Last year’s LSU Tigers team was supposed to struggle. Some projected eight wins, and some projected even worse.
Joe Burrow came in and won the starting job, and it was off to the races from there. There were some ups—a 20-point whipping of the Georgia Bulldogs, and there were some downs—another beatdown by the Alabama Crimson Tide. The season ended with an exciting victory in a wacky game over the defending “National Champion” UCF Knights, which featured LSU holding the ball for over 45 minutes and running out of defensive backs.
The Tigers were not decimated by early entrants, only losing three guys, as opposed to seven the previous year. With 16 returning starters, an exciting new passing game coordinator, and arguably a more favorable schedule, could this finally be LSU’s year?
3 Big Questions
1. Is this finally the year the offense opens up?
LSU fans have heard this song before: “The offense is finally going to modernize!”
But this time it might actually be true. Joe Brady brings some spread concepts with him from the Saints. Joe Burrow returns to build on his campaign from last season. While he looked like a game manager for the most of the season, he really came on strong after a pedestrian performance against Alabama. He threw for over 1,200 yards, 10 touchdowns, and only one interception in his final four games. It could be a mirage, but I think it could be like Zach Mettenberger in 2012, breaking out after the Bama game.
He will have the best receiving corps LSU has had since 2013, when Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry graced the sidelines. Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall Jr., and Ja’Marr Chase will all be playing on Sundays in the next couple of years and have big playmaking ability. With a pair of good tight ends in Stephen Sullivan and Thaddeus Moss, the passing game should emulate the 2013 team.
In the backfield, Joe Burrow will have Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Lanard Fournette returning, joined by Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr., two stud freshmen. LSU is going to run by committee, much like they did in the Miles era.
The skill position talent is there; the question is how much will Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady open it up. I think that depends on…
2. Can the O-Line hold up?
The biggest difference between LSU and Alabama since 2011 has been the offensive line. While last year the offensive line was plagued with injuries--they didn’t have the same starting 5 for consecutive weeks until late October—they were still absolutely embarrassed by Alabama, and for LSU that’s the measure.
Lloyd Cushenberry leads a unit that has four returning starters. They have some experience, but can they actually curb pass rushers and give Joe Burrow some time to throw? He was sacked 35 times last season. This line could be the difference between a 9-win season or something better.
3. Can the defense stay healthy?
This defense returns eight starters from last season and is poised to be the best Tiger defense since 2011. Grant Delpit, Kristian Fulton and Rashard Lawrence lead this squad full of blue-chip talent. Despite losing Devin White and Greedy Williams, the linebackers and secondary should be better all around.
But, LSU has had a lot of injuries in the past two seasons. The transfer portal has seen LSU lose two of their DB’s with experience, so should there be injuries, they’ll have to lean heavily on their freshmen. A lot of their pass rush is recovering from injuries last season in K’Lavon Chaisson, Rashard Lawrence and Breiden Fehoko. Should they be able to get healthy and stay healthy, this defense will be lethal.
Out of conference, LSU has Georgia Southern, a tricky option team that has a history of upsetting SEC teams and is coming off a 10-win season. They’ll also have Northwestern State and Utah State, another team coming off a double-digit win season. And, September 7th, they travel to Texas, who apparently is back if you haven’t heard. If LSU can find a way to win in Austin against the man they originally tried to hire in 2016, this could be a magical season.
Because in conference, LSU gets almost all of the tough games at home. Auburn, Texas A&M and Florida all have dates in Death Valley. LSU has to go to Mississippi State, which is never an easy with all of their cowbells, and Ole Miss, who is about to feel the brunt of their NCAA punishments. The big game is the same as every year, Bama. LSU plays them on the road, where they’ve had more success historically.
This season, there is a combination of talent, experience, and optimism that hasn’t been present in Baton Rouge in a few years. Can this be the year?