As Kent State arrives, LSU plays the numbers game

The LSU football team’s three-game pre-conference schedule comes to an end when the eighth-ranked Tigers play Kent State on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

They have business to take care of against the Golden Flashes (1-1) in order to get to 3-0, but ideally they’d also like to get a clearer picture of just which players can be counted on in which roles heading into the Southeastern Conference opener against Auburn next week.

“We’re getting close to SEC play,” linebacker D.J. Welter said. “I feel everybody is pushing hard to play their best every snap so the coaches will call their number when SEC teams come to town.

“In fall camp you have scrimmages, but nothing like a game. In the games you have to perform or you won’t play as much. There’s definitely more pressure to play better, to watch more film, to concentrate on your technique. I think we’re benefiting from the extra pressure.”

Welter has held on to the starting middle linebacker position in the base defense, but Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis have been getting significant playing time in other packages as LSU’s depth chart comes into sharper focus.

Louis said he felt “real comfortable” taking the responsibility of making defensive calls last week against UAB.

“At the beginning of the season (defensive coordinator John Chavis) and the defensive staff roll in a lot of guys to see who’s ready and who’s not,” Louis said. “You have to expect the unexpected, because you might see me early in one game and you might see me late in the next. It’s a week-to-week thing.”

Last week the Tigers took a look at a lot of players in the secondary. True freshmen Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson saw numerous snaps behind starters Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins. A minor leg injury to strong safety Craig Loston thrust Corey Thompson into the game after he missed the opener because of a minor injury of his own.

“I wasn’t expecting to be in as much as I was,” Thompson said. “When they called my number, it took me a series to get used to the play-calling. After that I was good.

“It was a good game to get a lot of the rust off. I hadn’t played since last year, and I had some kinks I had to work out to get comfortable out there.”

Micah Eugene has been the first defensive back off the sideline when LSU goes to its nickel defense.

“Micah has really played well,” head coach Les Miles said. “He’s tackled well. He’s a physical guy. He has good speed and coverage skills. I like him at corner. I think he can play corner, but I think he will probably service us at safety at times.”

Dwayne Thomas has come in when the Tigers go to their dime package. In addition, freshman Rickey Jefferson played last week behind Ronald Martin at free safety.

“They’re giving everybody some playing time these first three weeks,” Thompson said. “We’re going to need everybody because we need depth. It’s a competition every day and nobody’s role is secure.”

Eleven defensive linemen have at least one tackle, inlcuding three freshmen — Tashawn Bower, Lewis Neal and Kendell Beckwith, a linebacker who has lined up as a down lineman.

“The young guys are going to have a major impact during the season,” said Rasco, who leads the team with 11 tackles. “They’ve gotten their feet wet the first two games, and the guys who got experience in the spring have been working their tails off and they know what’s expected of them.”

It’s likely that running back Jeremy Hill will get an expanded role after being benched in the season opener and carrying just six times last week. The Tigers’ leading rusher last season figures to push senior Alfred Blue at the top of the depth chart, though Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee are in the picture.

The competition behind starting receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. is still wide open. Travin Dural is next statistically, but has caught just two passes though both times he was targeted on a third down to start games.

“That built my confidence a little bit,” Dural said. “The TCU game (two weeks ago) was my first game since high school, and they came to me with the first pass of the season. That gave me a confidence boost, and I wasn’t as nervous after that.”

DeSean Smith and Dillon Gordon have split the two receptions by tight ends, but Travis Dickson, who has been slowed by a leg injury, and Logan Stokes are also in the evolving rotation.

The Tigers are trying to refine a role for backup quarterback Anthony Jennings, who played one snap in the opener, 11 last week and could play more Saturday.

“I’m certain that with each game comes clarity,” Miles said. “That’s never really something that I’m pushing for over the first goal, victory.

“I recognize the fastest way to improve is to prepare well for the opponent that you’re about to play and then show that you prepared well by playing that way.

“And then if something else happens and you can evaluate talent thereafter, that’s fine, but I’m telling you, it’s an afterthought.”