Behind Enemy Bylines is a series in which The Red & Black discusses Georgia’s upcoming game with the sports editor of the student newspaper of Georgia’s opponent for that week. This week, assistant sports editor Michael Hebert talked to sports editor Kennedi Landry of The Daily Reveille at LSU.
Michael Hebert: Looking at LSU and Ed Orgeron, the Tigers had a hot start to the year. I guess it was a bit of a surprise to the national media. Was it really a surprise to people that are close to the program and the local media?
Kennedi Landry: I don’t know if surprise is the right word, LSU media kind of always expects the Tigers to come out and make noise in the national media more than the national media expects. To me personally, it was a big surprise. I had LSU winning against Miami but losing against Auburn. To come out 5-0 like that was a big surprise for me. If anything, the game I thought LSU would have won would have been Florida. This season as a whole has been really surprising. The Baton Rouge media has been either really far left or really far right when it comes to what they expected of LSU this year. There are some people that were critical and agreed that Coach O was on the hot seat, but there were others that were optimistic on how this season was going to go.
Michael Hebert: What did you take away from Coach Orgeron and how he’s preparing the team for this Georgia team?
Kennedi Landry: Coach O and the team knows what kind of team Georgia is. They are definitely not going to overlook them coming into Baton Rouge this weekend. I think they expect the offense to be the offense that they are. A lot of what LSU has been able to do this year has been good, but I don’t think it’s really been tested as much as it’s going to be going into this weekend, and Coach O knows that. Coming into Death Valley is hard for anybody, even a team like Georgia, but LSU is not going to go down without a fight. Either way I think it’s going to be a good game, in my opinion, it might end up being a defensive battle. But I guess we’ll see.
Michael Hebert: Looking at LSU’s defense, its obviously the strongest part of the team. What does defensive coordinator Dave Aranda look to do to not only fix the mistakes from the Florida loss but also try to slow down this Georgia offense?
Kennedi Landry: If I know Dave Aranda, Dave Aranda is not going to be happy about the performance this past weekend. Theoretically, if you think about it, Florida was only held to 20 points until the last 2 minutes of the game, which one touchdown came off of an interception. Devin White is a huge part of this defense, Florida’s first touchdown came off a series of plays where White wasn’t in because of a defensive rotation. It goes to show you how important he is to the defense. Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit and that secondary, it's dangerous. Delpit has been used as a traditional safety out in the field, but he’s also used on the rush; I think he actually leads the team in sacks. It’s crazy to think a safety is leading the team in sacks, which points to Delpit’s versatility but also the weakness of LSU’s pass rush. I don’t think it’ll be difficult for LSU’s defense, but they do have a lot of to fix.
Michael Hebert: On the flip side, although Georgia has won all its games, the Bulldogs have a little bit of trouble in the run game. LSU is going to want to establish the run with Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Do you see LSU trying to play to that advantage?
Kennedi Landry: Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are great backs to have in your backfield. It’s not Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, but they put up numbers that make you think about it. Brossette and Edwards-Helaire are big parts of this offense. I think to get this offense going with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, it’s going to be a creative balance of both run and pass. To get Joe Burrow going, you’re also going to need get those running backs going too.
Michael Hebert: You mentioned Burrow, what does he need to do in order to have the right amount of success for LSU’s offense against Georgia?
Kennedi Landry: Honestly, I know Joe Burrow’s [stat] lines aren’t the best. They’re great, they’re good, but they are not as elite as LSU probably needs them to be. He still is a solid quarterback and better than LSU has had in a few years now. I think a big part of Burrow and the passing game has been the receivers, and the receivers have had maybe four of five drops a game up until this point. Burrow is not faultless in any of these. He’s overthrown a couple of receivers. He needs to work on his pocket presence. He’s holding on to the ball a little long and taking his time. He scrambles; he’s been at good at scrambling and getting some yards when he needs to, but other times he’s being blindsided because he’s not aware of what’s going on in the pocket. As a quarterback, that’s what he needs to work on, along with the receivers and catching those balls.
Michael Hebert: Does it feel like this is the first big home game for LSU? I know Alabama is a big game every year for the Tigers, and it’s going to be again this year. But what does this game mean for LSU in this season?
Kennedi Landry: I think this is possibly the biggest game of the season. You don’t want to put too much emphasis on one game and Coach O has talked about that a lot. This game could really affect how LSU goes into the Mississippi State game and the Alabama game. The game is sold out, and I don’t expect it to be one of those games where its sold out and there are still empty seats, I honestly expect 101,000 people in that stadium this weekend. This game, obviously with them being from the east, you don’t play Georgia every year. The students, the fans, even though its a 2:30 game and Saturday nights in Death Valley are iconic, I expect this to be a rocking Death Valley. Even for the team, I think this is one of the biggest games. Obviously No. 2 Georgia is coming into town and that’s big, but especially after last week the team feels like they need to come out and prove themselves and prove that they deserve that No. 5 ranking they had last week and that they deserve to be higher than No. 13.
Michael Hebert: General thoughts on the game and a score prediction?
Kennedi Landry: Personally, I think I’m going to pick LSU to lose this one. The spread is by a touchdown, so I’ll go 23-17. I think LSU’s defense is going to come out like they always do. I know they struggled this past week against Florida, but Aranda is the mastermind. He knows how to fix things. It’s very technical things that LSU needs to fix, it's not personnel issues. I think the running game is going to come about, and if the running game is going then the passing game also will so LSU will put a couple of touchdowns. I don’t know how Kirby Smart plans to use Justin Fields, but I personally think LSU has a better chance to shut down Jake Fromm than they do Fields, just because LSU’s defense has a harder time with dual-threat quarterbacks. I guess we’ll see. I’m always on alert for an LSU upset in Death Valley.