We can just call this weeks' How We Stop, "Missing Persons". The biggest story surrounding Saturday's game is the absence of four impact players: Oregon CB Cliff Harris and LB Kiko Alonso, and LSU QB Jordan Jefferson and WR Russell Shepard. How will those losses impact the game, and which team will ultimately be worse for wear? Let's take a look.
LSU's Passing Game vs. Oregon's DB's
With the loss of Jefferson, the quarterbacking duties fall to senior Jarrett Lee. Lee's career in one word? Maddening. His 2008 season featured seven pick-sixes. Seven. He has spent the last two years as a backup to the equally inconsistent Jefferson, throwing for 771 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2009 and 2010 combined. For his career, Lee sports a 53% completion rate and 6.6 yards per attempt. Most important of all, the abuse that LSU fans have rained down on him in his career make the insults hurled at Nate Longshore or Brady Leaf look like second-grade playground banter. He's a head case, and if the boo birds start, the Ducks can have a field day.
At wide receiver, the Tigers are anchored by junior Rueben Randle, a 6'4" athletic freak who was the #1 wide receiver in the 2008 class. He caught 33 balls for 544 yards last season, leading the team. Replacing Shepard on the other side is sophomore Kadron Boone, who has six catches last year as a true freshman. Freshman Odell Beckham is listed as the third option, with sophomore James Wright and freshman Jarvis Landry. It's an extremely talented group, but the loss of Shepard saps the unit of much of its experience.
Trying to stop this passing attack will be an Oregon cornerback unit that will be without its most dynamic playmaker in Cliff Harris, and has as little experience as the wide receivers they will be trying to cover. Senior Anthony Gildon steps into the role as the #1 corner for this game. Gildon definitely isn't a playmaker like Cliff Harris; he more fits the mold of a Talmadge Jackson III - a cornerback who is reliable and unspectacular. Replacing Harris in the starting lineup will be redshirt freshman Terence Mitchell. Duck fans have been itching to see Mitchell on the field ever since he wowed us as a playmaker in the 2010 Spring Game. Troy Hill and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will also see playing time, their first as collegians.
The experience in the Oregon defensive backfield lies with safeties John Boyett and Eddie Pleasant. Boyett is a candidate for Pac-12 defensive player of the year, and Pleasant scares the hell out of me. If Jarrett Lee has anyone to be scared of come Saturday, it's these two.
LSU's got a ton of talent out wide, but will Jarrett Lee be able to get them the ball with Oregon's equally talented corners on them, and an angry Eddie Pleasant bearing down on him? We shall find out soon enough. Next topic!
LSU's Running Game vs. Oregon's Front Seven
Running the ball is where LSU's offense thrives. Last year's Tigers averaged 187 yards/game. I mean, it's 100 yards less than our offense, but whatever, it's cool, no big deal. The loss of Jordan Jefferson hurts most here; Jefferson was the Tigers' second-leading rusher last year, and Jarrett Lee is a statue. Running back Spencer Ware is the clear #1, building off his 100 yard performance in last year's Cotton Bowl with a strong off-season. Backing him up will be two sophomores with contrasting styles, power back Alfred Blue, and the speedy Michael Ford.
They will be running behind an offensive line that has experience, but recently took a hit in losing guard Josh Dworaczyk to injury. Sophomore tackle Chris Faulk and senior guard Will Blackwell also missed time in fall camp with injuries, but are expected to start. The starting line will also feature senior center PJ Lonergan, junior tackle Alex Hurst, and senior guard T-Bob Hebert, who will be taking Dworaczyk's spot. One wild card to watch out for is freshman guard La'El Collins, a 6'5", 320 pound 18 year old, who makes me glad we won't be playing LSU when he's a senior. It's a big ol' SEC line that should average out to about 310 pounds. Needless to say, it will be a test for an unproven defensive line that is peaking at the right time.
Oregon's D-line was the standout unit of fall camp, not counting the running backs. Senior Terrell Turner is the veteran, and up to eight guys should stand to see action in this one. The defensive tackle cluster of Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli, Wade Keliikipi, and Isaac Remington will shoulder the responsibility of closing gaps and stopping the inside running game, and Dion Jordan and Brandon Hanna will try to fill Kenny Rowe's shoes as a pass-rushing menace. While LSU outweighs Oregon on this side of the ball, both Heimuli and Keliikipi weigh over 300 pounds, and both Hart and Remington are 6'6", and will try and duplicate the success of last year's freakishly tall D-tackle, Brandon Bair.
The Ducks second line of defense is a Kiko Alonso-less linebacking corps.
Sidenote: Is it just me, or are linebackers the only position group referred to as a "corps"? Similarly, running backs are a "stable", wide receivers are a "bevy", and I'm pretty sure punters are a "gaggle". And we're back in...
Chip Kelly looks to senior linebacker Dewitt Stuckey to step up in place of Alonso, with senior Josh Kaddu and junior Michael Clay flanking him. Clay and Kaddu combined for 74 tackles last season, so the key to success is Stuckey playing well in his first major action as a Duck. But as a senior, Stuckey has had more than enough preparation for this moment. Backing up these three will be sophomore Boseko Lokombo, redshirt frosh Derrick Malone, and two-time scout team player of the year Blake Thompson. It isn't the deepest unit, especially in the middle. With Alonso out indefinitely, playmakers will have to show themselves, and soon.
So how does Oregon stop LSU?
Anytime a front seven loses five starters, there is cause for concern. That concern is magnified when the opponent boasts an offensive line that is both huge and experienced, and three talented running backs. But LSU's offense is not what wins them games, and their front seven is dealing with similar problems against our, more talented, offense. Oregon has lost games under Chip Kelly to the following four quarterbacks: Kellen Moore, Andrew Luck, Terrelle Pryor, and Cam Newton. All four have better-than-average mobility to go with their elite talent as throwers. Jarrett Lee's lack of elusiveness leaves him vulnerable to pass rush, and if Oregon can get to him early, they can render LSU's offense one-dimensional in a hurry. It's going to take a fantastic game from Oregon's front seven to shut down the run game completely. But defensive coordinator Nick Alliotti knows how to run a bend-but-don't-break style, and he knows how to send a multitude of blitz looks at the quarterback. If the Ducks can get stops on third downs, and keep three-point possessions from becoming sevens, it will give our offense a great chance to win the game.