Rabalais: Highs, lows from LSU’s week 1 victory

BY SCOTT RABALAIS

srabalais@theadvocate.com

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU safety Jalen Mills (28) pulls in an interception over Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli (48) in the second half of LSU and Wisconsin's season opener, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU safety Jalen Mills (28) pulls in an interception over Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli (48) in the second half of LSU and Wisconsin's season opener, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Taking a look at what was good and what was bad from Saturday’s LSU-Wisconsin game:

BIG PICTURE: LSU got the win in its signature nonconference game. If the Tigers (and we are in no way predicting this yet) can get into CFP contention, this win will serve LSU well provided Wisconsin peels off a string of Big Ten victories.

WHAT WAS GOOD: LSU’s in-game adjustments to spread the Wisconsin defense with three wides paid dividends for the running and passing games, and the Tigers’ decision to come after the Wisconsin run more was rewarded since the Badgers simply couldn’t throw the ball.

LSU’s secondary was impressive, never allowing more than a 14-yard play, though the Tigers will certainly face much better pass attacks starting with Saturday’s game against Sam Houston State. But the coverage was tight despite a great lack of pressure on Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy.

WHAT WAS BAD: Saturday morning, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit called LSU’s offensive line the best in the nation. It wasn’t even the best in NRG Stadium on Saturday. The Badgers knew LSU wanted to run and stacked the defense accordingly, but still the Tigers’ meager 2.7 yards per rush was shockingly poor even factoring in a couple of big losses.

The defensive line wasn’t much better. Danielle Hunter was out of position at end a couple of times, and LSU didn’t slow down the Wisconsin rush until Melvin Gordon departed and the Tigers started committing more players to stopping the run. Wisconsin’s 6.9 yards per carry was shocking, too.

RISING STARS: Despite LSU’s problems with the run, the Tigers’ defense shut down the Badgers when they had to in order to give the offense even a glimmer of coming back. Three straight three-and-outs followed Wisconsin’s touchdown to take a 24-7 lead early in the second half while LSU began chipping away with field goals.

A big part of that second-half success was freshman defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, who has played himself into a key backup role behind Christian LaCouture.

John Diarse would have contributed to the LSU cause in 2013 if he hadn’t been injured and needed to redshirt. Stocky and powerfully built, his 36-yard catch-and-run early in the fourth quarter was to my thinking the play of the game. Could be the factor opposite Travin Dural the Tigers are seeking.

And I know Cameron Gamble excitedly hooked the kickoff after Diarse’s touchdown out of bounds, but otherwise, what a leg. His kickoff 6 yards deep in the end zone after that second half-opening delay of game penalty was amazing. So was his kickoff 2 yards behind the end zone after Kenny Hilliard’s game-winning touchdown.

THE LEADER OF ‘BUGA NATION’: Tigers star freshman Leonard Fournette was expected to leap tall Badgers at a single bound Saturday, but instead, he pretty much kept his feet on the ground. There was little magic as Fournette, hailed as the best running back prospect in the past 10 years, tried to smash through the Wisconsin line for 18 yards on eight carries in addition to his kickoff return work.

It looked like Fournette was trying too hard, trying to overpower the defense instead of exercising his options to bounce runs to the outside.

On the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference Wednesday, LSU coach Les Miles tried to shield Fournette from “unrealistic expectations.” We in the media helped create those expectations, but so did Miles, who during the preseason mentioned Fournette in the same breath as Michael Jordan.

The best thing for Fournette is a steady diet of handoffs the next two weeks against Sam Houston State and UL-Monroe and the booster shot of confidence they should provide.

Good with a chance to be great is the Fournette forecast. He can begin that trek against the defensively challenged Bearkats.

AS FOR THE SAINTS: New Orleans opens a season of high expectations and great promise Sunday at Atlanta, surpassing even the anticipation of the Saints’ Super Bowl-winning season in 2009.

This year, only a Super Bowl title will do.

The Saints should be one of the NFL’s very best clubs. The critical game could be Nov. 9 at home against San Francisco, the difference between home-field advantage in the playoffs or having to go on the road for at least the NFC Championship Game.

If the Saints can equal 2009’s 13-3 record, they won’t have to leave Dome sweet Dome. The call here is for 12-4, with swing games like San Francisco making the difference between home field or not.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.