Spencer Ware was a five-star recruit. In the Cotton Bowl as the backup, he ran for 102 yards on ten carries. Stevan Ridley, the Tigers starter last season at tailback ran for 1147 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, but he’s gone now. Ware is now the engine of the LSU offense.
The sophomore tailback’s effectiveness is crucial, because the best asset any quarterback can have is a productive tailback. The Tiger fans say quarterback Jordan Jefferson is due for a huge improvement this year. They’d better hope so, because the senior and 3rd-year starter passed for just 7 touchdowns in 2011, against 10 interceptions. Jefferson had solid games last year against North Carolina, Alabama, Ole Miss, and in the Cotton Bowl. The rest of the time he was dismal. He seemed to come on toward the end of the year, and the LSU message boards say he’s destined to put things together under new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, who did wonders for Drew Bledsoe at Buffalo in the NFL, coaching him to the best season of his career. Down in the Bayou fans are hopeful Jefferson can blossom with the careful tutoring of a savvy NFL man. Maybe the 6-5, 224-lb. dual threat can become an unstoppable run/pass threat like Cam Newton last year, or Dennis Dixon. The Tiger faithful think Kragthorpe can do for Jefferson what Chip Kelly did with Dixon. He’s started since November of his freshmen year, 20-7 as a starter.
But even the new, improved Jefferson needs a strong run game to lean on. Like most SEC teams LSU relies on a strong defense, and want the offense to frustrate Oregon by keeping the ball and slowing the tempo of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James. If Ware can run on Oregon the way Tennessee’s Tauren Poole did last fall, 23 carries for 162 yards, the Ducks high-flying offense might be grounded. Ware was a high school quarterback, powerfully built at 5-11, 225, and last season he ran for one touchdown and passed for another. He has a slashing, tackle-breaking running style, a bit like Chris Polk of Washington, not lightning fast at 4.6 in the 40. He’s shifty and hard to bring down, and it’s hugely important the Ducks wrap up and tackle well.
A big part of the LSU attack September 3rd will be Ware running for first downs, wearing down Oregon’s smaller defensive front with an offensive line that averages 310 lbs. a man. The Tiger fans watched how Auburn pushed the Ducks around, and they’re counting on doing the same. Stop Ware, and Jefferson has to rely on his arm to beat Oregon, and that hasn’t worked well before.
LSU’s game plan never varies much. LSU plays a Cajun-spiced version of Tressel ball, slowing the game down, taking the air out of the ball, wanting to win with defense and trick plays. Expect a halfback pass from Ware some time in the second half, and probably a fake kick. The Tigers will want to hem in LaMichael James the way Auburn did, and that plan requires a heavy dose of Ware left and Ware right. Oregon has to swarm to the ball and get him on the ground.