Top reasons why LSU wins, loses against UCLA on Saturday

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Just a day away from the season opener for the LSU Tigers. Plenty of questions will finally be answered, well somewhat. The first game of the year will give us some idea of where the team is. Ed Orgeron’s squad can finally put last year’s mediocre season behind them when they line up against Chip Kelly and the UCLA Bruins.

The biggest questions revolve around the two coordinator hires the team made early in the offseason. Jake Peetz comes in to hopefully bring back the Joe Brady attack that set record numbers in 2019. Peetz and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas spent the 2020 season under Brady in Carolina. They bring the RPO-based attack back to the Bayou. Can Max Johnson execute in the opener?

Daronte Jones is tasked with improving a defense that was known for futility in 2020. The Bo Pelini experiment was a failed one that saw record numbers each and every week. Once the season was underway, it was clear that the defense was going to be a liability throughout the season. Jones needs to get a lot more out of his defense, it will all start with not having his guys out of position. Derek Stingley Jr and Eli Ricks are the best CB duo in the country, so can they both take away the passing game in 2021?

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Who are the experts picking to win in the LSU-UCLA matchup

As the game draws near, we lay out reasons why the Tigers will win or lose against UCLA on Saturday night.

Win: The running game takes off

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At times in 2020, it felt as though the running game for LSU was a non-factor. Going into the season opener, for the Tigers to win this game the run game needs to get off the ground. Both Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr have been banged up during fall camp but they should be good to go against the Bruins. The UCLA defense was really untested against the run, Hawaii ran the ball a total of 20 times but they were down three scores early on. If LSU can establish some semblance of a run game, it will only help the entire offense in the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.

Lose: Tigers can't contain Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown

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Against Hawaii, the Bruins run game was off to a hot start. The duo of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown had their way. When the Hawaii defense did make contact with the runners, they would bounce off and keep the play alive. When LSU is on defense, they need to slow down that rushing attack. Against Hawaii, the duo ran 19 times for 184 yards and four touchdowns. That can't happen on Saturday if LSU wants to win. If the Bruins are able to run the ball in the same manner, it could be a long flight home to the Bayou.

Win: Kayshon Boutte takes advantage of the secondary

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The UCLA defense will likely have their hands full when the LSU offense lines up, especially on the outside. It is well documented just how dynamic Kayshon Boutte was down the stretch for the Tigers offense. If Max Johnson can consistently get him the ball it should be a good sign for LSU. UCLA surrendered 243 yards in the air against Hawaii, as we saw against Ole Miss in the finale, Boutte can light up a defense. They gave up one big play of 49 yards, the difference is the level of athletes they played last week. Boutte is a former five-star recruit and he knows how to finish plays. Get him the ball and let him do the rest.

Lose: Max Johnson can't limit mistakes

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As Max Johnson goes, so does the LSU Tigers offense. The sophomore is entering his first season as the starter from day one. Despite having experience from playing six games and starting two a season ago, there will be some game one jitters. If they can't weather the early storm against UCLA, the Tigers could find themselves behind the chains. The Bruins forced two turnovers with both coming by the way of an interception. If Johnson fails to protect the football through the air or fumbles when the pressure gets dialed up, there could be added pressure for the defense to create opportunities.

Win: LSU proves the first UCLA win over Hawaii was fools gold

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Last season the UCLA Bruins finished out the year with a 3-4 record. This year they opened with a win for the first time in the Chip Kelly era. They held Hawaii to just 26 yards passing, forced two turnovers, and mental mistakes led them to the 44-10 throttling of the Rainbow Warriors in week zero. What if it isn't a matter of UCLA being that good, but Hawaii was just that bad in the opener? The missed tackles, kneeling the ball when attempting to punt, or the fact they couldn't protect the quarterback was all because they weren't fundamentally sound. The Tigers could expose the Bruins on Saturday by playing to the level they expect to be at all year. LSU will be a much tougher opponent, does UCLA have a plan when they get punched in the mouth?

Lose: Defense can't get to Dorian Thompson-Robinson

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One of the big keys for the LSU defense will be getting home on passing downs. The Tigers need to make Dorian Thompson-Robinson uncomfortable in the pocket. In 10 games last season, the trio of Ali Gaye, Andre Anthony, and BJ Ojulari generated 93 total quarterback pressures. They need to generate that level again this season. Hawaii was only able to generate a total of seven pressures against the UCLA offensive line. If Thompson-Robinson is able to escape pressure with his legs or stand tall in the pocket, it could spell bad news for LSU. If they aren't able to get home, they can't expect the secondary to stay with their man for 7 seconds downfield. No pressure likely spells doom for the Tigers.

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