No. 3 LSU hosts Idaho team with 'nothing to lose'
Despite Idaho coach Robb Akey's enthusiasm about the chance to take his team into LSU's Tiger Stadium, he isn't under any illusions about how tough it could get on the field.
The moment he started breaking down game video of the third-ranked Tigers (2-0) earlier this week, he knew what he and the Vandals (0-2) would be in for on Saturday night.
''Watching LSU, those guys fly around. They're big. They're fast. They're strong. And I went home and slept like a baby - I woke up every hour and I cried,'' Akey said, grinning and then apologizing if he offended any babies. ''They're damn good. But what an opportunity and what a great venue that we're going to play in.''
For LSU, a 41-14 victory over North Texas came off as a disappointment because of some sloppy play.
The Tigers responded by pounding Washington of the Pac-12 last week, 41-3, and it could have been more lopsided if not for LSU fumbling a kickoff return and dropping a handful of passes, including two that should have been touchdowns.
Now LSU is a six-touchdown favorite against Idaho as the Tigers, winners of 19 straight at home, seek an NCAA FBS record 40th consecutive regular season non-conference victory.
Regardless of how heavily his team is favored, LSU coach Les Miles said the Tigers must demonstrate continued improvement before its Southeastern Conference opener a week from Saturday at Auburn.
Although Miles was pleased with first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger's accuracy last week, he said he would like for the passing game to be a little better than the numbers it put up against Washington: 12 of 18 for 195 yards and one TD.
''A part of that is to not mishandle well-thrown balls,'' Miles said of his receivers, adding that he had not forgotten about Odell Beckham Jr.'s fumbled kickoff return, either. ''Consistency has to take place in our special teams. We'll have return men, and we'll work hard in making sure we understand ball security in that game as well.''
As for his defense and running game, Miles had few complaints this week, saying only that doesn't want to see any drop-off in intensity.
Defensive ends Lavar Edwards, Sam Montgomery and Chancey Aghayere each has sacks last week, as did safety Micah Eugene on a blitz. Freshman Jalen Mills, starting at the cornerback spot vacated by dismissed star Tyrann Mathieu, had an interception.
The running game racked up 242 yards behind Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, with big fullback J.C. Copeland adding a short TD.
Miles still has yet to play running back Jeremy Hill, but hinted some younger players could see action this week as the Tigers continue to develop depth.
Idaho still has its entire Western Athletic Conference schedule ahead, and sees this weekend's game as an opportunity to improve on a performance against Bowling Green last week that showed promise despite a 21-13 loss.
The most interesting development for the Vandals was the debut of junior college transfer quarterback Dominique Blackman, who completed 30 of 37 passes for 352 yards and a score last week.
The Vandals have some other difference-makers. Receiver and returner Justin Veltung is being touted as a Paul Hornung Award candidate, having piled up more than 200 all-purpose yards in a single game last season. And like LSU punter Brad Wing, Idaho's Bobby Cowan was a 2011 Ray Guy Award semifinalist.
LSU, of course, is hoping to see a lot of Cowan while keeping Wing on the sideline, thereby avoiding one of those shocking upsets that seem to crop up from time to time in college football.
''There's one every year. Appalachian State against (then No. 5) Michigan to open the (2007) season - you would never guess that game would end the way it did,'' said Miles, a former Wolverine offensive lineman and assistant coach. ''For those teams that come in, you need to come to play football at the same level of intensity.''
Akey wants his team to believe it could pull off an upset rivaling Appalachian State's shocker at the Big House. The key, he said, is for his players to avoid letting the sight and sounds of Death Valley beat them before they've even played a snap.
''It will be a hell of an experience for our players,'' Akey said. ''We have nothing to lose. We're going to go pin our ears back and go down there and get after it. If we don't win the football game then we made everybody happy because they all told us we couldn't. Should we play our tails off and make some things happen and you get that opportunity, then we could be the favorite football team in America - with maybe the exception of the State of Louisiana.''