Overview: LSU fell short of expectations in 2015, all in a three-game stretch that nearly cost Les Miles his job, as the Tigers fell to Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss. This year’s Tiger team has something to prove, and a new defensive coordinator is looking to improve on a disappointing performance a year ago. If LSU can’t break the 10-win barrier in the regular season, however, this could be Miles’ swan song.
Projected record: 10-2 (UF, TAM); 6-2 and 2nd SEC West
Returning offensive starters: 8 (SE, FL, QB, RB, TE, LG, C, RG)
Returning defensive starters: 9 (RDE, RDT, LDT, LDE, MLB, RCB, LCB, SS, FS)
Returning specialists: 1 (PK)
QB: Av DL: Ex
RB: Ex LB: Av
WR: Vg DB: Ex
OL: Av ST: Av
Offensive breakdown: LSU has slowly become the most conservative team in the SEC West, for reasons known only to Miles. Cam Cameron was an early adopter of the QB-as-star system of offense while at Indiana, where he turned Antwaan Randle-El into a multi-position dynamo. He doesn’t have a Randle-El on this team, but he does have an improving Brandon Harris under center. Harris is a dual-threat quarterback with a good arm. What Cameron also doesn’t have here is a lot of depth. Purdue transfer Danny Etling appears to have the backup job at the moment, but he’s somewhat of an unknown in regards to his ability to compete in the SEC, and there’s really no one behind him. Justin McMillan and Lindsey Scott Jr. would be next up, but neither is ready.
Running back, on the other hand, has no such problems regarding depth. LSU has at least three players who could start at any SEC school, led by Leonard Fournette, who is likely beginning his last season of college ball. Derrius Guice is a more-than-capable backup; Fournette averaged 6.5 yards per carry in 2015, while Guice averaged a staggering 8.5. Junior Darrell Williams, who averaged nearly 5 yards per carry in his role last year, also returns. J.D. Moore, David Ducre and Bry’Kiethon Mouton give LSU three hammerhead fullbacks. Nick Brossette appears ready to join the RB rotation. LSU also retains both starting receivers from a year ago, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural. Depth took a hit when Tyron Johnson announced he would transfer, but D.J. Chark, Jazz Ferguson and signee Drake Davis are all expected to contribute.
The offensive line should be fine if Maea Teuhema can stay healthy and nail down the left tackle spot. Ethan Pocic, Will Clapp and Garrett Brumfield will handle the interior, while Toby Weathersby is expected to start at right tackle. If Teuhema continues to be slowed by injury, look for K.J. Malone or Chidi Okeke to get the call at left tackle.
Defensive breakdown: LSU suffered a big loss early in camp when DT Christian LaCouture went down with what is feared to be a season-ending knee injury. Reserve DE Isaiah Washington suffered a similar injury the same day. LaCouture’s injury probably means Frank Herron will get a starting job now next to Davon Godchaux, while Lewis Neal and Arden Key hold down the DE slots. Neal and Key need to improve against the run a bit, and Tashawn Bower will continue to press both for a starting job. Greg Gilmore will push Herron at DT. LSU finished 17th against the run in 2015, but it seldom felt like the Tiger DL controlled a game.
At linebacker, MLB Kendall Beckwith returns, and there is no doubt about his talents. There is plenty of doubt about the outside linebackers, however, as Duke Riley, Devin White and Donnie Alexander are in competition for those two jobs. Riley and Alexander are fast, but they combined for only 0.5 tackles for loss in 2015 and need to improve. White is a signee. Corey Thompson and signee Michael Divinity are the key reserves; Thompson is a former safety, evidence that LSU is prioritizing speed in this unit.
One place LSU needs plenty of improvement is in the secondary, which finished a woeful 65th in the nation in pass defense in 2015 despite having some of the best athletes in the country. The new defensive staff has mostly focused its efforts here. Tre’Davious White and Kevin Toliver get the call at corner, while Jamal Adams and Rickey Jefferson are expected to start at safety. There is plenty of depth behind them and LSU continues to sign top-level athletes here, so there is no excuse for another shoddy performance in 2016.
Trent Domingue returns at placekicker, but the return of his backup, the experienced Colby Delahoussaye, is not as certain. Delahoussaye was injured in a car accident over the summer that claimed the life of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and a former Michigan State punter, Mike Sadler. Delahoussaye is in camp. The main concern, purely from a competition standpoint, is at punter, where yet another Australian rugby player, Josh Growden, is expected to take the job. Given how Miles likes to utilize kickers as runners and receivers in trick plays, LSU special teams are always interesting to watch.
Overall trend: Up. Les Miles seems to have survived a coup attempt unscathed. More surprisingly, the damage to recruiting was minimal, and if early indications of the 2016-2017 class are accurate, it was contained to only last year. Brandon Harris continues to improve as a quarterback, and the amount of talent and experience on both sides of the ball makes LSU a dangerous animal heading into 2016.
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