Smiting the Tigers: An Anatomy

This is a big one. Eh, that was horrible. Let's start over. 

Death Valley at night is--nope, crap. 

LSU is really, if you think about it, very beatable. Come on, Eric, get it together. This is too big a game for you to fumble around with the opening. 

Wait. I've got it. 

Bad starts can kill you. In Kentucky's last two games, the Wildcats have watched their opponents put two touchdowns on the board in the first quarter before the Air Raid had even started its launch sequence (or something, I don't know how flying works). Kentucky can't afford to do that Saturday night in Death Valley for two reasons: 1) obviously and 2) LSU is built to play with a lead. 

The Tigers will run the ball, and they will do it with such great fervor. You might not like to hear this, but had South Carolina not got cute in the fourth quarter two weeks ago, we don't storm the field and I'd probably be more focused on basketball than I am. Mike Davis did what he wanted, and there was nothing we could do about it, yet for some reason Spurrier decided to put the game in the incapable hands of Dylan Thompson.

Enter Leonard Fournette. You remember Lenny. He earned himself a lifetime Lil Bronzie ban by doing this on his first collegiate touchdown...against Sam Houston State:

Disgusting. 

But. He is kind of awesome, and when you consider the woeful LSU QB play this year from Anthony Jennings and now Brandon Harris, it stands to reason that he'll be the guy who decides this game. In fact, I'll even go a step further. This game will be a referendum on the Kentucky run defense. If they can keep Leonard Fournette and the LSU running game from beating them, then there is hope for this Wildcat rush defense. If Fournette goes wild and LSU wins easily, it just isn't in the stars this year. 

Let me be clear: this isn't a referendum on the Kentucky defensive unit as a whole. This group has a knack for making big plays at crucial junctures, usually in the form of a turnover. While I love turnovers, they're not reliable. It's not feasible to expect Kentucky to produce that pivotal interception every single game (I will write a whole lot more about this when I attempt to temper next year's defensive projections, but that's a long way off). 

So, my smiteful (not a word) question this week is: Can Kentucky become a good enough rush defense to make a real push to an SEC East title? For better or worse, we'll know definitively by 11PM Saturday night. If Kentucky can stop Fournette, then I'll tell you what: watch out, Mississippi State, because we can play against a spread--we see it every day in practice. If Kentucky, knowing LSU is going to walk in to Death Valley with one thing on its mind--running the ball through the middle of our defense--can do nothing to stop Fournette, then we'll know who we are: a good, young football team who just isn't there yet. 

The important thing to remember is that there's nothing wrong with that. Remember, like I said after the Florida game, Rome wasn't built on any given Saturday because this isn't Louisville. One win (or loss) does not a program make. It's a process. It takes years. 

This can be done, but it won't come easy. Few things in life worth doing are. There's a reason the last three teams to beat LSU in Death Valley at night have been or were on their way to be ranked No. 1 in the country, and that reason is LSU has been doing football well for a long time. You don't walk into a boxing match hoping to outpoint the champ. If you want his strap, you have to take it, and that's the mentality Kentucky has to have Saturday night in Baton Rouge. 

Geaux Cats.