Rabalais: Can LSU’s youth serve up a surprise at Auburn? _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU coach Les Miles walks the team out before LSU's game against New Mexico State, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Baton Rouge.

It’s a stretch to say the LSU Tigers need to be driven to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday in a fleet of stretch limos because they’re not old enough to drive themselves.

Or that they’re going to be asked to show their IDs at the locker-room door.

Or that their moms have packed a postgame snack for them in their duffel bags.

But not by much.

Youth, the saying goes, is wasted on the young. Not at LSU. There, youth is treated like a precious — and useful — commodity. Like platinum. Or boudin.

Not that there’s much choice for Tiger Football Inc. Not in the wake of what has been exported from this program the past two years.

LSU hemorrhaged 16 early entries to the NFL after the 2012 and 2013 seasons. That makes LSU look really impressive at draft time, but that drain of skilled veterans has taken a toll.

By default, it also has opened up vast opportunities for LSU’s underclassmen. A total of 17 freshmen have seen action for LSU this season, second-most in the Southeastern Conference behind Tennessee (22).

Three freshmen have started: receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn and defensive tackle Davin Godchaux. At least one more, quarterback Brandon Harris, gets his first start Saturday at No. 5 Auburn.

Sending in a rookie who hasn’t logged much time in the LSU offense’s pilot seat looks like a football kamikaze mission, especially in a heavily fortified stronghold like the “eagle’s nest.”

But again, it’s not like LSU has much choice. Anthony Jennings started the first four games with fairly positive results, but Les Miles had to push his abort button last Saturday against New Mexico State after three first-quarter turnovers. Starting Jennings against Auburn frankly came to look like a non-starter, especially after Harris came out in complete Gamer Mode against the Aggies and led LSU to seven touchdowns out of seven possessions.

“I’m excited for the kid,” defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said. (The Christians versus Lions analogy for this game immediately leaps to mind.)

So does an incredulous question: Kid? Kid? You’re a kid, Mr. LaCouture.

You’re only a sophomore, just turned 20 a month ago. The Hat has hats older than you.

But recruiting wars and the siren song of the NFL have taught Miles a thing or two about player personnel philosophy. Miles may be viewed as conservative and stodgy by a large and perpetually grumpy segment of the LSU fan base, but he has latched onto this youth movement thing with both hands.

“If a young player — a newcomer, a freshman — can help our team be better, we play them,” Miles said. “And if he can make us better as a freshman, without redshirting, we want him to have as many experiences as a freshman so, by the time he’s a sophomore, he can play more dominantly.”

All told, LSU employs 24 underclassmen on its two-deep roster — 14 sophomores, three redshirt freshmen and seven true freshmen from its stellar 2014 recruiting class. Another one of those freshmen, safety Jamal Adams, will play an even bigger role when LSU employs extra defensive backs now that Dwayne Thomas (a sophomore) is out with a knee injury.

“It’s LSU,” said LaCouture, the wise old vet who still can’t legally buy a drink at a campus bar. “The expectation you have coming in here is you will play a big-time role. You’re told that when you’re recruited. You do the job you’re called upon to do.”

Youth brings bold efforts and big mistakes, the kind that could leave Miles so upset it would sear the brim of his hat.

But there aren’t other options. Especially this year. He can’t call up old assistant Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State and execute a trade. You dance with who you brought, even if some of your party was dancing at their senior proms just a few months ago.

Can LSU win at Auburn? The game has a David and Goliath feel, or rather David’s younger brother and Goliath.

But if you can remember how young and foolish you once were, remember that you once thought yourself limitless and practically immortal, you can imagine that these young knuckleheads really believe they can fly like Aubie the Eagle at Jordan-Hare on Saturday.

Maybe they’re too young to know what they’re doing, but maybe they’re also too young to know they’re supposed to fail.

In this case, that might be a good thing.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv