Taysom Hill is officially a touchdown-passing NFL quarterback.
The Stormin' Mormon threw not one, but two touchdown passes in the Saints 21-16 win over Atlanta. The win marked New Orleans's ninth straight victory, the third straight without Drew Brees. Hill led the way with 315 total yards, including 83 rushing yards, in his best game so far as the starter, but nearly squandered a fourth-quarter 12-point lead with two fumbles, one of which the Falcons quickly turned into a touchdown.
Thankfully, the Saints defense delivered once again, holding the Falcons to just nine first-half points, largely by stifling the Falcons rushing attack to 70 yards and limiting Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan to a mediocre 48.7 percent completion percentage and sacking him three times.
More importantly, the Saints completed the season sweep of the reviled Dirty Birds and maintained first place in the NFC while giving Brees another week to heal.
In Baton Rouge, it was a massacre.
Alabama annihilated LSU 55-17, scoring on every first-half possession en route to the largest point total ever scored by either team in the rivalry. Making matters worse, Louisiana native DeVonta Smith put on a receiving clinic in Death Valley, torching the LSU secondary for 231 yards on eight receptions and three touchdowns. For Tiger fans wondering how the normally ferocious LSU defense has fallen so far so quickly, one only needed to look across the line of scrimmage at the three Crimson Tide linebackers who all prepped in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers are a broken team, and the dumpster fire that is the 2020 season is raging even harder this week with news of freshman star tight end Arik Gilbert opting out for the rest of the year and LSU self-imposing a bowl ban this season. For Ed Orgeron and the Tigers, 2021 can't get here soon enough.
Both the Saints and LSU head to the eastern time zone for road games this weekend, one fighting to extend a winning streak, the other desperately hoping to break a losing one.
New Orleans (10-2) at Philadelphia (3-8-1)
Where/When to Watch: Sunday, December 13, at 3:25 p.m. on FOX
In search of a 10th straight victory, the Saints head up to Philadelphia to battle the Eagles, who, thanks to an awful NFC East, are still in the hunt for a division title.
After starting the first half of the season barely below .500, the Eagles are in a freefall, losing their last four games and failing to score more than 17 points since November 1 (the date of their last win). Hoping to avoid a fifth straight loss, Eagles coach Doug Pederson is turning to rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts as a potential late-season savior. Philly's previous starter, Carson Wentz, leads the NFL in interceptions and sacks and ranks 31st in completion percentage.
Hurts replaced Wentz during last week's loss at Green Bay, breathing some life into the Eagles by throwing for 109 yards and his first NFL touchdown. However, the former Alabama and Oklahoma product was also sacked thrice and picked off once.
LSU fans may remember the Tigers squaring off against Hurts while he played quarterback for both Alabama and Oklahoma. In his lone season as a Sooner, Hurts totaled 52 touchdowns (32 passing and 20 rushing) and finished second to Joe Burrow in Heisman Trophy voting.
Hurts isn't surrounded by a bevy of dynamic offensive weapons in Philly and will make his starting debut against a defense that is hitting its stride at the perfect point of the season. The Saints have held opponents to less than 17 points for five straight games, allowing single-digit points in three of those contests. A unit plagued by untimely penalties and busted coverages early in the season has developed into one of the most tenacious defenses in the league, leading the NFL in total defense. The Eagles offense ranks 29th by comparison.
New Orleans's defense is likely ready to feast on a rookie quarterback whose offensive line is the most porous unit in the NFL, but for some reason, I keep getting Robert Griffin III flashbacks when I hear a dual-threat rookie is starting against the Saints. That was many moons ago, and a season opener, but the memories don't fade.
For New Orleans, the question of when Drew Brees will return looms large. The safe play is to let Brees heal up another week, especially considering the opponent, and let him make his return versus the reigning Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs in the Superdome the following game. Plus, Taysom Hill has been exciting to watch.
Hill's found a great connection with receiver Michael Thomas over the past three games, connecting 22 times for 259 yards, including two 100-yard outings. Although Alvin Kamara's role has been altered with Hill under center, the Saints continue to have offensive weapons step up week after week in key situations. Last week, Tre'Quan Smith, Jared Cook, and Kamara each found the end zone. The week before, Latavius Murray had a monster game.
New Orleans's offense just finds a way, and Hill continues to improve with each passing week (aside from the fumbles). If the defense continues its dominant hot streak, the Saints should be able to nab a fourth straight win without Brees.
Prediction: Saints 27, Eagles 17
LSU (3-5) at #6 Florida (8-1)
Where/When to Watch: Saturday, December 12, at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN
There's no love lost between these cross-divisional opponents.
In one of the most underrated rivalries in college football, the Tigers have won five of the last seven matchups, but this year's Florida squad has blistered its way through the SEC. Since their lone loss in October, the Gators are averaging over 41 points, while holding their opponents to just 21 points per game.
Quarterback Kyle Trask is a serious Heisman Trophy contender, leading the SEC in both passing yards (3,243) and touchdowns (38), with only three interceptions. Trask hasn't thrown less than three touchdowns in a game all season and is without an interception in Florida's last four games.
Florida's prolific passing attack features wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes and tight end Kyle Pitts as the primary options. Pitts is a matchup nightmare, ranking seventh in the SEC in yards (641) and second in touchdown catches (11). Toney ranks fifth in receiving yardage (649), while Grimes has added over 400 yards this season. Both receivers have eight touchdowns.
It's going to be a long day for the LSU secondary.
On offense, LSU is still relying on a pair of freshmen quarterbacks in TJ Finley and Max Johnson. After losing the team's two best pass-catchers in consecutive weeks with the opt-outs of Terrace Marshall and Gilbert, the LSU offense will rely on several talented but inexperienced receivers. Freshman Kayshon Boutte was one of the few bright spots against Alabama, catching eight passes for 111 yards. Expect to see heavy doses of fellow youngsters Trey Palmer and Koy Moore as well.
The Tigers have been most successful when they've been able to produce a balanced offensive attack through establishing the running game and controlling the clock. Easier said than done with a bad offensive line, but sophomore running back John Emery showed the kind of playmaking flashes last week that LSU needs more of on a consistent basis.
If the LSU offense can keep Trask off the field, the Tigers stand a puncher's chance of avoiding a third straight loss. But based on what we've seen for most of the season and the current downward trajectory of the LSU program, that's probably not going to happen.
Prediction: Florida 38, LSU 17