2014 CFN Preview - LSU Tigers
LSU CB Tre'Davious White
CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - The Tigers are young, but they're really, really talented - again. (Getty Images)
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College football breakdowns on
Maybe this is one of those Les Miles teams that
seems like it's taking a step back, but all of a sudden it comes together and becomes something truly special.
Head coach: Les Miles
9th year: 85-21
12th year: 113-42
1. OT La'el Collins, Sr.
2. CB Tre'Davious White, Soph.
3. DE Jermauria Rasco, Sr.
4. RB Leonard Fournette, Fr.
5. WR Travin Dural, So.
6. S Jalen Mills, Jr.
7. OG Vadal Alexander, Jr.
8. DE Danielle Hunter, Jr.
9. DT Christian LaCouture, Soph
10. WR Malachi Dupre, Fr.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 30 Wisconsin (at Houston)
Sep. 6 Sam Houston State
Sep. 13 ULM
Sep. 20 Mississippi State
Sep. 27 New Mexico State
Oct. 4 at Auburn
Oct. 11 at Florida
Oct. 18 Kentucky
Oct. 25 Ole Miss
Nov. 1 OPEN DATE
Nov. 8 Alabama
Nov. 15 at Arkansas
Nov. 22 OPEN DATE
Nov. 27 at Texas A&M
It's not fair in any way to say that two straight 10-3 seasons were disappointing, but for LSU, two straight 10-3 seasons were disappointing, and now, on the surface, it seems like the team might be in a rebuilding mode, even if that's not allowed.
In the SEC world, everything has to be perfect to be at the level that LSU fans are accustomed to. Few schools can honestly go into every season with no excuses, and with the recruiting classes, the home field advantage, the coaching staff, and everything else most teams dream of. LSU is one of those programs that isn't really allowed to have an eight-win year, and considering how Alabama keeps on rolling, no, 10-3 isn't good enough.
But sometimes even programs like LSU have to take a wee step back before going back to being championship good, and with another phenomenal recruiting class coming in, and several sure-thing stars among the true freshmen, it might take getting past a few growing pains.
Last year, the passing game found its groove with Zach Mettenberger bombing away to Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., but all three of them are gone to the NFL. Also gone is top running back Jeremy Hill, and as always with LSU, several key defensive players. As always, though, there's more than enough superstar high school talent ready to rise up, and with this program, the next man up might be better.
Patience could be a problem this season with a recruiting class that includes the best overall prospect (running back Leonard Fournette) along with the top safety (Jamal Adams), the top middle linebacker (Clifton Garrett), one of the top receivers (Malachi Dupre) and defensive tackles (Travonte Valentine), and a quarterback (Brandon Harris) who could end up starting from Day One. And those are just the stars of the class – there are several other four-star talents coming in looking to contribute right away.
However, as amazing as LSU's 2014 class might have been, Alabama's – at least on paper – is probably better, and that's the problem. LSU can be really, really, REALLY good, and again, 10-3 just won't get it done.
So now it's up to Miles to use that to the team's advantage. It's okay to go with the "no one believes in us" cliché, because it's probably true. Alabama will be almost everyone's preseason SEC West pick, Auburn will be up there, and Texas A&M is now the fun program to keep an eye on. LSU will be ranked in the top 15, and it'll be considered part of the mix for the SEC title, but reputation and young talent will have a lot to do with that.
The passing game is going to be worse, the defense still has to prove itself again at an elite level after a disappointing season, and yeah, relying on true freshmen is asking for disaster.
So this season, 10-3 might just be good enough. Even if it's not.
What to watch for on offense: The quarterback battle and the passing game. With the arrival of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the LSU offense and passing game went into hyperdrive, rolling for close to 3,300 yards with 23 scores and averaging ten yards per attempt after coming up with 2,607 yards and 12 touchdowns averaging 7.3 yards per throw in 2012. The downfield passing game that was so effective and so good last year might be gone now that Mettenberger isn't around, but the receiving talent is in place in Travin Dural, John Diarse and Malachi Dupre to keep the air show going if the quarterback situation is solid.
Anthony Jennings got his chances late in the season when Mettenberger got hurt, but he didn't exactly take the job by the horns this offseason. That left the door wide open for true freshman Brandon Harris, who might not be quite ready for primetime yet, but has a bigger upside than Jennings. The rest of the team will be strong, but the Tigers won't go anywhere if the quarterback play isn't effective.
What to watch for on defense: Expect the LSU pass rush to be the LSU pass rush again. It took a little bit, but the defensive front started to get better and better as the season went on, and now it should be ready to rise. Generating 27 sacks wasn't that bad, but there were only 69 tackles for loss and not nearly enough big things happening behind the line. The Tigers might have lost a ton of talent early to the NFL going into last season, but they're used to dealing with that. LSU came up with 35 sacks and 91 tackles for loss in 2012, 38 in and 106 tackles for loss 2011, and 34 sacks and 88 tackles for loss in 2010. Danielle Hunter is starting to look like more and more of a pass rushing star in the making at one end, and Jermauria Rasco is going to be special at the other side.
The team will be far better if… the running game really, really rocks. There's no way the passing game is going to come close to the production of last season, so the slack has to be picked up by a ground attack that did more than its share cranking out over 200 yards a game averaging five yards per carry. Jeremy Hill and his 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns are gone, but it's LSU – there are more great backs ready to rock. Jennings can take off a bit – if he's the starting quarterback – and Terrance McGee and Kenny Hilliard are ready to do more, but the dynamic of the offense and the team should be different without Mettenberger bombing away deep. At the very least, the Tigers have to keep up the production.
The Schedule: Wisconsin and LSU play similar styles, only LSU does it with far better athletes. The two will square off in Houston to start the season, and after that there are only two games on the road before mid-November. There's a tough two-game road stretch against Auburn and Florida in early October, but with Mississippi State, Kentucky and Ole Miss at home before getting a week off, there's a chance for a big early start if the Tigers can split with the other Auburn version of the Tigers and the Gators.
It's a quirky but interesting finishing kick, getting time to prepare in the first week of November for Alabama at home, and that's it for the home games on November 8th. A road trip to Arkansas - always nasty for LSU - is up next, followed by another week off to prepare for a road game at Texas A&M. Overall it's not a bad slate; it'll just take focus and a few big road wins.
Best offensive player: Senior OT La'el Collins.
LSU's starting left tackle would've and could've started this season on
someone's NFL line. It was a bit of a surprise that he decided to come back for his senior year, and while it might not up his stock too much, at the very least he'll be on the short list of top tackle prospects and All-Americans. The line should be the strength of the team early on with Collins and guard Vadal Alexander dominating the left side, and with rising-star Jerald Hawkins working somewhere on the right. It's the massive Collins who'll be the anchor.
Best defensive player: Sophomore CB Tre'Davious White. Ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco could turn out to be the team's most dangerous defenders, and LSU has its normal array of phenomenal defensive back talent with Jalen Mills and Ricky Jefferson to go along with star recruits Jamal Adams, Devin Voorheis and John Battle, but it's White who has the look of the team's Next Big DB. Extremely quick with next-level athleticism, he looked fantastic in his first season in the rotation with a team-leading seven broken up passes. Teams are going to start staying away from him on one side.
Key players to a successful season: Freshman QB Brandon Harris.
Of course, he has to get on the field first. Anthony Jennings is very good with the talent and skill to develop into a fantastic SEC quarterback. Harris has the talent and skill to develop into a Heisman contender. He's not all that huge and could stand to bulk up a little bit, but he has all the dual-threat tools to give LSU a dangerous dimension right out of the box. Jennings can run, too, but if the coaching staff can live through the true freshman mistakes, the payoff could be immense.
The season will be a success if ... LSU makes it three straight ten-win seasons. There's enough talent and enough potential to do far more, but with so much youth and so many big personnel changes, getting to ten wins would be fantastic. It would also set the bar at national title or bust in 2015. With games away from Death Valley against Wisconsin, Auburn, Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M, and with home dates against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Alabama, can the Tigers get through with two losses or fewer? If they do, they should be among the four in College Football Playoff.
Key game: Oct. Nov. 8 vs. Alabama. The Tigers are going to be as jelled as they'll ever be by the second weekend of November, and while there will be other big SEC fish to fry before dealing with the Crimson Tide, it'll be next to impossible to get to Atlanta for a 13th game without coming up with a win. Losers of three in a row in the series and five of the last seven, LSU needs to get the momentum back. Win this, and the expectations for the rest of the year going into the following season gets ramped up to 11.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: LSU 90 for 732 yards – Opponents 69 for 530 yards
- Third Down Conversions: LSU 92-of-161 (57%) – Opponents 72-of-188 (38%)
- Average Yards Per Pass: LSU 10 – Opponents 6.4
- 2014 LSU Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players