Amid storm, lineup changes, No. 3 LSU gets ready
Les Miles had hoped LSU could have a drama-free August this
It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but the No. 3 Tigers
expressed confidence on Monday that a season full of promise would
not be derailed by the loss of their biggest star, the looming
possibility of a couple other key players being sidelined by
academic issues, or even the potential disruptions that could
result from a major storm.
”The good news is we’ve been through this before,” Miles said
when asked about how Tropical Storm Isaac might affect preparations
for Saturday night’s season opener against North Texas in Tiger
Stadium. ”We know how to do this. We’ll figure it out.”
Miles was referring to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which
coincidentally postponed a game with North Texas, and Hurricane
Gustav in 2008, which also resulted in a postponement.
Still, Miles could just as easily have been talking about roster
The coach confirmed Monday that 2011 leading rusher Michael Ford
and projected starting linebacker Tahj Jones might miss the game
against the Mean Green because of unspecified academic issues.
”There is some appeal process that’s being undertaken for those
guys,” Miles said. ”We’ll kind of have to wait and see how that
all turns out as we get closer to the game.”
If Ford, who rushed for 756 yards and seven touchdowns last
season, and Jones are unable to play, they would not be the first
personnel losses for the Tigers, who will play the whole season
without dismissed former Heisman Trophy candidate Tyrann
Yet, LSU has already proved, as recently as last season, that
its robust football program has the depth to overcome the losses of
Last season, LSU won its first four games against Oregon,
Northwestern State, Mississippi State and West Virginia, all by
double digits, without starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who
had been suspended in connection with a preseason bar fight near
campus. Starting receiver Russell Shepard missed the first three of
those games because of a separate violation of NCAA rules.
In midseason, Mathieu, defensive back Tharold Simon and running
back Spencer Ware all were suspended one game for team drug policy
violations, and LSU responded with 45-10 victory over Auburn that
represented the most lopsided result in the 46-game history of the
”Through crisis or through any adversity, we’re going to get
closer,” said offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk, a senior on the
leadership council. ”You have to take those things and spin into a
way that you turn it into a positive for this team to grow
together. If you lose a guy or there’s a void that has to be
filled, guess what? You have to tighten things down a little
”We get better from that. We use it to our advantage. That’s
something we’ve done in the past and something we’ll continue to
Of course, it helps to have talent. Miles said Monday that the
top two running backs on the depth chart against North Texas will
be Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard. Miles said linebacker Luke
Muncie has had a good enough camp to step in as a starter ”whether
Jones is there or not.” He added that his staff believes true
freshmen linebackers Kwon Alexander and Deion Jones are ready for
playing time as well.
Since Mathieu was dismissed nearly three weeks ago, true
freshman Jalen Mills has taken over as first-team cornerback. In
passing situations, Mills is expected to move to nickel back, with
redshirt freshman Jalen Collins stepping into cornerback spot.
”Mills and Collins both will play a lot of football,” Miles
said. ”What I expect from them is to play just like we’ve always
played. Our corners play a very, very aggressive style of
Miles expects the running game to be in good shape with Blue, a
junior, and the Hilliard, a sophomore, leading the way. Blue rushed
for 6.9 yards per carry (539 yards total) and seven TDs last
season. Hilliard, a 6-foot, 231-pound battering ram, emerged as the
go-to guy in short yardage situations last season, rushing for 5.4
yards per carry and eight TDs.
Then there’s new starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who
coaches say is an exceptional passer that will spread opposing
defenses out more than last season.
”We’ll throw the football more efficiently, and maybe with some
bigger plays,” Miles said.
Mettenberger joked that this week would probably feel like the
longest week of his life because of the anticipation that has been
building in him since he transferred to LSU from junior college
before last season.
Mettenberger, a former Georgia recruit who left the Bulldogs as
a redshirt freshman because of legal trouble stemming from an
incident with a woman at a bar, is now entering his fourth season
of college football. As much as any Tigers player, he can identify
with the idea that the onset of the regular season brings with it a
chance to start a new chapter defined by success.
”Everyone’s really excited to get the season started and kind
of put the past behind us,” he said.
As of Monday night, the North Texas game was still on for
Saturday night, though Athletic Director Joe Alleva said that could
change after the storm has passed.