An All-American cornerback, a dynamic leader at middle linebacker, and a defensive line that should drive fear into those who oppose them. All of those descriptions could fittingly be used to describe either Miami’s or LSU’s defense. Both groups are highlighted by a bevy of future NFL stars who, for one day, will take the stage in primetime this Sunday.
That’s what we do know about the Tigers and Hurricanes, yet this game could boil down to the intangibles.
Will Ohio State transfer Joe Burrows be the constant at quarterback that LSU has been searching for since the departure of Zach Mettenberger? Will Canes fans see a new and improved QB Malik Rosier to start the season, or is it the same old? The start of the college football season is a flurry of anticipation, anxiety and inquiries that everyone from the coaching staff to the most casual of fans are hoping to find the answer to.
Both programs don’t lack in the talent department to start the season. So with a couple stars cancelling one another out, the ultimate tiebreaker should come down to playcalling. Miami fans should be jumping up for joy given the experience of their playcallers — Mark Richt on the offensive side, Manny Diaz on the defense — over LSU’s new playcallers, offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who returns for his second season with the Tigers.
Iron Sharpens Iron (One vs One)
It’s true that one-on-one college matchups don’t necessarily measure up to what you watch on Sunday in the NFL, but they’re fundamental. Whether it’s a wide receiver creating separation against a cornerback in the red zone or left tackle buckling down to stonewall a defensive end on the pass rush, each scenario is a key to victory for either side.
For the opening week of the season, we’re going to go with the the wide receiver vs. cornerback matchup, examining two sides of the same coin.
WR Ahmmon Richards vs. CB Andraez “Greedy” Williams
In this corner, we have the returning number one contender at wide receiver for the Hurricanes, in his most healthy form, Ahmmon Richards. The knee brace from the spring has been tossed aside, with all indications pointing to a return to form for one of the country’s premier wideouts. Canes fans know Richards for his multiple talents that combine to make him a threat in the passing game. From his accurate route-running, ability to snare balls out of the air at the highest point and turn on the afterburners to create seperation down the field, AR 82 should be LSU’s priority on Sunday.
The Tigers could have their own answer to Richards in the form of 6’2”, 182 pound cornerback Greedy Williams. With a SEC high six interceptions to go along with 17 passes defended, Canes’ QB Malik Rosier may get the Tigers’ yellow garb confused with caution tape when he looks in the direction of No. 29. Williams moves well in coverage, has excellent anticipation and goes after the ball if it’s anywhere in his vicinity, so it’s not surprising to read that most pro evaluators have him pegged as the best CB prospect for the 2019 NFL Draft.
On paper, the matchup looks like a stalemate. However, for their respective sides, both Richards and Williams are keys to victory in Arlington.
WR Jonathan Giles vs. CB Michael Jackson
For Jonathan Giles, the bright lights of AT&T Stadium are not unfamiliar. Two years ago, Giles was a Texas Tech Raider when his team played in the stadium, defeating Baylor 54-35. This time around, Giles dons the Tiger garb as the number one receiver for an impressive group. In 2016, Giles led all Red Raider receivers with 1,158 receiving yards on 69 receptions and 13 touchdowns. Whether the 6’1”, 186 pounder will be able to see a fraction of those numbers in LSU’s offense remains to be seen. After sitting out the 2017 season due to the NCAA’s transfer rule, the precision route-runner should be the safe option for the Tigers’ offense.
That said, there are no guarantees if Michael Jackson is lined up across from you. Jackson is the unquestioned leader at corner for Miami, with his impressive size and physicality against both the run and the pass, the senior is a staple on a Miami defense looking to produce as many appearances of the Turnover Chain as possible in 2018. With Greedy Williams getting most of the publicity this game when it comes to being a talented CB, Jackson will be looking to illustrate why he should be considered the best corner in the nation come Sunday evening.
Position Matchup of the Week
LSU’s Linebackers vs Miami’s Running Game
When you play in the SEC West, it’s a basic requirement of survival to be able to stop the run on th defense. A year ago, the Tigers finished third in the conference with 128.3 rushing yards-per-game allowed. Considering the two teams that finished above them in the category were Alabama and Georgia, the Tigers of the Bayou are hovering around the elite stratosphere in the run defense department. Of course, the group is led by LB Devin White, the Tigers’ leading tackler (133 tackles) in 2017. LB K’Lavon Chaisson will step in for the departed Arden Key at the Buck linebacker spot and a combination of LB Ray Thornton and Michael Divinity make up the field LB position.
Miami’s 2,090 rushing yards were the most for the program since the 2014 season, where they stacked up 2,345 yards on the ground. The Canes’ leading rusher from ‘17, Travis Homer, returns with the job all sewed up and likely to see the bulk of the carries. Speaking of bulk, no one may have put on more good weight in the off-season than Deejay Dallas, who’s aiming to handle the punishment that comes along with an increase of carries over the course of the season. Last season, Homer and Dallas combined for 1,183 of Miami’s 2,090 total rushing yards, roughly 57% of Miami’s total rushing yards in 2017. The wildcard of the group outside of QB-designed runs is freshman Lorenzo Lingard. Considered one of the best RB prospects of the 2018 recruiting cycle, Lingard is projected to be the greatest tailback at RBU. Making a splash in his first collegiate game would be an incredible start to the Lingard legacy.
Caneseye Players of the Game
Taking in your first game in a mecca to football such as the AT&T Stadium is an amazing experience for any player, regardless of experience. For freshman tight end Brevin Jordan, that moment may be more fleeting than that of his peers. Jordan enters his first game in a Canes uniform with much fanfare — many project the Las Vegas product is going to be next great specimen to play the position at Miami. Jordan will receive a test like no other in his first game against LSU’s vaunted defense. He’ll be asked to line up on the line, flex out to the slot and to react to what the defense gives him as well as what is called for on a given play. We’re curious to see if Jordan’s blocking at the point of attack will withstand the onslaught from the Tigers’ front-seven. Welcome to the big time, kid.
Gerald Willis III
The last game that Hurricanes fans were able to see DT Gerald Willis in action was November 26th, 2016, when the Hurricanes hosted Duke. After sorting out some personal issues and working on the scout team last season, the senior DT’s patience should be rewarded in his final collegiate season. The man known as “G” is a disruptive interior pass-rusher who plays with leverage in the middle of the line. With questions surrounding LSU’s interior offensive line after the school indefinitely suspended starting guard Ed Ingram, Willis may need a bigger plate for what could be a feast in Texas. Providing added motivation, having grown up in New Orleans, Louisiana and recruited by Ed Orgeron, there’s added motivation for No. 9 on the Canes defensive line.
DT Breiden Fohoko
Given the concern regarding the play of their offensive line, the Hurricanes should find out in a hurry what they have upfront by halftime. LSU has plenty of juice in the front seven of the defense to give any team in the country a hard time. One of the new toys for LSU’s defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is another Texas Tech transfer, DL Breiden Fohoko. The 6’3”, 295 pound Honolulu native last played in 2016 with the Red Raiders, putting forth a stat line of 19 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack. A stacker at the line of scrimmage, Fehoko will look to disrupt the Canes’ blocking assignment from reaching the second level of the Tigers’ defense.
RB Nick Brossette
There was concern amongst the Tiger faithful this off-season regarding the capability of the starting running back. Departed are both RB Derrius Guice and RB Darrell Williams, who accounted for 2,071 of the Tiger’s 2,699 rushing yards. Brossette is the only returning member at the position to log double digit carries in 2017. Brossette’s 96 rushing yards and 5.0 yard-per-carry average a season ago is not too shabby. Considering LSU has been spoiled with running backs, having Jeremy Hill, Leonard Fournette and Guice in the span of six years, the team now enters uncharted territory.
Brossette is a traditional power back that LSU will look to slam between the tackles for yardage. At 6’0”, 220 pounds, he has all the makings to be the next great tailback in the LSU lineage. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention RB Clyde-Edward Helaire, a diminutive back at 5’9”, 212 pounds change of pace from the thumping style of Brossette.
One Last Thing
2017 Losses for LSU
Jalen Hurts (Alabama) 14 rush attempts for 44 rushing yards, 3.14 yards-per-attempt and 1 TD Alabama 24-10 win
Brandon Silvers (Troy) 6 carries, -8 rushing yards, one TD Troy 27-24 win
Nick Fitzgerald (Miss St.) 14 carries, 88 rushing yards, 6.29 yards-per-carry average and 2 TDs Miss St. 37-7 win
In losses, the Tigers gave up an average of 4.74 yards-per-carry throughout 2017.
The key for this game boils down to Malik Rosier’s ability to pick up yards in coverage against Dave Aranda’s defense. While fans and supporters are more concerned about his passing accuracy and completion percentage, if Rosier sticks to what won him the starting gig, the Canes should be flying back home 1-0. If Miami is able to establish the run, it’s more likely they’ll get a positive outcome.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!