Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at LSU

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Saturday, September 8th, 2007, 9:15 Eastern


Forecast (from

Click the "Baton Rouge Weather" link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 1:00 pm Wednesday: Cloudy with a 50% chance of
scattered thunderstorms and scattered light rain showers.  Temperature 77.

Click here for’s VT/LSU roster card

Game Preview: #9 Virginia Tech (1-0) vs. #2 LSU (1-0)

by Chris Coleman,

This is the game Virginia Tech fans have been waiting for all summer. Sure,
everybody was happy to play East Carolina last week and get the season started.
However, Saturday’s game against LSU has drawn the most attention and created
the most discussion on the message boards. Tech fans are looking forward to this
one, and if the Hokies can pull it out, it would be huge for the program.

LSU is coming off an 11-2 season that saw them get an at-large berth to the
Sugar bowl in New Orleans, where they handily defeated Notre Dame 41-14. The
Tigers are very talented and ranked #2 in the country, and they’ll be the
biggest challenge the Hokies face this season.

The LSU Offense

LSU lost their top playmakers on offense when quarterback JaMarcus Russell
and wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis were all picked in the first
round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Russell was the #1 overall pick.

The Tigers replace Russell with r-senior Matt Flynn. Flynn was the starter in
LSU’s 40-3 victory over Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl, and was named Offensive
MVP of that game. He got off to a good start in the Mississippi State game last
week, completing 12-of-19 passes for 128 yards, with two touchdowns and no
interceptions. Flynn can also run. He has very deceptive speed. He finished with
42 yards rushing on 11 carries.

Flynn is a solid passer who generally makes good decisions. He doesn’t have a
huge arm, but it is definitely above average. Although he’s never played much
for LSU, he’s a fifth year senior, and those guys are generally pretty good.

LSU lacks a gamebreaker at tailback. They have some solid guys in the
backfield, but nobody special. Senior Jacob Hester (6-0, 224) is listed as the
starter at both tailback and fullback. He’ll get action at both spots. He is a
bruiser when running the ball, and he’s also an excellent receiver, catching 35
passes last season. That’s more than any Virginia Tech wide receiver caught last
season, which tells you how much they like to use Hester.

Sophomore running back Keiland Williams (6-0, 226) is more explosive than
Hester. After the way he capped last season, with 107 yards and two touchdowns
on just 14 carries against Notre Dame, many considered him to be the frontrunner
for the starting job this year. Sophomore Charles Scott (5-11, 226) and
r-freshman Richard Murphy (6-1, 197) both got playing against Mississippi State
last Thursday. The Tigers will likely use at least three backs against Virginia

LSU had two first round NFL Draft picks at receiver last year in Dwayne Bowe
and Craig Davis. This year they return senior Early Doucet (6-1, 210), who
caught 59 passes for 772 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He started the
2007 campaign with nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown against Mississippi
State. Doucet is a very talented receiver who will be a very high draft pick
next April.

However, the big question mark is whether or not LSU has anyone that can step
up for the loss of Bowe and Davis. Doucet is the only player on the team who
caught more than one pass last week at Mississippi State. Sophomore Brandon
LaFell (6-3, 205) is the other starter. He caught just five passes all of last
season. He had one catch for 15 yards and a touchdown last week.

LSU has a solid trio at tight end, though they don’t use them very much in
the passing game. Sophomore Richard Dickson (6-3, 235) is the starter, and he’s
backed up by senior and former starter Keith Zinger (6-4, 250). Senior Mit Cole
(6-4, 260) has experience as well. Those three players combined for just eight
receptions last year.

LSU’s offensive line is better than Virginia Tech’s, but they still aren’t
very strong by ACC standards. Starting at left tackle is sophomore Ciron Black
(6-5, 320). Black is big and athletic, and was a Freshman All-American last
season. As a freshman, he played more snaps than any other LSU offensive lineman
with 739. He blocked for quarterback Matt Flynn at Robert E. Lee High School in
Tyler, Texas.

Mammoth junior left guard Herman Johnson (6-7, 356) is LSU’s biggest lineman.
In fact, his bio states that he’s the "biggest player to ever wear the
purple and gold." Next to Johnson at center is junior Brett Helms (6-2,
270). Helms is on the Watch List for the Rimington Trophy, which is given to the
nation’s top center. He is credited with 108 knockdown blocks last season, with
28 coming against Tennessee. Those numbers can’t be accurate, but he’s a good
player nonetheless.

Sophomore Lyle Hitt (6-2, 299) starts at right guard, with senior Carnell
Stewart (6-5, 320) at right tackle. This is the weakest side of LSU’s offensive
line. Hitt played in three games as a defensive tackle last season, and none as
an offensive lineman. He is very inexperienced.

Stewart is a former blue chip defensive tackle who has been a bust in Baton
Rouge. He only played in five games as a defensive tackle at LSU. He was
switched to offensive tackle before the 2006 season, where he played mop up duty
in eight games last year. As a senior in 2007, he’s seeing his first significant
action. He struggled quite a bit protecting Matt Flynn against Mississippi State
last Thursday night.

The wildcard up front for LSU is senior guard Will Arnold (6-5, 330). Despite
having never played more than 10 games in a season, including just five last
year as a junior, he is considered by many to be the best offensive guard in the
nation. His career has been limited by numerous injuries and surgeries. He
missed spring practice this year because of knee and ankle surgeries. Extremely
strong, he bench presses over 550.

Arnold is capable of playing either guard position. He played 19 plays
against Mississippi State last week. No one knows exactly how healthy he is, but
LSU’s offensive line would be much more effective with him on the game. If
you’re a Tech fan, watch to see if Arnold is in the game. He wears #73.

Tech’s defense needs to take advantage of the LSU offensive line and play in
the backfield. Mississippi State racked up 11 tackles for loss against the
Tigers, including three sacks.

LSU is breaking in a number of new offensive coaches this year. Gary Crowton
is the offensive coordinator. He spent the last two years at Oregon where his
offense put up impressive numbers. Before that, he was the head coach at BYU,
and he is also a former offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears. Before his
stint with the Bears, he was the offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech in
1995, and head coach from 1996-98. His teams at Louisiana Tech were known for
their offensive prowess.

Joining Crowton as new members of the offensive staff are wide receivers
coach D.J. McCarthy and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa. Studrawa is a former
offensive coordinator at Bowling Green. They join head coach Les Miles, himself
a former offensive coordinator and an offensive-minded coach, to form a coaching
staff that should improve LSU’s offense eventually.

The LSU Defense

This could be the biggest mismatch up front that Virginia Tech has ever
faced. The Hokies have a below-average offensive line, and this week they have
the task of blocking the best defensive line in college football. The Hokies
will face some excellent defensive lines later in the season with FSU, Miami and
Georgia Tech on the schedule, but the one they are playing this Saturday is the
best of them all.

The headliner of the group is senior defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (6-2,
303). Dorsey is regarded as the best defensive tackle in college football, and
perhaps the best overall player in college football. He finished last season
with 64 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks despite drawing double
teams almost all the time.

As good as Dorsey is, sometimes he doesn’t even look like the best lineman on
his own team. Junior defensive end Tyson Jackson (6-5, 291) is huge on the end,
and he’ll give Tech’s offensive line fits. He had 10 tackles for loss and 8.5
sacks as a sophomore last season.

Junior defensive tackle Marlon Favorite (6-1, 302) started four games as a
sophomore last season, finishing with four tackles for loss and eight sacks.
He’ll split time at his position with junior Charles Alexander (6-3, 292), who
had three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2006.

The other defensive end spot belongs to sophomore Rahim Alem (6-3, 254) and
senior Kirston Pittman (6-4, 252). This is probably the weakest spot on the
defensive line for LSU, but that’s a relative weakness. Alem and Pittman are
good players, and they’ll be tough for Tech to block.

At linebacker, LSU’s top player is senior weak side backer Ali Highsmith
(6-1, 223). He has been a playmaker his entire career, with 17 career tackles
for loss and eight sacks. He has been a fulltime starter since his sophomore
year, and even started two games as a freshman. He is a very experienced

The other two linebackers are also returning starters. In the middle is
junior Darry Beckwith (6-1, 230). He had 65 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and
2.5 sacks a year ago. Senior Luke Sanders (6-5, 242) starts on the strong side.
He started 11 games last season. The LSU linebacker corps is very solid, and
they are able to run free and make plays because they have such a good defensive
line in front of them.

The Tigers return two senior starters at cornerback. Chevis Jackson (6-0,
184) has started all but one game the past two seasons and has three career
interceptions. The other corner is Jonathan Zenon (6-0, 180). He started all 13
games last season and had four interceptions. He has six career interceptions.

LSU’s starting safeties are new, but they are talented. Senior strong safety
Craig Steltz (6-2, 209) started six games over the last two seasons and had five
career interceptions heading into 2007. Last Thursday he had three more
interceptions in one game and was LSU’s defensive MVP. The free safety is junior
Curtis Taylor (6-3, 204). Taylor is the least experienced starter on LSU’s
defense. He had one interception against Mississippi State last week.

Last season the Tigers finished #3 nationally in total defense (242.77
yards), #3 in pass defense (145.69 yards) and #14 in rushing defense (97.08
yards). They were also #4 in scoring defense, allowing just 12.62 points per
game. Eight of their starters on the defensive side of the ball are back this

Don’t expect much out of Tech’s offense in this one. They are going to need a
lot of help from the defense and special teams. Also, don’t judge Sean Glennon
based on his stats in this game. Quarterbacks rarely have a good game against
the LSU defense. Check out these stats from last season:

vs. LSU in 2006
Name Team Where Comp. Att. Yards TD INT

Jerry Badd

LSU 7 17 63 0 2

Adam Austin

LSU 8 19 67 0 1

Willie Tuitama

LSU 8 17 50 0 2

Brandon Cox

Auburn 11 20 110 0 1

Tulane Combined

LSU 12 32 119 0 2

Omarr Conner

Miss. State
LSU 15 28 212 1 0

Chris Leak

Florida 17 26 155 0 1

Andre Woodson

LSU 14 37 151 0 1

Sean Norton

Fresno State
LSU 13 20 134 0 0

Jonathan Crompton

Tennessee 11 24 183 2 1

John Parker Wilson

LSU 22 35 291 2 1

Brent Shaeffer

Ole Miss
LSU 6 14 72 1 0

Casey Dick

Arkansas 3 17 29 1 1

Brady Quinn

Notre Dame
New Orleans 15 35 148 2 2
Totals 162 341 1784 9 15

Those are some ugly stats. Less than 50% through the air and six more
interceptions than touchdowns. LSU made first round draft pick Brady Quinn look
silly, and did the same to Kentucky’s Andre Woodson, an All-SEC quality player.
Only 24 passes were completed by starting quarterbacks against LSU over the last
three games. Arkansas running back Darren McFadden had almost as many
completions (two) as starting quarterback Casey Dick (three).

LSU didn’t surrender a touchdown pass until September 30 last season. They
gave up just two in the month of October (both tricky plays by Florida backup
Tim Tebow). I’ll go ahead and say it right now. Sean Glennon is going have a
rough outing on Saturday night. Judging from the table above, there aren’t many
quarterbacks who would fare any better, especially behind Tech’s offensive line.

Special Teams

Junior Colt David (5-9, 173) will handle the placekicking duties for LSU. He
is 13-of-19 for his career. He is generally very accurate from inside 40 yards.
From outside 40 yards, he is just 3-of-7 for his career. Obviously, the Hokies
need to limit him to long field goal attempts.

LSU’s punter is senior Patrick Fisher (6-5, 238). He made his first career
start last week against Mississippi State, and averaged 44.9 yards per punt with
a long of 56. He did a very good job. LSU’s punt coverage team also appeared to
be exceptionally good against the Bulldogs. Fisher is from DeMatha High School
in Maryland.

LSU will use Early Doucet and sophomore Trindon Holliday (5-5, 160) on
kickoff returns. No, that’s not a typo. Holliday is actually that small.
However, he’s blazing fast. He’s been timed at a 10.02 in the 100 meters. He is
an extremely dangerous return man, who will also be used on offense in reverses
and end arounds. Despite his speed, the LSU coaching staff doesn’t quite trust
him yet. He returned just five kickoffs and one punt last year, and he still
splits time with Doucet on punt returns. However, he is the type of player who
can turn low scoring, defensive games around.


For Virginia Tech to win this game, they’ve got to play conservatively. Break
out your game tapes of the 2002 win at Texas A&M, and the 2006 win a Miami
as examples of the type of game plan the Hokies will employ this week. The
Hokies aren’t going to attack LSU deep down the middle, or ask Sean Glennon to
work wonders like Mississippi State did with their quarterback last week

The good thing is that the Hokies excel in these low-scoring type games,
where generally the team that is more patient wins. The Hokies beat Texas
A&M and their great defense 13-3 on the road in 2002, and knocked off Miami
17-10 on the road last year. Both times, Tech avoided critical turnovers and was
able to make big plays when it mattered.

Last season, LSU’s offense was excellent, but the two games they lost were
low-scoring, defensive battles, like Saturday night’s game is expected to be.
The Tigers lost to Auburn 7-3, and later got beat by Florida 23-10.

So the Hokies do have a chance. They can win this game, if they avoid
turnovers, play great defense, and just manage to make a play here or there.
Field position will be critical.

Another thing that I like is the fact that Virginia Tech is the underdog. The
Hokies have nothing to lose. They are supposed to lose. Nobody (except some Tech
fans) is going to criticize them if they lose on the road to LSU, unless they
embarrass themselves. Tech usually plays very, very well as the underdog.

All that said, I’m just not feeling this one. Even if Tech’s defense forces
turnovers, I’m not sure how the Hokies will manage to get the ball in the end
zone against this LSU defense. If they have to settle for field goals, I’m not
confident that Jud Dunlevy can hit them after he was so spotty in preseason
scrimmages. I think Tech’s defense or special teams is going to have to score
themselves, not just give the offense great field position, if the Hokies want
to win this thing.

Prediction: LSU 16, Virginia Tech 3

Will Stewart’s Take: There’s not a lot I can add to Chris’ comments. I
think you’ll see the most conservative offensive game plan you’ve ever seen from
a Frank Beamer coached team, and that’s saying something.

In the 2002 Texas A&M game that Chris mentioned, Bryan Randall was a tidy
10-of-11 passing, but his yardage total was only 119 yards, and 52 of that came
on one play. Other than that, Randall had nine completions for 67 yards, an
average of just over seven yards per completion.

Each first down the Hokies pick up will be a victory.

I like Tech’s chances defensively, provided the line plays up to their
potential, better than they did against East Carolina. Given that LSU’s offense
isn’t a power house either, it will be very interesting to compare the Tigers’
game plan to Tech’s.

Hang your hat on the defense, and look for a big play from special teams or
the D. Like most anyone, I don’t think the Hokies will do much offensively to
win this game.

As I noted in my Monday Thoughts column after the ECU game, my focus on this
LSU game will be more on how the Hokies handle the pressure of playing in Tiger
Stadium. I’ll be looking for leadership and chemistry clues from the Tech team,
indicators that they can stick together under adversity. My goal is an ACC
championship, and those factors will indicate if the Hokies can properly
leverage their talent to win the conference.

To me, this game is just for fun. I’m not a big national championship guy, so
whether Tech wins this game and stays in the national championship hunt isn’t
even on my radar. I learned that lesson from 2001-2003, that early season
success don’t count for squat if you can’t maintain momentum and finish the
season. The bottom line for me is that this is a high-quality out of conference
matchup, one you rarely see, so enjoy it for the sheer entertainment that it is.

Will’s Prediction: LSU 13, Virginia Tech 3