LSU must win out to keep its hopes of becoming bowl eligible alive, and that starts on Saturday at home against another 4-6 team: in-state foe ULM.
Last Saturday, Louisiana-Monroe reached the end zone in the final minute of the first half at home versus Arkansas State. Trailing 10-7, ULM emerged from the locker room and scored on three consecutive scoring drives. However, the Red Wolves outscored the Warhawks 10-0 in the fourth quarter to claim the victory.
LSU began a three-game homestand last week with a loss to Arkansas. Leading 10-3 early in the second quarter, the Fightin' Tigers drove inside Arkansas' 20-yard line. There, they lost the momentum when Tyrion Davis-Price fumbled a direct snap and Greg Brooks Jr. recovered it for the Razorbacks. That was the first of three turnovers that contributed significantly to the three-point defeat in overtime.
LSU leads this series that started in 2003, 3-0. All of those games were played in Tiger Stadium. ULM has only scored once in those matchups, a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the first meeting.
ULM at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: LSU -29
When ULM Has the Ball
ULM must protect the ball in order to have a shot at an upset. The Warhawks lost both games in which they trailed in the turnover margin. When the Warhawks have turned over the ball at least twice this season, they have lost all three times. In four games, they have taken the ball away more times than they gave it away, resulting in three wins.
The Warhawks need to find a way to run the ball against LSU's improved defense. In the two games that they have been routed, they struggled to gain anything on the ground. At Kentucky, ULM had 42 rushing attempts for 18 yards in a 45-10 loss. At Coastal Carolina, the Warhawks gained 72 yards on 31 attempts in a defeat, 59-6.
LSU's rush defense has looked inconsistent over the course of the year. Nevertheless, when those players have curtailed an opponent's running attack, it has contributed greatly to the team's success. When they have held opponents under 140 yards on the ground, the Tigers are 4-1. They have limited five opponents to under four yards per carry, resulting in three wins.
When LSU Has the Ball
Sophomore Max Johnson has started every game of this season. He had played the majority of every game until last Saturday. After LSU's first two possessions ended with a punt, Garrett Nussmeier replaced him for the remainder of the game. Before going to the bench, Johnson had completed three of six passes for 21 yards. In the prior nine contests, he had connected on 178 of 296 passing attempts for 2,168 yards, 22 touchdowns, and six interceptions.
Nussmeier saw his first significant action of this season, completing 18 of 31 passing attempts for 179 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Prior to last Saturday, the freshman had only played in three other games when the outcome was no longer in doubt: at home versus FCS McNeese and Central Michigan plus at Ole Miss. In those three contests, he connected on 11 of his 26 passing attempts for 150 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.
The obvious question for LSU is who will play quarterback. It seems like Johnson is the safer choice. His interception rate is much lower, 1.55 percent to the freshman's 3.51. Additionally, he has 12 starts while Nussmeier has none. Finally, Nussmeier could still take a redshirt year if does not play again this season.
These teams have one common opponent, both having lost in lopsided fashion at Kentucky. The Wildcats scored touchdowns at the end of their first two possessions of the game against LSU. They started the second half with three straight trips to the end zone. Despite turning over the ball twice in the first half against ULM, Kentucky scored touchdowns during three drives in a row. In total, the Wildcats scored two touchdowns in every quarter except for the third.
Despite these teams each entering with a 4-6 record and skidding downhill on three-game losing streaks, both have something left to accomplish. The winner still has a shot at avoiding a losing season and going to a bowl game.
Despite Ed Orgeron's lame-duck status, it does not appear that his team has given up on the season. After devising some new schemes during the bye week, LSU's defense has displayed more aggressiveness and curtailed points allowed. If one of the quarterbacks can spark the offense, the Tigers should win this matchup comfortably.
Prediction: LSU 33, ULM 13
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— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.