CFB Preview: No. 21 LSU-Jacksonville State

LSU came into the season with some key questions for the season, and those questions remain as the No. 21 Tigers prepare for their home opener against Jacksonville State on Saturday in Baton Rouge's Tiger Stadium.

Still unsettled after the opening 16-14 loss to Wisconsin last week:

–Is quarterback Brandon Harris any more advanced as a leader and consistent playmaker in his junior season than he was as a freshman or a sophomore?

The answer was no, at least against the Badgers. Harris was indecisive and careless, leading to a poor overall offensive performance. The numbers showed him completing 12 of 21 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, the last snuffing out a final drive that seemingly had the Tigers in position for a field goal

–Will the rebuilt offensive line find early season continuity after some shuffling during preseason camp?

Again the first-game returns yielded a negative response, which contributed to Harris' troubles and those of the offense as a whole. The Tigers also will be without Josh Bouette, who started at right guard, for his late hit in the loss to the Badgers.

–Will new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda be able to return the defense to the elite level it enjoyed when LSU was a national-championship contender at the start of the decade?

Though the defense yielded just 16 points and created three turnovers, it also allowed the Badgers to hold the ball for the majority of the game (36 minutes, 57 seconds).

The defense was better than Harris and the offensive line, but still not good enough for LSU to win a game it had every opportunity to win.

“As a defensive backfield, we killed the team because we know that we needed the offense to get the ball back and we just didn't make the plays when we needed,” cornerback Tre'Davious White said. “That definitely hurts because I know how hard the whole team worked the whole time.”

As a result, the Tigers performance fell well short of what one would expect from team ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll.

“We knew what was at stake this season,” LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White said. “Our goal is to win it all and to go undefeated. It's a hurtful feeling.”

The Tigers also got off to a slow start with their running game, and the plan to lessen the burden on junior running back Leonard Fournette proved futile. He had 23 of the team's 29 rushes and netted more rushing yards (138) than the Tigers wound up with as a team (126).

He tweaked an ankle on his last carry, a 15-yard run to Wisconsin's 30-yard line, and had to come out of the game, but is considered OK for this week.

Other than that, one of running back Derrius Guice's two runs ended in a fumble that Wisconsin took advantage of for its first field goal and Harris' four runs, only one was by design. He ended up with a minus-15 yards rushing.

Though an FCS level program, Jacksonville State is not a team to be taken lightly, especially by a fragile LSU team.

The Gamecocks took Auburn to overtime last year before losing the 27-20 decision.

No. 5 in both major FCS polls this time around, the Gamecocks got their season off to a good start with a 31-12 victory over North Alabama last week.

Senior quarterback Eli Jenkins accounted for 331 yards in total offense (230 passing, 102 rushing) and former Auburn running back Roc Thomas, who transferred last summer, had 71 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.

Thomas is one of two Jacksonville State running backs with SEC experience. Josh Clemmons transferred from Kentucky for the 2015 campaign but saw his season cut short by injury. He had 28 yards on six carries last week. Freshman Tyus Flakes had 72 yards on just 12 runs.

The Gamecocks do not go into the game with any sense of fear or awe.

“It gives us a chance to prove that we can play against anyone and play in front of more folks that would we normally not play in front of with the big crowds,” Jenkins said. “It gives us a chance to show what we got and a great opportunity to play our best football.”