A game written off in the preseason as a tune-up contest has now become a game of big southern regional gridiron interest with more riding on the outcome than just a victory. When Jacksonville State (1-0) takes the field against LSU (0-1) on Saturday in Death Valley, a season and legacy are on the line for the Tigers and head coach Les Miles.
Jacksonville State rolled through its first game of the season beating visiting North Alabama 31-12. The No. 5-ranked FCS squad jumped out to an early 14-0 lead keeping the pressure on the Lions until the end of the game. The Gamecocks notched the win behind do-everything quarterback Eli Jenkins. Jenkins passed for 230 yards and rushed for a team-high 101 yards with a score.
LSU on the other hand, went to Lambeau Field as the No. 5-ranked team in the land and left Wisconsin with a 16-14 loss on their schedule thanks to the Badgers. Finger pointing for the loss began and ended with quarterback Brandon Harris along with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. The junior quarterback looked more like a true freshman, connecting on just 12 of 21 pass attempts for 131 yards with one touchdown and two costly interceptions.
Miles was in a dogfight for his job at the end of last season but managed to hold on with the promise that his offense would change. Well, nothing changed, and neither has the mindset of the fans, boosters, and alumni in regards to Miles being the head coach for the Tigers next season.
The Gamecocks head to Baton Rouge with nothing to lose. The Tigers, now ranked No. 21, return home with everything to lose, especially if they cannot post a convincing win against Jacksonville State. If LSU cannot beat JSU, a pink slip might be waiting for Miles in the locker room after the game.
Jacksonville State at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Jacksonville State Handle the Initial Onslaught?
Conventional wisdom dictates that LSU will come out of the tunnel fired up looking for a pound or two of chicken meat to eat after the tough loss to the Badgers. Can JSU keep the score close in the first quarter or will the Gamecocks let the game slip away? If they can handle a fired-up Tigers team early, this game could settle into a pace allowing JSU to compete.
2. Will Brandon Harris Look Like an FBS QB against a Ranked FCS School or get Pulled Early?
The Gamecocks might have one thing going for them if they can capitalize on what LSU will more than likely do on Saturday. Miles has to show that Harris can sling the ball around the yard. Against Wisconsin, Harris threw three times in the first half. Don’t be surprised if he throws three times on the opening drive, if possible. JSU has to stop running back Leonard Fournette but if the defense can jump a route or force Harris into a bad throw, a pick-six could change the early momentum of the game.
On the flip side, it is now or never again for Harris in the LSU huddle. Backup quarterback Danny Etling has a chance to finish the game in the pocket against JSU and for the rest of the season if Harris cannot connect with his talented receivers.
3. Les Miles vs. the LSU Fans
The LSU “boo birds” are out on social media targeting Miles, Harris and Cameron, but how will the fans respond when the hated take the field? LSU football is more beloved in Louisiana than gumbo, and right now Miles is ruining the Sportsman’s Paradise favorite dish. Miles needs to come out swinging to get the fans back on his side. If the Tigers have a quick three-and-out with Harris missing an open receiver, look for Death Valley to turn on Miles and company.
Winning is a cure-all in sports and Miles needs to give his fans their medicine.
LSU’s defense played well against Wisconsin, deserving of a victory. The Tigers' offensive line looked sluggish against a very young Badgers defense. Leonard Fournette had an average game, for him, with 138 yards rushing on 23 carries but he was held out of the end zone. The defense and run game should be able to carry the load against Jacksonville State, regardless of who is under center. All things need to be tightened up.
If Jacksonville State can get running backs Roc Thomas (transfer from Auburn) and Josh Clemons (Kentucky) going, two former SEC players, or freshman Tyus Flakes with quarterback El Jenkins moving the chains with his feet and arm, LSU could be in trouble. Tough to imagine JSU giving LSU a go, but...
This is where the rubber meets the road for Les Miles. Odd that Jacksonville State could be the pivot point for such an accomplished head coach, but it is Miles’ own doing. A big win will quiet the fans with five possible wins coming up on the schedule.
Prediction: LSU 28, Jacksonville State 17
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.