8/22/17 5:20 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
A new era began at LSU yesterday as the 11-month-old Tiger formerly known as Harvey was welcomed to his newly enhanced habitat and officially designated as Mike VII. Between that, the solar eclipse, and the start of classes, yesterday must have been a heck of a day for this majestic Siberian-Bengal feline. It was also a pretty exciting day for many folks covering LSU football since the media was treated to a bit of practice viewing time, followed by access to coordinators Matt Canada and Dave Aranda. Though my busy schedule didn’t afford me the opportunity to make the trek to Baton Rouge from Lafayette, I did follow media reports and a stream of the post-practice media session to provide you with a few takeaways. But before getting to that, it’s time to gauge your expectations for LSU’s 2017 season with our annual poll…
Every year at about this time, when the AP comes out with its preseason poll (LSU came in at No. 13 this year), I ask you to predict LSU’s regular season record. Looking back at last year’s poll, I was reminded of what high expectations we had for the team, as 90% of all participants predicted that LSU would lose no more than two games. In each of the two previous years, the top vote-getter was 9-3. So, without further ado, I hope you’ll take a moment to vote in our poll. If you want to read my takeaways from yesterday’s media sessions first and then vote, go ahead. I’ll provide another link to the poll at the end of today’s daily dose.
PLEASE VOTE: “What will LSU’s record be at the end of the 2017 regular football season?”
Now for yesterday’s main takeaways:
• According to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate, several players weren’t present during the brief portion of the practice the media were allowed to see. Among these were RB Derrius Guice, DE/OLB Sci Martin, DE/OLB Arden Key, QB Justin McMillan, RB Lanard Fournette, WR Dee Anderson and OL Donavaughn Campbell.
• When Matt Canada addressed the media, he sounded very upbeat. He’s pleased with where his offense is and couldn’t be happier with the way his guys have worked.
• As for who will be the starting quarterback, Canada said that’s Coach O’s decision and that they’re all doing a great job. Danny Etling is throwing with more velocity and confidence since his surgery. Myles Brennan has gotten better every week and made a “tremendous jump” between scrimmages 2 and 3. Lowell Narcisse was pretty confident in his abilities when he came in and is learning the offense well despite not playing much ball the last couple of years. Overall, the two freshmen have lived up to the high expectations Canada has for them.
• Asked about running back Darrel Williams, Canada said he’s doing a lot of things for them and is one of his favorites. He came back to Williams a couple of times throughout his talk and at one point called himself the leader of Williams’ fan club. He also had good things to say about Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Nick Brosette.
• As for Derrius Guice, Canada said he’s fast, physical, and runs on a mission. He added that he’s exceeded expectations and is a really special player. (But hey, we knew that already, right?)
• On the wide receivers, Canada said DJ Chark has mastered his position and is the leader of the group. He sounded happy about the entire group and said he didn’t want to single anyone out, but did speak of Russell Gage and Derrick Dillion being a big part of what they do and also mentioned Stephan Sullivan, Drake Davis, and JaCoby Stevens as having some really good days. “They’ve all had their moments,” he said.
• Foster Moreau is a “physical, physical player.” On the tight ends as a unit, Canada said: “Those guys are blocking and catching passes when we ask them to. That’s one position that does a lot of things for us, as well.”
• It was good to hear Canada speak of his offense utilizing a variety of playmakers in the passing game. “We think the guys like it. It gives them all a chance to play. It’s not like we line up and the only guy who’s gonna get the ball is the tailback and we’re gonna throw it to this one receiver. We’re gonna give the ball to our best players.” Later he added, “We do believe it's harder to defend if we’ve got five or six guys catching 40 balls.”
• When Dave Aranda took the podium, he spoke of the advantage it is to have his young players going up against Canada’s spread “triple option” offense in practice. He said his unit has gotten better every week and every day and that his guys are locked in.
• When asked about the three highly heralded freshmen inside linebackers, Aranda said Jacob Phillips came in the most physical and eager for contact. Tyler Taylor came in understanding football greatly, and Patrick Queen is the most athletic of the three. He added that they’re all gonna have to play because of the “limited number of people in our room.”
• As for the buck linebackers, Aranda said: “There’s a lot of merit to K’Lavon Chaisson being on the field when you know it’s a pass and a lot of merit to having Ray Thornton on the field when they’re gonna run the ball.”
• Arden Key has been “doing the non-contact stuff” and has been involved in daily meetings and walk-throughs. “It’s great having Arden around,” Aranda said. One of the most interesting things Aranda said was that “if you have Arden, you gear everything you have around him,” whereas if you don’t have Arden “there’s more of a team aspect” to the defensive approach. As we mentioned in yesterday’s report, Key is scheduled to see his doctor this week before a decision is reached on when he’ll return to action.
• Aranda said he feels good about linemen Christian LaCouture and Greg Gillmore and the best of all is Rashard Lawrence. This jibes with the comments Coach O has made recently about Lawrence having the best camp of any defensive player. Aranda also said he thinks they have the two best ineligible nose guards in the country in freshman Tyler Shelvin and junior Texas Tech transfer Breiden Fehoko.
There was actually a lot more said than what I recapped here, and if you have an extra 43 minutes today to watch this video by WAFB news you’ll see what I mean. I think you’ll enjoy seeing Canada’s confident yet humble style and how it contrasts with Aranda’s soft-spoken, cerebral style.
Now, with just 11 days before LSU’s season opener against BYU, let’s continue our Countdown to Game Day by looking back at one of the best Tiger teams of all-time – the 2011 SEC Champions. Coming off an 11-2 season and exciting 41-24 victory over Texas A&M in the 2011 Cotton Bowl, LSU had high expectations entering 2011 and started the season in Dallas against No. 3 Oregon, who had narrowly lost in the National Championship game the previous season. After trailing 13-9 late in the first half, the Tigers began to impose their will, outscoring the Ducks 24-0 over the next 17 minutes to take a commanding 33-13 lead. The final score of 40-27 was closer than the game really was, as LSU pounded the Ducks with 175 rushing yards and forced four turnovers.
That victory set the tone for the rest of the season. The Tigers would win 12 of their 13 regular season contests by 13 points or more, with seven of their nine conference victories coming by a margin of 24 or more (let that sink in for a minute). While the offense was far from great with a below-average passing offense (152.5 yards per game – 106th nationally), the Tigers had a smothering defense led by the likes of cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Ron Brooks, safeties Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor, and defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery (all of those players were, or still are, in the NFL). That defense, which allowed just 10.5 points per game during the regular season, combined with one of the best, if not the best, special teams in school history to make game-changing plays and break the will of so many opponents.
Case in point was LSU’s first touchdown of the season, a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and touchdown by Tyrann Mathieu that gave the Tigers a 10-7 lead early in the season opener against Oregon. Mathieu, who would be referred to as “The Honey Badger” that season, would also return two punts for touchdowns that season, one that flipped momentum against Arkansas when the Tigers trailed 10-0, and another in the SEC Championship game against Georgia when LSU again trailed 10-0 in the contest. The Tigers would go on huge runs in both contests to annihilate the Razorbacks 41-17 in Tiger Stadium and bulldoze the Bulldogs 42-10 for the school’s 11th SEC Championship. Despite an average offense, the combination of the Tigers’ dominating defense and special teams resulted in the team averaging 35.7 points per game, which is third-best in school history.
Special teams also played a huge factor in Tuscaloosa that year as punter Brad Wing uncorked a 73-yarder that got the Tigers out of terrible field position, helping LSU keep the Crimson Tide from scoring a potential game-winning field goal. The Tigers would go on to defeat Alabama in that regular-season contest, 9-6 in overtime, in what was termed as “The Game of the Century.” Unfortunately, LSU would have to play Alabama in a rematch in the BCS National Championship contest. Facing a stout Crimson Tide defense, LSU mustered only five first downs in a 21-0 loss that will forever be known as one of their all-time most disappointing offensive performances in school history.
While the Tigers failed to win the school’s fourth National Championship, it certainly should not diminish what a remarkable year it was for LSU, although I must admit it still hurts to think of the way it finished, especially since it was the last LSU football game my late father, Dandy Don Long, was able to experience. Whether it be this season or not, retribution is coming soon, and man will it feel good.
Lastly, here’s that reminder to vote in our annual poll: “What will LSU's record be at the end of the 2016 regular football season?”
Have a great day, Tiger Fans.