- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Even when favored by more than five touchdowns, there are always components of football that a highly-ranked team can tighten up in a nonconference tuneup.
For No. 8 LSU (2-0), Saturday evening's meeting with Kent State (1-1) represents an opportunity to continue its progression with a number of young defensive players and to work its typically powerful running game back into shape.
“We're putting a lot of young faces on the field, and that's good. We're going to need them,” LSU coach Les Miles said of his defense, which allowed UAB to score 17 points in the second quarter, but shut out the Blazers in the second half of a 56-17 victory. “Down the road you get these guys snaps in our stadium, you get them against a quality opponent, live, let the bullets fly, and then we get later in the season, they'll be able to make plays in the kind of games that we're going to need them to make plays in so we can win a championship.”
LSU's defensive two-deep features 13 underclassmen, so there were some understandable breakdowns against UAB, including enough missed tackles that Miles said, “I really don't want to recall [the number]. It was a larger number than we're used to. I can tell you that.”
Kent State -- a team that nearly went to a BCS bowl last season before dropping its last two games and finishing 11-3 -- should provide some practice in that department in a relatively low-pressure setting for the Tigers. The Golden Flashes barely edged Liberty in the opener and lost 41-22 to Bowling Green last week. They rank 98th nationally in total offense with an average of 331.5 yards per game.
The Tigers know, however, that they can't afford to take a lackadaisical approach into this game with their SEC opener against Auburn arriving in a week.
“Our coaches preach to us before the game that no matter who we play, we're going to try to dominate every game we play,” defensive lineman Ego Ferguson said. “One thing you don't want to happen is we let off the pedal and we let somebody get in the game that shouldn't be in the game with us.”
That happened briefly against UAB, although the Tigers quickly turned that game into a rout with three third-quarter touchdowns. Receiving tandem Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. scored all three touchdowns, with Beckham's final score coming on a 100-yard return of a missed field goal.
Now, it's time to get that running game in shape.
Kenny Hilliard rushed for 54 yards and Jeremy Hill had 50 in the UAB game, and while the Tigers didn't need to move the ball on the ground to beat the Blazers, they'll need their ground game to produce as it has in the past during their tougher conference games.
“There's just a little more work to be done there, get in the groove,” Miles said. “...The reality of that is we should have really been much more efficient rushing the football than we were.”
Kent State just surrendered 576 yards of total offense -- 357 through the air and 219 on the ground -- to Bowling Green, so the Tigers should have plenty of opportunities to work out the kinks on Saturday. With Auburn visiting Tiger Stadium and a trip to Georgia coming in the next two weeks, that might be exactly what the Tigers need.
“We're going to prepare well because our team needs to improve,” Miles said. “I think our guys kind of got that hint last week, and I think that if they continue to show improvement, the back end of this thing we'll be where we want to be.”