LSU’s to-do list tonight is about fixing things while dispatching Grambling

BOUNCE BACK GAME:  LSU sophomore Harold Perkins Jr. was a dynamic playmaker on defense last year, but was muted by a position change in last week’s loss to Florida State. (Photo courtesy LSU Athletics).

By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE – After four straight season-opening losses against Power 5 (soon to be Power 4) Conference opponents, LSU has created a dubious tradition.

Game No. 2 on its football schedule is Program Repair Week against a vastly overmatched in-state school receiving a healthy payday in exchange for an expected beatdown in the Tigers’ home opener.

In this case, for the second consecutive season against a historically black college, now 14th-ranked LSU welcomes first-time Tiger Stadium visitor Grambling of the Southwestern Athletic Conference for a 6:30 p.m. Saturday match.

After allowing the most points ever in a season-opener in the 130-year history of LSU’s football program – a stunning 45-24 loss to then-No. 8 Florida State by the then-No. 5 Tigers last Sunday in Orlando – the fallout this week in the LSU football ops building has been a smoldering disgust.

“We plan on taking our anger out on Grambling,” LSU running back Noah Cain said.

LSU head coach Brian Kelly, who cited his team’s lack of competitive edge as it came out flat in the second half vs. FSU, likes how his team responded in practice.

“I think we’ve reached a level of preparation that I’m much more comfortable with,” Kelly said Thursday. “The intensity level is what I was looking for. I’ve got to take full responsibility for not getting it there (last week). I feel good about where we are and where we need to continue to go. Because then you’ve got to go and take that from your preparation to performance.”

The Tigers had a list of negatives in the FSU debacle they need to correct vs. Grambling, a team that lost its opener 35-31 to Hampton last Saturday.

Considering LSU’s 65-17 get-well wipeout of Southern last season after losing 24-23 to Florida State in the season-opener in the Superdome, the Tigers likely spent minimal time this week studying Grambling game film.

The biggest areas of concern LSU needs to be corrected before next Saturday’s SEC opener at Mississippi State is a veteran offensive line playing to its experience level, playmaking pass rusher Harold Perkins Jr. not having his talents neutered by playing middle linebacker, more explosive run plays, receivers not dropping passes and defensive backs not being physically abused in pass coverage.

Kelly said new faces will see more action this weekend in many of the spots needing improvement.

For instance:

  • True freshman offensive tackle Lance Heard, a 6-6, 340-pound five-star recruit from Monroe-Neville, will get snaps with the first team. It’s similar to what Kelly did a year ago with true freshman OT Emery Jones Jr., who saw increased action in games two and three before starting at right tackle in game four for the rest of the year.

“They’re very similar in terms of their demeanor, the way they approach things on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said “They’re great workers, they’re great in the classroom. They take their work very seriously.

  • Perkins, an All-SEC first-team linebacker last season as a play-wrecking pass rusher, had a quiet 5 tackles in the FSU opener. In his new role as middle linebacker, the 220-pound Perkins was often caught up taking on offensive linemen that outweighed him by 100 pounds.

That shouldn’t happen vs. Grambling, according to LSU linebacker Omar Speights.

“They (the LSU defensive coaches) are going to put him more outside the box and let him be him,” Speights said of Perkins. “We’ll bring Greg Penn back in the box.”

  • Notre Dame junior transfer running back Logan Diggs, who didn’t see action vs. Florida State, will make his debut Saturday after three LSU running backs combined for just 49 yards (including a 34-yard run by Josh Williams) on 12 carries.

Diggs, a former New Orleans Archbishop Rummel standout who rushed more than 1,000 yards with 7 TDs (4 rushing, 3 receiving) in two years at Notre Dame, had been slowed by preseason injuries.

“A lot of the hesitation was that he wasn’t full speed to put in a game against a top 10 opponent,” Kelly said of Diggs. “He (now) feels healthy. He’ll get quite a bit of work.”

  • Sophomore wide receiver Chris Hilton Jr., who had some outstanding days in preseason camp, barely played vs. FSU. Considering LSU receivers had three key drops against the Seminoles, Kelly said it was time to get Hilton on the field.

“Chris, regardless of who we’re playing, has put himself in a position to get more reps because of the way he’s practiced,” Kelly said. “He’s shown enough to me in the way he’s handled himself to put himself in the mix.”

  • There probably won’t be personnel changes at cornerback after LSU’s newbie corners got torched by FSU for four TDs. But the Tigers’ pass rush should improve considerably with Perkins back on the edge and preseason All-American defensive tackle Maason Smith making his 2023 debut coming off a torn left knee ACL sustained in last year’s opening loss to FSU.

“He obviously impacts our defense and allows us to do different things,” Kelly said of Smith. “His flexibility to play different defensive positions provides us with a new dimension.”


17-0: Lifetime football record of SEC vs. SWAC 

22: LSU players (including 11 freshmen) who saw their first action in a Tigers uniform last Sunday vs. FSU 

35: Straight wins for LSU vs. in-state opponents 

41.1: Points victory margin by SEC schools in games vs. SWAC opponents 

411: Yards total offense by LSU QB Jayden Daniels vs. FSU, his most ever as a Tiger

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