LSU vs. Sam Houston State: What we’re watching today


It’s Saturday in Baton Rouge, and the 12th-ranked Tigers are back in town after a gutsy win in Houston. LSU won’t begin conference play until Mississippi State visits on September 20, but the first objective is Sam Houston State. The Bearkats (1-1) are ranked 13th in the latest FCS poll, and with good reason. They produced 685 yards last week against Alabama State, including 396 through the air, in a resounding 51-20 victory. Their high-octane offense is anchored by a handful of FBS transfers, including former TCU receiver LaDarius Brown, will the receiving corps will be put to the test against a stout pass defense.

Meanwhile, the Tigers (1-0) continue their search for an identity after a come-from-behind victory over Wisconsin. The Miles Method worked its magic as the Tigers came alive in the fourth quarter, but a young team is still trying to find its footing. Fortunately, LSU will have a few games to figure it out before their trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium to open October. The Bayou Bengals cap the season with seven SEC matchups, including marquee games against Alabama (Nov. 8) and Texas A&M (Nov. 27).

LSU makes their SEC Network debut at 6:30 p.m. tonight with Brett Musburger, Jesse Palmer, and Maria Taylor on the call. You can also follow the game on WatchESPN or listen live on the LSU Radio Network. But no matter how you stay connected with today’s game, we want you to watch or listen with purpose. Here’s a sampling of what Death Valley Voice is watching:

1. Tiger Stadium is bigger, better, and louder than ever before.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, but nothing compares to the real thing:

The most feared stadium in football received a 10,000-seat facelift that includes new suites, video screens, and concessions on the stadium’s south end. With a capacity of 102,321 this season — up from 92,542 last season — there’s a great chance that the Tigers’ record attendance is reset. Death Valley packed 93,374 fans for the 2012 loss to Alabama, but it’s just a matter of time before LSU rewrites history.

There’s no place like home for head coach Les Miles. The Mad Hatter is 57-7 in Tiger Stadium, including wins in 31 of his last 32 home games. LSU also boasts an FBS-record 46-game winning streak against non-conference opponents in the regular season.

Mike VI has attended 32 of 43 home games since arriving on campus in 2007. (Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

2. It’s Mike’s world, we’re all just living in it.

Only metal bars separate LSU’s live tiger mascot Mike VI from opponents as they stream onto the field, one of college football’s most intimidating traditions. But there’s no guarantee that he’ll prowl the sidelines tonight.

To the university’s credit, Mike isn’t sedated or forced into his trailer. The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine has noted that he isn’t easily encouraged, so fans might miss him every now and then. For what’s it’s worth, Mike attended every home game in 2011, when the Tigers roared to an SEC title and BCS championship game appearance. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide.

3. The arms race is far from over.

Brandon Harris played a limited role last week, but even a 21-point rally didn’t give Anthony Jennings the starting job. Both quarterbacks still have something to prove, and live-action reps against Sam Houston State and UL-Monroe will help set them apart. Les Miles couldn’t find a meaningful difference in the preseason, though Jennings has a slight edge after his sharp second-half performance against the Badgers.

With confidence on his side, it should be interesting to see how Harris meshes with the first-team offense in the early goings of today’s game. Miles, who left a ton of talent on the sideline during last week’s tense win, will send out a similar starting lineup tonight. Anticipate some generous substitutions once LSU pulls ahead.

4. One, two, three, Fournette.

The highly touted running back didn’t live up to his top billing last week, rushing for just 18 yards on eight carries. Even though Fournette was far from superhuman, he didn’t have to be. It’s important to remember that for all the (justified) hype, he’s still a freshman. Fournette should make an impact against a porous Bearkats line, and the first touchdown of his college career will come in front of the Tiger faithful.