BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU coach Ed Orgeron didn't want to hear about resting key starters or giving young reserves more snaps — no matter how much of a prohibitive favorite his tenth-ranked Tigers may be against struggling Rice.
Apparently, bad memories of the Troy Trojans celebrating a stunning upset triumph in Death Valley last season remain fresh in the Cajun coach's mind.
"Listen, man. We learned our lesson last year and that's not going to happen to us again," Orgeron said. "So we're going full bore against these guys."
If that's the case, the odds makers had ample reasons to predict the Tigers (8-2) would devour the Owls (1-10) by more than 40 points on Saturday night.
LSU bounced back from a demoralizing shutout loss to Alabama by winning at Arkansas a week ago and will play in a major New Year's bowl game if it wins its final two regular season games against Rice and Texas A&M.
"I don't talk about the standings or none of that, but we do talk about finishing strong, taking them one game at a time and taking it to a New Year's Day bowl," Orgeron said. "These guys deserve that. ... It's something for them to shoot for. I thought after the loss in the Alabama game they were very down. We had to regroup and look at what we can do and what we can accomplish and I think for this team it could be a great accomplishment."
Just being competitive in Tiger Stadium would be an accomplishment for Rice, and coach Mike Bloomgren expressed confidence his team can do it after showing improvement in a 28-13 loss at Louisiana Tech last week.
"The things that we've stressed to them is, look, you look at their roster one to 22 and they're going to be more talented than us. They're going to have more guys with stars by their name in terms of recruiting rankings," Bloomgren said. "But every week in college football, you see a team go into one of those places and you see the score on your phone and you go, 'Wow, those dudes beat them?'"
Some other prominent story lines in the Rice-LSU meeting:
Both teams' defensive backfields have had highlights this season. LSU's defense has 16 interceptions, which leads the SEC and ranks second in the nation. Tigers safety Grant Delpit has intercepted five passes in his sophomore season. Rice true freshman Prudy Calderon has started the last six games and has intercepted four passes, including two last week at Louisiana Tech.
While the Tigers have been relatively good at protecting the football, it's been a problem for Rice. LSU still is in single digits in lost turnovers through 10 games. Quarterback Joe Burrow has been intercepted just four times and the Tigers have lost five total fumbles. By contrast, Rice QB Shawn Stankavage threw three interceptions last week alone, bringing his total to 10 for the season. In total, Rice has turned the ball over 23 times on 16 interceptions and seven lost fumbles. "We're trying to grow. We're trying to stay in a world of ball security," Bloomgren said.
DEATH VALLEY DREAMING
LSU rarely loses night games at 102,000-seat Tiger Stadium, known to be as loud and difficult a road an environment as there is in college football — not that Bloomgren seems too worried. Quite the contrary.
"Everyone has dreamed about it. I dreamed about it as a kid, getting the chance to go in there and play. It's going to be a ton of fun," Bloomgren asserted. "We can't come out of the tunnel and let Death Valley or Mike the Tiger score points for them. We've got to make them line up across from us, go toe-to-toe and earn everything they get. And we've got to give it back to them. That's what I expect."
LSU kicker Cole Tracy, a graduate transfer from Division II Assumption College, ranks first among all active collegiate kickers with 90 career field goals. Tracy arrived at LSU with 68 made field goals in his career and has added 22 at LSU, which leads the SEC and ranks No. 2 in the nation.
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