8/28/16 5:55 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
Well folks, the wait is almost over. Only six days until the Tigers take the field! In my many years spent working on this blog, I don’t remember any time in which there was such a longing for the start of LSU football. Actually, that strong longing I’m referring to is about a lot more than LSU’s highly-anticipated football season. After the recent tragic flooding that has wreaked havoc on over 100,000 Louisiana homes, and the almost continuous rains that have followed, folks down here are ready for blue skies, crisp fall days, and the return of familiar fall traditions like Game Day Gumbo and LSU football. Heck, right now I’d settle for a few dry days just so I could cut my grass for the first time in three weeks – not that I could anyway, considering my lawn tractor was submerged in four feet of water… but I digress. What I was getting at is that few things have the power to restore a sense of normalcy like a change in the season and the start of LSU football, and that time is drawing near. Bring it on!
In yesterday’s report, I mentioned that LSU 2017 quarterback commit Lowell Narcisse injured his left knee in St. James’ jamboree, and I heard from a lot of you about that. One of my longtime readers, Dr. Aaron Ellett, sent me an especially well-stated message on the topic that I thought was too good to not share. It went like this: “I give Les Miles plenty of grief for what he does wrong as a coach (stubbornness for example), but I also give him praise where he deserves it. Integrity is a word that comes to mind. I think your readers need to be reminded of why his players love him. Integrity is one of those reasons. I was saddened to see that Narcisse had an injury yesterday. However, the first news I heard is that Les Miles is going to honor his scholarship. Miles does not have to do this. It shows that he plays even-stevens with these recruits: he asks them to commit and stick with it, and he, in turn, does the same. Readers should be reminded that LSU would likely not have Godchaux if Miles operated differently. Everyone dropped that young man off their radar after his injury except for LSU. Not only did Godchaux start as a freshman, but is is arguably the most important/best defensive lineman we have this year and could be a high round draft pick. A lot of this is due to Les Miles’ character. Even in the Elliot Porter grey-shirt scandal, it turns out Les Miles' integrity prevailed and that is something Porter will attest to. Football is only a small part of life. It is enjoyable and entertaining, but is minuscule in regards to actually living life (Baton Rouge should know this with the level of tragedies in its communities this summer). It is refreshing to have a coach for our team that leads with class, honor, integrity, and loyalty to his players, his school, his community, his state, and his family on a daily basis.”
On a somewhat related note, there’s some news to pass along about LSU’s other 2017 quarterback commit, Myles Brennan. While fellow LSU commit Narcisse had a heart-breaking weekend, Brennan’s could not have gone better as he led his St. Stanislaus (Miss.) team to a 49-26 win over powerhouse St. Paul’s of Alabama. Brennan was 27-of-40 passing for 248 yards and five touchdowns, and also ran for two touchdowns. The following morning, the Elite 11 quarterback announced on Twitter that he had been invited to the Under Armour All-Star game. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if LSU can hold on to Brennan and Narcisse, they will be getting two outstanding quarterbacks that could give LSU quite possibly its best QB recruiting class of all time.
Now let’s jump back to the series we started yesterday (which also produced a lot of welcomed feedback) by continuing to analyze the 2016 Tigers and compare them to the 2015 team. So far we have compared QB, WR, OL and RB, and have given the advantage to this year’s team in every case except for OL. Today we’ll take a look a two more position groups before concluding this series tomorrow. Here we go…
2016 Tigers Position Analysis, Compared to 2015
Unlike the offensive line where LSU is having to replace a couple of starters who played big roles last year, LSU’s defensive line returns everyone from last year’s squad and a whole lot more. With guys like Davon Godchaux, Greg Gilmore, Lewis Neal, Frank Herron, Arden Key and Tashawn Bower returning as more experienced players (yes, I’m counting Buck linebackers as D-linemen since they will often lineup with a hand in the dirt), this group was bound to be strong. But what makes this unit even stronger is the return of former Tiger Travonté Valentine (who was dismissed from the team last Summer before ever playing a snap) and the additions of elite freshmen D-linemen Rashard Lawrence, Ed Alexander and Glenn Logan. With LSU transitioning to a base 3-4 defense, finding a big-bodied nose tackle who can eat up space and demand double teams is important, and at 6-foot-4, 345 pounds, Valentine could be the perfect fit.
Conclusion: Last year, LSU’s defensive line was undersized and lacked depth. This year’s line is bigger, more experienced and much deeper, which should go a long way in fortifying LSU for its November clashes against physical, smash-mouth offenses like those of Alabama and Arkansas. I predict the defensive line will be LSU’s most improved unit on the team. Big Advantage 2016 Tigers.
Since we included the Buck OLB (a hybrid end/LB) in the writeup about the defensive line, this analysis will focus on the inside linebackers and the F outside linebacker. Because LSU is transitioning from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 scheme, it’s hard to compare this unit to last year’s linebackers, but it is easy to see that LSU returns a lot of experienced talent. Inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith’s decision to return to LSU for his senior season instead of going pro was huge, and he’ll be the key to this Tiger defense. Joining him on the inside will be senior Duke Riley, a player who didn’t have any starts to his name last year but played extensively as a reserve linebacker and as a special teams standout. At the F outside linebacker position, senior Corey Thompson was in position to start before suffering a lower leg injury that will force him to miss a good bit of the season. In his place will be Tashawn Bower, a senior who transitioned from defensive end to linebacker in the spring. What you might have noticed is that all the aforementioned players are seniors, and that’s a big deal. The poise, understanding and leadership skills a senior brings cannot be understated. Backing the three senior projected starters will be junior ILB Donnie Alexander, freshmen ILB Devin White (who I predict might supplant Duke Riley as a starter by the time SEC play starts) and extremely talented freshmen ILBs Michael Divinity and Ray Thornton.
Conclusion: The Tigers will be without outside linebacker extraordinaire Deion Jones who graduated and was drafted in the 2nd round by the Atlanta Falcons, but everyone else returns. And by moving Bower and Thompson to linebacker, and adding three very talented freshmen in White, Divinity and Thorton, the Tigers were able to bolster both leadership and depth at the position. If Kendell Beckwith can remain healthy, this linebacker group should be rock solid. Advantage 2016 Tigers.
Now, with just 6 days until LSU takes the field against Wisconsin, let’s continue our countdown to Game Day by looking at the school record for most forced fumbles in a single season – 6 by Tyrann Mathieu in 2011. A St. Augustine alum, Mathieu came to LSU rated as the 13th best cornerback in the country by Rivals.com. Despite his small stature (5-9, 175) and the fact that he started only one game in his first year as a Tiger, Mathieu made an immediate impact as a true freshman in 2010 as the New Orleans native finished fourth in tackles on the team with 57 (8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks), forced an SEC best five fumbles, recovered three fumbles, broke up seven passes and recorded two interceptions. His outstanding season earned him the “Honey Badger” nickname, and Mathieu more than lived up to it as a sophomore in 2011. In the Tigers’ opener in Dallas against No. 3 Oregon, Tyrann helped a struggling offense by ripping the ball from the Ducks’ punt returner in the second quarter and returning it three yards for LSU’s first touchdown of the season. That play set the tone for LSU’s defense, and Mathieu finished with two pass breakups and 10 tackles in the dominating 40-27 victory. A few weeks later at No. 16 West Virginia, the “Honey Badger” struck again when he forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass that setup a one-yard touchdown drive and an insurmountable 27-7 halftime lead in a game the Tigers eventually won 47-21. Just one week later, Mathieu helped pump some energy into a lethargic team that was playing unranked Kentucky in a day game at Tiger Stadium when he raced past the Wildcats’ left tackle, batted the ball out of the quarterback’s hands, scooped it up off the ground and skirted 23 yards to pay dirt as part of a 35-7 victory. I could write pages and pages on the many plays Mathieu made, but instead I’ll direct you to these great Honey Badger video highlights that show most of them. Besides numerous awards that included winning the 2011 Bednarik Award for college’s top defensive player, earning First-Team All-American awards by numerous publications and being a finalist for the Heisman Award, which is a rarity for defensive players, Mathieu finished his collegiate career with a school-record 11 forced fumbles. After recording 89 tackles and five interceptions in his third season with Arizona in 2015, Mathieu signed a five-year, $62.5 million extension earlier this month. Here’s wishing Tyrann all the best in his fourth season with the Cardinals.
As I do most weeks, I’ll leave you with a couple of good reads to go along with your Sunday morning coffee:
• This one is about Colby Delahoussaye and his thoughts on returning to Wisconsin (where he was involved in the fatal car accident). The article also mentions that fellow kicker Cameron Gamble is dealing with muscle tightness in his back, leading me to believe that freshman Connor Culp will likely be tasked with kickoff duties when the Tigers take the field.
• This one is a “long-form” article by The Advocate titled, “LSU's 'Key': Arden Key is son to a big-rig driver, brother to a twin sister and the 'disguise' of the Tigers' new defense.”
Oh, one more thing: If you represent an LSU Alumni group that hosts LSU watch parties, please send me your information so I can post it on our LSU View-In Parties page.
Have a great Sunday, Tiger Fans.