6/29/15 6:50 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
We’ll start today’s report with some good news on the basketball front: After having landed the No. 1 player in the nation (Ben Simmons) and two other big-time players (Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson) in the class of 2015, Coach Johnny Jones’s 2016 class is off to a great start after landing a commitment from U-High forward Wayde Sims (6-6, 210), Gatorade’s Louisiana Basketball Player of the Year. Sims, whose father is former LSU standout Wayne Sims, helped lead U-High to a 33-3 record and its second consecutive Class 3A state title, averaging 17.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals this past season. Not only is Sims a great basketball player, he seems to be an outstanding young man. The Baton Rouge native has maintained a 3.37 grade point average and is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Coach Johnny Jones certainly has it going on.
Now turning to football, yesterday I wrote about LSU possibly going 6-2 or better in SEC play this year, and a couple of you asked me what LSU would have to do to accomplish this. With that in mind, I’ve put together the following four keys to a successful 2015 LSU football season. Give it a quick read and let me know your thoughts. Your comments and feedback are appreciated.
Keys to a successful 2015 football season:
Hit the ground running on defense
LSU’s defensive line has to be more consistent in stopping the run and applying pressure to the quarterback. The Tigers were bludgeoned on the ground early in the season in losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, and although the run defense improved greatly as the season progressed, LSU’s defense was very poor in the Music City Bowl loss to Notre Dame, where the Tigers allowed 263 rushing yards and recorded 0 sacks. For the season, LSU only recorded 19 sacks, and 8 of those came in non-conference games against San Houston (7) and UL Monroe (1). The Tigers had just 11 sacks in 8 SEC games. With new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and new D-line coach Ed Orgeron, I’m optimistic that we’ll see improvements in these areas, but there will be very little time for an “adjustment period” with the Tigers traveling to face Dak Prescott and his Mississippi State Bulldogs in Week 2.
Establish a passing game
Tiger fans don’t need any explanation for this one. Last year LSU’s passing offense was 116th in the country in passing yards and 120th in passing attempts. Part of this was due to Coach Miles’ run-first, ground-and-pound philosophy, part was due to inexperience at wide receiver, but the largest part was due to subpar quarterback play. With all of LSU’s exceptionally talented receivers back with added experience under their belts, LSU has to find a way to get them the ball. The solution might come from sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris who has been afforded a golden opportunity to show that he’s ready to lead the team now that Anthony Jennings has been suspended following his arrest. Another part of the solution could come from utilizing LSU’s very talented tight ends in the passing game. Last season, LSU’s tight ends totaled only 12 receptions for 129 yards and one TD. However, DeSean Smith had four receptions for a career high 66 yards in the bowl loss vs. Notre Dame, and hopefully that was a sign of things to come.
I understand the advantage of the running back by committee approach and don’t expect it to stop, but Leonard Fournette is an exceptional talent and he needs to get 20+ carries in every game. It seems odd to think that even after Fournette had dominating performances against Florida (140 yards on 27 carries with two TDs) and Ole Miss (113 yards on 23 carries and 41 receiving yards), he only had five carries at Arkansas and 11 carries in the bowl game vs. Notre Dame. Of course, Fournette was sharing time with two senior running backs in Terrance Magee and Kenny Hilliard last year and it’s understandable that Coach Miles would want to give them significant carries, but this year there’s no reason not to focus the Tigers’ offensive attack around the most talented and physically-gifted player on the field.
Put the Special Back in Special Teams
The Tigers are usually very special on special teams, but last year LSU missed two critical field goals in a 17-0 shutout loss to Arkansas, missed two more in a narrow 23-17 win at Texas A&M, and perhaps most significantly, missed the potential go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter of the 28-31 loss to Notre Dame. When it was all said and done, LSU finished 6th in the SEC in field goal percentage. Also, Tre’Davious White was 6th in the SEC with 10.6 yards per punt return. If the Tigers can get near the top of the conference in all special teams categories, the hidden yards gained will be a big help to a young quarterback and conservative offense.
With 68 days remaining until LSU's season opener vs McNeese State, let's continue our countdown to the season opener by looking at a special 68-yard play that helped set the tone in a historic win. I'm referring to Cedric Donaldson's 68-yard interception return in the Tigers’ 28-21 victory over No. 1 Florida in 1997.
After an excellent Kevin Faulk punt return and subsequent Herb Tyler option TD, Florida's QB, Doug Johnson, threw an interception that Donaldson returned 68-yards all the way to the Florida 7-yard line. Tommy Banks scored from there to give LSU a 14-0 lead less than halfway into the first half. Even after Florida evened the score at 14, Donaldson returned an interception 31 yards for a TD and 21-14 lead. Mark Roman intercepted Johnson on the ensuing Florida drive, and Herb Tyler had his second TD of the game to put LSU in command at 28-14. After a Florida TD and subsequent LSU punt, Florida still had a chance to tie the game, but Raion Hill picked off Doug Johnson and LSU was able to run out the clock and win it's only home game over a No. 1 ranked team in school history. For a reminder of what a special game that was, check out these video highlights.
In closing, I want to once again hit you up for vacation destination suggestions. My family and I are planning on taking a trip the second week of July and still haven’t decided on exactly where to go. We’re thinking of a cabin on a lake/river within close proximity to a town where we can do some sight seeing and enjoy some good eats, but we’re wide open to suggestions at this point. Your input is appreciated.