Glenn Builbeau / Gannett Louisiana
HOUSTON With as many ridiculous names for bowls as there have been out there from the former GalleryFurniture.com Bowl right here in H-Town to the former Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl, we will call this one the Hammer Bowl.
Team LSU, beat thyself Wisconsin. Both teams enter the 2014 season with major questions at quarterback but with running backs and offensive lines that would make Big Ten patron Saints Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler swoon.
Whether it is Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings playing quarterback for the Tigers and how many carries freshman tailback Leonard Fournette will be great entertainment, but for LSU to win it, it will have to put the hammer down on the hammers Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon and the Badgers' veteran offensive line.
Here are five things to keep an eye on as the No. 13 Tigers face the No. 14 Badgers at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN from NRG (No Regurgitating Grass) Stadium.
5.LSU DEFENSIVE TACKLES - The Tigers will have to hammer the hammers with two new starters at defensive tackle in sophomore Christian LaCouture and redshirt freshman Frank Herron and as much youth at that position overall as there is at quarterback and wide receiver. Junior Quentin Thomas of Breaux Bridge is the veteran, but he has started but one game and is coming off a biceps injury.
With all the talk of dual action quarterbacks in recent years and concerning this game with versatile Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy, a former wide receiver and defensive back, it should be noted that the quarterback formerly known as Johnny Football of Texas A&M suffered two of his worst games at the hands of the LSU defense in 2012 and '13. Over those two seasons, though, both Florida in '12 and Alabama last season had their way with the tender insides of LSU's defense. Wisconsin has no doubt watched those films.
4.LSU LINEBACKERS This was expected to be a strength of the team last season, but it did not quite work out. Middle linebackers D.J. Welter and Kendell Beckwith will need to reinforce the Tigers' green defensive tackles as will outside linebackers Lamar Louis and Kwon Alexander. LSU has much speed and athleticism at this spot, including rush linebacker Deion Jones, and it will need it all against the Badgers.
3.LSU QUARTERBACK ANTHONY JENNINGS This is a great kid who has been a mystery. After his heroic performance in the Arkansas game by air and by land with little time, he clearly looked like the future for the Tigers. Wide receiver Travin Dural basically said that after catching his winning touchdown bomb. Arkansas was and is a bad team, but Jennings looked like he barely practiced before his performance in the Outback Bowl against Iowa also a Big Ten team. Then he looked as bad in the spring game. He is running out of chances. If he plays poorly again Saturday, and the other guy does well, it could be the beginning of the end for him as the starter.
2. LSU TAILBACK LEONARD FOURNETTE Take it from someone who dislikes recruiting coverage and what it does to 17- and 18-year-old players as well as to 40- and 50-year-old adults at times. This No. 1 recruit really will be as good as advertised. The only thing worse than a running back by committee would be a committee meeting. Please, Coach Miles, give him at least 15 carries.
1. QUARTERBACK BRANDON HARRIS, YOUNG RECEIVERS I'm craving to see the Bossier City Bomber unleash one on his very first snap. Complete or incomplete, it will loosen up the eight or nine Wisconsin puts in the box. I'm not nearly as sold on Harris as on Fournette. He is also a great young man, but It will take some time. And how great an interview Harris has been will mean nothing. Either Harris or Jennings will soon have to play well for LSU to have a double-digit win season. The last time LSU had two quarterbacks this young, neither played well consistently, and the Tigers lost five times in 2008. And even if one does play well this season, LSU will need more than just Travin Dural to take over at receiver to help the quarterback cause, and there is no experience to speak of at receiver after Dural. Plus, true freshman stud Malachi Dupre has some hamstring issues. Look for Monroe redshirt freshman John Diarse to make two critical receptions.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin could win this game. There will be some anxious moments and bad mistakes by the young Tiger quarterbacks and receivers, but LSU will grind out a win and eventually show its speed advantage inside the covered NRG Stadium. And yes Fournette will break a long one.
NRG Stadium means No Regurgitating Grass, and LSU coach Les Miles will be ready to chomp on some. But they only use real grass at this multi-surface stadium for NFL games. They use artificial turf for college games, but some parts are edible, Les. So give it a try and enjoy the taste of a capable, 17-13 victory.