Preview 2017: LSU Tigers
Previewing and looking ahead at the LSU Tigers season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The LSU Offense
Matt Canada helped turn the Pitt offense into an offensive juggernaut – his attack was the only one to outgun eventual national champion Clemson, and managed to beat eventual Big Ten champion Penn State, too. Now the new offensive coordinator will try cranking up an LSU attack that was effective, but didn’t scare anyone through the air.
QB Danny Etling isn’t going to be Tom Brady – or even former Pitt passer Nathan Peterman – but he’s experienced, he was effective enough last year when the team needed a steady hand, and he won’t get in the way. But does he have anyone to throw to?
Five of the top six targets are gone, and while D.J. Chark is good, and it’s LSU – there are always receivers who look the park – losing so many veteran receivers isn’t a positive. Fortunately for the Tigers, the offense should be able to crank things up on the ground.
Derrius Guice ripped up a huge season in place of Leonard Fournette, and sometimes in the rotation, and now the ground game is all his to take over. He’ll combine with more big, talented backs who can step in and produce without much of an interruption behind another excellent line.
Three starters are back up front. Will Clapp will be an all-star at center in place of Ethan Pocic, and Toby Weathersby has next-level upside at tackle on a line that allowed just 19 sacks and paved the way for a ground game that averaged over six yards per carry.
Biggest Key To The LSU Offense
The receivers are at least above-average. How good was LSU’s ground game? It finished 21st in the nation despite having to play Alabama (who finished No. 1 in the nation in run defense), Wisconsin (who finished No. 3), Louisville (12th) and Auburn (27th).
The Tigers lost three of those games, with the fourth loss coming to a Florida team that finished fifth in the nation in total D. The passing game wasn’t able to pick up the slack against the Badgers, other Tigers and Crimson Tide, and there will be times when strong run defenses can at least slow down the LSU thunder this year, too. Etling and all the new targets will have to come through.
What You Need To Know About The LSU Defense
Dave Aranda was a hot defensive coordinator dragged away from Wisconsin, and he did his job in the first season at the helm. LSU finished tenth in the nation in total D, allowed 20 or more points just three times – all wins – and held Louisville to just nine points, Alabama to ten, and allowed an average of 16 a game overall.
LSU always has great defensive players waiting to step up, but losing the top six tacklers – and stars like safety Jamal Adams and linebackers Duke Riley and Kendall Beckwith – will hurt.
Fortunately, Christian LaCouture is back as a big part of the front three, while the linebacking corps should be okay as long as pass rushing terror Arden Key is back and ready to produce like he did last season.
There isn’t another Adams in the secondary, but Donte Jackson is an all-star caliber corner on one side, and the safety combination of John Battle and Ed Paris should be up to the team’s normally high standards.
Biggest Key To The LSU Defense
Hope Key is Key again. After being out this offseason, there’s reason to be freaked out – the D needs him back to his old self, assuming he’s returning as normal. Aranda is great at generating pressure no matter what, but Key came up with 12 of the team’s 36 sacks on the year. 20.5 of the other 24 sacks of production are gone. Eight of the top nine leaders in tackles for loss – Key is the one who’s back – are done.
LSU Will Be Far Better If …
It can come up with a fourth down conversion. LSU went for it just eight times on the season, and converted once – the Tigers had the worst fourth down conversion percentage in college football.
Worse yet, the misses came in the biggest games and close losses, failing once against Wisconsin, twice in the battle with Alabama, and twice against Florida, including from the one-yard line to close out an epic goal line stand that set the Gators to the SEC title game. For a tough guy team with a tough guy head coach, that wasn’t okay.
Best LSU Offensive Player
RB Derrius Guice, Jr. – Leonard Fournette is better. It’s been the hip thing to suggest that Guice might be an even more talented back than the No. 4 overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but it was also the cool thing a few years ago to say that Trent Richardson was better than Mark Ingram. That’s not dogging Guice at all, but remember, Fournette cranked up a 1,953-yard, 22 touchdown season in 2015.
With Fournette hurt/preparing himself for the NFL, Guice stepped in and was fantastic, running for close to 1,400 yards and 15 scores, averaging 7.6 yards per carry with 252 yards against Arkansas, 285 against Texas A&M, and with six 100-yard games.
Can he hold up if he carries the ball 300 times like Fournette did two years ago? He won’t have to, but the 5-11, 212-pound superstar recruit can certainly be a workhorse who can hit the home run from time to time. The entire offense is about to work around him, and he has the talent to handle it.
2. C William Clapp, Jr.
3. WR D.J. Chark, Sr.
4. OT Toby Weathersby, Jr.
5. QB Danny Etling, Sr.
Best LSU Defensive Player
DE Arden Key, Jr. – Is he going to be back, ready, and with the right mindset to be one of the nation’s deadliest pass rushers? One of the biggest mysteries of the offseason, Key missed spring practice because of self-proclaimed personal reasons.
A fantastic athlete with the size, burst, and closing ability to be the exact type of hybrid pass rusher the next-level types love, he’s a 6-6, 238-pound blur into the backfield. He cranked up 56 tackles with 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss – and several other pressures in the backfield – in a steady, consistent season. Come back, do all that again, and be a top ten overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
2. CB Donte Jackson, Jr.
3. DE Christian LaCouture, Sr.
4. LB Donnie Alexander, Sr.
5. CB Kevin Toliver, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Danny Etling, Sr. – While he’s hardly a special, next-level talent, he ended up bailing out the Tigers early on last season after stepping in for an ineffective Brandon Harris and taking the team the rest of the way.
The 6-2, 215-pound former Purdue transfer didn’t have to win games on his own, but he was effective enough to get by, hitting close to 60% of his passes for 2,123 yards and 11 scores with five picks.
With so much turnover in the receiving corps, he has to be sharper, spread the ball around well, and use his maturity and experience to make everyone around him better – he can’t make a whole slew of mistakes. After fighting through a season banged up with a back problem, now he’s supposedly healthy and ready to make the nation’s 101st-ranked passing attack better.
The LSU Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins ten games. Being two wins better would show – at least for now – that the stability is matching the talent. Winning the SEC West would be nice, but with road games at Tennessee and Florida, and the division likely to be a little better, getting nine wins in the regular season, and a tenth in a bowl game, for the first double-digit victory season since 2013 would be solid. Of course, all expectations change if LSU can win …
Key Game To The LSU Season
Nov. 4 at Alabama – That 9-6 win in 2011 seems like a million years ago, with the Tigers losing their last six games to the Crimson Tide. LSU’s issues since losing the 2012 BCS Championship aren’t just from losing to Alabama, but the defeats haven’t helped.
Considering the other big West games against Texas A&M, Arkansas and Auburn are in Baton Rouge, beat the Tide, at least split with the Gators and Vols on the road, and the Tigers will be right there in the hunt for the SEC title.
2016 LSU Fun Stats
– Field Goals: Opponents 25-of-26 – LSU 11-of-15
– 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 10-of-19 – LSU 1-of-9
– 3rd Quarter Scoring: LSU 103 – Opponents 33