LSU's power presents Kentucky a new set of problems

Thunder on horizon in Baton Rouge

jclay@herald-leader.comSeptember 28, 2011 

Florida was all about speed, speed and more speed.

Fast wasn't fast enough. The Gators' scheme was to put the ball in the hands of their world-class sprinters, escort them to the edge, and then watch them fly on by.

"Lightning hit the outhouse," was the memorable way Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter described Florida's 405 rushing yards in the visitors' 48-10 thrashing of the Wildcats last Saturday night. "And we were in it."

Louisiana State carries out its offensive business in a completely different manner.

LSU loves the thunder.

"They want to bloody your nose," said UK Coach Joker Phillips on Tuesday.

The Tigers have done just that, beating ranked teams Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia, the latter two on the road, on the way to a 4-0 record and a No. 1 ranking.

When it comes to running the football, LSU Coach Les Miles doesn't rely on slash and dash as much as he does smash.

"They've run about 165-170 runs thus far," Minter said after UK's Tuesday practice. "About 120 of them are never going to get outside the tackle box. They're downhill."

They Tigers run the ball to establish the run. They also enjoy knocking you down to do it. A former offensive lineman at Michigan, Miles loves big, beefy road-graders who clear the way for big beefy land-rovers.

The Tigers' leading rusher, Spencer Ware, a sophomore from Cincinnati, is a compact 5-foot-11, 223 pounds. Sophomore Michael Ford is 5-10, 215. Sophomore Alfred Blue is 6-2, 215.

(Compare that to Florida's diminutive dasher, Jeff Demps, at 5-foot-7, 191 pounds, or the Gators' cracklin' Chris Rainey, who is listed at 5-9, 174.)

LSU's ground game has been remarkably consistent. It rushed for 175 yards in each of its first two games, wins over Oregon and Northwestern State. It ground out 148 yards against Mississippi State, then gained 186, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt, in ruining Morgantown's Saturday night.

Kentucky, meanwhile, gave up what Minter termed an "embarrassing" 405 rushing yards to Florida, the most a UK defense had surrendered since 1994.

"We gave up six runs for a total of 240 yards," Minter said Tuesday. "So it adds up fast."

Might the LSU smashmouth style be a bit easier for Kentucky to defend?

"I usually feel like stopping the team that runs directly at you is a little bit more fun," said UK linebacker Ronnie Sneed on Tuesday. "It's a little bit more contact, a lot more physical game. You just have to bring it, so it's a little bit more exciting."

Since Minter was particularly unexcited about the way his unit brought it last week, might he appeal to their pride this Saturday, facing the nation's No. 1 team?

"The kids have pride in themselves," Minter said. "I believe you're only as good as your last time out, so now back-to-back weeks (including Louisville on Sept. 17) we have not played the run game well. ... If we have character and work ethic and it matters, we'll come out fighting."

Sneed sounded resolved to do just that.

"We were all embarrassed because our defense focuses on stopping the run," he said. "Stopping that type of run and that type of team was really difficult. We don't plan on ever letting that happen again. Hopefully, it doesn't. And we're working extra hard this week to try and make up for that."

Notes

■ Phillips said safety Martavius Neloms (sore ribs) practiced Tuesday but was held out of some contact drills. Running back Josh Clemons (hamstring strain) did only individual work.

■ The coach said freshman defensive end Michael Douglas played well last week and will start in place of the injured Collins Ukwu.

■ Phillips also said he has seen improvement in his offensive line now that the presumed five starters are healthy and working together.

"The footwork the first two weeks was atrocious," said the coach. "Now we're cleaning some of that up."

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