One of the things that makes the LSU-Miami matchup Sunday (Sept. 2) in Dallas such a tough one to predict is the uncertainty that goes along with LSU this season. That’s true with many teams before the season starts, but LSU is filled with offensive question marks.
Many of the questions will be answered quickly Sunday. That doesn’t make predicting the high-profile opener any easier.
Many sportsbooks have Miami as a 3- to 3.5-point favorite, and SBNation’s Bill Connelly and his S&P+ metrics also give the Hurricanes a 3.4-point advantage.
While there are few certainties going into this game, here are the matchups that will very likely decide the game.
Miami receivers vs LSU secondary
LSU has the top cornerback prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft in Greedy Williams. Miami has Ahmmon Richards, a 2016 Freshman All-American ranked the No. 4 draft-eligible receiver by CBS Sports, and several talented players filling in behind him.
Richards was in and out of the lineup in 2018, but if healthy he should be one of the top receivers in the country this year. He and Williams should give one of the better matchups of the loaded college football weekend slate.
Then, Miami brings back Darrell Langham, Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley, in addition to freshmen Mark Pope and Brian Hightower. Langham, Thomas and Harley have all showed flashes of big-play potential. The talent of this group is clear, but it will come down to them proving it.
This is where the return of Kristian Fulton is huge for LSU. He brings another top-level cornerback to a group that has depth but didn’t have a clear guy across from Williams. Now LSU has Fulton and freshman Kelvin Joseph providing two corners with good size and physicality, then the Tigers have Kary Vincent, Terrence Alexander and Jonte Kirklin giving plenty of depth to try and matchup with the Miami receivers. This is one of the closest matchups.
LSU offensive line vs. Miami defensive line
Here lays the most unknown matchup of the game. Offensive line is possibly LSU’s biggest question mark after the suspension of guard Ed Ingram and the uncertainty at right tackle.
Defensive line was one of Miami’s greatest strengths last season, with the No. 13 havoc rate in the country, but the Hurricanes lose four of six key players from that front and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski went to Alabama.
Joe Jackson is a top-level defensive end, and Demetrius Jackson brings plenty of production back, but the rest of the group will look for talented yet less experienced players to prove themselves.
Former Edna Karr star and LSU-target Gerald Willis has earned one of the starting defensive tackle spots. The talent for Miami here is clear, it just has a lot of production to replace.
Meanwhile, LSU coach Ed Orgeron has voiced frustrations with his offensive line during camp. It’s hard to tell how much of that is the difficulty of blocking LSU’s defense — as the Tigers will tell you — and how much its own weaknesses, but Miami will be a tough test.
Dave Aranda vs Manny Diaz
Two of the hottest defensive coordinators in college football will be facing off Sunday in LSU’s Aranda and Miami’s Diaz. Both were on The Athletic’s list of the top up-and-coming college coaches.
Diaz took a defense that was outside the top 50 every year under Al Golden and has been 22nd or better both years since.
Aranda was the highest paid coordinator in football up until July. He ran a lot of base in his first two years in Baton Rouge, but indications are we will see more variation in year three.
There have been talks of up to 50 new defensive plays for LSU, compared to the three or four it ran in recent years. This will be a matchup of two hot-shot coordinators with a whole offseason to prepare.