NCAA Baseball Championships:
DandyDon is proud to recognize David Toms as a great ambassador of the Tiger Nation.
LSU Football 2018:
As the publisher of DandyDon, I try to keep things positive. You might say I’m a “glass-half-full” kind of guy. At the same time, I don’t like to sugar-coat things and recognize that for any given topic there’s usually a valid “glass-half-empty” perspective, too. With that in mind, here’s a new series presenting five topics related to LSU football from both a glass-half-full perspective and a glass-half-empty perspective. Subjects covered include The Schedule; Quarterback Play; The Offensive Line; The Secondary, and Coach Ed Orgeron Here we geaux....
Part 1: The Schedule
Half-Empty: This “half-empty” write-up is probably the easiest to write in our five-part series. I mean, just look at the schedule. Most teams with a schedule like that would celebrate a 7-5 season, but we know Tiger fans all too well to expect any jumping for joy over a five-loss season. In fact, it would probably take fewer losses to significantly warm Coach Orgeron’s seat. What’s worse, the season starts against a very good Miami team, and LSU will have a brand new starting quarterback under center. With the absence of a tune-up game, the Tigers are going to need to look sharp at the jump and try their best to remain healthy the rest of the way. With games against Auburn, Mississippi State, Alabama, and Georgia on tap, LSU’s path to a championship will be littered with the most physical opponents in the SEC.
Half-Full: There’s no better way to gain instant respect and enter the national conversation as one of the best in the country than earning wins against Miami and Auburn in the first three weeks of the season. Easier said than done, of course. But LSU’s schedule is so challenging that it could open the door for wild possibilities should the Tigers end up with ten wins this season. If any team could sustain two losses and still be in the conversation for a College Football Playoff berth, it would be LSU with games against Miami, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi State, Alabama and Texas A&M on its schedule. Of those games, though, LSU gets Georgia, Mississippi State, and Alabama at home. If you’ve been paying attention to our site the last few days, you know that those were ranked as three of the top-five toughest games on LSU’s schedule. Taking on those formidable foes from the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium is undoubtedly a plus.
Part 2: Quarterback
Half-Empty: If you’re looking to pinpoint LSU’s Achilles heel the last decade, look no further than the quarterback position. Only once since 2007 has LSU entered the season with a proven commodity behind center. (Maybe twice if you were high on Danny Etling entering last season.) So, here we are again. And this time, we’re asking a new quarterback to step in and produce despite being with an offensive coordinator who hasn’t held that position in an awfully long time, except for in a brief interim role. Sure, the addition of Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow is exciting, but he too is an unproven commodity since he’s been a backup the last two seasons. Like Alabama’s seven consecutive wins over the Tigers, quarterback play will continue to be a big topic surrounding LSU football until the problem resolves itself.
Half-Full: For the first time in a long time, it feels like LSU has legitimate options at quarterback. With three 4-star quarterbacks (Joe Burrow, Lowell Narcisse, and Myles Brennan) and the surprise player of the spring, Justin McMillan, all vying for that starting job, there’s a lot to like regarding LSU’s quarterback room. Burrow has all the marking of a big-time quarterback – size, leadership, smarts, accuracy and a very strong work ethic – and could be the shot in the arm Tiger fans have been longing for. And if any of the other quarterbacks are good enough to earn the starting job ahead of him, LSU will be better off for it. As they say, competition makes everyone better.
Part 3: Offensive Line
Half Full: You can find positivity in bulk on LSU’s offensive line. The Tigers return a considerable amount of experience in Austin Deculus, Saahdiq Charles, and Ed Ingram, each of whom played in every game last season. Garrett Brumfield, Donavaughn Campbell, and Adrian Magee aren’t exactly green either. So now you add talented JUCO transfers in Damien Lewis and Badara Traore, plus freshman Cole Smith, and depth should be much improved for new offensive line coach James Cregg. Those of us who remember how newsworthy LSU’s offensive line was after all the transfers last summer can make a convincing argument that LSU’s offensive line is in a much better place than it was then. That – plus a highly respected new OL coach who has energized the line with NFL concepts – makes for a ton of optimism in the Tiger trenches.
Half Empty: Though there’s plenty of potential up front for the Tigers, it’s never easy to replace three starters on the line. That’s a task LSU is faced with after losing left tackle K.J. Malone (graduation), center Will Clapp (NFL draft), and right tackle Toby Weathersby (NFL draft). These departures leave LSU with a couple of looming questions. Saahdiq Charles took over for an injured Malone for much of last season and did well, but can he be the “bell cow” at left tackle that Coach O is expecting? And does LSU have an adequate replacement for Will Clapp at center? Lloyd Cushenberry seems to be the heir apparent there and has received a heap of praise for his work ethic and intelligence, but his spring game performance didn’t exactly inspire confidence. As Mike Detillier said in our last Q&A, the center position is one of the toughest and most critical spots on a football team at any level. Unfortunately, it’s also the one position on the line where LSU returns the least experience.
Part 4: Secondary
Half Full: Arguably, the best player on LSU’s team in 2018 is Greedy Williams. In fact, Sports Illustrated recently named the breakout corner from a year ago the 11th best player in America. So, to put it lightly, much is to be expected out of Williams in 2018. The addition of Stanford transfer Terrance Alexander adds some needed depth at the cornerback position, and sophomores Kary Vincent, Jontré Kirklin, and Manny Netherly reportedly made waves this spring. At the safety position, Grant Delpit, Ed Paris, Eric Monroe and John Battle all return with valuable experience, and let’s not forget about former five-star safety Jacoby Stevens who is now back at the position after a brief stint at wide receiver. If he and incoming freshman Kelvin Joseph can fit into whatever mold LSU’s coaching staff sees fit, the Tigers should have no trouble living up to its DBU moniker.
Half Empty: Despite the transfer of Alexander, there remain depth concerns at cornerback. The biggest reason for that is the loss of starters Donté Jackson and Kelvin Toliver to the NFL, but another contributing factor is that LSU did not land a true cornerback in the 2018 signing class. That’s forced the staff to put a premium on the CB position in the 2019 signing class and experiment with some natural safeties playing a little cornerback, like Joseph. Not helping LSU’s depth issues is the fact that former five-star Kristian Fulton is currently serving a two-year suspension imposed last winter by the NCAA. There’s been no word on Fulton’s last-ditch appeal to regain eligibility, making it doubtful that he’ll be a contributor this year.
Part 5: Coach Ed Orgeron
Half Empty: Last year, LSU finished 9-4. That kind of record isn’t going to inspire a lot of positivity in Baton Rouge when one loss came against Troy and the other stemmed from botched opportunities against Notre Dame. There are some Tigers still distraught over LSU coming away with only three points on two trips inside Notre Dame’s one-yard line in the 21-17 loss. There were a couple of key missed opportunities in that game that rest on Ed Orgeron’s shoulders. Of course, a few misses in recruiting and the promoting of Steve Ensminger to Offensive Coordinator after things didn’t work out with Matt Canada haven’t done Orgeron any favors either. All of these things combined have left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans and have some doubting whether a coach who went 10-25 in his last head coach job (not counting interim roles) has what it takes to lead LSU to greatness.
Half Full: Orgeron steered the ship in a positive direction after the loss to Troy, winning six of the last seven games to end the regular season at 9-3 with the only defeat in that stretch being a competitive 24-10 loss at Alabama. All told, Orgeron led his Tigers to six SEC wins, the most league wins for LSU since 2012. And really, if Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin hadn’t made a spectacular one-handed catch in the final minute-and-a-half of that New Year’s game, LSU would be returning from a respectable 10-win season. On the staffing front, Orgeron was able to hold on to Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda despite strong overtures from Texas A&M, and then strengthened his staff with veteran NFL coaches James Cregg (OL), Greg McMahon (Special Teams), and Bill Busch (Safeties). And though some Tiger fans were down on February’s late misses in recruiting (CB Patrick Surtain and QB James Foster), Orgeron made up for them by landing two big transfers in CB Terrance Alexander and QB Joe Burrow. He’s also on track to land a top-five 2019 recruiting class.
Encore Edition: Running Back
Half Full: LSU has no shortage of options at running back. From Nick Brossette’s strength to Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s elusiveness, the running back position can take on many forms in 2018. Freshman Chris Curry is our pick to break out in 2018 with his low-pad level and willingness to engage contact. His high school tape has a few highlights that resemble Spencer Ware. Another freshman, Tae Provens, could see the field in certain scenarios too. Much has been written about Provens’ speed this offseason, and you can only imagine what plays Steve Ensminger is likely to draw up for the speedster. There’s also Lanard Fournette, who runs the ball hard like his brother, even though he doesn’t possess the same freakish combination of size and speed. And speaking of a freakish combination of size and speed, let’s not forget about David Ducré, who at 6-foot, 236-pounds still has 4.5 speed and incredible athleticism. He was a FB/TE last year but enters his senior season listed as a running back on the current roster. The bottom line: Although lacking a proven “feature back,” LSU’s running back stable has the potential to blend into whatever Ensminger and the offensive staff need it to be on a weekly basis.
Half Empty: LSU has gone from recently having one of the greatest running back groups in schools history — Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice, and Darrel Williams — to having a stable of backs that lacks experience and proven star power. Heck, when you combine the stats of all the current returning running backs, they had a grand total of 34 carries for 147 yards last season. And because LSU has a new quarterback and a new coordinator, Tiger fans are apprehensive about moving too far away from LSU’s identity as a physical, power-running football team. If none of the team’s backs can make a difference and quarterback woes continue, where will the offensive production come from? Though LSU has had its share of ups and down at the quarterback position, it always seemingly had one of the premier backs in the nation to hand the ball off to when the going got tough. There’s a possibility LSU won’t have that luxury in 2018.
Encore Edition: Wide Receiver
Half Full: This unit is said to be the strength of LSU’s offense. With players like Jonathan Giles, Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall, Ja’Marr Chase, Kenan Jones, Racey McMath, and Jaray Jenkins now in the mix, the potential of this wide receiver corps is through the roof. If Joe Burrow, or whichever quarterback who wins the job, can distribute the football efficiently, LSU will score in bunches in 2018. Giles has already made a name for himself at Texas Tech and if the spring game is any indicator of what this season will look like, Jefferson will scoot on by opposing secondaries. Chase was a prized recruit and having Marshall – the former No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the country – at full health could really be something. Throw in a few extremely talented veterans like Derrick Dillon, Dee Anderson, Stephen Sullivan, and Drake Davis, and this should be the deepest and most competitive position group this fall.
Half Empty: While talented, this unit lacks experience. If you look at what this unit returns in terms of productivity, Sullivan, Davis, and Dillon were fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively, in receiving yards last season. Together, they accounted for 478 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. Anderson saw the field in limited action and had three catches for 45 yards. Steve Ensminger has already made it clear that the offense will serve its strength, and its strength is wide receiver. So what happens if this unit fails to meet expectations? And that could be a reality because, for the most part, all we have is stellar ratings, encouraging practice stories, spring game highlights, and limited action to go by.
Stay tuned for the continuation...
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