LSU plays Eastern Michigan in football Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
Plays with Eastern Michigan would probably be more accurate, like that big scratched up ball that Mike the Tiger bats around his enclosure when he tires of raw meat.
The Eagles don’t exactly soar like their namesake. They don’t fare too well on the ground, either. Eastern Michigan’s rush defense is ranked dead last out of 127 FBS teams, allowing 373.3 yards per game. The French army gave up fewer yards per week to the Germans in 1940.
In power ranking guru Jeff Sagarin’s ratings, EMU comes in at 178th. He rates 53 FCS teams ahead of the Eagles, including McNeese State, LSU’s aborted Week 1 opponent, which comes in at No. 126 (LSU is No. 6, FYI).
EMU may need EMS before this one is over. This may well be the worst team ever to play in Tiger Stadium, and that includes LSU’s 2-9 team in 1992.
Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to come out to the campus on Saturday. Here are a few facts and key elements to the game:
1. It won’t feel like Death Valley in Death Valley: Unlike the 2:30 p.m. kickoff for the Auburn game on Sept. 19, which turned Tiger Stadium into a giant kiln, or the Sept. 5 opener with McNeese State, which turned Tiger Stadium into a giant lightning rod, it should be about 80 and clear at 6 p.m. When Dan Borne says “Chance of rain (or lightning) … never!” he’ll really mean it.
2. The Fournette record watch: Alley Broussard’s single-game rushing record (250 yards in the 2004 Ole Miss game) has been on borrowed time the past two weeks.
Leonard Fournette rolled up 228 yards rushing against Auburn and 244 yards last week at Syracuse. Broussard’s record would have been his if Fournette didn’t have a 23- or an 87-yard run called back by penalties.
EMU surrendered 556 rushing yards to Army last week, so Les Miles can pretty much dial up any yardage figure he wants to allow Fournette to have.
The interesting question is what is the tipping point. When do you say he’s had enough work, LSU is far enough ahead, that you don’t want Fournette to carry the ball anymore? Will it be 20 carries? Doubtful. Fifteen? A dozen or less?
The key for fans is, come out to see him play, even against a tomato can like EMU. Chances are you will see LSU football history, and years from now you’re certain to want to tell people you saw Fournette play in person.
3. Brandon “Progress is his middle name” Harris: After two cautious air campaigns against Mississippi State and Auburn, netting 145 total yards, Harris threw with a bit more abandon at Syracuse. He was 8-of-16 for 157 yards and a touchdown.
A couple of those throws were really clutch, like the 51-yarder over the middle to Travin Dural to set up a touchdown pass to Malachi Dupre, and a 42-yarder with nice touch to Dupre up the Syracuse sideline.
Harris isn’t currently allowed to talk to the media, but his growth and maturity as a passer and manager of LSU’s offense is evident.
The Tigers still don’t have a turnover this season, something that is attributable in large part to Harris.
4. Erase the penalties: LSU is the most-penalized team in the Southeastern Conference — and probably a couple of other conferences as well — averaging 86 yards per game in infractions. LSU had 14 penalties for 120 yards at Syracuse.
The Tigers have had a total of three touchdowns this season waved off by yellow hankies and a fistful of big gains.
The goal this week should be to cut the penalties in half and try to get better from there.
LSU could have 20 penalties in this game and win, but eventually infractions will cost the Tigers against a quality SEC foe.
5. Improve the punting game: LSU is 13th in the SEC in net punting at 33.4 yards per game. That number dropped to a woeful 28.8 against Syracuse, which averaged 22 yards on a pair of punt returns.
Fingers can be pointed at LSU’s coverage team, but save one for punter Jamie Keehn, who kicked several line drives that made it difficult for LSU’s gunners to get downfield in time to hold the Orange to short returns.
For the season, Keehn is averaging just 38.8 yards on 17 punts after averaging 44.9 yards per kick last season.
LSU may not punt against EMU, but if it does, Keehn’s average and the net punting average must come up markedly.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.