What did our last two schedules, both of which ended in 2-10 records, have in common?
We played LSU in the second game of the season.
I have a friend whose alma mater is Troy University and he calls games in which a team is overmatched physically “body bag games.” For us, LSU has always been a body bag game. We just don’t have the athletes, especially the waves of linemen on both sides of the ball, that the Bayou Bengals do.
Last year, we played LSU coming off a heartbreaking loss to Northwestern. We played them close enough for three quarters and then they just wore us down and won 27-3.
The year before, we played LSU coming off an easy opening victory to Western Carolina. It was a close game, but we lost tackle James Williams to injury, he never played for us again, and Larry Smith has been running for his life ever since.
As I’ve said earlier, our current schedule starts easy and gets progressively tougher. Elon was easy, UConn was tough but winnable, Ole Miss also tough but winnable, and then there’s South Carolina, a powerful team that values skilled players and finesse over hulking linemen and physical domination.
That doesn’t mean we won’t get hammered by the Gamecocks or that Larry won’t be running for his life with Jadaveon Clowney hot on his heels, but I wouldn’t call it a body bag game.
On the other hand, Alabama, our fifth opponent, is a body bag game. This is a deep, physically dominating team that could break us physically and psychologically, and we’re playing them in Tuscaloosa.
Remember how we put up a better fight against winnable teams early in the season, and we always seem to fall apart against the likes of Kentucky and Wake Forest — and even the worst Tennessee teams in decades — late in the year?
That’s because we lack depth – as Coach Franklin likes to say, “We’ve got players but just not enough of them – and that weakness is exposed in these body bag games and it just gets weaker and weaker as the season progresses.
Franklin’s already getting replacements ready. Josh Grady, for example, is taking snaps at wide receiver. We absolutely can’t afford to lose offensive linemen, where Franklin plans to play the same five guys (Fischer, Seymour, Johnson, Brown and White) and build some cohesion.
If it were a perfect world, we’d play our schedule in this order:
1. Elon: A team we should always beat.
2. Army: Another team we should beat, though we’d darn better take them seriously.
3. Wake Forest: Should be a winnable game, but our tank is always empty when we play these guys in November.
4. UConn: Another winnable game — as proven by last week’s victory — but also a physically tough game we should get out of the way in the first half of the season.
5. Kentucky: The SEC team closest to us in talent, but we always play them late in the year when we’re depleted.
6. Ole Miss: A team with good athletes but another winnable game for us.
7. Tennessee: The Vols now consider Kentucky a bigger rival, so why do we have to play them last? We’re the walking wounded by the time we play these guys in November.
8. Florida: A wildly talented team, but also a young team. We usually play them about this time anyway.
9. Georgia: It’s probably better for us to play Georgia earlier because they’re a physically superior team that takes a while to get on track, but we haven’t had much success against them lately anyway.
10. South Carolina: A freakishly talented team that’s far superior to the squads we beat in 2007 and 2008.
11. Arkansas: We’ve historically had some success against the Razorbacks, but this is an unusually powerful Arkansas team, and it’s not coached by Houston Nutt.
12. Alabama: I just don’t see what good can come from going to Tuscaloosa, and I wish we’d play this game dead last.