Third-ranked Oregon and No. 4 LSU have been two of the most talked-about football teams for several months. Sometimes the fact they’re playing each other to open the season Saturday night in Cowboys Stadium has even entered the conversation.
Both teams have made headlines for players running afoul of the law, getting suspended or ruled ineligible, and being involved in NCAA investigations or sanctions, and more.
But now it’s all about the start of the college season, and the Ducks and Tigers are the marquee matchup of Week 1.
“There has never been another game where I have wanted to play more to get stuff out of the way than this one,” LSU center P.J. Lonergan said. “So much has been going on, so much talk about all kinds of different things. I want to go out and play this game and get everybody on a positive note and get this negativity behind us.”
The Tigers have spent much of preseason practice trying to simulate the Ducks’ fast-paced offense in which they try to snap the ball six to eight seconds after the previous play ends. Oregon averaged nearly 50 points per game last season.
Quarterback Derron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, the leading rusher in the country last season, are LSU’s top concerns.
“These guys run like track players, but they’re agile like basketball players,” defensive end Sam Montgomery said. “They can move very quickly between two yards.”
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers said the key to defending Oregon’s spread option scheme is for the interior linemen to get into the backfield as Auburn did in slowing down the Ducks to win the BCS Championship, 22-19, in January. Those Tigers limited Oregon to 75 yards on 32 rushes.
Another way for LSU to slow down the Ducks would be for its offense to keep the ball away from them as much as possible.
“We really want to control the tempo, and we also want to put up points,” guard Will Blackwell said. “The longer we have the ball, the less they have the ball.”
If LSU can run the ball effectively that will lessen the burden of quarterback Jarrett Lee and an inexperienced group of receivers. Lee ascended to the starter’s position just eight days ago after Jordan Jefferson was suspended after being charged with second-degree battery. Two days before that, Russell Shepard, one of just two receivers with significant playing experience, was declared ineligible for violating an NCAA regulation.
“Obviously your preparation has to change slightly because they’re a little bit different players,” Ducks coach Chip Kelly said of LSU’s quarterbacks. “But LSU is not going to change its entire offense. I don’t think they’ll have a drop-off because I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen of Jarrett.”
Lee, a fifth-year senior who hasn’t started a game since 2009, is 5-4 as a starter.
“I’ve played in big games before,” Lee said. “It’s not like I’m coming into the first team and everything is new to me. I’ve been working with these guys for a long time.”
Lee is less of a running threat than Jefferson is, but he said he feels more nimble after losing 20 pounds since the end of last season.
“I expect a lot out of Jarrett Lee,” coach Les Miles said. “He’s looking forward, and so are we, to seeing him play a full game from start to finish. I expect him to operate the offense better than he ever has.”?
Lee won’t have to face Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris, who had six interceptions and 17 pass breakups last season. Harris, who was second in the country with an average of 18.83 yards per punt return last season, was suspended for this game in June after being ticketed for driving 118 mph on the interstate.
This game also marks LSU offensive line coach Greg Studrawa’s first game as the acting offensive coordinator. Studrawa took on the play-calling duties at the start of preseason camp when it was revealed that former coordinator Steve Kragthorpe would be limited to quarterbacks coach duties after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Kragthorpe will coach alongside Studrawa in the press box.
That’s another of the many unexpected developments that have confronted these teams on their way to this game.
One thing has not changed amid all the recent turmoil - rarely has a game on Labor Day weekend featured as much significance to the BCS title hunt as this one does.
“We’ve put a lot of work and effort into putting ourselves into position to play quality football games and play for championships,” Miles said, “and there are so many things that can derail and distract a team along those lines. I think we’re all really looking forward to playing on Saturday night. I think our team is ready for football.”
If you 'geaux' to Oregon-LSU, here's what you should know
While the LSU Tigers and Oregon Ducks sort out their personnel groupings and matchups, in light of all the offseason suspensions, let’s talk about the LSU people who aren’t listed on the school’s depth chart.
Let’s talk about the people you’ll meet if you go to the game next weekend in Arlington, Texas — the LSU fans.
These are people who conduct tailgating practice every summer. I’m talking about tailgating practice.
They will yell "Tiger bait!" at you if you walk past them in green and yellow. They might even call you a tree-hugging, dope-smoking liberal. But if they have any jambalaya or red beans and rice to spare, they’ll invite you over.
These folks can cook. If you think seasoning means a dash of salt, think again. Start with the holy trinity of Cajun cooking — chopped onions, bell pepper and celery — and get ready to work your way on — quickly — to the strong stuff.
I’ve got two words for you: Cayenne pepper.
Now I’ve really got two words for you: Duck gumbo.
Be afraid. Be very afraid, Ducks. Not of losing the game — of getting too close and being eaten.
Do you know this expression? Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer? Please understand that proximity is your call, your risk.
But I can offer a few suggestions on how to keep it friendly.
Tell them you think Terry Baker never should have won the Heisman Trophy over Jerry Stovall. You’ll be BFFs.
To make sure you get second helpings of jambalaya and andouille, dismiss the AP national championship USC won in 2003 and call LSU the real national champion that season.
If LSU fans are wearing what looks to you like purple and yellow, call it purple and gold. You’ll darn near crack the circle of trust by your when-in-Rome flexibility with definitions of color.
Call it sunflower gold if you must, but if you simply refer to purple and gold, you’ll be golden.
Boudreaux might be there. Thibodeaux too. Which brings me to another word: Geaux.
You’ve known it all your life as "go." That’s just silly, almost like saying "you guyses’ " when you have a perfectly good word like "y’all" available.
If you hear "Go … Tigers … Go … Tigers," I promise you it’s spelled "Geaux … Tigers … Geaux … Tigers."
"Go" would be like having someone named Thibodo. See how stupid that looks?
Louisiana is a state with a city named Natchitoches (NAK-uh-dish), a waterway named Atchafalaya (uh-chaff-uh-LYE-yuh), a parish (county) named Calcasieu (CAL-kuh-shoe) and a town called Cut Off (Cut Off). Why have a word so simple as "go" when you can complicate it with silent letters?
If you think Les Miles jokes are in order, let someone in purple and gold tell them. Les might be an idiot, but he’s their idiot.
Except, of course, when he’s their hero, their mad genius.
Or he might be both, which is often the case.
They’ll call him "The Hat" because he can’t quite seem to get a baseball cap to fit like everyone else can. An ESPN talking head turned that into "The Mad Hatter," but LSU fans prefer "The Hat," as in "Fear The Hat."
I’ve got another word for you: Lesticles. Don’t look it up, but if you’re good with rhymes, you probably can guess it speaks to Miles’ bravado, dating to LSU’s 5-for-5 conversion rate on fourth downs in a thrilling 2007 victory at home against reigning national champion Florida.
"Onions!" is how Verne Lundquist of CBS describes it.
"Lesticles" is a word that will have you in good stead with LSU fans, provided you wait to giggle until they do.
Some other things you might find interesting about the new friends you’ll make next weekend at Cowboy Stadium:
Louisiana has drive-through daiquiri shops. A big piece of freezer tape over the straw hole of the snug-fitting plastic lid ensures you don’t end up driving with an open container, so rest easy.
Louisiana allows people 18 to 20 to be present in places where alcohol is served, which is why nobody there raised an eyebrow upon hearing LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was at a bar called Shady’s the week before his 21st birthday.
You can’t buy alcohol if you’re under 21, but Louisiana still has some of the most liberal drinking laws in the country. Remember that when someone calls you the L-word, especially if you’re sitting in Section 420.
One reason LSU fans take scandal in stride is the most celebrated player in school history, 1959 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon, served roughly three years in federal prison in the 1980s for counterfeiting.
His Heisman is now on display in a glass case at a Baton Rouge restaurant called TJ Ribs. As far as anyone knows, it’s not counterfeit.
For his part, Cannon has a sense of humor about scandal, but less so when it’s about his. A call to his office Friday morning was answered with the greeting, "Clearinghouse for all rumors about the LSU FIGHTING Tigers!"
Fighting Tigers, you should know, is the official nickname of LSU sports teams. Awkward right about now, huh?
There is an Internet meme, reworked from an original that pokes fun at Nebraska fans, and it suggests LSU fans smell like corndogs. But bourbon might be closer to the truth, in many cases.
Don’t dare suggest there is a better game-day atmosphere anywhere than LSU’s Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night. Don’t hint that any other fan base might be louder or more loyal.
If you point out that Tiger Stadium was half-empty when the Tigers finished their second-half comeback against powerhouse Troy in 2008, please remember that was the loudest, most loyal half-empty stadium in the history of sports.
Oh, and LSU fans love their marching band — just like every other fan base does, only more so. If you see the hair on the back of their necks stand up after the first three notes of pre-game "Hold That Tiger," know that’s a normal reaction.
Did you see the "Seinfield" episode in which Elaine Benes’ boyfriend became transfixed upon hearing "Desperado" by the Eagles? He wouldn’t let her declare it "our song," because it was already his song.
Well, the pregame music the Golden Band from Tigerland plays is "our song" to every LSU fan you’ll meet.
LSU fans, and Louisiana natives as a whole, want you to know they don’t give a nutria’s backside what you think of them. However, they will read everything you post online anyway, because they can’t help themselves.
If they declare you an honorary coonass, don’t be insulted. It’s a compliment, despite what one angry Louisiana historian might say in an official letter of protest. In no way is it intended as a racial or ethnic slur, so if you hear it directed to you, it wouldn’t hurt to wear it as a badge of honor.
If, while you are at the game, you verbalize your knowledge of anything LSU-related, you will soon find out what message board your new buddies frequent online.
"I see SOMEBODY reads the Rant!" Tiger Rant loyalists of TigerDroppings.com will say.
"Looks like SOMEONE has been on the Lair!" a subscriber to The Tiger’s Lair on TigerRoar.com will say.
"You must read TigerBait," a TigerBait.com veteran will say.
And they’re all correct, because nobody could possibly know anything about LSU that wasn’t first reported, conceived or invented on fill-in-the-blank.com.
LSU fans are the greatest in the country, except when they’re not. They can turn on their Tigers at the drop of a Hat.
When you’re winning, it’s the best place to be a coach, former LSU head football coaches have said. When you’re losing, the same coaches went on to say, it’s the worst.
Some wearing purple and gold acknowledge the LSU fan base has no qualms about eating its own.
That might be true, especially if there’s any Cayenne pepper or Tabasco handy.
They are a fun bunch.
Laissez les bons temps rouler means "Let the good times roll." Those were believed to be the first words ever spoken by former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who just got out of prison.
He’s the one who famously said the only way he could lose a certain election was to be caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy.
Edwards is a Cajun. Not everyone from Louisiana is, and you should know that.
The Ragin’ Cajuns of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will tell you LSU stole "Geaux" and other Cajun ways from them. They can make a good case — and a good jambalaya too.
"Lagniappe" means "a little something extra." You’re sure to get that with just about any LSU fan you meet, whether we’re talking food, drink, conversation or Tiger-baiting.
It’s OK to make eye contact. There’s a good chance you’ll pass a good time (another expression you might hear) if you hang out with the right LSU fans.
When y’all get back, I want to hear all about it from you guys.
Numbers to ponder...
If you were lucky enough to secure tickets to No. 4 LSU’s opener against No. 3 Oregon on Saturday night, you may very well be on the road to Arlington, Texas, and looking for an easy way to kill time.
Some numbers to crunch as the Cowboys Classic draws near:
16 - Years since LSU lost at No. 3 Texas A&M in the first game of the Gerry DiNardo era. Oregon is the highest-ranked opponent for the Tigers in a season opener since the 1995 Aggies.
9 - Seasons since LSU played the role of underdog in a season opener. Virginia Tech, favored by a touchdown, scored a 26-8 victory over the Tigers to start the 2002 season. The oddsmakers like Oregon by 3-1/2 in this one.
2 - Previous matchups of top-five foes on a neutral field to open the season. The last such meeting came when No. 4 Miami beat No. 1 Auburn at Giants Stadium in a 1984 opener.
16 - Games LSU coach Les Miles has won, in 19 tries, when given two weeks or more to prepare. The Mad Hatter is 5-1 in bowl games and 6-0 in season openers.
65 - Games in the Miles era in which LSU has rushed for more than 100 yards. The Tigers have won 58.
39 - Games in the Miles era in which LSU’s opponent has rushed for fewer than 100 yards. The Tigers have won 36.
34 - Games in the Miles era in which LSU has rushed for 100 yards AND its opponent has rushed for fewer than 100. The Tigers have won all 34.
4 - Punts returned by Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris for touchdowns last year.
0 - Snaps Harris is expected to play Saturday. Coach Chip Kelly suspended the All-American cornerback/return man in June after he was clocked driving 118 mph on an Oregon interstate.
238 - Days since Jordan Jefferson turned in a career performance at Cowboys Stadium to lead LSU past Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
8 - Days before Saturday’s opener Jefferson was arrested for his alleged role in an off-campus bar fight and suspended indefinitely from the LSU football team.
2,040 - Distance, in miles, Oregon fans must travel from Eugene for Saturday’s game.
15,000 - Tickets Oregon distributed to season-ticket holders for the opener.
465 - Distance, in miles, LSU fans will travel from Baton Rouge to watch the game.
37,000 - Tickets LSU distributed to season-ticket holders, the most tickets the school has ever sold for a regular-season away game.
80 - Distance, in miles, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, where LSU hopes to finish its season with a return to the BCS championship game.
10 - Teams that have reached a BCS title game with one loss or more. The other 16 got through the regular season unscathed.
0 - Teams that have reached a BCS title game after losing their season opener.
I’m so pumped... football is finally here! It’s like Christmas in September!!! I don’t think the Ducks are going to be #3 for long!