Saturday, September 12, 2009

Questions going into tonight's Vanderbilt-LSU game

Who'll win tonight? Conventional wisdom says LSU. But how and by how much? I have no idea. And as usual, I want to believe the Commodores can pull off the upset. But can they? Again, I have no idea.

Why the indecision? Because many questions are left to be unanswered. Like...

Is our running game any good? Sure, the two freshmen tailbacks looked great and so did the offensive line... against the Catamounts. By 11 pm tonight, we'll know how good they really are. If we can't establish a running game against the Tigers, then our passing game will struggle.

Is Larry Smith ready for his first big test? Sure, Wake Forest was a challenge and so was the Music City Bowl, but back then he was the talented redshirt freshman with nothing to lose. Now he's the guy with the keys to the team and he's taking his team into one of the toughest environments in the nation.

Can we stop LSU's running game? Sure, our defensive line is solid and our linebackers are great. But by SEC standards they're not particularly big for the positions they play. And LSU's two top running backs, Scott and Williams, are big and fast.

Is our secondary deep enough? Sure, we have a fine starting lineup with Lewis and Hayward at corner, Graham at nickel and Richardson and Hamilton at safety. But after that, our only three backups on the depth chart are senior Joel Caldwell and true freshmen Trey Wilson and Eddie Foster. That's scary, especially if somebody goes down with an injury. Losing Eric Samuels, the best of the freshman DBs who had a pick and a fumble recovery in his first college game, to a sprained ankle really, really hurts.

Can Ryan Fowler hit a field goal — or even an extra point — that matters? How shaky was Fowler against Western Carolina? So much that Gentleman Johnson ordered a late field goal in a blowout just to give Fowler some more experience and then spent several minutes explaining to the WC coach why he did it.

I'm not sorry we played the Catamounts. It gave our young guys a chance to play a lot. But opening with a bad I-AA team hasn't answered any questions. If anything, it's created more (for example, we want even mention the present state of our supposedly award-winning punt game).

As far as predictions go, I think the running game has its ups and downs tonight, the tight ends and big WR Justin Green are a huge part of the passing game, Larry Smith plays cool under pressure and is impressive, and the defense makes some big plays and gives up some big plays.

I think the Commodores play well tonight, but Fowler doesn't get a chance to be the difference. Call it LSU 24, Vanderbilt 16.

But maybe not. If the Commodores can stay healthy and stay close into the third quarter, then they've got a shot. They certainly believe they can win.

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