.
The bottom line
The only thing LSU is losing this week is that $1.6M check they have to pay to New Mexico. Stranger things have happened, I guess, but this New Mexico offense does not have the firepower to keep up with LSU, and an improving LSU defense should pave the way for another big win in Baton Rouge to put the Tigers at 3-1 heading into their first SEC road trip next week at Auburn.