It’s rivalry week again! The Florida Gators’ annual cross-conference rivalry showdown with the LSU Tigers is on deck in Baton Rouge, where the Tigers have hit serious hard times since 2019 and are last in the SEC West in 2021 at 3-3.
Zach Junda, managing editor of And The Valley Shook, answered our questions to give insight into the 2021 Tigers and what to expect this Saturday in Death Valley.
Things have seemingly gone sour with the LSU football program since winning the national title in 2019. What is the state of LSU, and will Ed Orgeron still be the head coach in 2022?
Absolutely not, and I’m surprised he’s still the coach now. Moving on from Orgeron should have been the move after the Kentucky debacle but Scott Woodward must have his reasons.
The rumor is they haven’t moved on because they haven’t settled on who the interim coach will be — and I’m sorry, but that’s a terrible excuse.
Have you seen LSU’s schedule? Have you seen what they’re weak at? It doesn’t matter who the interim is, LSU will almost certainly close out the year 4-8 — maaaaayyyyyybbbbeeee 5-7 — and I’m of the opinion that the sooner you make the change, the better. Otherwise you’ll get more tense Orgeron pressers where he’s asking reporters if they’re trying to get a quote out of him.
Myles Brennan was supposed to be the quarterback, but he was injured to start the year, leaving Max Johnson, who made his first start in The Swamp last year, as the starter. How would you assess his play through half a season?
It’s hard to really gauge anything because of how poorly the offensive line has played but I’ll say this: Max has a not so great arm, and the throws he could get away with against McNeese State and Central Michigan aren’t working out like they were now that we’re in conference play.
Of the three quarterbacks on the roster, he has the weakest arm and he’s getting happy feet, though I suspect that’s owed to the offensive line. But he’s got little to no pocket presence and it wouldn’t surprise me if the next head coach goes in another direction at quarterback.
The running game has been a point of criticism for LSU, with one of the worst rushing attacks in the country. How much of that is an inability to run the ball versus an intentional decision to air it out?
Yeah think about how wild it is that *LSU* of all schools can’t run the ball. They were one of the last programs to get with the times offensively and now the running game’s gone out the window entirely.
I owe that, again, to the offensive line struggles. There’s no room for a Ty Davis-Price or Corey Kiner to go and they’re constantly getting hit at the line of scrimmage.
The group was bad last year but they all came back and LSU fans talked themselves into saying they’ll be better because...well because. Turns out they all still stink, who would’ve guessed.
LSU is still an incredibly talented roster, but one of its brightest stars, Kayshon Boutte, is now out for the year. How big of a loss is that and where does it leave LSU’s offense?
LSU signed a really good group of receivers, all of them within an hour’s drive to campus. LSU will never have to worry about receivers because five-stars come outta the state on an annual basis.
They signed four four-stars, Jack Bech, Deion Smith, Chris Hilton and Brian Thomas Jr., and the hope is this group can be a poor man’s version of Alabama’s receiving class that had Jeudy, Ruggs, Smith, and Waddle. And the early returns have been pretty promising.
The defense hasn’t been great for a while now, and it also is without its best player in cornerback Derek Stingley. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this unit?
Well, it’s not just Stingley. It was announced Wednesday that both corner Elias Ricks and defensive end Ali Gaye are both going to miss the remainder of the season due to torn labrums. So that’s LSU’s three best defensive players — and all the hope we had of Ricks and Stingley being this generational corner tandem — gone down the drain.
I’ll say the strength of the defense is the line, mainly because of their depth. They can go two-deep and even three-deep at every position. But they aren’t playing well anymore so who the hell knows.
As for a weakness...really you can pick any unit, but I’ll take corner just because of the injuries to Stingley and Ricks. I don’t know how many teams can afford to have two first round picks go down.
Who’s one player on each side of the ball who Gator fans should look out for on Saturday?
It’s hard because of all the injuries, you know?
Boutte was maybe the best receiver not just in the conference but in the country, and LSU officially lost him for the year on Tuesday; Stingley will be a top-five pick come April and he’s out; Ricks will be a top pick in next April’s draft, and he’s out, too.
All that said, there is still plenty of talent on the roster, but they’re awfully young. Freshman defensive tackle Maason Smith is a bona fide stud and could end up as maybe the best linemen they’ll have had since Glenn Dorsey. Offensively, Jack Bech has really stood out; he’s a flex tight end/receiver that they haven’t really had before.
What do you expect to see in this game and do you have a score prediction?
Last year I said to bet the house on Florida and, well ... I’m sorry. THAT SAID, if you didn’t bet the house last year on Florida go ahead and bet it this time around because this should be an awfully easy win for the Gators.
LSU fans despise 11 A.M. kickoffs, and this 2021 team has given them virtually nothing to cheer for this year. I’m expecting an embarrassingly empty Tiger Stadium but a whole bunch of boo birds the moment something goes wrong.
Thank you to Zach for answering our questions. Make sure to give him (@ZacharyJunda) and the folks over at And The Valley Shook (@ATVShook) follows to read up on the LSU side of Saturday’s showdown, and be sure to check out our As to Zach’s Qs.