LSU opens the 2015 season with a proverbial warm-up game against McNeese State, but these Cowboys might have a little something to offer the Tigers on Saturday.
The Cowboys are not the typical FCS “money game” team lining up against LSU — at least not this season. The Cowboys are coming off a 6-6 record in 2014 and are ranked No. 25 in the FCS polls, making this game a little more intriguing than normal.
Trouble is McNeese State does not have history on their side. LSU has the nation’s longest regular-season, non-conference winning streak at 49 games and is 10-0 against teams coming up from the FCS ranks. If this matchup can be hyped to be made more interesting, the Cowboys were 20 seconds away from forcing overtime against Nebraska last year before Ameer Abdullah pulled off a 58-yard touchdown scamper to save the day.
McNeese State at LSU
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Network: SEC Network
Three Things to Watch For
1. LSU's defense vs. McNeese State’s rushing attack
The Tigers are good up the middle in their 4-3 defense with tackles Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux and linebackers Lamar Louis and Kendell Beckwith. The edges are the question marks. Can Tashawn Bower, Lewis Neal, Arden Key and company contain the outside, pushing everything back into the middle for the linebackers to feast upon?
The Cowboys will deploy four capable running backs and dual-treat quarterback Daniel Sams. Sams will not scare a very talented LSU secondary after passing for 624 yards with seven touchdowns against four picks a year ago, but his team-high 711 yards will keep the Tigers guessing where the ball might be heading.
2. LSU’s passing attack vs. McNeese State’s secondary
The back seven for the Cowboys defense could be filled with any team in the nation in this game but the point will need to be made about LSU’s offense early and quickly: can sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris get the ball to his receivers?
Harris won the starting job over last year’s leader Anthony Jennings in fall camp, or really just a couple of days ago. Harris has more upside than Jennings but was not ready to make plays during SEC action against elite competition. If some early season momentum and confidence can be built against the Cowboys before traveling to Starkville in Week 2, head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will take it.
3. LSU’s rushing attack vs. McNeese State’s defense
The bread and butter of this LSU team will be the ground game. Leonard Fournette is back after setting a LSU freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards with 10 touchdowns. A one-two punch might be in the works with true freshman Derrius Guice. Guice was a 5-star recruit out of Baton Rouge and has showed his ranking was justified in fall camp.
Whoever lines up against LSU this season will put eight defenders in the box attempting to slow down a talented line anchored by Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic until Harris emerges as a legitimate threat in the pocket.
The Cowboys are an excellent opener for LSU with Mississippi State in Week 2. Dak Prescott is far more talented a passer than Daniel Sams but both are running quarterbacks that will test the Tigers defense. On offense LSU’s line should overwhelm the Cowboys' front seven, making this a runaway win late in the third quarter or early in the fourth — if LSU’s defense can stop McNeese State's running attack.
LSU is thin along the defensive front. Getting out of this game, and every game, without any key injuries is important for new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.
Prediction: LSU 41, McNeese State 7
— 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.