Kentucky-LSU Preview

BY foxsports • September 29, 2011

After successfully navigating a brutal opening month, LSU was recognized as the nation's top team.

While some coaches might feel the ranking brings an extra burden, Les Miles is confident it won't bother his team. To make sure they avoid a possible letdown, the Tigers need look no further than the last time they faced Kentucky four years ago.

Taking on the Wildcats as the No. 1 team for the second straight meeting, LSU hopes to avoid another upset Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) hurdled past previously top-ranked Oklahoma for the top spot Sunday after defeating then-No. 16 West Virginia 47-21 the night before. It was the third decisive win over a ranked opponent this season for the Tigers, with all three coming away from home.

"We take it as a compliment to our program and a compliment to our team," Miles said of the ranking. "Being No. 1 is no burden. There is no extra target on our back. Every time LSU goes to play, the other team is trying to beat us. We want to achieve. I know we haven't arrived. We are not perfect.

"We hold the No. 1 spot in college football today, but that is not the final achievement."

Miles is seeking his first national championship since 2007, which was the last time LSU was atop the AP poll. The Tigers held the top ranking during the regular season that year for a pair of two-week stints.

LSU's first turn at the top spot came to an end after it suffered a 43-37 double-overtime loss to then-No. 17 Kentucky in Lexington on Oct. 13, 2007.

"(That loss) humbled a very talented team," Miles said. "We'll recognize that a talented team being named No. 1 didn't necessarily fare too well the next week."

Miles' team figures to have the advantage in the rematch.

The Tigers are led by a swarming defense that forced four turnovers last week and has recorded 11 on the season. They also rank fourth in the FBS in rush defense at 53.3 yards per game, which doesn't bode well for a Kentucky team that has its top two running backs nursing injuries.

Josh Clemons, who has a team-best 200 rushing yards, is listed as questionable with a hamstring strain and Raymond Sanders is out with a knee injury. The Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) have been held to a combined 169 rushing yards while losing their last two games.

While an ineffective ground game has certainly plagued Kentucky's offense, its biggest problems have stemmed from an inability to hold onto the ball.

In last Saturday's 48-10 loss to Florida, the Wildcats turned the ball over four times, and each giveaway led to a score. The Gators broke the game open early, scoring three touchdowns in a 4:31 span during the first quarter - spurred by two Kentucky turnovers.

"I've got to get this football team to know how precious, how precious the football is," said coach Joker Phillips, whose team has already turned the ball over 10 times. "We've had very poor field position the last couple weeks, and we've given the opponents good field position, and that equals an 'L' most of the time.

"It would be huge for our program if we could somehow put a together a clean game, both sides of the ball, which is what it will take to beat (LSU)."

Kentucky junior Morgan Newton threw two interceptions against Florida, bringing his season total to six - tied for the fourth-most in the FBS.

LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee is faring much better and has been a pleasant surprise in place of Jordan Jefferson, whose suspension for his role in a bar fight was lifted Wednesday. The senior matched a career high with three touchdown passes last week and has six on the season with one interception.

"He has improved and I think he will continue to improve," Miles said. "This weekend will be another step for him."

Miles said Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns, also involved in the fight, would be welcomed back at practice Thursday. However, the coach was unsure if Jefferson would be ready to play Saturday and stressed that Lee will remain the starter for the foreseeable future.

Miles added that he envisions Jefferson seeing action in most of the remaining games because of his ability to scramble and run the option.

Lee now tries to lead a team averaging 38.8 points to a 13th straight win in Baton Rouge. LSU has outscored Kentucky 83-0 in winning the last two meetings at Tiger Stadium, but Lee doesn't want his team overlooking the Wildcats during its quest for a national championship.

"We work hard to be the top team, but it's not something we go out and say, 'We're No. 1,'" Lee said. "We just have to play our kind of ball, keep practicing hard and working hard like we have been."

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