Louisiana football fans can finally catch their collective breaths as the mighty LSU Tigers (8-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) and the New Orleans Saints (7-1, 1-0 NFC South) have off weeks to prepare for two huge upcoming matchups.
Start with the Tigers. They are having a campaign LSU has not experienced in some time with an emerging superstar in freshman defensive back Derek Stingley and Heisman favorite senior quarterback Joe Burrow.
Stingley leads the defense in interceptions and showed the ability to tackle when asked. Both aspects are crucial as junior defensive back Grant Delpit is having a down year by his standards, and senior defensive end Rashard Lawrence struggles to stay healthy.
With all this being said, two names have stepped up alongside Stingley to make this defense feared: junior linebacker Jacob Phillips and junior defensive back JaCoby Stevens.
Phillips leads the linebacking core for the Tigers. He also leads the team in tackles and seems to always be around the ball.
As for Stevens, he has been on another level. He is second on the team in tackles and was voted SEC Defensive Player of the Week for the second consecutive week.
Even with these two stepping up, the defense needs to improve. LSU is allowing a pedestrian 316 yards per game this season under Dave Aranda. That is good for 27th in the country. Not bad by most standards, but out of line with the usual Aranda mantra.
One cause could be the intense schedule LSU has played thus far, which includes games against top 10 opponents like Texas, Auburn, and Florida.
Aranda would also agree having an explosive offense allows the defense to be riskier. LSU’s defense is talented, and will use this much needed bye to prepare for the upcoming goliath.
As for the offense, what can you not say?
According to Caesar Sportsbook, Joe Burrow started the year at 200-1 odds to win the Heisman trophy. Now he stands as the favorite at even odds.
This did not come without execution and grit.
Burrow broke the LSU record for the most passing touchdowns in a season against Mississippi State in week seven, and looks to create a record that will never be reached.
He leads the nation’s secondbest passing offense that throws for over 370 yards a game and is third in yards per attempt with over 10.
He could not accomplish these momentous achievements without athletes on the outside; and LSU happens to have three: sophomore Ja’Marr Chase, junior Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall.
LSU is one of two teams in the country with three players with at least 300 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. Burrow can sling the rock into tight spaces, but these three know how to go up and get it.
The only other team that can currently boast that stat happens to be the Tigers’ next opponent: the Alabama Crimson Tide.
LSU is rolling, and fans should use this time to relax and celebrate as coach Ed Orgeron prepares for the toughest game of his life in a tough, hostile environment.
According to Orgeron, “Joe’s a competitor,” and the Tigers will have to use every ounce of it in two weeks.
As for the Saints, the messiah returned and seemed to not miss a beat.
Beside a couple of ugly deep throws, quarterback Drew Brees looked like the first ballot hall of famer New Orleans grew to love. He ended his day against the Arizona Cardinals with 373 yards and three touchdowns to go with a 79% completion percentage.
Not too shabby for the first player in NFL history with 75,000 passing yards, but he could not do it alone.
During his five-game absence, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 and passed for over a thousand yards, with every one of them seeming to go to star wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas is on pace to catch the most balls this season.
Yet, the biggest one to step up on offense, especially in the past two weeks, is running back Latavius Murray. He has shown that he was a feature back once and can do it again.
In the past two games, Murray rushed for 221 yards and gained another 86 in the air.
No Alvin Kamara, no problem. In addition to the offense not skipping a beat, the defense is playing like it is the best in the league.
They rank sixth in yards allowed per game, ninth in points per game and second in rushing yards per game.
It has been 34 total games since the defense has allowed an individual 100-yard rusher.
The best part is, you can name any starter and not find a glaring weakness.
Big names like defensive end Cameron Jordan has eight sacks, linebacker Demario Davis leads the team in tackles with 42 and safety Marcus Williams leads the team with two interceptions.
The lesser names like defensive back Eli Apple is having his best year as a Saint, and defensive lineman Trey Hendrickson has three sacks to his credit.
Every name on the defense could get praise, and they will be the reason that the Saints stay title contenders.
The only weakness seems to be the absence of a wide receiver, but, if offensive linemen Ryan Ramczyk, Erik McCoy and Terror Armstead keep giving Brees time, it might not be an issue at all.
In the words of Jeff Duncan, “It’s entirely possible that the best team in college football and the best team in pro football are both playing in the state of Louisiana right now.”
It’s not just possible, it’s happening right now and fans should enjoy the bye week to examine the golden age for football in Louisiana as both juggernauts look to take home trophies by winter.