It’s been more than 12 years since Utah State’s football program has squared off against a team ranked in the top five nationally.
Indeed, a monumental challenge awaits the Aggies when they enter Tiger Stadium for a showdown against No. 5 LSU on Saturday morning in front of a projected crowd of more than 100,000. Opening kickoff from Death Valley is slated for 10 a.m., and the game will be televised by the SEC Network.
Nevertheless, the Aggies are confident they will piece together a much better performance then they did against then-No. 3 Oklahoma on Sept. 15, 2007, a 54-3 victory for the Sooners.
“When we go out to LSU, it is nothing new to us, and we understand that we have to finish games,” USU cornerback Cameron Haney said. “That’s been our problem, when we play against Power 5 opponents, it’s always, ‘almost.’ We just need to go to practice, look at the blueprint, take it slow, understand what we have to do and that’s to win the fourth quarter. So, when we go out there to Louisiana, we will definitely have a different game plan, we will definitely have a different attitude and we’ll see what happens.”
This is the final non-conference game for the undefeated Tigers, who are coming off their first bye week of the season. LSU (4-0) is 78-9 against non-conference opponents since 2001.
“They’re a great football team,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “They’re battling like crazy to keep themselves in a top-four spot (nationally). To me, on film, they appear to be where they should be. They’re very talented, and they play very well. They have great athletes and are well coached. It will be a tremendous challenge. We’re walking into an early-morning kickoff, which will be a good thing for us. I like the opportunity to play an early kickoff.”
This is the first time USU has played a 10 a.m. game since its heartbreaking 42-38 road loss to Auburn in 2011. Repeating that type of a performance in SEC country will be a gargantuan task for the Aggies.
LSU is well-rested after its most recent offensive explosion — a 66-38 road triumph over Vanderbilt on Sept. 21. The Tigers have scored at least 45 points in each of their four games and rank first among all FBS teams in scoring offense (57.8 points per game), second in passing offense (431.8 yards per game) and third in total offense (563.5 ypg).
LSU standout quarterback Joe Burrow is averaging 15.2 yards every time he completes a pass, so USU must tackle extremely well in space to have any shot of pulling off the upset. Burrow has already tossed 17 touchdown passes this season for the Tigers, who have scored more points through their first four games than any team in SEC history.
“It’s a big deal in this game,” Andersen said. “Speed and space are something we talk about all the time. At some point in speed and space, the coaching is over, but we do all we can to help them get in those spots. Running to the football and having more than one guy around the football as much as we possibly can, and having those guys be able to keep an eye on the ball and be able to close it down and try to keep them in a phone booth instead of giving them a third of the field to be able to make you miss.”
In order to hang with the Tigers, the Aggies (3-1) must also be very productive offensively and defensively in the red zone, which is an extremely formidable task against LSU. USU’s offense has struggled mightily in the red zone this season as it has only found paydirt on six of its 18 forays inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Additionally, the Aggies have failed to score any points on six red zone opportunities.
Conversely, LSU’s offense has been remarkably efficient in the red zone. The Tigers haven’t squandered any of their 27 trips inside the red zone and have scored TDs on 22 of them. USU’s defense has given up eight TDs in 13 chances inside the red zone so far in 2019.
“There’s no secret why we are successful in the red zone,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said. “First of all, we’ve got great coaching, and they prepare night and day for it. We practice it the right way. ... We practiced red zone on Mondays. We practiced red zone on Thursdays and Fridays.”
Consistently executing in third down situations is also a must for the USU offense and defense. The Aggies have done pretty well in this regard as they have converted on 50 percent of their third downs and limited their foes to a 39 percent conversion rate.
The Tigers have also fared well on third downs as they have been successful 54 percent of the time on offense, plus have only allowed their opponent to convert at a 34 percent clip.
LSU has been solid defensively this season, but not as dominant as in past years. The Tigers did give up 38 points to Texas and Vanderbilt — albeit both games were on the road — and 374 yards of total offense to the Commodores. Vandy racked up 31 points in the first three quarters and found success running and passing the ball. Additionally, LSU’s defense has only forced four turnovers so far this fall.
If the Aggies can do a reasonably good job of protecting star signal caller Jordan Love, he has the tools to test a LSU secondary that has allowed seven TDs passes and 223.5 passing yards an outing.
Orgeron spoke highly of Love during his weekly press conference. He also singled out fellow Aggies Gerold Bright and Siaosi Mariner by name.
“Quick release, can avoid pressure, is able to run the zone read,” Orgeron said of Love. “He’s definitely a first-round pick, I do believe, in the NFL and will play in the NFL for a long time. He’s an extremely good quarterback in all areas.”
Notes: This is only the third meeting between the two programs. LSU hosted USU in 1993 and 2001 and prevailed by scorelines of 38-17 and 31-14, respectively. ... Three current LSU coaches were on Andersen’s staff during his first head coaching stint as USU in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, safeties coach Bill Busch and cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond. Aranda was Andersen’s defensive coordinator at USU and Wisconsin. ... Current USU safeties coach Mike Caputo was a defensive graduate assistant at LSU from 2017-18.