Two weeks ago, Kentucky was hanging onto a lead at South Carolina, looking for their second conference win of the season. Now, fast forward three weeks later, and the Wildcats are taking on the visiting LSU Tigers for an opportunity to be 4-0 in the SEC. They knocked off Florida last weekend and are now tied for first in the SEC East.
Meanwhile, LSU will travel to Lexington after a home loss to Auburn and look to establish a rushing attack that was non-existent in the 4th quarter. The chatter around Baton Rouge has not been favorable for Ed Orgeron. Some folks are even calling for his job. This isn’t a problem he can run from. Orgeron will have to pull off several upset wins to keep his job, and it starts this weekend at Kentucky.
One area where the Wildcats can make the Tigers uncomfortable is on first down, given how good Kentucky is at staying ahead of the chains. This was a concern for Coach Orgeron, who discussed it on Thursday night.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron walks the sideline during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Auburn on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
“Very critical. They run the ball so well. They’re so efficient. I said this before, to be -9 in the turnover ratio and to be 5-0 is kind of unheard of. I don’t know last time I played a team that was -9 and that’s such a good team. They’re playing good football. They play good football on almost every down. They’re very well coached. They’re very well balanced. They have a good scheme. The quarterback knows where to go with the ball. I think their offensive line is one of the better zone blocking offensive lines that we’ve seen. Obviously, their back knows how to run the zone play.”
The Wildcats have a chance to get LSU into trouble on the boundaries, especially with Wan’Dale Robinson. Using the screen game and getting Robinson the football should be a top priority on Saturday night. His explosiveness down the field and ability to make players miss should be something Kentucky QB Will Levis uses to his advantage.
Ed Orgeron discussed how the Wildcats are dangerous with these type of plays.
LSU quarterback Max Johnson (14) is tackled by McNeese State defensive lineman C.J. Semien (96) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
“Yea, they do it so well. They give No. 1 the ball, he’s so frickin’ fast, man. He gets on you quick. We have to retrace. Their linemen do a great job of getting down the field. We’re going to have to retrace, especially on the middle screens, what we call a tunnel screen when they bring the ball back inside. The linemen are going to have to show up. It’s going to be a big key in the ball game, especially early because they made those big plays against Florida. Little tight bunch set and they threw the tunnel screen to No. 1 and it went for 50-60 yards, those plays can be gamebreakers.”
This is also the time for Will Levis to throw the ball more and make the Tigers adjust to the multiple formations Kentucky likes to run. For the Wildcats to have success in space, they’ll also need Chris Rodriguez to find the open gaps in the Tigers’ defense. We’ve seen teams like UCLA and Auburn find ways to stagger the LSU front seven, so I’d imagine Kentucky will try the same.
This was a concern for Ed Orgeron, as he discussed the difficulty the defensive line has had in getting into position to stop the run game.
LSU Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron looks on against Central Michigan Chippewas during the first half at Tiger Stadium. (Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports)
“Our defensive line getting penetration, our fits got to be exact, we’ve got to be able to use the right people in our fits. We’ve got to know if we’re spilling or we’re squeezing and we’ve got to attack those blocks. We can’t sit at the line of scrimmage and let them win.”
Any way you slice it, this Kentucky offense has to find a way to get production out of the passing attack, as LSU won’t allow them to just run the football. The Wildcats need to pick on the Tigers’ secondary, especially since they are missing a few key players.
Kentucky (a 2.5-point favorite on FanDuel) should win this game, which is something I didn’t think I’d be saying with such conviction before the season. On the other hand, LSU is feeling the heat with from boosters and fans when it comes to Ed Orgeron. So, if Coach O wants to keep the vultures away for at least another week, then he needs his team to pull out the win in Lexington.
I look forward to seeing which way these programs are headed after the final whistle is blown on Saturday night. In all likelihood, Kentucky will be heading to Georgia, playing for first place in the Eastern division.