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UCLA Football Preview: LSU Brings High-Powered Offense to Town
With an experienced offensive line and a QB who can light up the scoreboard, LSU's offense might give the Bruin defense a rough day.
It’s likely been a long week for the LSU Tigers. First, the team left Baton Rouge for Houston to get out of the way of Hurricane Ina. Then, they had to fly from Houston to LA for tomorrow’s game.
While the team appears to have safely arrived for today’s game, the big question is: “How will being on the road all week affect the play of a team which had a disappointing 2020?"
We already know that the Bruin offense will be up against a talented LSU defense. That means it will be even more important that UCLA has another big game on the defensive side of the ball. So, let’s take a look at the LSU offense to know what to expect.
There was supposed to be a quarterback competition in training camp between senior Myles Brennan and sophomore Max Johnson. That changed, for this game anyway, when Brennan broke his arm in a freak accident on a fishing trip. As a result, Johnson will get the start today.
Last season, Johnson started the final two games of the year for the Tigers and he played well in both. Johnson led LSU to wins over #6 Florida and Ole Miss last year. The left-hander threw for three touchdowns against the Gators and three more against the Rebels. He made mince meat of the Ole Miss secondary, scorching them for 435 yards passing.
UCLA will need to get pressure on Johnson early and often to make life easier for the Bruin secondary.
Wide Receivers and Tight End
Against Ole Miss, Johnson’s favorite target was Kayshon Boutte, who set the SEC record for single-game receiving yards with 308 on 14 receptions. He also scored three TDs in the game. I expect that UCLA DB coach will put Qwuantrezz Kinght on Boutte this afternoon.
LSU’s other starting receivers are juniors Trey Palmer and Jaray Jenkins. Of the two, Palmer is the other deep threat for the Tigers. He caught 23 passes for 397 yards and two touchdowns last season while Palmer added 10 catches for 108 yards and no touchdowns.
Kole Taylor will start at tight end for LSU. Last season, Taylor wasn’t used very much in the passing game but, remember, the Tigers have a new offensive coordinator who could opt to mix in more targets for the 6’7” tall junior.
Last season, LSU relied on both Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery, Jr. as a 1-2 punch in the backfield. Davis Price got the ball a little more, but Emery, Jr. had the better average per carry with 5.0 YPC to Davis-Price’s 4.3 YPC. Look for them to share the backfield duties again today.
They may also play an important role in the passing game. New OC Jake Peetz did help Christian McCaffrey have a record-breaking season in 2019 when he was the Panthers’ running backs coach, after all.
The good news for Max Johnson is that LSU returns all five starters on the offensive line. The experience starts at right tackle where graduate student Austin Deculus may set a school record for most games played this season. He has already played in 49 games and started 34 of them. Next to him is senior Chasen Hines who has started 10 games for the Tigers.
At center will be senior Liam Shanahan who has also started 10 games. Shanahan transfered to the Tigers from Harvard. So, you know that their line is anchored by a guy who has a good understanding of the offense.
Moving to the left side, senior Ed Ingram will be at guard. Ingram has started 31 games for LSU. The only underclassman to start on the offensive line for the Tigers will be left tackle Cameron Wire. If there is a weak link on the LSU line, Wire might be it. He “only” has six starts total and one of those was at guard.
UCLA might be wise to send their rushers at Wise, but that means that Max Johnson will see them coming since he is a southpaw.
With a stable offensive line and a quarterback who can torch the secondary, LSU’s offense could give the Bruin defense fits. UCLA is going to have to find a way to get to Johnson to disrupt the Tiger passing game while also holding the backs in check.
On paper at least, it seems like a tough task. It’s also why today’s game will be an excellent indicator of how good this Bruin team really is, and it will certainly be a better indicator than last week’s game against Hawai’i.
Both Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit picked the Bruins in this one this morning on College Gameday. Let’s hope they’re right.