LSU’s defense has shown the ability to contain one star quarterback from the SEC. Kentucky’s Andre Woodson could provide a tougher test.
Owning the nation’s top defense, the No. 1 Tigers will try to shut down Woodson and the high-powered offense of the 17th-ranked Wildcats on Saturday in Lexington.
LSU (6-0, 3-0 SEC) has won four in a row from Kentucky since a 31-5 loss in Lexington in 1999. Two of those victories were by shutout and came at home, but the two road wins were by a combined seven points as the Tigers gave up an average of 27.5.
The Wildcats lost 49-0 in Baton Rouge last season, but that squad was 3-3 going into the game while this year’s team is coming off its first loss—and it was a fairly close one against a ranked opponent.
“This will be our biggest test of the year, and I just hope that we can get into the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win this game,” Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.
All Brooks may be able to do is hope.
LSU leads the country in total defense, allowing 197.8 yards per game, and is giving up an average of 9.3 points to rank second nationally behind Ohio State (7.2). The Tigers have forced 17 turnovers to lead the SEC and their 12.3 completions allowed per contest are the fewest in the nation.
“They know how to put their foot on your throat, and they won’t let you do anything,” Kentucky wide receiver Keenan Burton said.
The Wildcats (5-1, 1-1), though, boast the conference’s highest-scoring offense at 42.7 points per game, and Woodson has keyed their surprising start. He leads the conference with 1,536 passing yards and 18 touchdown passes.
“We’re upbeat,” said Burton, who leads the team with 37 receptions for 498 yards and five touchdowns. “A lot of people probably would have thought that we would be under .500 at this point. So, we’re in a great situation.”
Kentucky is looking for its eighth straight home win, but to extend that streak, it will have to beat a top-ranked team for the first time since 1964 when it defeated Mississippi. The Wildcats are 2-8 all-time in such games.
The only SEC quarterback with a higher passer rating than Woodson is Florida’s Tim Tebow, and the Tigers defense successfully shut him down last week. Though the Gators signal-caller accounted for three scores, the Tigers limited him to 12-of-26 passing and a season-low 158 yards as the offense rallied for a 28-24 win last Saturday.
“A good football team finds a way,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “To me, that’s a mark of this team.”
Playing its first game as the AP’s top-ranked team in 48 years, LSU needed a 4-yard touchdown pass from Matt Flynn and a 2-yard scoring run from Jacob Hester on fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter to escape with the win in Gainesville.
“Coach Miles said, ‘I believe in y’all. I don’t want a tie. I want to go out and win this thing,’” Hester said. “When your head coach has that kind of respect and trusts you, you want to go out and prove something to him.”
Brooks also was impressed with what he saw.
“They present a lot of different problems, and watching the game against Florida the other night, that comeback in the fourth quarter was one of the best comebacks I’ve seen in a long, long time,” he said. “And it was a team that looked like Florida had on the ropes, but they responded and did what they had to do to win.”
Kentucky, ranked eighth in the nation a week ago, is coming off a 38-23 loss to then-No. 11 South Carolina last Thursday. Woodson threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, the last of which got the Wildcats within 31-23 with 6:59 to play, but he also fumbled twice and saw both returned for touchdowns.
“We definitely made a lot of mistakes, especially me personally,” said Woodson, who had an interception for the second straight game after having none in the first four. “It’s something we haven’t been doing all year.”
With his first completion Saturday, Woodson will join Jared Lorenzen and Tim Couch as the only players in Kentucky history to reach 600 for his career.
The Wildcats may be without running back Rafael Little, who is questionable with a bruised thigh. The senior is second in the conference with 682 rushing yards - nine more than he had in 13 games last year.