Start Time: 7:30 p.m. EST, Aug. 31
Location: Tiger Stadium; Baton Rouge, LA
Weather: 81 degrees at kickoff, 4 mph winds
TV: SEC Network
Betting Line: LSU -27.5, O/U 52
I want to start off this preview by saying, I do not believe Georgia Southern will beat LSU in its season-opener, but I fully expect the Eagles to give the Tigers all they can handle.
The real hope is that LSU overlooks GS as a Group of Five team that cannot hang (like they did Troy), and are eventually surprised by the zone read rushing attack like Clemson was for the first two quarters of last season’s opener.
LSU’s offense will be led by second-year starter Joe Burrow at the helm. In his first season of starting at quarterback for the Tigers, Burrow threw for almost 2,900 yards and 16 touchdowns to go with 5 interceptions and a Fiesta Bowl win over UCF to cap off a 10-win campaign and a second-place finish in the SEC West.
As has been the case with most Tiger-led offenses, the key will be the running game led by the two headed backfield of John Emery Jr., and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The biggest key for Southern will be maintaining gap discipline and stopping the pair of talented LSU backs.
If GS can slow down the rushing of the Tigers and make its opponent one-dimensional, maybe Burrow will air it out more than he is comfortable with. It could possibly get the team from Baton Rouge get out of its comfort zone on the offensive side of the ball and lead to some mistakes.
Receiver Justin Jefferson will be the tall-task to cover for Southern’s secondary, as the 6’3” wide out should be a favorite target for Burrow. Jefferson hauled in 54 passes as a sophomore in 2018, scoring 6 touchdowns and racking up 875 yards.
For Georgia Southern, its biggest task will be replacing Wesley Fields as its primary running back. On the plus side, Shai Werts is back to help steady the ship with the departure of Fields due to graduation.
Werts had a very good year passing-wise in 2018 for a team that would ideally not air the ball out very often, throwing 10 touchdowns and zero picks. If he can take another step as a passer and make some throws to keep the Tigers’ front-seven off balance, this offense may be scary.
Wesley Kennedy III has proven to be a lightning quick option when he gets into space as a dual-threat receiver and runner. Kennedy ran for nearly 500 yards last season on the ground and hauled in 15 passes to go along with 3 total touchdowns.
Thumping running back Logan Wright and scatback Matt LaRoche should also see a decent bit of work this season as well as the Eagles try to throw LSU out of rhythm with many misdirection plays on offense.
The big key for Georgia Southern’s chances of contending (and potentially winning) this game will come down to how its front-seven defends the running game of LSU.
Under Orgeron, the Tigers are typically productive on the ground and regularly finish in the top half of the FBS standings in running the ball despite technically running a pro-style scheme.
GS’ defensive line will need to get penetration early and often, as nose tackle Ty Phillips and Raymond Johnson III will look to break through the Tigers’ front line.
As mentioned above, the secondary has to contend with a fairly efficient passer in Burrow, who typically does not make many mistakes as a passer and force his receiver Justin Jefferson to work for his catches.
Luckily, Georgia Southern’s shutdown corner Monquavion Brinson should be up to the task along with veterans Kindle Vildor and Jessie Liptrot helping lock down potential pass catchers.
LSU is defensively coming off of a season where it finished in the top-40 of the FBS in scoring, allowing opponents only 23.6 points per game.
The spread for this game is -27.5 in favor of the Tigers, although I definitely believe the Eagles have the talent and veteran presence to keep it within 3 touchdowns.
LSU is typically not known for its high-flying offenses, but scored 32 points per game in 2018. I do think this one is going to be a fairly low-scoring affair, with Georgia Southern showing it can hang for 2 or 3 quarters before the Tigers eventually pull away, a la last season’s opener at Clemson.
My Prediction: LSU 27, Georgia Southern 13