When an argument begins about what sent LSU’s 2015 season so far off the rails that it almost cost Les Miles his job, usually the passing offense is identified as the culprit.

Fair enough, considering the Tigers were 11th in passing offense and have been a below-average passing team for most of the last eight years (save one big year from Zach Mettenberger).

Others would say “not so fast” and note that the Tigers were equally bad at stopping the pass (12th in both passing yards allowed per game and interceptions).

But what about the special teams? They were, to put it bluntly, not good. The Tigers ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in every statistical category involving coverage or returns. Kicker Trent Domingue was pretty good, but nobody else stood out.

It’s a far cry from the day when Brad Wing was a force to be reckoned with at punter and Odell Beckham, Jr. was returning punts for game-changing touchdowns against Ole Miss.

Can LSU return to those days this year?

2015 Stats

FGM-FGA: 13-17
Longest: 45
Punting average : 40.7 (10th in SEC)
Kickoff return avg.: 20.4 (9th)
Kickoff return TDs: 0
Punt return avg.: 9.8 (9th)
Punt return TDs: 1
Kickoff/punt return TDs allowed: 2

The kicker

LSU splits its kicking duties with Cameron Gamble handling most of the kickoffs and Trent Domingue handling the placement kicks.

Domingue did his part fairly well, finishing tied for fourth in the SEC in field goal percentage (76.5), although he didn’t have the strongest leg in the league. He returns for his senior season.

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Kickoffs were more of an adventure. LSU was 13th in the SEC in kickoff distance (58.0 yards per kick) and ninth in the league in kick coverage (20.4 yards per kickoff).

Miles hinted that freshman Connor Culp might get an early shot at playing time. It would seem like kickoffs would be the place where his talents are needed more, given Domingue’s success relative to Gamble.

The punter

After Wing’s success, LSU had hopes that Jamie Keehn could have continued his Australian magic, but the second Aussie wasn’t as good as the first. The Tigers were just 108th in the FBS in net punting (35.4 yards per punt).

LSU may stay with the Australian connection with redshirt freshman Josh Growden, but Domingue may add punting to his responsibilities.

Either way, LSU appears to be a long way away from being one of the league’s better teams at punting.

The returner

Maybe the most disappointing performance by special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto’s units was the lack of a dominant returner. Given the athleticism the Tigers annually recruit, one would think LSU could find a game-changer in the return game.

Instead, LSU was ninth in the league in both kickoff and punt returns last year. The good news is there is promise in both phases in 2016. Tre’Davious White, who averaged 11.5 yards per punt return (sixth in the league), is back to handle those duties again, and kick returner Derrius Guice (23.6 yards per return) was just a true freshman last year. Both should be improved.

Cover teams

LSU was a little bit thin at linebacker, so maybe that’s why the Tigers struggled so much in coverage.

Special teams coverage hero Duke Riley is now a starter at inside linebacker, so it’s unclear if he’ll also resume his role on kick coverage teams. Reserve linebackers Devin Voorhies and Donnie Alexander will likely resume their roles as special teams coverage specialists this year.

Special moment

While White’s 69-yard punt return for a touchdown against Syracuse was something to see, the biggest moment had to be Domingue’s 16-yard, game-winning touchdown run on a fake field goal to beat Florida.

With the game tied 28-28 in the fourth quarter, LSU lined up for a 33-yard field goal attempt when holder Brad Kragthorpe lateraled the ball back to Domingue who, after a brief bobble, beat the Gators defense to the left corner to give LSU a 35-28 lead with 10:40 left.

The Tigers defense took it from there as they held on for what was arguably the best win of the season.

One stat that must improve in 2016

1,140: That’s the number of yards LSU allowed on kickoff returns last season, second-most in the SEC. By contrast, Alabama allowed 779 return yards, and here’s the kicker: Alabama kicked the ball off 101 times to 75 for LSU.

LSU was giving yards away with its poor coverage on both kickoffs and punts.

Better/worse in 2016?

One would have to think LSU’s struggle to make plays on returns AND cover returns was a low-point anomaly for a program that’s usually pretty good on special teams.

Don’t expect Les Miles to allow that to happen again. Expect LSU to tighten up its return teams with a new punter and possibly a new kicker. And expect it to become a priority for LSU to find return specialists who will make plays.

For LSU, special teams almost has to be better because they can’t get much worse than they were last season.