For weary LSU, Furman game is the break before the break

LSU will be the last team from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference to get an open date after it plays its ninth game in as many weeks against Furman on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

Only two other schools from AQ leagues — Arkansas and Washington State — played each of the first eight weeks.

The Tigers (6-2), who have open dates two of the next three weeks, just completed a string of five Southeastern Conference games in a row, including losses at Georgia and at Ole Miss last week.

It’s been a grind, but oddsmakers expect the game against the Paladins (3-4) to be a breather before the much-needed breather of an open date, having designated the 13th-ranked Tigers as more than a six-touchdown favorite.

“It is a little tough, but it’s just part of the SEC,” Tigers wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “You’ve got to be tough mentally and physically. It’s a tough schedule, but you’ve got to work with it.”

Several players said they were looking forward to getting a break, but that strength and conditioning coordinator Tommy Moffitt and his staff prepared them for the grind, the Tigers’ longest since they played 11 straight weeks as a result of schedule shuffling in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

“We knew what we were getting ourselves into at the start of the season,” running back Jeremy Hill said. “It’s not something we’re surprised about.”

LSU has not suffered a significant number of injuries through the first eight games, but coach Les Miles did shorten practice during the week because a lot of players were beat up.

“We have to take care of our bodies and get ready to play tough, nasty football every week,” defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “We know we have a rough schedule, maybe one of the roughest in the country.”

Hill said the Tigers are glad to have a chance to play one more game before the break so they can “go into (the open date) on a good note” after a 27-24 loss at Ole Miss last week.

Zach Mettenberger had the first three-interception game of his career in that game as LSU got off to a slow start offensively for the second consecutive game.

The three interceptions were the most turnovers the Tigers have had in a game this season, and they have lost the ball at least once in every game.

Furman, which leads the Southern Conference of the FCS level in turnover margin (plus-0.6 per game) had five takeaways, including four fumbles, in a 27-10 home victory against Appalachian State last week.

The Tigers defense, which had shown some improvement in the wake of the team’s first loss — 44-41 at Georgia on Sept. 28 — regressed as it gave up 525 yards to the Rebels.

The Paladins have one of the top defenses in their conference, ranking first in rushing defense (154.4 yards per game) and second in total defense (356.0).

This is homecoming for LSU, which has the longest nonconference winning streak in the country — a record 44 games.

The Tigers are 21-1 under Miles in games following a loss, including a 59-26 victory at Mississippi State after the loss to Georgia.

Furman’s three wins match its total from last season with five games to play. The Paladins are a very young team, listing 16 freshmen, 15 sophomores, seven juniors and six seniors on their two-deep.

LSU likely will give many of its freshmen and sophomores added playing time if it’s able to take control as quickly as the oddsmakers expect.

But Miles said he won’t think of any bench clearing until victory is assured.

“I just want our guys to know they’re not the best team that we’ve played,” Miles said, “but they can play very, very well. We’re going to have to play well to beat them.”

Hill said the Tigers aren’t overlooking Furman, noting that a similarly outmanned Towson team came into Tiger Stadium last season and battled LSU all the way before falling 38-22.

But the Tigers do know that an open date comes next.

“I think it’s coming right on time,” cornerback Jalen Mills said.