BATON ROUGE, La. — Well, this trip didn’t exactly get off to a good start.
Jacksonville State’s charter flight was delayed nearly an hour Friday afternoon because TSA agents charged with checking them in at the Anniston airport were late in arriving.
The Gamecocks landed in Louisiana under cloudy skies and with forecast for thunderstorms Saturday, but the rain is expected to clear out before the 6:30 kickoff against LSU at 102,321-seat Tiger Stadium.
Approaching kickoff, here are five things to know:
1. Fournette … or not
LSU running back Leonard Fournette took a blow on his injured left ankle late in last Saturday’s game and whether he plays Saturday is a game-time decision.
Said LSU coach Les Miles on a video posted by the school, “I think Leonard Fournette is a go or, if not a go, we won’t know until game day.”
Miles refused to tell reporters Wednesday whether Fournette had been practicing this week.
2. Hot seat for Miles
There is no small amount of pressure on Miles. A faction of Tiger fans wanted him fired last season, after a 7-0 start fizzled into a three-game losing streak.
The run-oriented attack designed by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron led the SEC with 256.8 yards a game last year, but the Tigers have become predictable and boring, both mortal sins.
Ron Higgins, a columnist for NOLA.com and long-time follower of the LSU program, has been among the critics this week.
“Judging from LSU’s vanilla offense in Saturday's loss, the Les and Cam Cafe didn't make any progress while supposedly under renovation the last eight months. If any spice isn't added soon, it's time to find a new chef in tune with today's tastes,” he wrote.
But there’s a reminder from another Higgins column a little more than a year ago, headlined, “Here’s why you never count out Les Miles.”
3. Piling on
Should things get out of hand, expect no mercy from LSU. Under Miles, the Tigers have not been kind to FCS foes and to FBS teams who aren’t in the “power” conferences. The average final score in 30 such games is 44-9, with seven shutouts.
Jacksonville State is LSU’s first FCS opponent since Sept. 6, 2014, when it slaughtered Sam Houston State 56-0. (Weather and lightning 10 minutes into last year’s McNeese State game at LSU led to four hours of rain delay and an eventual cancellation; McNeese still pocketed the $500,000 guarantee.)
4. By the same token …
LSU may be the most talented team Jacksonville State has ever faced, but the program has an impressive history against FBS-level opponents. There’s the legendary win over Ole Miss and a near-miss at Florida State in which the Gamecocks outplayed the Seminoles for 58 minutes.
Of course, the true prism through which this game should be viewed is the overtime loss at No. 6 Auburn a year ago this weekend. Now, history would prove Auburn was terribly overrated, but what it also indicates that stage-fright won’t be a factor tonight.
No slight to North Alabama, but Jax State was able to overcome mistakes against the Lions they’ll not be able to overcome against the Tigers. Under pressure, QB Eli Jenkins threw two passes up for grabs that LSU DBs would intercept; he threw a third that hit an UNA defender in the belly and was dropped.
Jax State was penalized 12 times for 106 yards, but on one play there were three flags on the Gamecocks for three different violations. Only one of four TDs came on a drive on which there was a penalty, and six other times penalties could blamed for drives stalling out.
Said JSU coach John Grass, “I think we have a lot of room for improvement. We have to clean up some stuff like penalties.”