LSU has bad memories of playing Kentucky as No. 1
Les Miles gets plenty of practice in the art of trying to keep his players grounded when LSU is a heavy favorite.
Doing so this week has been somewhat easier, thanks to a little deja-vu surrounding this Saturday's meeting between the top-ranked Tigers (4-0, 1-0 SEC) and Kentucky (2-2, 0-1).
The last time these teams met in 2007, an unbeaten LSU squad had just risen to No. 1 with a memorable triumph over Florida.
Although LSU would go on to win a national title that season, the Tigers stumbled in Kentucky, losing 43-37 in triple overtime.
Miles said he remembers how that game humbled his team.
''We'll recognize that a talented team being named No. 1 didn't necessarily fare too well,'' Miles said.
Maybe Miles' players are buying the history lesson. Oddsmakers are not.
The Tigers are 30-point favorites when the Wildcats visit Baton Rouge for what will be an unusual late-morning kickoff in Death Valley.
Kentucky is coming off a rough SEC opener last week against Florida, losing 48-10 at home. LSU has beaten three ranked teams away from Tiger Stadium, each by double-digits.
''Another huge challenge for us,'' Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. ''It would be huge for our program if we could somehow put together a clean game, both sides of the ball, which is what it will take to beat those guys.''
The Wildcats will have to do better stopping the run after yielding a stunning 405 yards on the ground to the Gators last weekend.
LSU has averaged 171 yards rushing, led by the tandem of Michael Ford and Spencer Ware. Ware beats up defenses with his bruising style, averaging about 80 yards per game to go with three touchdowns. Ford, who has the quickness and cutting ability to get outside and break off big runs, is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and has gotten into the end zone six times in LSU's first four games.
Kentucky will get some help on its interior defensive line, though, as tackle Mark Crawford, who started much of last season, returns from a four-game suspension.
LSU's defense doesn't seem to need any more help, at least not against the run. The Tigers are allowing only 53.2 yards rushing per game, meaning top Kentucky running back Josh Clemons will be challenged as he tries to come back from a hamstring injury that limited to only a few carries against Florida.
Passing against the Tigers could prove problematic for the Wildcats as well. Kentucky's Morgan Newton threw for only 124 yards against Florida last week and now meets a defense that has six interceptions and seven sacks.
The Wildcats' may have learned something from watching video of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 463 yards against LSU last week. But Smith is one of the top quarterbacks in college football and was playing at home. Kentucky's quarterback will have to contend with a deafening Death Valley crowd when he brings his team to the line of scrimmage.
''You can expect a loud, hostile crowd,'' said Phillips, who also played for Kentucky in Tiger Stadium. ''You're going to be called every name under the sun except for your God-given name.''
LSU has not had to rely on its passing game much, but senior Jarrett Lee has been efficient moving the ball through the air. Lee also has shown he can strike for big plays. Against West Virginia, Lee hit freshman Odell Beckham Jr. for a 52-yard score.
''It's becoming a more mature player and being smarter with football, and with that coaches become more confident in you and you can do those things,'' Lee said.
Lee has completed 64.4 percent of his throws, with six TDs against one interception, showing vast improvement since his freshman season in 2008, when he threw 16 interceptions in eight starts and ultimately lost his starting job to Jordan Jefferson.
Lee was elevated back into a starting role about a week before this season, when Jefferson was suspended because of a bar fight that led to his arrest on felony battery charges. Jefferson was reinstated this week when a grand jury reduced his charges to a misdemeanor. But Miles said Lee remains the starter, while Jefferson, a better scrambler who can also run the option, could be used situationally.