Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tigers and Ragin' Cajuns: It's a Trap! But for Who?

The School Formerly Known as Southwestern is bringing a fired up, confident football team into Tiger Stadium this weekend.  And they should be fired up and confident - they are 2-0 for the first time in awhile, and they are fresh from an upset of the Big-12's Kentucky/South Carolina/Mississippi State clone, Kansas State.  That's no small feat.  You can bet Kansas State scheduled that game as a tune up for their Big 12 schedule and got handed more than they bargained for.

LSU, on the other hand, is used to being 2-0 at this point in the season, used to being ranked in or near the Top-10, used to working out the kinks against rent-a-win teams before the meat of the SEC schedule.  With Mississippi State next week, Georgia the week after, and The Leviathan featuring Tim Tebow after that, LSU might be tempted to look past the Ragin' Cajuns.

In that configuration, this weekend could be called a Trap Game - an easily overlooked but deceptively solid opponent sneaking up on a team focused elsewhere. 

Well, I think this is a Trap Game.  But not for LSU.  It's a trap for the Ragin' Cajuns.

The Tigers are #9 in the country and have victories over respectable opponents in the bag.  But this is not a team that is at all comfortable with how they're playing.  From the coaches to the players, there is a very evident focus on regaining dominance on offense and defense. 

There are many examples of this attitude.  For instance, after being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Vandy, defensive end Rahim Alem quipped, "I guess it was a down week."  He didn't like his peformance, thought he was not at his best, and is looking to prove himself as a complete defensive end.  Another example is Les Miles' post-game comments to his team.  He clearly called out the offense for putting the defense on the field too much and not scoring enough points. 

Although neither Washington or Vanderbilt are slouch opponents, this LSU football team has not yet played a game that approaches their potential.  The offense is scoring, but not consistently.  Jordan Jefferson is efficient, but he hasn't established the "vertical" game - the deep ball threat.  Keiland Williams and Charles Scott are solid, but neither has a 100 yard game yet.  The offensive line has not gelled and is probably getting tired of being called "a concern".  You know Ciron Black is not enjoying his unit being the center of negative media attention. 

The defense played better against Vandy, but they were far less than dominant by any stretch.  And while it is true that spread offenses have made it almost impossible to completely stymie offensive production, the defense expects more of itself than what it has shown so far.  Chad Jones hasn't been the dominating safety many hope he will be.  The QB pressure hasn't been as consistent yet.  And teams have been able to run the ball on the vaunted LSU defensive line. 

And then there's the Ragin' Cajuns.  After beating Kansas State last week, they're not sneaking up on anyone.  That jig is up.

Overall, some pundits have opined that this LSU team is "a joke" at #9 in the AP rankings.  And certainly almost everyone in the media, including local Louisiana types, expect Alabama and Ole Miss to beat LSU and be the only true contenders for the SEC West title.

All of that has created an underlying lack of respect both nationally and locally for LSU's lofty national ranking.  That perception is not lost on the coaches or the team.  And they won't be just accepting it during practice this week.

No, this is not a trap game for LSU.  The Tigers will be extremely focused on proving to themselves and their fans that this 2009 team deserves to be in the Top 10 and has a legitimate shot at playing Florida for the SEC championship.

This may in fact be a Trap Game for the Ragin' Cajuns.  Certainly, the boys from Lafayette will show up prepared and ready to play.  I don't think for a second that they'll be looking past LSU or over-confident.  But this solid Ragin' Cajun football team may be walking into a meat grinder.  The weather should be good.  It's a night game in Tiger Stadium.  And the 2009 LSU Tigers are healthy, dissatisfied, and have something to prove.

More specifics of what I expect to see in the next entry, but if I were a betting man I'd give the 26 points in this one.  Normally, LSU doesn't seem to cover.  But I think this game in some ways puts the rest of the season in perspective for LSU, and I think the team and coaches will be looking to make a statement.

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