5 biggest concerns I have about LSU in 2019
LSU appears primed to compete for the SEC West title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The Tigers are coming off a 10-3 season that included a victory in a New Year’s 6 bowl, most of the key players are returning and the incoming group of players is highly regarded.
But there are concerns as the Tigers continue preparing for the Aug. 31 opener against Georgia Southern and beyond.
1. The pass protection
The LSU faithful are excited about the arrival of new passing game coordinator Joe Brady and the potential for quarterback Joe Burrow in his second season as well as the depth and talent in the receiving corps.
But all of that doesn’t guarantee a more productive, efficient and consistent passing game, which is a must if LSU is going to qualify for the football version of the Final Four.
The Tigers have to protect Burrow better than they did last season if everything is going to click. They gave up 36 sacks last season and that’s too many.
The good news is Brady’s scheme is built on quick routes, short drops and split-second decision-making and release.
But that also means Burrow has to get rid of the ball quicker than he did last season, the receivers have to be more precise in their route-running than they were last season and the line has to do a better job of pass blocking than it did last season.
There is talent and experience on the line, but the group is a work in progress. How quickly it jells into a cohesive, stable and productive unit will go a long way in determining whether Brady’s passing game is all the Tigers hope it will be.
2. The tight ends
Brady likes to have tight ends be a big part of the passing game.
So does offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, but his options last season were limited because of injuries to Jamal Pettigrew and Thaddeus Moss.
The only tight end who caught passes last season was Foster Moreau, and he’s in the NFL.
So Brady will be counting on a group of players who have yet to prove themselves as tight ends. But there is hope; in fact, there’s a lot of it.
Stephen Sullivan has been moved to tight end from wide receiver, Pettigrew and Moss are healthy and JUCO recruit T.K. McLendon looks ready to contribute right away.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the tight ends prove to be a valuable part of the passing game, but until they show they can do it, there is some cause for concern.
3. Defensive line depth and durability
Going into last season, LSU had hopes of having an elite defensive line.
But injuries took a toll and though the unit had some success, at times the rotation was limited because of absent players and other players being less than 100 percent healthy.
Once again there is potential for this to be a special group. But players coming back from injury – most notably Rashard Alexander and Breiden Fehoko – have to be healthy and stay healthy.
If the Tigers are going to be better than they were last season, their defensive line has to be better. That’s a realistic expectation – provided the injuries are kept to a minimum.
4. The Texas game
LSU is no stranger to early-season nonconference games against top-flight competition.
But it’s still a danger to the CFP resume when mixed in with the annual SEC gauntlet.
Most of the Tigers’ recent marquee nonconference games have been openers at neutral sites. This one against the defending Allstate Sugar Bowl champs comes after a tuneup against Georgia Southern, but it also comes on the Longhorns’ campus in Austin.
A victory would put LSU right in the thick of the Playoff race as it enters SEC play, but a loss would be extremely harmful with home games against Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M as well as road games against Alabama and Mississippi State looming.
5. Special teams
Cole Tracy arrived last season and was outstanding as the place-kicker, significantly upgrading a position that had been a weakness the previous season.
But the graduate transfer had just 1 season of eligibility and now it’s up to Cade York to match or at least approach Tracy’s performance level (29-of-33 on field goals).
Additionally the Tigers weren’t anything special in the return game, especially on punts. LSU ranked 11th in the SEC with an average of 5.8 yards per punt return.
The arrival of freshman defensive back Derek Stingley Jr. could provide a significant boost to the punt return game, but that remains to be seen.
With aforementioned challenging schedule, LSU is going to find itself in some tight games featuring high stakes.
An advantage – or a disadvantage – on special teams could make the difference in one or more of those games.
Perhaps the Tigers’ special teams will make the difference in a positive way, but they are counting on true freshmen in key positions.