There’s a troubling stat about LSU’s 2018 backfield that got me thinking.
No, it’s not the stat you think it is. You know, the one that says the Tigers don’t return a single player who rushed for 100 yards in 2017. That includes Danny Etling.
It’s along those lines but it isn’t exactly that.
For the first time since 2011, LSU lacks either its leading rusher from the previous season or a 5-star running back recruit to plug in (Leonard Fournette).
There’s no Fournette, Derrius Guice or Jeremy Hill. There’s not even a Darrel Williams, Spencer Ware or Alfred Blue. That’s not to say that LSU needs an NFL running back to succeed, but it makes life a lot easier with those inevitable 8-men fronts.
Call me crazy, but something tells me that LSU’s first-year starting quarterback is still going to see a lot of those. That’s pretty familiar for some, um, “limited” LSU quarterbacks in recent memory. What’s unfamiliar is turning around and not having either a proven SEC back or an all-world talent to hand the ball to.
Instead, LSU will work with Nick Brossette (a senior without 20 carries in a season), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (a sophomore who played in 4 career games), Lanard Fournette (6 career carries for 20 yards) and incoming freshman Chris Curry.
That’s a combined 61 carries for 357 yards returning for the Tigers’ backfield. That’s basically 3 games of a healthy Guice.
So yes, to say that LSU’s backfield is a mystery would be an understatement. There’s a prime opportunity to emerge for whomever wins this job. But this is really the first time that we’re going to see a back from the Ed Orgeron era have to really carry the torch. Who knows how that’ll turn out.
What I do know is that LSU’s schedule isn’t exactly friendly for a team that might take some time to figure things out in the running game. Look at how many elite run defenses the Tigers match up with (FBS run defense ranking listed):
- Miami, No. 43
- Auburn, No. 35
- Florida, No. 50
- Georgia, No. 20
- Mississippi State, No. 28
- Alabama, No. 1
I won’t get into how many guys each of those teams return, but there will be no shortage of talent in those front sevens. The Alabamas and Auburns of the world have had plenty of success containing LSU when it had preseason All-American running backs. Nobody in this Tiger backfield is garnering a ton of preseason attention.
Does that mean LSU is destined for the 6-6 season that ESPN’s FPI projected? Not necessarily. Ironically enough, the last time this lack of returning leading rusher/5-star tailback scenario happened, in 2011, LSU played for a national title. That happened because LSU had three capable options in Michael Ford, Ware and Blue, all of whom surpassed at least 500 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns.
And oh, LSU also had 9 defensive players drafted in the first 3 rounds in the next 2 NFL drafts after that 2011 season.
A lot of other factors will dictate how LSU’s 2018 season plays out. I haven’t even referenced the offensive line, which lost 3 key starters and looks plenty young. That seems to be the theme with the LSU offense. And in typical LSU fashion, the Tigers will have a new offensive coordinator trying to make all of these pieces gel.
The Tigers’ ability to stay afloat will still come back to establishing the run. Maybe Myles Brennan or Lowell Narcisse takes the league by storm and the running game doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. That’d be a new sight in Baton Rouge.
For now, though, the new sight of an unproven backfield is the only confirmed reality that awaits in 2018.