OFF AND RUNNING
This Fall, LSU Is All Set On Defense. As For Offense … Well, Read On …
By Lyles Martin
Is LSU ever going to return to the top of the SEC as conference champions? That’s the question every Tiger fan asks in any conversation about LSU football.
Since the 2012 National Championship game, in which LSU was completely dominated by Alabama 21-0, the football program has gradually gone downhill with no sense of being about to return to national prominence.
The 2013 season marks the line between what LSU was and what it now is. From 2010-13, LSU went 44-9 — an .830 winning percentage, with an SEC championship. From 2014-17, LSU went 34-16, a .680 winning percentage, with no CFP bowl appearances and no trips to the SEC Championship game.
While LSU doesn’t appear to be in imminent danger of falling off a cliff, because of the lofty standards of past achievements and expectations, LSU has been, and remains, a second-rate college football power. There’s not a lot of confidence coming from the Tiger Nation in 2018.
In other words, things could get worse in the short term for LSU before they have a chance to get better.
LSU faces the toughest schedule in the SEC, according to HourGlass analytics, and third hardest in the country. This schedule includes early games in September against nationally ranked Miami and Auburn.
LSU grabbed the final spot in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll. That was the 18th consecutive year the AP had ranked LSU in the Top 25 preseason poll.
Then there’s the big question about coaching. Offshore bookmaker BetOnline.ag released odds on which SEC coach will be fired first. It didn’t paint a pretty picture for LSU coach Ed Orgeron. In just his second season as head coach of the Tigers, Orgeron is at the top of the list with 9-to-4 odds.
Athletic director Joe Alleva made the decision to give the position to Orgeron after a mockery of a coaching search. Orgeron was named LSU’s permanent head coach on November 26, 2016, two days after the Tigers defeated Texas A&M 54-to-39 in the regular season finale.
And, if the head coaching position is questionable, how about the job of the new offensive coordinator, former Tiger quarterback (1976-79) Steve Ensminger.
Gone is creative offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who survived just one year in the Red Stick. Rumors were rampant that Orgeron never agreed with the play-calling of Canada. And his dislike for Canada was heightened after Orgeron’s wife had a disagreement with Canada’s wife in the press box during one of LSU’s games last season.
Ensminger takes over an offense that needs desperately to score points with a new starting quarterback and a backfield that hasn’t scored a combined touchdown in its career.
This is Ensminger’s second stint as coordinator. He took over calling the plays for LSU’s final eight games after Miles, and then-coordinator Cam Cameron, were dismissed and Orgeron was named interim coach.
“I am so excited Steve Ensminger is our offensive coordinator,” Coach O said. “Steve’s offense broke seven school records in eight games (in 2016) … He spreads the ball around … He puts the ball in our playmakers’ hands in space and lets them make plays.”
The Tigers averaged 465 yards and 32 points per game under Ensminger, but he was still using Cam Cameron’s playbook during the 2016 season.
It seems like a turning point for LSU football, whether for the good or the bad. Orgeron’s future at his dream job is in the hands of a 59-year-old who has not served as a permanent offensive coordinator in 20 years.
You don’t have a brain if you think Ed Orgeron as a head coach and Ensminger as his offensive coordinator would be likely at any other Power Five college that considers itself a player on the national level. Do you think Nick Saban and Alabama are hiring anyone for a major job just because they’re Alabama-bred? No … Saban’s going out to hire the best and the brightest no matter who they are or where they’re from. Just because you’re the best barbecue cook-coach in the country doesn’t mean you’re the best offensive coordinator.
But this is LSU, and, more to the point, Louisiana, where who you know and where you are from count for a great deal. More than they should, really …
This is a team that ranked 76th in scoring offense a season ago, and badly needs a major boost.
LSU returned 222 of 2,699 rushing yards a year ago — just 8.2 percent. And 95 of those yards came on the jet sweeps Matt Canada loved to run with wide receivers.
LSU will use multiple receiver sets this season. According to Orgeron, “If you’re thinking about what we’re going to do at LSU, we’re going to be a spread offense mainly from three wide receiver sets, four wide receiver sets, sometimes five … We’ll be 50/50, throwing the football, running the football.”
Apparently, the Tigers are counting on the Ohio State graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow to be a difference maker. Orgeron made a hard push to bring Burrow to Baton Rouge. Burrow didn’t transfer to ride the pine. He’s at LSU now because it’s his job to lose. After all, he would not have transferred unless he knew he was going to be the starter. And odds are, Orgeron told him, when he and Ensminger were recruiting him, that he was the likely starter for the 2018 season.
Burrow is a pedigree. He’s the brother of two former Nebraska Cornhuskers and the son of Ohio University defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow.
The 6-foot, 3-inch, 215-pound quarterback spent three years under Urban Meyer’s tutelage. He’s a mobile, strong-armed quarterback with good game management skills.
While Coach O emphasized at the SEC media days that there will still be competition in fall camp, he conceded that Burrow has all the measurable and intangibles the Tigers want in a quarterback.
Myles Brennan, the much-heralded quarterback who set high school records in Mississippi two years ago has never lived up to the billing. If he had, he would have gained the starter’s role in the spring and the Tigers would not have wanted to sign Burrow.
Then there’s Lowell Narcisse. The redshirt freshman is as close to an unknown as you’ll find among SEC quarterbacks who have spent at least a year on campus. The dual-threat quarterback hasn’t played a full season since he was a sophomore in high school. Torn ACLs in both knees kept him from playing in 2015 and ‘16.
It’s apparent that Narcisse saw the handwriting on the wall and elected to transfer. Not liking the trend the four-man LSU quarterback derby was taking, he will look at playing JUCO football this season, then transfer to a four-year college in January, 2019.
Junior quarterback Justin McMillan has also decided to transfer out of the program. McMillan graduated from LSU during the summer semester, so he’ll be eligible to play at another Division I school as a graduate transfer. The arrival of Joe Burrow certainly complicated matters when it came to McMillan’s chance of playing.
In all probability, the LSU coaching staff showed the team a depth chart after the first pre-season scrimmage, and the numbers didn’t please Narcisse and McMillan.
The transfers leaves LSU with Brennan and Burrow as the lone scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
Behind Brennan and Burrow are a pair of walk-ons — true freshman Jordon Loving of Riverside Academy in Reserve and sophomore Andre Sale, who transferred from Tennessee Tech.
With the loss of Narcisse, LSU’s season on the brink becomes more precarious. Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger was working on a wild-cat package to showcase his dual-threat abilities. Narcisse had a real chance of playing time this season. He told a Baton Rouge radio station that he knew he was going to play at LSU this year. He said, “I felt … I’m a quarterback … I don’t want to be labeled as a wild-cat guy or a guy who would just come in and just kind of run in certain situations.”
LSU’s history of quarterbacks in recent years has been a mind-blowing ride. According to Sports Illustrated writer Ross Dellenger, LSU has signed 20 quarterbacks in the last 13 classes (2005-17) and only four completed their collegiate career at LSU. Fourteen were either dismissed, transferred or switched positions. Nine never played a single down.
Only once since 2011 has LSU fielded a quarterback who threw 20 or more touchdowns in a single season: in 2013, when Zach Mettenberger threw 22 touchdowns to eight interceptions. In the four years since, LSU quarterbacks have combined to average 15 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 2,302 passing yards per season. LSU has gone 34-16 in that stretch.
You’re not going to win in the SEC with those kind of numbers. LSU’s history has shown that the team couldn’t adapt its offensive scheme to help its quarterback succeed.
Orgeron has gambled and hitched his horses to Joe Burrow’s wagon. LSU’s football fortunes this season, and perhaps Orgeron’s future, may depend upon the one-time four-star recruit’s ability to lead the Tigers on offense. For Burrow, there’s some likely rust from so much time on the bench at Ohio State. Expectations may need to be managed.
Truth is, Burrow is an unknown quantity, who is more name than anything else right now.
For the first time in more than a decade, LSU won’t have a proven NFL-caliber running back ready to carry the load. The Tigers won’t have game changers like Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice. But, LSU will have capable backs.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the 5-foot, 8-inch, 208-pound back might be the best bet to have a break-out season. He can get to the edge and make plays in space. He’s the kind of player who can be used in the slot for short screen passes. He turned an ordinary swing pass into a 27-yard slip and slide sprint to the Aggies’ 1-yard line last year.
Nick Brossette was a blue-chip running back recruit. He has yet to prove himself. Tiger fans remember Brossette coughing up a fumble on the first play of the Troy loss. That pretty much defined his 2017 season. Of all the running backs, Brossette has the most game time experience, averaging 6.7 yards per carry in 46 rushing attempts. Orgeron said that Brossette will “start off” No. 1 in the running back group.
True freshmen Tae Provens and Chris Curry will probably move up on the depth chart. Both were limited by injuries during their senior year.
Provens was among the biggest surprises in LSU’s 2018 recruiting class. Credit Tigers running back coach Tommie Robinson for landing the electric Alabama tailback, who enrolled early. The 6-foot, 187-pound Provens was listed as a three-star athlete.
Chris Curry should fill the role as a downhill runner in LSU’s offense. At 5 feet, 11 inches, the 200-pound bruiser out of Lehigh Acres, Fla., has often been compared to Oakland Raiders star Marshawn Lynch. Nicknamed “Baby Beast Mode,” he’s put together a strong fall camp and should be in line for the second-most touches on this team.
There are carries up for grabs in a largely unproven LSU backfield, and these two freshmen could quickly move into the rotation.
Make no mistake about it, there are no Odell Beckham, Jr.’s or Jarvis Landrys in this year’s group of wide receivers. But the receivers should be an offensive strength and the depth chart should be the deepest in years.
The Tigers are coming off a National Signing Day when they signed what are arguably the nation’s best wide-outs — a pair of five-star recruits in Terrace Marshall and Ja’Marr Chase, and two more in-state stars in Kenan Jones and Jaray Jenkins.
Marshall and Chase have both had a sensational preseason camp and may start the opener against Miami.
Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles figures to be the focal point in Ensminger’s new pass-oriented offense. He led the Red Raiders with 1,158 yards and 13 touchdowns on 69 catches during his sophomore season in Lubbock. “That’s more than our receivers caught the last 10 years,” quipped Coach O.
Returning to the group are some explosive, experienced talents in juniors Stephen Sullivan, Derrick Dillon and Drake Davis.
With a 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame, the size is there for Sullivan to have an impact year. Having started eight games last season, the experience should help him improve in 2018.
Dillon caught 14 passes for 125 yards, and ran for 86 yards on 15 carries in 2017. He’s one of the better athletes at receiver. If he improves his route-running, he should see more targets. Probably not this year, though …
Davis is the latest LSU problem child. He was arrested Aug. 17 on one count of second-degree battery. He is accused of strangling and punching his ex-girlfriend. He’s been suspended indefinitely from the football team. Reportedly, his accuser has recanted her story.
Adding to the depth are junior Dee Anderson, sophomore Racey McMath, and sophomore Justin Jefferson.
McMath has impressed coaches with his physical play, while Jefferson has moved up the receiver chart with an impressive spring. He’s projected as a starter.
LSU wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph said all the receivers bring different things to the table. “I think … they are a pretty good group together … I think not one of them sticks out … There will be some games where we play 9 or 10 receivers to get it done because we want to play fast the whole time.”
Too many dropped passes, poor footwork running routes and failure to separate from defenders — that’s a look at receivers during fall camp. The receivers haven’t done a lot to help out the quarterbacks in the passing game. Wide-outs must improve and gain experience for the offense to have success this year. The talent is there; it’s just got to grow up.
It stands to reason that Ensminger, who spent last season coaching tight ends and fullbacks, will find a way to keep his guys involved in the offense.
Senior Foster Moreau is entrenched as the No. 1 starter at tight end. Moreau had 24 catches for 274 yards and three touchdowns last season. He’s a devastating blocker and well-respected team leader. He doesn’t have the speed to stretch a defense. But he has soft hands and should be able to help LSU quarterbacks as a safety valve on third downs.
Moreau was honored in preseason camp when coach Orgeron presented him with the No. 18 jersey. The jersey is handed down each year through the program to a player who best represents what it means to be a Tiger; to someone who represents the epitome of an LSU football player on and off the field.
Westlake’s Jacory Washington barely managed to get on the field last year after years of recruiting hype. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to do much more than simply exist.
Thaddeus Moss, the son of NFL Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss, spent his NCAA-mandated redshirt season improving his blocking. But his hands and ability to create mismatches are the reasons he should play a role in the offense this season. Moss is set for the second spot behind Moreau.
Jamal Pettigrew is expected to miss the 2018 season with a reported knee injury involving the ACL.
LSU may have found its tight end of the future in three-star Florida freshman prospect Zach Sheffer. He’s a willing and aggressive blocker and pure receiver. Sheffer catches the ball with soft hands and isn’t afraid to go across the middle to go up for contested passes.
At fullback, Tory Carter has already shown himself a capable successor to J.D. Moore. He’s a natural lead blocker who brings a physicality and intensity to the team on both offense and special teams.
Senior David Ducre is listed on the depth chart as second-team fullback. But with injuries to the tight ends group, he’s transitioned to tight end.
Year after year, LSU’s offensive line is highly touted as a strength of the offense. And, year after year, the line underperforms. Lack of talent and discipline, as well as poor fundamentals in coaching, contribute to the cause.
Last season’s offensive line coach Jeff Grimes took a ride out of town to BYU. More than likely, it was a good move on his part, because he was definitely on the chopping block.
Orgeron brought in James Cregg from the NFL. The two had a history from Orgeron’s stints at Tennessee and USC, with Cregg bringing in a strong reputation as a teacher and recruiter of high quality linemen. We’ll see how that pans out.
LSU’s offensive line is undergoing a transition. There’s a nice mix of returning veterans and newcomers. However, fall camp and scrimmages have shown a line that’s “not good,” according to Orgeron. He said there are “way too many mistakes and penalties.” Certainly that’s not a good indicator for what lies ahead. There is angst on the offensive line. This group is probably mediocre at best.
Three starters return; they include sophomore tackle Saahdiq Charles, and guards Garrett Brumfield and Ed Ingram. Charles and Ingram were pressed into service as true freshmen, and after some mental issues early on, eventually settled into solid roles.
Orgeron announced at the beginning of fall camp that Ingram had been suspended from the team for “a violation of team policy.” He said he wasn’t sure when Ingram would be back with the team. The Advocate reported that Ingram was arrested on two counts of aggravated sexual assault involving a minor in Dallas County on Aug. 2. The alleged incident occurred before he was enrolled at LSU.
If there’s a de facto leader on the offensive line, it’s senior Garrett Brumfield. One of four offensive players who started all 13 games in 2017, Brumfield bypassed a chance at the NFL to return for one more year with the Tigers. He will also get playing time at center.
LSU will shift freshman Chasen Hines to left guard to back up Brumfield. Hines signed as a defensive lineman, but played offensive guard in high school.
Early signee Damien Lewis out of Northwest Mississippi Community College is considered a natural guard at 6 feet, 3 inches, 326 pounds. Ranked the No. 3 JUCO guard for the class, Lewis will replace Ed Ingram at right guard.
LSU signed the No. 1 junior college tackle in the class of 2018, Badara Traore. At 6 feet, 7 inches, 301 pounds, Traore was considered as a possible option at right tackle. He’s been slow to progress and will battle for playing time as a starter.
Junior Adrian Magee has a leg up on sophomore Austin Deculus in the battle to be LSU’s starting right tackle. Both have struggled with the wide rush during camp.
Sophomore Lloyd Cushenberry appears set to finally move into the starting center spot. He could be the key to the offensive line. If he doesn’t execute, the Tigers will probably shift Garrett Brumfield to center and other players will shift to different offensive line positions. If one starter goes out, it’s unclear how confident LSU would be about the backups.
Ed Orgeron announced early in fall camp that he was going to help out his $2.5 million-per-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. “I’m going to be very involved in coaching the defensive line this year,” Orgeron said at a Baton Rouge Rotary Club meeting.
That’s interesting. One of the highest paid assistant coaches in all of college football needs his head coach to help him on defense? Orgeron was LSU’s defensive line coach before he was promoted to interim coach in 2016.
Aranda wants to transition the defense toward more aggressive tendencies. Orgeron said, “You’ll see a little more movement, a little more blitzing than we’ve done in the past.”
LSU ranked 14th in scoring defense (18.9 points allowed per game) and 12th in total defense (316 yards allowed per game). But neither of those statistics generally help out a team’s offense.
Aranda has implied the LSU defense can evolve in his third year. His players say they’ve seen a more diverse defensive scheme in 2018.
At the end of the day, though, the defense is filled with star talent and expected to be the strength for LSU, while the offense tries to answer its many questions.
Last year, LSU’s depth on the defensive line was nonexistent. This season, four freshmen will be in the mix for playing time and will improve the depth.
Junior Rashard Lawrence and sophomore Glen Logan are the starting defensive ends at the end of fall camp. Lawrence appeared in 10 games last season, but was constantly battling an ankle injury that kept him from being 100 percent. He’s the anchor of the defensive line. “Rashard’s a 4.0 student … Has great technique and great hands,” said Orgeron.
Logan was the No. 2 prospect in Louisiana in 2016, as well as the No. 7 strong side defensive end in the country.
Texas Tech transfer Breiden Fehoko will start at the nose tackle position. Fehoko has been limited in scrimmages by minor nicks and bruises, but will be ready to open the season against Miami. He isn’t the 350-pound nose tackle clogging up the middle so others can make plays. But according to Devin White, “he’s super-athletic as a nose tackle. He makes so many plays in the backfield.”
Last season’s starter, Ed “Rougarou” Alexander, has been nursing a knee injury and will be brought along slowly until he’s able to go at full-speed. Expect Alexander to rotate in and out during situational defensive schemes.
Fehoko could still move back to end if Alexander becomes good to go. But for now, LSU brings out a defensive front with more athleticism …
Redshirt freshman Tyler Shelvin should emerge as a steady contributor at nose tackle. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 354-pounder “has shown flashes” of former great Glen Dorsey, according to Orgeron.
Sophomores Neil Farrell and Justin Thomas will back up the starters on the end.
Freshmen Davin Cotton and Nelson Jenkins should get time at defensive end, while three-star freshmen 6-foot, 3-inch, 350-pound Dominic Livingston, and lean and rangy 6-foot, 7-inch, 320-pound Dare Rosenthal, will have an opportunity to play the tackle position.
LSU returns only one starter at the linebacker spot: preseason All-American Devin White. He may very well be the best inside linebacker in the country. ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., listed him as the No. 1 OLB for next year’s NFL draft.
In his first year as a starter, and his second playing the linebacker position full-time, White led the SEC in tackles per game. He totaled 133 stops and 4.5 sacks in 2017.
Sophomore Tyler Taylor, who was competing for a starting role as middle linebacker, has been suspended from the team indefinitely. As reported by The Advocate, Taylor was arrested in May for reportedly serving as the getaway driver in a burglary of a Georgia pawn shop. Taylor played in all 13 of LSU’s games last year, seeing time as a true freshman.
With the loss of Taylor, Jacob Phillips should become a starter. Phillips seemed to edge ahead of Taylor in the spring after an impressive performance in LSU’s spring game.
Sophomore Patrick Queen will likely back up both spots, although his biggest impact should be on special teams.
No Arden Key, no problem, for LSU’s outside linebackers in 2018 … Texas product K’Lavon Chaisson was billed as LSU’s next great linebacker last year. A 6-foot, 4-inch, 240-pound pass rush phenom — things just didn’t work out that way. He turned in a less-than-average season with two sacks, 4.5 tackles for a loss, and two quarterback hurries in 12 games.
An outside linebacker who came into his own late last season, sophomore Ray Thornton, could be a run stopper if Chaisson can become a dominant pass rusher. At 6 feet, 3 inches, 228 pounds, Thornton is a more compact player than Chaisson.
How well Andre Anthony has recovered from a severe foot injury that ended his season before the BYU game in 2017 is another big question mark. Anthony is effectively two years away from being on a football field. He took a redshirt in 2016. A healthy Anthony could add depth on the outside.
Expect jack-knife junior Michael Divinity to start at F-linebacker. He’s played as an inside linebacker and F-linebacker in his two years at LSU. He excelled as an edge rusher in high school at John Ehret. “Michael Divinity is having one heck of a camp … He came focused and ready to go,” said Orgeron.
If true freshman Jarrell Cherry, the four-star defensive end out of Dallas, and Ferriday’s Dantrieze Scott, aren’t redshirted, each will add depth to talented pass rushers off the edge.
Four-star inside linebackers Damone Clark of Southern Lab and early enrollee Michael Baskerville of Evangel are running third team. Clark has had an impressive fall camp, while Baskerville has been out with a foot injury.
Junior college transfer Travez Moore, who was also an early enrollee, had a great spring game with six tackles, 1 ½ sacks and a quarterback hurry. Moore, a Bastrop native, is capable of giving Chaisson a breather on the outside.
DBU (Defensive Back University) has more questions regarding the defensive backfield this season than in years past.
That’s what happened when Tiger fans’ last impression was a miracle game-losing touchdown pass against Notre Dame in the bowl game, followed by another round of early NFL departures and a significant loss in recruiting.
Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver II headed to the NFL. And defensive back coach Corey Raymond lost the nation’s No. 1 cornerback recruit Patrick Surtain, Jr., to, of all schools, Alabama.
LSU still returns the nation’s current No. 1 cornerback, freshman All-American Andraez “Greedy” Williams. Williams was an SEC co-leader with six interceptions. He had the league’s leading pass breakup rate of 1.31 per game. This year, he steps into the leader role in the secondary at one corner as a third-year sophomore.
Williams has one side of the field locked up. But the other side and the nickelback are up for grabs.
Kristian Fulton, the projected starter opposite Williams, is free. Fulton has been reinstated by the NCAA, according to coach Orgeron. He was serving a two-year suspension for tampering with a drug test in 2017. In early August, the NCAA had denied Fulton’s suspension appeal. The Advocate reported that an LSU athletic official sent the NCAA a four-page letter requesting reclassification from one rule violation to another, which would result in just a one-year suspension. Fulton has already served a year. Fulton, the nation’s No. 1-rated cornerback prospect in 2016, has been practicing with the first team defense throughout training camp.
The Tigers are counting on Fulton to be a major contributor in the secondary. But really, no matter how much he contributes, it can’t be overstated what a positive boost of energy his reinstatement means to this Tiger team.
Sophomore Kary Vincent, Jr., has seen most of the snaps on the first team during fall camp. He started three of the first four games as a true freshman as LSU’s nickelback before his playing time quickly diminished.
Stanford graduate transfer and former John Curtis star Terrence Alexander is running second team. Alexander turned down a $110,000-per-year cyber security job in San Francisco to play football at LSU. He’ll probably start at the nickel.
“Anyone from Louisiana would love to play for LSU … Getting into the graduate business school was also big,” he said. It’s nice to see a player who’s interested in continuing his grad school education.
Jontre Kirklin and consensus four-star freshman recruit Kelvin Joseph add depth to the corner. Joseph was the only defensive back LSU signed in the Class of 2018.
Joseph has had a great preseason camp. Orgeron said, “He has a strong possibility to start … He’s doing a very good job.”
There’s a load of depth at safety. Sophomore Grant Delpit — one of LSU’s top returning defenders — is back from an injury suffered in the spring game. Delpit sustained a broken collarbone. He’ll start as one safety. Delpit said he’s even playing some corner. “Year two should be my breakout year. It should be our breakout year as a defense at LSU … I feel like a lot of people are overlooking us … We’ve got something to show.”
Fifth-year senior John Battle is LSU’s most experienced player in the secondary. His 61 tackles were third on the team last season, and he recorded an interception and had a team-best two forced fumbles.
Sophomores Eric Monroe, Todd Harris and Jacoby Stevens should vie for playing time. Monroe had some mental busts, but flashed some potential as a coverage safety. Harris saw most of his action on special teams in 2017. He could see more reps in a nickel or dime position.
Stevens is the player everyone wants to see on the field. The five-star athlete recruit was moved to a wideout position last season to begin the year. He moved back to safety at the end of the season and grabbed more playing time during the bowl game. “Jacoby Stevens is going to do a lot of good things for the Tigers this year,” Orgeron said.
Senior Ed Paris, who had eight tackles and four pass breakups in three games before tearing his ACL, will also get back in the mix at safety once he’s fully healthy. Paris received a medical redshirt.
New safeties coach Bill Busch, a former assistant under Dave Aranda at Wisconsin and Utah State, has put more emphasis on the safeties catching the ball when they get a chance at an interception. Busch said the safeties have dropped 24 interceptions in the last two years.
During early fall camp, when Eric Monroe didn’t grab a ball in a pass drill and threw his hands in front of his face, Busch playfully got on him. “Awww,” he said. “That’s the sound of 106,000 fans when you drop that interception.”
Converted receiver Mannie Netherly will have a chance to perform as a corner or as a nickelback. The 6-foot-3 athlete was buried on the receiver depth chart, and the hope is his athleticism translates to defense.
There’s no simpler way to look at it — LSU just has to get better here.
Every Tiger fan had an anxiety attack when LSU attempted a field goal or extra point last season. Only three FBS schools missed more field goal attempts than the nine misses Jack Gonsoulin and Connor Culp combined for. They also missed three extra points, which prompted Orgeron to sign graduate transfer Cole Tracy of Division II Assumption College. A two-time All-American, he converted on 27 of 29 field-goal tries and converted all 67 of his PATS last year. He’s the only kicker in Division II history to boot six field goals in a game twice. Coaches reported Tracy is reliable from 55 yards out or better. If that’s accurate, he would be a weapon this fall.
Former Barbe and Pittsburgh Pirates minor league pitcher Zach Von Rosenberg and Aussie Josh Growden return as punters. Growden struggled early on during the season, which allowed Von Rosenberg a chance to boom deep kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Growden showed at least some value in shorter directional kicks near mid-field.
Returns are up for grabs a bit, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire is expected to be the lead kickoff returner again. Jonathan Giles and Justin Jefferson returned punts during the spring game and are penciled in as punt returners. Terrance Alexander has worked out as a returner during fall camp.
LSU will be back to having a full-time special teams coach with Greg McMahon after spending a year as a consultant.
Final Analysis/ Overall Outlook
Every year, it seems that the success of the LSU football program rests on the shoulders of the Tiger quarterback. Last year, it was Danny Etling. This season, it will probably be Joe Burrow. LSU quarterbacks have had their share of good and downright bad moments.
Bert Jones to Brad Davis in the southeastern corner of the end zone in the last seconds of the game to beat Ole Miss 17-to-16, Nov. 4, 1972 … Maybe one of the best moments for an LSU quarterback. And the loudest it’s ever been in Tiger Stadium.
Jamie Howard was responsible for one of the most spectacular meltdowns in college football history. Let’s be fair, though, he wasn’t the guy calling all those pass plays (offensive coordinator Lynn Amedee was). But it does take a certain something to blow a 23-point lead by throwing six interceptions. Three fourth-quarter interceptions were returned for touchdowns in a 30-to-26 loss at Auburn in 1994. Auburn made one first down in the second half, yet scored 27 points in the comeback.
So it’s not fair to put the load entirely on the LSU quarterback.
An optimistic view would be that LSU will have to ride their defense until Ensminger’s offensive scheme can gain experience.
Three things in life that are certainties — taxes, the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, and a solid Dave Aranda defense. The fact of the matter is the LSU defense is going to be stingy. They should be able to keep LSU in close games throughout the year. They just can’t give up those 200-plus yards rushing as they did several times last year.
The LSU offense won’t put up a ton of points early on, and it’s not going to be happy when it’s out of its comfort zone. Too many three and outs will put a bigger load on the defense.
The Tigers will face two teams that played in the College Football Playoff (Alabama and Georgia) and two teams that played in New Year’s six bowls (Miami and Auburn). Add home games with Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and at Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M, and it’s extremely difficult to see the Tigers being able to challenge for an SEC Championship. All of the SEC teams LSU plays have improved over the last season, with the possible exceptions of Ole Miss and Arkansas.
Big-time SEC programs that finish with three losses or more on a regular basis lead to angry fan bases. LSU has done that for six straight seasons, being out of a realistic chase for the national championship by mid-November in all six. To say there is concern among the Tiger Nation faithful about how LSU plays this season is an understatement.
The pessimistic view is that the QB play dooms the Tigers, and the offense can’t stay on the field and that wears down the talented defense. It’s something that every Tiger fan has become accustomed to.
Unless the Tigers are able to start fast (like they did in beating Miami 33-17), winning six, seven or eight games may be the best-case scenario in 2018. Being a contender in the SEC West is hard to envision. (Alabama still lives there.) LSU should just worry about getting to a bowl game before they start thinking about loftier goals.
John Ferguson, Walter Hill and John Ed Bradley said, “it never rains in Tiger Stadium.” Truth of the matter is when it does rain, it pours down in Tiger Stadium. Who can forget the monsoon that roared through the stadium during Miami’s 44-3 butt whipping, Nov. 19, 1988?
Who knows what the weather will be like this season. But, if you believe all of the sports prognosticator forecasts, rain is already drenching Tiger Stadium and its football team. This program may struggle to have a break-even year.
LSU returns just nine starters from last year’s 9-4 team. Toss in three players suspended since the start of fall camp, two scholarship quarterbacks transferring, multiple minor and major injuries, and a new offense that hasn’t been tested, and it becomes obvious — there are plenty of questions facing this team.
Orgeron brought in a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator. That was reminiscent of Orgeron’s move 12 years ago when, after his first season at Ole Miss, he changed his coordinator and quarterback. It didn’t work out then. Will it work out this time?
Given the incredibly low expectations created by Orgeron’s disastrous time in Oxford, anything short of driving the Tiger football team off Interstate 10 has to be considered a win. It’s fair to say confidence in Orgeron remains in question. If there’s one thing Tiger fans can point toward, it is that there are problems that need to be addressed. Orgeron seems to have at least focused on LSU’s shortcomings in assessing how to improve this year’s team.
Now he and LSU have to prove they have the long-term answers to lift the program from average to good … then back to great. Winning nine games last year bought Orgeron time. But if he didn’t get the latest moves right, the clock begins ticking on his tenure…
LSU football, or, as law enforcement refers to it, Criminals U, continues to be in a state of flux, with its fortunes turning up or down. One thing we know — this is the new normal.
As The Advocate’s Scott Rabalais says, “presiding over it all is Ed Orgeron, who either inspires confidence or dread in the hearts of most LSU football fans, most of whom have still not gotten over losing Nick Saban to the Miami Dolphins … Orgeron, with his barrel-chested Cajun brogue and sleeves draped in strong emotions, is Louisiana to his core … And at Louisiana’s core is football.”
LSU football, that is …