Welcome to the newest feature here at MTB, “Badger Opposition Research.” It’s our attempt to give you the scoop on each Badger football opponent, and there’s no better way to kick it off than with a look at the first team the Badgers will face in 2014 — LSU.
Over the course of this series you’ll get a look at what each team looks like coming out of spring practice, as well as our take on what it all means for the contest between UW and the opposition.
Sit back, relax and let us do all the leg work. That way you can look super-smart in front of all your friends at BBQ’s and parties all summer long (yes, summer will be here eventually…right).
Let’s get to our look at LSU, shall we?
LSU’s defense sputtered a bit early last season, but with so many pieces to figure out that was bound to happen. However, there is no shortage of talent at linebacker for the Tigers and it could be the strongest position group on the field.
There is a fierce battle going on for starting spots, but it isn’t because people aren’t stepping up — rather it’s because there are so many quality options available to the defensive coaching staff. Ronnie Fiest led all players with 14 tackles in the spring game, and he wasn’t even considered someone to be on the two-deep entering spring ball.
Watch out for names like Kwon Alexander, Lamar Louis, D.J. Welter and Kendall Beckwith, who all seemed to get major reps in the spring. Wisconsin will need to find a way to deal with a very athletic and deep linebacker group if it wants to establish a solid run game in the opener. Judging by spring, that may be easier said than done.
Just like Wisconsin, knowing who the Tigers will trot out at wide receiver at Reliant Stadium was a complete unknown after the spring. Again, just like UW, the injury bug hit the wide receiver corp. hard in Baton Rouge, La. too.
Avery Peterson, Kevin Spears, John Diarse and Quantavius Leslie all spent time out or with no-contact jerseys on them during the spring and that really hampered the development of a group that lost a ton after the 2013 season.
Gone are Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Kadron Boone and James Wright from a very talented group last season. While top-rated recruits like Malachi Dupree and Trey Quinn will enter the competition in the fall, expecting them to jump in and pick up where veterans were a year ago may be a bit much.
This group has a lot of work ahead of them if they want to be where they will need to be to compete at the top of the SEC in 2014.
Biggest Question Mark:
Hey, Wisconsin isn’t the only one with a massive question mark at quarterback either, woo hoo! LSU saw a battle between sophomore Anthony Jennings and redshirt freshman Brandon Harris, one that wasn’t even close to being decided by the end of the 15 practices either. Sound familiar yet?
Jennings led the Tigers in the Outback Bowl win over Iowa this past January, but individually wasn’t that impressive — going just 7-of-19 for 82 yards and an interception. He also had trouble running the ball, collecting minus-31 yards on five carries.
Harris opened some eyes in his time with the No. 1 offense during the spring game, throwing all three of his touchdown passes (11-of-21 for 195 yards, three touchdowns and a 77-yard rushing TD) in the second quarter with the starters. However, that 11-of-21 shows there’s still plenty of work to do in the accuracy department.
Neither quarterback did enough to go ahead of the other by the end of spring and that’s where the focus of everyone’s attention will be this fall too.
What it All Means:
Guess what? The LSU Tigers are going to be pretty good in 2014. Shocking revelation, right? However, this team isn’t far-and-away better than the Badgers coming out of the spring. In fact, these two teams appear to be on pretty even footing. Don’t let the S-E-C logo on the jersey intimidate you, LSU is just as flawed as Wisconsin is coming out of the spring. Look for this to be a very interesting early-season battle and one that probably won’t be indicative of how good either team could be by the end of the season either.