2012 LSU Preview - Let's Try This Again
LSU RB Spencer Ware
2012 CFN LSU Preview - The 2011 Tigers were close to being special. This group might get it done.
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Has any team ever had a better year with less to show for it?
Head coach: Les Miles
8th year: 75-18
11th year overall: 103-39
Ten Best LSU Players
1. DE Sam Montgomery, Jr.
2. S Eric Reid, Jr.
3. DE Barkevious Mingo, Jr.
4. DT Anthony Johnson, Soph.
5. OT Chris Faulk, Jr.
6. OG La'el Collins, Soph.
7. OT Alex Hurst, Sr.
8. P Brad Wing, Soph.
9. C P.J. Lonergan, Sr.
10. LB Kevin Minter, Jr.
Sep. 1 North Texas
Sep. 8 Washington
Sep. 15 Idaho
Sep. 22 at Auburn
Sep. 29 Towson
Oct. 6 at Florida
Oct. 13 South Carolina
Oct. 20 at Texas A&M
Oct. 27 OPEN DATE
Nov. 3 Alabama
Nov. 10 Mississippi State
Nov. 17 Ole Miss
Nov. 24 at Arkansas
2011 LSU wasn't Boise State or TCU blowing up a slew of mid-majors and then coming through in its one shining moment. It wasn't 1983 Nebraska, who fattened up on a bunch of lightweights before getting exposed by Miami. It wasn't even a case of team having a great season only to have one rough loss in a championship game.
Last year's Tigers – by the CFN Season Rankings – would've had the greatest year in the history of college football by a ten-mile wide margin had they beaten Alabama in the BCS championship. No team in the history of the sport has ever put together a stronger résumé considering it beat two BCS game winners – Oregon and West Virginia – and, oh yeah, it beat the eventual national champion in its own house.
Alabama's total dominance in the BCS championship eliminated any and all discussion that LSU probably deserved to be called the national champion. The Tide and Tigers were 1-1 against each other with Bama winning on a neutral site and LSU winning on the road. Combine that with the tougher schedule, and if you want to make a case that LSU still probably deserved to be the national champion if the entire season was taken into account, then go ahead.
But, of course, you'll be beating your head against the wall because all anyone remembers – including the 19 people outside of the SEC world who bothered to watch the final game of the year – is a Tide defense destroying the LSU offense.
LSU has hats confirming it was the SEC West champion and t-shirts chirping about being the 2011 SEC champion.
Because of the way Alabama won, and because Nick Saban continues to load up on talent for a program that's not going to go away any time soon, changes had to be made to LSU's style – to a point.
Lost in the crushing defeat was that the plan worked. Run the ball behind one of the most physical lines in the country; keep rotating a slew of bruising, fresh backs; don't turn the ball over; rely on the phenomenal defense to come up with the big stop when needed; and then wait for the jaw-dropping array of athletes to make play after play time and again to turn things around.
Oh yeah, the passing game.
The one glaring hole in the near-perfect season was the lack of any semblance of a passing game to loosen up the Tide defense just a wee bit. Jordan Jefferson was able to connect on a few key deep balls here and there throughout the season, and Jarrett Lee was terrific for the first half of the year, but Alabama's secondary sneered at the anemic Tiger air attack. When the running game didn't go anywhere and the game-changing plays weren't made by the game-changers, there was no hope.
The cry might have gone out by Bayou Nation to have given Lee a shot when Jefferson failed to move the offense, but that wasn't going to work; there was no passing attack to bail the team out of the jam. That might not be an issue this season.
Rarely does a team improve by losing its veteran starting quarterback, but the Tiger passing game should be leaps and bounds better with Zach Mettenberger pushing the ball down the field a bit more. He doesn't have to be Matt Barkley, and he can afford to make a slew of mistakes with a great defense in place to bail him out, but the important thing will be for him to provide the mere threat of the passing game to be there so defenses – primarily Alabama's – can't send everyone and the student section to the line to stop the run.
But Mettenberger was on the roster and as a backup last year and LSU wasn't able to finish the drill. Has he improved enough to be the guy who can lead the program to its third national title in the last decade?
He still has to prove he can survive and thrive in the SEC wars, and there isn't a Jefferson waiting in the wings this time around to bail out the offense in a crisis. However, all he'll have to do to win most games is hand off, hand off, hand off.
Depth is a wee bit of an issue everywhere except in the offensive backfield where the Tigers have six big, powerful backs who can all soften up a defense. The starting five on the offensive line should be dominant, and there are a few options at guard to form a decent rotation. The LSU offense will go on soul-crunching drive after soul-crunching drive, and then the defensive will take care of the rest.
The D lost Thorpe winner Patrick Peterson last season, and it was even better. This year it loses Thorpe winner Morris Claiborne and dominant tackle Michael Brockers, and it should be every bit as good as long as everyone stays healthy. The defensive line will be a brick wall, and the second, as always, is full of NFL talent. Throw in the special teams led by punter Brad Wing and steady kicker Drew Alleman, and LSU has all the talent and potential for another run for the national title.
And this time, it'll have a passing game that can generate more than 53 yards in the championship.
What to watch for on offense: Mettenberger. It's not an overstatement to suggest that he's the most important new starter in college football this year. Stephen Rivers – Phil's brother – is a good-looking prospect, and Jerrard Randall is a good prospect, but the Tigers can't win the national title if Mettenberger isn't a whole bunch better than Jordan Jefferson. While the bar isn't set all that high, if Mettenberger can actually provide a real, live passing game, and if all the four and five-star receiver talents can finally show what they can do, all of a sudden the dynamic might change. Remember, no one other than Alabama came close to beating LSU, so the offense should still be able to crank out 40 points on a regular basis by sticking with what worked last year, but it can take more chances because all the other aspects of the team are so strong.
What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. LSU has become known more for outstanding tackles who put up big numbers and dominant performances year after year – remember, Michael Brockers wasn't expected to blow up like he did last year – but this season could be about the ends. As always there are elite tackles to get excited about like Anthony "Freak" Johnson and Bennie Logan, but it'll be Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo on the outside who should be the game-changers. These are two NFL-caliber pass rushers who should rip apart opposing backfields thanks to all the talent o the inside taking up space and attention. With a dominant pass rush comes a great secondary, and LSU has the talent in the defensive backfield to lock-down and create big plays against passing attacks that'll struggle to keep pace with the LSU offense.
The team will be far better if … start out a bit hotter. The Tigers might have won blowout after blowout, but more often than not they needed a little while to get rolling. Remember, Arkansas, Georgia and Western Kentucky made things interesting early, and West Virginia and Mississippi State battled hard. LSU scored 82 points in the first quarters of games, and then turned it on in the second quarter and usually controlled things from then on. If LSU can get up early, the less pressure there will be on Mettenberger.
The schedule: Overall, the SEC schedule is one of the toughest of any team in the league, but there are enough breaks to rest up and get ready for the showdowns. The world will want to focus on November 3rd game against Alabama – made even bigger with a week off before it to build up the hype – but the Tigers have a lot of work to do before the national title rematch.
Washington is solid, but 3-0 should be a near-lock before opening up the SEC slate at Auburn. Towson will be a chance to empty the bench, but that comes before a three-game run of at Florida, South Carolina, and at Texas A&M before the two week rest to get ready for the Tide. It'll be tempting to take home games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss lightly after dealing with Bama, but the Tigers have to keep their focus during the finishing kick to be ready for the regular season finale at Arkansas.
Best offensive player: Junior OT Chris Faulk, or sophomore OG La'el Collins, or senior OT Alex Hurst, or center P.J. Lonergan. All four have NFL talent, and throw in 6-7, 324-pound junior guard Josh Williford, the entire line is massive and physical. Everything else will work around the strong front five with the beef and talent to blast away for the running game while giving Mettenberger time to work. There's a little bit of good-looking depth, but as long as the starting five is healthy, the offense should be terrific once again.
Best defensive player: Junior DE Sam Montgomery. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu was supposed to be the team's best all-around player, and safety Eric Reid might turn out to be the best pro prospect, and tackle Anthony Johnson might have special skills and upside, but it's the pass rushing Montgomery who should blow up this season into the star of the defense. He'll be double teamed from time to time, but when he gets his chances he should be a terror in the backfield.
Key player to a successful season: Besides Mettenberger it should be sophomore receiver Jarvis Landry. Mettenberger has to throw the ball to someone, but Rueben Randle and tight end Deangelo Peterson are both gone. Odell Beckham Jr. is a solid SEC-caliber receiver who should be the No. 1, and Russell Shepard is a veteran who might finally be ready to contribute. But it's Landry who has the talent to be the next great Tiger receiver and he has to take advantage with all the attention paid to Beckham.
The season will be a success if … LSU wins the national title. The Tigers won the SEC title last year and won 13 games. It wasn't enough. They should be better than everyone on the schedule except for, maybe, Alabama, and the Tide has to come to Baton Rouge. Considering how good last year's team was, and considering how good the 2012 version should be, anything other than a crystal ball and confetti in Miami will be a major disappointment.
Key game: Nov. 3 vs. Alabama. The road games at Auburn and Florida will be dangerous, and emotions will be high at Texas A&M, but if LSU plays as well as it's expected to it should be far better than all three of those teams. The showdown at Arkansas to end the year will be dangerous, but the entire season, if all goes according to plan, should lead up to the date with the Tide. Once again it might decide the SEC title and the national title – oops, that's right. Maybe it really will decide the national title.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: LSU 202.6– Opponents 90.1
- Turnovers: Opponents 30 – LSU 10
- Punt return average: LSU 13.4 yards – Opponents 3.7 yards
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