Yes, “The pick. … ”’ is back, by mildly-popular demand.
Not that on paper, there’s much drama in calling this one.
LSU is a 24-point favorite (give or take a point depending on which line you peruse), and has been tabbed as such for all kinds of fairly obvious reasons that have been well-dissected all week.
LSU’s program is simply on a different plane right now than UW’s appears to be. I say “appears” because college football is all about surprises, and maybe UW can shock everyone Saturday night. And in this case, it would literally be just about everyone other than those wearing Husky purple on Saturday.
I haven’t seen anyone nationally pick the Huskies, unlike say last year’s trip to Nebraska, when there were a few who called for a UW win.
But as Husky coach Steve Sarkisian said this week, it’s sort of up to UW at this point to change the perception that it can’t win a game like this by, well, winning a game like this.
And this is one game that figures to be determined by the simplest (not to be confused with easiest) of football fundamentals — blocking and tackling.
As Sarkisian also said this week, LSU doesn’t really try to surprise opponents. The Tigers just line up and try to run over teams on offense, and present an impenetrable front on defense.
UW linebackers coach Peter Sirmon — who faced LSU the last two years while at Tennessee — made that clear this week when asked whether he thought LSU might try to throw more now that Zach Mettenberger is in place at quarterback.
“They can run the ball pretty well,” Sirmon said. “We’ll see what they do.”
Translation? The Huskies expect LSU to run, run and run again until they stop it. Don’t be surprised to see the Huskies load up the box and hope they can play the pass well enough with man coverage and try to dare Mettenberger to make plays.
Also don’t be surprised to see UW try to do that with more of their defensive “jumbo package” featuring the likes of 300-pound-plus linemen Lawrence Lagafuiana and Semisi Tokolahi (who would likely be called on more anyway as added depth as UW tries to deal with the elements at LSU). That might also mean more time for UW’s stoutest linebacker, Thomas Tutogi. And this could be a good game for Shaq Thompson to really make an impact (not saying he didn’t in the first one, just that his role at the line could expand against LSU).
On the other side of the ball, LSU is annually one of the toughest teams in the country to run on and this year seems no exception as the Tigers have what appears to be another dominant line.
The back end is younger and more unproven, and the Huskies will surely try to test that with Keith Price. The key there is for Price to get enough time to find open receivers. UW will undoubtedly try lots of quick-hitting plays. But at some point Price will also simply need some time to make a few plays. The best way to open up the pass is with the run and we all know how that appeared to become even more of a challenge for UW this week with the loss of Jesse Callier.
This will also obviously be a huge test for UW’s offensive line, which underwent some shuffling this week with the loss of Ben Riva. Erik Kohler likely starts at right tackle with James Atoe at right guard. But in part to deal with the elements, don’t be surprised to see more shuffling up front as the game wears on, as well.
How important the running game usually is for LSU is evidenced in one stat among many showing the Tigers’ dominance of late — LSU is 43-0 under Les Miles when rushing for 100 yards or more and holding opponents to less than 100.
It’s a style that works well at Tiger Stadium (pictured right), which will again be packed with 92,000-plus (making it the largest opposing crowd to see a UW game since Ohio State in 2003) and in the heat and humidity of Baton Rouge.
LSU likes to roll out a lot of linemen and a lot of running backs and simply wear down opponents, who often keep it close for a while before succumbing as yet another victim at Tiger Stadium, once called by ESPN.com “The Scariest Place to Play in America” — a statement presently prominently and proudly in the school’s official game notes each week.
The Huskies have pulled some notable upsets under Sarkisian, but as far as I can tell, they have never in their history won a game when made an underdog of more than 20 points.
UW was a 17-point underdog when it lost to LSU 31-23 in 2009, the first of the games under Sarkisian when the Huskies at least beat the point spread, if not the odds entirely. That UW is now more of an underdog in a rematch four years later might cause some to question how much progress Washington has made under Sarkisian. That’s probably a question better addressed once we see what actually happens Saturday.
As for the view here of what will happen? Well, the friendly woman from the UW alumni association sitting next to me on my flight as I type this is attempting to convince me that the Huskies will indeed win this one. Hope springs eternal on Friday.
But another look at LSU’s depth chart and some of the stats reasserts how daunting a task this appears. Call it, LSU 35, UW 17.