Oct. 15, 2010

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - It took ninth-ranked LSU nearly half the season to look comfortable on offense.

The timing couldn't be worse for McNeese State head coach Matt Viator, who figures his battered Cowboys (2-3) would have had a tough time with LSU (6-0) even if the Tigers' offense was still struggling to move the ball.

"It's a tough task for us," Viator said. "Anytime you go play a good football team in a tough atmosphere and maybe minus a few of your guys, it's always going to be tough. But our kids are excited. ... We'll do the best we can."

McNeese State, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, has lost leading rusher Marcus Wiltz and starting left tackle Taylor Johnson to season-ending injuries. Meanwhile, starting quarterback Jacob Bower has been dealing with a concussion and Viator plans to start backup Cody Stroud, with the hope that Bower can still dress and play as needed.

The Cowboys have long been an elite team in the FCS, having made their 14th appearance in the national playoffs in 2009. This season has been more of a struggle. Last weekend, they had a late lead over Stephen F. Austin when Stroud threw a touchdown pass to Wes Briscoe in the fourth quarter, only to lose when the Lumberjacks rallied for a last-minute score.

Now the Cowboys head to Tiger Stadium for the first time to take on an unbeaten LSU team coming off its most impressive victory of the season at Florida last weekend.

For a second straight week, LSU went with a two-quarterback system that capitalized on Jordan Jefferson's ability to scramble and run the option, and Jarrett Lee's strengths as a pocket passer.

Although LSU needed a touchdown pass from Lee to Terrence Toliver in the final seconds to pull out the 33-29 win, the Tigers dominated the game statistically. LSU outgained Florida in the air, 224 yards to 154, and outrushed the Gators, 181 yards to 116.

Now LSU coach Les Miles appears sold on the two-quarterback strategy that he initially resisted while Jefferson was struggling to move the offense through the air.

"It appeared to me that there was a little bit more swagger in that position," Miles said. "They were both going in there to play and play comfortably and make plays, which is one of the reasons they had success."

On the ground, LSU is averaging nearly 190 yards, led by Stevan Ridley, who ranks second in the Southeastern Conference with an average of 106.7 yards rushing.

Yet, despite their recent success, there remains a feeling among the Tigers that they can do better.

"We have yet to play a complete game," left tackle Joseph Barksdale said. "We have set a very high ceiling which we are trying to reach this year. We are miles away from our best football."

Meanwhile, LSU continues to play dominant defense, leading the vaunted SEC in total defense (246 yards per game) and rushing defense (80.7 yards).

The Tigers' defense, led by tackle Drake Nevis, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and cornerback Patrick Peterson, is what concerns Viator most, particularly in light of the Cowboys' injuries on offense.

"They have a lot of speed and run to the ball, and like a coach put it, they don't play nice," Viator said. "They don't line up the same way and are constantly pressuring. I've never seen anybody do what they do on defense. They continue to run good players in down after down after down."

Recent history runs against McNeese State. LSU is 21-0 in regular-season, non-conference games since Miles took over in 2005. The last time the Tigers played an FBS team, they beat Appalachian State 41-13 to open the 2008 season.

Meanwhile, if LSU wins, they'll be 7-0 for the first time since opening 9-0 in 1973.

"The Florida game was a checkpoint for us. We now realize where we are as a team," linebacker Ryan Baker said. "We've got a good team, but there is room for improvement. Once we get all the pieces together, we'll be a pretty good."