2019 was historic. What can we realistically expect from LSU's offense in 2020?
Editor’s note: This is the 4th in a series previewing every SEC West team’s offense. Next: Mississippi State.
Talk about a tough act to follow.
The 2019 LSU offense was the best in school history. It might well have been the best in NCAA history.
Joe Burrow had the most prolific passing season in college football history and the Tigers could throw the ball, run the ball and score points in a manner that was nearly unstoppable.
Nearly all of the key contributors to that historic CFP championship season have moved on, so there are question marks all over the place.
But the cupboard is far from bare.
OK, let’s get this out of the way. Burrow, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, tight end Thaddeus Moss, offensive linemen Lloyd Cushenberry III, Saahdiq Charles, Damien Lewis and Adrian Magee and passing game coordinator Joe Brady are gone.
That’s probably the largest collective hole that LSU has ever had to fill on either side of the ball.
The only key contributors from last year’s offense who return are wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase (the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner) and Terrace Marshall Jr. as well as tackle Austin Deculus.
That’s not a lot of pieces, but it’s three good ones, and there are numerous talented players who seem poised to handle expanded roles.
LSU is still going to throw the ball a lot and it expects to still throw it very effectively.
Sure, Brady, who won the assistant coaches’ version of the Heisman Trophy, and Burrow, who won the actual Heisman Trophy by a record margin, set the bar higher than any other passing offense is likely to reach in the foreseeable future. Remember, LSU threw 61 TD passes last season. That’s 2 more than the 4 previous Tigers teams threw combined.
But head coach Ed Orgeron went out and got a proven NFL offensive guru in Scott Linehan, whose résumé is much more impressive than the one Brady brought with him a year ago. Linehan, a former head coach of the St. Louis Rams, has more than 20 years’ experience as an offensive coordinator at the college and NFL levels.
And let’s not forget that Steve Ensminger was the actual offensive coordinator last season and will be again this season.
The biggest uncertainty, of course, is how effective Myles Brennan will be as he succeeds Burrow. No one knows because Brennan hasn’t played much (70 career passes), but it is reasonable to expect Brennan to be one of the more effective quarterbacks in the SEC.
The redshirt junior was highly accomplished and acclaimed coming out of high school and he has spent 3 years studying, getting stronger and maturing in preparation for this opportunity.
He was at Burrow’s side every step of the way for the past 2 years, but most significantly last year as Burrow blossomed in Brady’s system and as a leader in his actions and words.
Brennan is talented and well prepared. The coaches and players believe in him. We won’t know exactly what that leads to until the Tigers start playing games. We do know that he is the only quarterback on the roster who has played in a college game.
But with Chase, Marshall, sophomore receiver Trey Palmer, freshman receivers Kayshon Boutte and Koy Moore as well as freshman tight end Arik Gilbert, Brennan will have plenty of talented targets.
LSU began last season with the expectation that it would use a running back-by-committee approach. But Edwards-Helaire was so good that he quickly demanded the lion’s share of snaps.
The passing game was so good that there were times that the Tigers didn’t even run the ball enough for Edwards-Helaire to need a breather. Edwards-Helaire contributed mightily there, too, though, with 55 catches for 453 yards and a score.
This year might wind up featuring a committee, led by junior Chris Curry, who started and ran well in the Playoff semifinal win against Oklahoma when Edwards-Helaire was limited by a hamstring injury.
Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery II had a limited impact as freshman because of Edwards-Helaire’s dominance, but both are still highly regarded.
If LSU goes without a committee this season it likely means someone else emerges the way Edwards-Helaire did last season and that would be good news for the Tigers.
Both Brennan and the running game will be operating behind an offensive line that is in transition. Last year’s unit peaked down the stretch as it overcame a revolving door due to injuries and disciplinary action to win the Joe Moore Award as the top offensive line in college football.
But right tackle Deculus is the only regular starter from last year’s line who returns. Guard Ed Ingram was reinstated at midseason last year after missing 2018 and brings experience (probably at left guard) as does center Chasen Hines, who backed up Cushenberry and Magee at left guard after losing a preseason competition with Magee.
Dare Rosenthal provides a big, strong anchor at left tackle. The most competitive position figures to be at right guard where Kardell Thomas, who missed his eagerly anticipated freshman season last year due to a knee injury, Anthony Bradford and Xavier Hill all have a chance to play.
Like much of the offense, the line is far less experienced than last year’s unit but does have the talent to mature into a very good group.
Cade York got off to a shaky start but improved during the season as a true freshman last year. He finished a respectable 21-of-26 on field goals. He has a very strong leg and improved consistency would make him a significant asset for an offense that figures to stall more frequently than last year’s.
Derek Stingley Jr., a freshman All-American as a cornerback last season, is a dynamic return specialist, as is Palmer.
It’s pretty simple: The LSU offense will be worse this season than it was last season.
Ultimately the Tigers hope a more accurate description winds up being that they’re not quite as good as last season. Matching last season’s historic level of performance, especially with so many changes, is unrealistic.
But if the offense can minimize the drop-off from last season, LSU can still be in the thick of the SEC West race.