Post-spring strengths and weaknesses for LSU
When one thinks of Les Miles LSU football, one thinks of a physical, old school running game and a physical, athletic defense with NFL talent all over both sides of the ball.
On the flip side, you think of teams that can’t pass and will likely make mistakes because every year, they lose their best juniors to the NFL and, thus, are perpetually young.
As we exit the spring, this version of the Tigers looks to fit that stereotype perfectly in some regards, but in others, this will be an atypical LSU squad. Let’s look at what appears to be LSU’s strengths and weaknesses heading into the summer, and how they fit into what you might assume about this program:
The running backs are without match
After running for 1,953 yards as a sophomore, Leonard Fournette enters his junior season as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, along with Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. However, Fournette’s individual excellence alone doesn’t tell the whole story of how good the Tigers are at the position.
Derrius Guice averaged 8.5 yards per carry in an outstanding freshman season that would have gained more notice if eyes weren’t so (rightfully) fixated on the man Guice was backing up. But Guice, one of the nation’s top 50 prospects in the 2015 recruiting class, made the case that if LSU were to lose Fournette, it still might have an all-conference candidate dotting the “I.”
And behind the top two, Darrel Williams is a quality power back and sophomore Nick Brossette, a classmate of Guice, also has a strong high school resume. LSU may be deeper at this position than any team is at any position in college football.
Keeping the “DBU” moniker strong
Is it “LSU” or “DBU?”
The Tigers have kept the tradition of strong defensive back play alive in recent years, and this year should be no exception.
Safety Jamal Adams is generally considered one of the best defensive backs returning in college football, and cornerback Tre’Davious White bypassed a likely high NFL draft selection to come back for his senior year.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sophomore cornerback Kevin Toliver started as a highly regarded true freshman in 2015 and should emerge as a star this year opposite White. If he does, it would be hard for any team to match the Tigers’ tandem of corners. Meanwhile, Rickey Jefferson returns for his second year starting at safety next to Adams and, as a converted wide receiver, should make considerable strides at the position.
With talented youngsters like Saivion Smith and Kristian Fulton joining the program as freshmen, one would be hard pressed to find more secondary talent in one program in college football.
For once, LSU has seniors
Here’s one stereotype that isn’t true about this edition of LSU football: The Tigers don’t have any talent in their senior class because they always lose their best juniors to the NFL.
That’s not the case this year.
White is one of a significant handful of seniors who opted to return to campus rather than move forward to what would likely be an NFL career. And all of the talented seniors who returned to school offer leadership qualities that should make this the rare LSU team with notable maturity.
Middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith is back to anchor the linebackers. Defensive tackles Lewis Neal and Christian LaCouture came back to anchor the defensive line, and center Ethan Pocic did the same on the offensive line.
Add in the fact that the Tigers have a returning starter at quarterback in junior Brandon Harris and gets strong leadership from its star, junior Fournette, and this team should be a cohesive bunch.
A passing game? We’ll believe it when we see it
In the past seven seasons, LSU has ranked in the top half of the SEC in passing just once. In all but that one year, the Tigers have been among the bottom four teams in the league in passing yards.
So forgive LSU fans if they took reports of improvements from Harris and his receivers in the spring with a grain of salt. And forget the fact that between Harris and receivers Malachi Dupre and Tyron Johnson, the Tigers boast three players who were ranked among the nation’s top two players at their respective positions coming out of high school (Harris as a dual-threat QB and Dupre and Johnson at wide receiver) to play pitch and catch.
With LSU’s sometimes horrific results throwing the ball in recent seasons, none of that matters until LSU starts putting together consistent production in the passing game. Until the Tigers prove it’s not a weakness on the field, it’s still a weakness.
Will the defense be confused?
Dave Aranda is LSU’s third defensive coordinator in as many seasons and while the talent on the defensive side hasn’t gone anywhere (see the second entry under strengths) the question remains: Can LSU be as good at what it does on defense as Alabama, Auburn, etc., are at what they do on offense?
Going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 has meant multiple position switches for players along with new terminology and techniques. By the end of spring, the defense had just three defensive calls mastered.
Sure, LSU will still be talented, but when the Tigers run into, say, Alabama’s offense, can it match up with the equally elite players wearing Crimson who have had three years learning Lane Kiffin’s offense? Aranda and company have their work cut out to play catch up.
Can they block the edge?
LSU should be in great shape at the “inside” positions on the offensive line with center Ethan Pocic and guard Will Clapp returning to their starting spots and the other guard, Maea Teuhema, possibly returning to his spot.
But at tackle, LSU has a ton of questions after losing both starters from last year’s team. Teuhema moved to left tackle in the spring to mixed results, which gave Josh Boutte a chance to start at guard. At right tackle, Toby Weathersby seemed to be the starter, but he was pushed by K.J. Malone.
It doesn’t seem that the Tigers are settled at either tackle position, which might not bode well. They don’t seem to be very confident in either position at this point.