LSU hits the road for SEC matchup in front of Hurricane Ian

GOOD ONE:  LSU running back Armoni Goodwin (22) runs through New Mexico Lobos safety Jerrick Reed II (9) for the Tigers’ first touchdown, a 5-yard run, Saturday night in a 38-0 romp at Tiger Stadium. (Photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE – There’s a hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, the first of what’s been a quiet summer storm watch for folks in the southern states.

No, Louisiana residents need not be worried about Hurricane Ian or its trajectory, by all reports.

Those watching over LSU football team travel, however, will have to keep a close eye on things before the Tigers travel to Auburn, in southeast Alabama, for Saturday’s Southeastern Conference matchup.

“I’ve been in two remnants of hurricanes,” LSU head coach Brian Kelly said. “One at North Carolina State, which was abysmal, and I think the other one was at Clemson. [Hurricanes] affect the game conditions, and so you have to plan accordingly in terms of your passing game, running game. The kicking game is affected dramatically. You just have to wrap your head around it prior to, and prepare for it.”

Auburn’s game plan may be affected by other factors as well, namely a quarterback room that’s failing to put many points on the board. Auburn’s QB situation has been messy at the best of times this season, disastrous at its worst. Head coach Bryan Harsin has divided playing time between former LSU quarterback TJ Finley and Oregon transfer Robby Ashford, both of whom have struggled to make Auburn’s offense productive.

Who to play at QB cleared up last week against Missouri, when Finley sat out with a shoulder injury. Ashford made it through the majority of the game, but missed a handful of series due to an undisclosed injury. Harsin said he’ll likely be back for the LSU game, but Finley’s status is up in the air.

“I think you always have to keep an eye on whether or not Finley plays,” Kelly said. “Certainly he gives you the throwing end of things, so we’ll have to prepare for both. We don’t have any first-hand information that one’s playing over the other, but we’ll be prepared for either one.”

Ashford, Finley, or fourth-string freshman Holden Geriner will have their work cut out for them against a secondary that’s answered many questions posed against them before the season.

It’s also a secondary that’s about to add a veteran presence in Arkansas transfer Joe Foucha, who missed the first four weeks of the season due to an academic suspension. He’ll aim to replace Major Burns, who’s set to miss three-to-six weeks with a neck issue. Jay Ward is also slated to return this week after missing the New Mexico game with an injury.

In a unit built almost entirely of transfers, Kelly’s seen resiliency from his defensive backs but is still hoping to find the continuity that’s escaped them over the first month of the season.

“You’d like a little bit more continuity. I think [defensive coordinator] Matt [House] and [safeties coach] Kerry [Cooks] have done a really good job of communicating what we need to do back there,” Kelly said about the secondary. “I think it’s going to be a little bit easier with a Joe Foucha in terms of — he’s an experienced player. It was a little more difficult when we had to move Jarrick [Bernard-Converse] back there because you didn’t have an experienced safety.”

Kelly’s need for consistency and continuity have paid off in dividends, as LSU has won three straight games after a rough start in the 24-23 loss to Florida State in Week 1.

Still, Kelly will call it what it is.

“We’ve been able to make the progress necessary to have a modest winning streak,” Kelly said. “This is modest. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. This month will tell us a lot. We’ve got an SEC slate in front of us over the next four weeks, which will challenge us to a new level.”

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