No. 21 LSU faces tricky ‘tune-up’ vs. Jacksonville State

LSU head coach Les Miles watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Les Miles didn’t get much chance to talk about the opponent No. 21 LSU is facing this week.

There were too many questions about the embattled coach’s own program coming off a season-opening upset loss to Wisconsin . Why did LSU’s offensive line have trouble blocking for star running back Leonard Fournette? Why wasn’t LSU’s passing game broadened as promised? Why didn’t junior quarterback Brandon Harris appear to have improved during the offseason? Will Miles consider a quarterback change?

Despite those questions – and the fact LSU has plummeted 16 spots from its preseason No. 5 ranking – the Tigers (0-1) aren’t expected to struggle against Jacksonville State, which plays in the NCAA’s second-tier Football Championship Subdivision.

But Jacksonville State also is seen as one of the top programs of its size in the nation, ranked fifth in FCS polls. If the Gamecocks were ever primed for a program-defining upset in 102,000-seat Death Valley, it would be on Saturday night.

“It gives us a chance to prove that we can play against anyone,” said prolific Gamecocks dual-threat quarterback Eli Jenkins, who has accounted for 1,000 more yards of offense than any other player in JSU history. “It gives us a chance to show what we got.”

Jacksonville State has a number of transfers from top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision programs – including former LSU receiver Kevin Spears, ex-Auburn running back Roc Thomas and ex-Kentucky defensive tackle Regie Meant – and the Gamecocks gave Auburn fits last season.

“They have a lot of guys that transferred in, so we’re looking forward to the challenge,” LSU safety Jamal Adams said. “We’re looking forward to (facing) some (former) SEC guys.”

Adams stressed that LSU’s margin for error is so thin, the Tigers can’t afford to underestimate anyone.

“We’ve got to come out and play like we’re in the playoffs every game,” Adams said. “We’re in adversity now.”

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Some things to know about LSU’s home opener against Jacksonville State:

HARRIED HARRIS: Miles has shielded Harris from the media since he went 12-for-21 for 131 yards with one TD against two interceptions last week. But it didn’t’ sound like Miles was ready to give up on his season-opening starter. He said he hoped that if backup Danny Etling takes the fields, it will be in mop-up duty on the heels of an better outing by Harris. “I know the capability” Harris has, Miles said. “We just need for that capability to continue to come.”

RECORD SMASHER: Jenkins accounted for 331 yards of offense in his team’s season-opening victory over North Alabama last week, giving him 8,688 yards of total offense for his career. He also owns the school record for touchdowns with 66 (36 passing, 30 rushing). “He’s a great quarterback for those guys and we have to be ready,” LSU’s Adams said. “We definitely have to honor him with his run but stay on our toes and be prepared for the pass.”

FACING FOURNETTE: It’s not clear how many carries Fournette will get. He got up favoring his left leg after the final carry of a 138-yard performance last week. Miles insists he’s fine, but also conceded that Fournette was allowed to sit out practice to “rest” earlier this week. With Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams and Nick Brossette providing depth at running back, it might not make sense to play Fournette much this weekend.

FORMAL INTRODUCTION: LSU and Jacksonville State have never played before. In addition, the largest crowd ever to witness a JSU game is 87,451 in Auburn last season, a number likely to be exceeded at Tiger Stadium – depending on how many ticket-holders disgusted by last week’s LSU performance decide not to show up. The Gamecocks are 1-6 all-time vs. the SEC, with the lone win coming against Mississippi in 2010.

LINE ITEMS: Miles has to shuffle his offensive line this week because guard Josh Boutte has been suspended on game for a flagrant foul at the end of last week’s loss, when he flatted Wisconsin defensive back D’Cota Dixon as he celebrated his game-sealing interception. Miles indicated that Maea Teuhema, who spent the offseason transitioning from guard to tackle, will be back at guard this week to fill in for Bouttee.

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AP College Football website: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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