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August 28, 2014

Walking the beat: LSU





The 2014 football season is upon us, which means that it's time to take a closer look at Wisconsin's first opponent of the year: the No. 13 LSU Tigers.

However you can only learn so much from second and third-hand reports about other teams, so I've gone straight to the source and brought in a beat writer to give us the inside scoop. Bryan Lazare covers the LSU Tigers for TigerBait.com on the Rivals.com network, and he graciously agreed to fill us in on everything that's been going on down in Baton Rouge.

Be sure to read up on LSU at TigerBait.com, and you can follow Bryan on Twitter at @bldore.

The Badgers have reportedly settled on their starting quarterback, but it sounds like LSU will use both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris at quarterback on Saturday. What do Jennings and Harris bring to the table for LSU, and do you think both players will see the field? Or is that just a smokescreen to make Wisconsin prepare for both players?

Bryan Lazare: Les Miles is not a two-quarterback guy. But, neither Anthony Jennings nor Brandon Harris has shown that he is ready to be the full-time starter at this point. Harris has the stronger arm. Neither Jennings nor Harris is particularly accurate. Both quarterbacks can be a threat as a runner. Harris is more elusive, while Jennings is a more powerful runner. Both quarterbacks will play against Wisconsin. My guess is that Jennings, the sophomore, gets the start.

Quarterback battles tend to dominate fall camp coverage, so are there any other important story lines about LSU that might have flown under the radar over the last month?

BL: All of the other position battles have been settled without much notice. It appears that redshirt freshman John Diarse will join sophomore Travin Dural, the only wide receiver with any experience, in the starting lineup. True freshmen Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn will enter the mix in three and four-wide receiver sets. The top three tailbacks will be as expected -- seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard and true freshman Leonard Fournette. I would expect that all three backs will get carries Saturday. In a competition between two fifth-year seniors, Hoko Fanaika gets the nod over Evan Washington at right guard. The biggest surprise on the depth chart is at center where returning starter Elliott Porter apparently has been beaten out by sophomore Ethan Pocic, an Illinois native who was recruited by Wisconsin. Redshirt freshman Frank Herron will probably start at a defensive tackle spot. Junior Quentin Thomas was expected to start there, but he missed about 10 days with a biceps injury. He is back on the field, but it is not known how much he will play Saturday. Jalen Mills, a two-year starter who moved to safety, will probably not play Saturday as a punishment for his summer suspension. My guess is that junior Corey Thompson, who started five games last year, will start with senior Ronald Martin at safety. By far, the quarterback issue is the most pressing on the team.

What is one unit on offense or defense that you think will exceed expectations this year?

BL: Even though LSU lost Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue early to the NFL draft, it will not suffer at the running back position. Both Magee and Hilliard appear to be primed for outstanding senior seasons. Magee was very solid as Hill's backup in 2013. Hillliard has had the best August practice of all the tailbacks. He was very good as a freshman before slumping the past two seasons. Fournette has lived up to the hype during practice. He doesn't have to be a superstar because of the presence of Magee and Hilliard. Another true freshman - Darrel Williams - has been impressive in preseason camp. So, the Tigers have depth at tailback.

On the flip side, what is LSU's biggest weakness that might trip them up, either in this game or throughout the season?

BL: The focus in this game, in particular, will be on the LSU defensive line. Can the young defensive tackles hold up against Wisconsin's huge and experienced front? Thomas is the only tackle who has made a career start. Sophomore Christian LaCouture did a good job as the No. 3 defensive tackle in 2013. The next three defensive tackles are all redshirt freshmen -- Herron, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore. LSU should be fine at defensive end with senior Jermauria Rasco and junior Danielle Hunter, who is ready for a breakout season. Sophomore Tashawn Bower is more than adequate as the third end. But, the question remains with the defensive line's ability to match up against a big-time offensive line.

Finally, what is your score prediction for Saturday and why?

BL: LSU has experience in these season-openers in NFL stadiums. The Tigers are 3-0 with victories against North Carolina in Atlanta in 2010 and against Oregon and TCU in Arlington in 2011 and 2013, respectively. With the game in Houston, LSU will have a huge advantage in crowd support. That scenario was a big factor in the Tigers' victory against Oregon -- plenty of LSU fans. That home field advantage and a slight edge in speed makes me call this one LSU 20, Wisconsin 16.



John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.


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