12/9/18 5:50 am CST
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Good morning, Tiger Fans,
With conference championships and bowl selections long decided, and with no LSU game to recap today, things are remarkably slow on the LSU news front. That makes this as good a time as any to begin looking back on the year that was. In a few days, we’ll start our annual series looking back at the 2018’s 18 defining moments in LSU sports. We think we’ve got our selections pretty much figured out, but we welcome your suggestions in case we overlooked anything. Here’s what we did last year for 2017’s Defining Moments if you want an example of what’s to come or just want to reminisce.
As the publisher of this daily site, I’m able to easily look back through my archives for content ideas. Well, yesterday I did that and saw that last year at this time, we wrote a four-part series outlining eight things LSU needed to do to be a championship contender this year. Today we’ll review how LSU did with those eight things.
The first thing we wrote about was replacing skill position losses. LSU replaced its top five skill players, including running backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, wide receivers D.J. Chark and Russell Gage, and quarterback Danny Etling. Looking back, I think it’s easy to see that we underestimated how hard it would be to replace those guys. Aside from at quarterback play, LSU came up short. The good news is that all of LSU’s top skill players from 2018 except for Nick Brossette return as veterans next year, plus the Tigers bring in a couple of outstanding running backs.
No. 2 on our list was improving quarterback play, and LSU succeeded there. Joe Burrow’s numbers might not look significantly better that Danny Etling’s, but he was clearly a difference-maker. Not to knock Etling in the least bit, but Burrow’s intangibles such as poise and football I.Q. really elevated his play beyond his stat line. And those stats, unimpressive as they were, would have been much more impressive with better protection and fewer drops.
Next, we said the left tackle position needed stability and additional depth. Well, the stability thing took a while to fall into place due to a shake up in the lineup caused by early injuries and Ed Ingram’s suspension. Through the first five games, LSU started four different players at left tackle. Eventually, LSU settled onSaahdiq Charles for the final seven contests, but there wasn’t as much depth behind him as expected since Badara Traore, the No. 1 JUCO OT in the country, didn’t have the immediate success we expected. Next year, all of LSU’s current tackles will be back, and the one to watch will be redshirt freshman Dare Rosenthal who made the move to offense after signing as a D-lineman.
We also mentioned that the D-line rotation needed some rebuilding after losing fifth-year seniors Christian LaCouture, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron. Rashard Lawrence, Ed Alexander, Breiden Fehoko, Glen Logan, Neil Farrell, and Tyler Shelvin did an admirable job, though there was still a dropdown in defending the run. Fortunately, most of those guys should be back next year, though we’ll be anxiously awaiting word on whether Lawrence and Alexander return. If they do, LSU’s D-line won’t need much rebuilding at all next year and should be rock solid, especially if Shelvin can get his weight down and keep it there. Still, LSU desperately needs to add another D-lineman or two in this year’s recruiting class to avoid finding itself in a precarious position in the near future.
The sixth thing we wrote about was making special teams special again and I think we can all agree that LSU did just that. With the hiring of Greg McMahon as the full-time special teams coordinator and the additions of kickers Cole Tracy and Avery Atkins, LSU’s special teams were light years ahead of where they were the season before. The only “miss” in this regard was in the return game. Still, a big improvement overall.
Next, we talked about keeping some juniors in the fold. LSU ended up losing Donté Jackson, Derrius Guice, Arden Key, and Will Clapp to the draft. Kevin Toliver and Toby Weathersby also left early but were not drafted and later settled on free-agent deals. Man would it have been great to have those two guys this year.
The final two things were wrote about were Coach O and the staff taking the next step, and navigating a brutal schedule. From a staffing point, Coach O succeeded big-time in keeping Dave Aranda on board, and that’s likely something he’ll have to contend with again. If not this year, then soon. He also brought in McMahon as special teams coordinator, replaced Jeff Grimes with new O-line coach James Cregg, brought in safeties coach Bill Busch, and fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada. With LSU’s offense finishing marginally better this year in scoring (31.8 ppg vs. 27.2 ppg) and passing yards (205.4 ypg vs 203.5 ypg), but worse in total yards (389.3 ppg vs 411 ppg), the jury is still out about whether Ensminger is the long-term solution. Coach Cregg still has a bit to prove as O-line coach, but I think it’s safe to say that Busch and McMahon have been a smashing success. And as for navigating a brutal schedule, LSU certainly did that as well as anyone could have expected, far exceeding the national projections and setting itself up for its first 10-win season since finishing the 2013 season with a win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
I hope you enjoyed that brief look back. In a subsequent report, we’ll talk about what LSU needs to do to be a contender in 2019.
Turning to hoops, the LSU men’s basketball team is returning to action today after a long break for final exams. LSU’s men team (6-2) will look to get back on a winning track and extend its home win streak when it hosts Incarnate Word (5-5) today at 1 p.m. CT at the PMAC. The game will be televised by the SEC Network, but fans can attend the game for free by bringing a new, unwrapped toy for distribution by the Toys for Tots campaign to the upper concourse ticket windows beginning at 11:30 a.m. Today’s game is the start of a seven day stretch which includes three games, two of which are on the road. The Tigers will travel to Houston on Wednesday and will face Saint Mary’s next Saturday in a neutral site game in Las Vegas. Look for our full recap of today’s game in tomorrow’s report.
In high school football news, three state champions were crowned last night in the conclusion of the LHSAA playoffs. John Curtis defeated Catholic-BR 49-7 to earn the Division I title. Then in a nail-biter, Edna Karr pulled off a three-peat by defeating Warren Easton 28-20 and earning its third consecutive state title. In the nightcap, Class 5A Zachary won it third state championship in four years with a 27-24 win over West Monroe.
A real quick word on football recruiting before closing out: All I’ve heard about this weekend’s visits is that the two kids from Horn Lake – five-star LB Nakobe Dean and four-star cornerback Raydarious Jones – both made it in and brought lots of family along. That suggests to me that there is serious interest. Also, LSU continues to extended new offers for next year’s class. A trio of four-star prospects – cornerback Lorando Johnson (Lancaster, Texas), athlete Teriyon Cooper (Saint Louis, Mo.), and running back Mecose Todd (Villa Rica, Ga.) – all recently tweeted that they were thankful to receive LSU offers.
Lastly, if you have a question or comment you’d like us to consider for a mini-mail call tomorrow (it’ll probably shorter than usual since we’ll have a basketball game to recap), please let us know.
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Have a great Sunday, Tiger Fans.