12/14/18 5:45 am CST
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Good morning, Tiger Fans,
The LSU football team returned to the practice field yesterday to conclude its first week of bowl practice ahead of its highly anticipated New Year’s Fiesta Bowl versus Central Florida. The team will take today off (it’s Graduation Day) and return to practice on Monday. The most noteworthy news to come from yesterday’s practice is that the team was very shorthanded at cornerback. With Greedy Williams sitting out and Kristian Fulton injured, LSU was already very thin there. On top of that, Kelvin Joseph was absent and Kary Vincent donned a gold no-contact jersey, according to NOLA.com. Terrence Alexander was the only experienced cornerback who was a full go. Also, leading receiver Justin Jefferson and backup running back Lanard Fournette were reportedly absent, as was starting nose tackle, Ed Alexander.
Now, how about some news on the baseball front? I chuckled when I wrote that sentence because I heard from a lot of you who said baseball season couldn’t get here soon enough after LSU basketball’s loss to Houston on Wednesday. This write-up on baseball has nothing to do with that. (Yes, I’m disappointed in basketball, but I’m not one to overreact to a tight loss against an undefeated, ranked team on their home court.) It just so happens that Coach Mainieri dished out some interesting baseball news earlier this week that I forgot to share yesterday, so let’s get to it…
Speaking to reporters after addressing the Baton Rouge Rotary Club, Mainieri had some good news and some bad news (mostly good) on the health of his team.
According to The Advocate, Mainieri said many of the pitchers who were hurt in the fall are progressing nicely, and that senior RHP Caleb Gilbert, freshman RHP Cole Henry, and junior RPH Matthew Beck have looked “really tremendous.” Gilbert underwent shoulder surgery last summer and Beck had been dealing with elbow trouble. As for Henry, he had an upper arm stress reaction. Also, Mainieri said sophomore RHP Ma’Khail Hilliard, who was shut down with shoulder tightness late last season, has been throwing for six weeks pain-free and will be “rarin’ to go.”
The news was not as good on sophomore right-handers AJ Labas and Nick Storz. Labas has been dealing with a shoulder problem since early last season and Mainieri called his lack of progress “baffling.” Storz dealt with bone spurs before arriving at LSU as a highly heralded freshman and has since had surgery to repair a tear in his lat muscles.
The likelihood of not having Storz and Labas this year is disappointing, but LSU’s pitching staff should be very strong with Zack Hess and Eric Walker returning and with the addition of several big arms including freshman phenom Landon Marceaux who might be the most talented of them all.
At the catcher position, sophomore JUCO transfer Saul Garza is recovering from knee surgery and should be ready to hit when the season begins on Feb. 15, but he probably won’t catch until March. While he’s limited, Mainieri will look for sophomore Brock Mathis (a transfer from Northwest Florida State) and freshman Drew Bianco (son of Ole Miss coach and former LSU catcher Mike Bianco) to step up.
Moving on… You’ve heard the phrase “Flashback Friday,” right? Well, it’s kind of fitting for today since it’s time to start our annual retrospective look at the past year with a series called 2018’s Eighteen Defining Moments in LSU Sports. In today’s report, we’ll take a look at three significant moments that occurred early in the year. We’ll spread the other 15 out (they won’t all be football-related) between now and the end of the year. Yes, I am saving a spot in the series for what I expect to be a very significant early signing day in football next week, but that’s a write-up that could go a number of ways.
2018’S EIGHTEEN DEFINING MOMENTS IN LSU SPORTS
(in chronological order):
1. Tigers fall 21-17 to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl (1-1-18)
Ed Orgeron's first full season as LSU's coach ended with a whimper rather than a bang when Notre Dame went 73 yards in three plays for the game-winning TD with 1:28 left. Moments before, Orgeron chose to kick a field goal on fourth and goal at the Irish 1-yard line to give LSU a brief 17-14 lead. Miles Boykin’s one-handed catch between Donté Jackson and John Battle resulted in the 55-yard winning score. Earlier, Derrius Guice rushed for 98 yards for LSU and caught two TD passes to give LSU a 14-6 lead but the Irish tied it with a touchdown and two-point conversion. LSU didn’t play particularly well on a chilly and wet day at Camping World Stadium despite out-gaining Notre Dame 399-368. The Tigers twice failed to come away with a touchdown with the ball inside the 2-yard line and missed two field goals, one of them from 22-yards. LSU was shut out in the first half, finally breaking the ice with 11:37 left in the third quarter on a 20-yard TD pass from Danny Etling to Guice. Guice caught a 2-yard TD pass after Notre Dame kicked a field goal to make it 7-6. The loss took the shine off a strong finish to the season after the Tigers went 2-3 in September and put LSU at 9-4. They finished the season ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll.
2. LSU keeps Dave Aranda away from Texas A&M (1-3-18)
At one time, LSU tried to hire Jimbo Fisher as head coach. Shortly after that, he became one of LSU’s biggest rivals as head coach at Texas A&M, where he tried to steal one of the Tigers' top assets early this year: defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. But credit LSU’s administration for stepping up and giving Aranda, already the highest paid assistant coach in the nation, a big raise, going from $1.85 million to $2.5 million for four years, all $10 million guaranteed. At the time, it was more than 85 FBS head coaches, including one in the SEC (Missouri's Barry Odom). It was only $1 million less than head coach Ed Orgeron's yearly take. Texas A&M made multiple runs at Aranda with LSU athletic director Joe Alleva saying the school would use every available resource to keep him. Aranda got the deal after two years of success. LSU allowed only 43 touchdowns over a two-year span – 16 in 2016 – and finished the 2017 season in the top five in most major defensive categories. He produced two All-Americans this season in linebacker Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams. Texas A&M had pried LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis away from the Tigers three years before, which resulted in lawsuits from both sides.
3. Matt Canada and LSU part ways (1-5-18)
A simmering feud between coach Ed Orgeron and offensive coordinator Matt Canada during the season ended with Canada and the school agreeing to a private buyout of his contract after one year. Orgeron was reportedly unhappy with the offensive performance early in the season and the dispute may have resulted in an upset loss to Troy in Game 3 when the offense failed to score in the first half. Canada's offense featured multiple sets and motions and didn't have enough of a physical running game as Orgeron reportedly wanted. LSU scored at least 27 points in eight of 13 games but finished 54th in the nation in offense and struggled in the red zone. The school worked out a settlement that, according to The Advocate, paid Canada $1.7 million, or half of the $3.3 million buyout he was owed. Canada had signed a three-year, $1.5 million-per-year deal when he came to LSU after a year at Pittsburgh. Orgeron then hired tight ends coach Steve Ensminger to replace Canada. Ensminger had served as offensive coordinator during Orgeron's interim period for the final nine games of the 2016 season. Orgeron admitted later in the year he should not have hired Canada, who ultimately was hired as offensive coordinator at Maryland. He was named the Terps head coach when D.J. Durkin was suspended and later fired.
Stay tuned for the continuation of the series.
A couple of football recruiting tidbits in closing:
• LSU will be entertaining at least one official visitor this weekend, cornerback Jay Ward (6-1, 175) of Moultrie, Ga. And speaking of cornerback targets, LSU commit Cordale Flott is reportedly taking an official visit to Florida this weekend.
• There is growing confidence in LSU being the frontrunner for Siaki “Apu” Ika of Salt Lake City, Utah. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound four-star DT would be a massive get for LSU at its biggest remaining position of need. Check out Ika’s senior highlights to see what all the fuss is about.
• Lastly, LSU announced that it will be airing its ‘Hold That Tiger’ Signing Day Show next Wednesday. It will air live on SEC Network+ (online only) and at LSUsports.net. Also, as we do every year, we’ll post a signee tracker that you can use to keep track of the action and will tweet as the signees are announced. More on that in a subsequent report.
Lastly, I want to thank all of you who have already donated to our fundraiser and encourage those of you who have not yet done so to please read this important message and consider pledging your support. Thanks in advance and Geaux Tigers!