Battered and bruised, but with egos now in check, the LSU Tigers and Vanderbilt Commodores return to the college football gridiron on Saturday looking to get back on track early in the 2020 season. Both squads came away from their season openers with positives, but the stinging losses are what motivate the best to victory the following week.
The friendly confines of Death Valley were not so friendly in Week 1 of the SEC-only schedule. Mississippi State came to town as 16.5-point underdogs and walked away with a 44-34 victory. Along the way, senior transfer (Stanford) quarterback K.J. Costello threw for an SEC single-game-record 623 yards with five touchdowns, earning SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors, among many other national accolades. On a bright note, statistically speaking, LSU quarterback Myles Brennan had a great first collegiate start hitting 27 of 46 passes for 345 yards with three touchdowns.
For the loyalist in Nashville, considering the adversity faced along the offensive line, Vanderbilt did everything right against No. 10 Texas A&M on the road except seal the victory. Yet, moral victories do not erase the 17-12 loss, but the Commodores did hang with one of the best in the nation behind a very tough defense that can help win games this season.
No. 20 LSU at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: LSU -21
When LSU Has the Ball
LSU showed the pains of having only one returning starter back on the offensive line against the Bulldogs, especially in the ground game. The Tigers kept trying to force their will on the Bulldogs' defense while hoping the linemen would gel, but the end result was net 80 rushing yards, killed by 37 yards lost in sacks on Myles Brennan. Additionally, the top three tailbacks, Chris Curry (47 yards), Tyrion Davis-Price (43), and John Emery Jr. (27), combined for just 117 yards on the ground.
If Brennan can keep a pace of 300-plus yards per game passing with two to three touchdowns, the Tigers will win games. What has to change is Brennan's decision-making and his tendency to hold onto the ball too long. Brennan threw two interceptions while the line took responsibility for seven sacks. Terrace Marshall Jr. was expected to be the top dog in LSU's receiving corps this season after Ja'Marr Chase opted out, and he lived up to the coronation, snagging eight passes for 122 yards with two scores. Another playmaker showed promise in overlooked sophomore Jaray Jenkins (5 rec., 85 yds.). True freshman tight end Arik Gilbert lived up to his five-star billing with four receptions for 37 yards and a score. Vanderbilt sacked Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond once, but he is a grizzled senior and can make things happen with his legs. Against Mississippi State, LSU's offensive line was slow on their kick-steps in pass protection and got beat on the edge on multiple occasions.
Without much help from their offense, Vanderbilt's defense was able to stay with the Aggies' high-powered offense limiting them to 372 yards. The area where the Commodores struggled was against the run. Isaiah Spiller had the breakout performance needed to start the season, carrying the rock eight times for 117 yards pacing the team's 183 total on the ground. Can LSU's line show more physicality in the trenches moving Vanderbilt's veteran group off the line?
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
Commodores quarterback Ken Seals may not have had the SEC debut of his counterpart, but was impressive in his own right throwing for 150 yards and a touchdown on 20 of 29 passing. Where the true freshman had troubles was taking two sacks while throwing two bad interceptions. Seals has a go-to target in Amir Abdur-Rahman (5 rec., 72 yds., TD) and did a great job of distributing the ball with nine different players recording a catch.
Due to players opting out, Vanderbilt's offensive line is not at full strength. This showed in the run game with 38 carries netting 105 yards. Junior tailback Ja'Veon Marlow found a few creases and finished with 65 yards on 16 carries. Mississippi State did not have to run the ball against LSU, as the Tigers held All-SEC back Kylin Hill to 34 yards on seven carries, and the entire team to a net of nine yards.
No one expected LSU to be the same team from a year ago, but no one also expected the Tigers to come out as flat as they did at home in Week 1 and having a hand in Costello's record-setting performance. With just three of their 22 starters returning and end Glen Logan and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., perhaps the best defensive back in the nation, on the sideline, the Bulldogs got LSU at the right time. Stingley is expected to return and coordinator Bo Pelini will make adjustments, but can this defense find its footing in the new 4-3 scheme this week?
Did Mississippi State deliver the needed wake-up call for the Tigers that this squad will not be handed a win just by walking onto the field? The next two games, Vanderbilt and Missouri, give LSU a chance to figure things out before going on the road to another possible embarrassment against Florida in The Swamp.
Vanderbilt's defense is better than advertised with 10 starters returning. And after a strong showing against Kellen Mond and Texas A&M could the Commodores' D put the team in position to win again? Or will the Tigers right the ship by getting a more balanced effort from both sides of the ball?
Prediction: LSU 21, Vanderbilt 18
Podcast: CFB Week 5 Preview + Predictions
— 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 and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site,www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.