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1/10/19 5:30 am CST

Good morning, Tiger Fans,

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In today’s update, we’ll continue last week’s series on areas where LSU football needs to improve in order to take the next step and touch on a few tidbits, but first a bit of coaching and recruiting news to get to.

Late last night, LSU announced that senior offensive assistant and passing game coordinator Jerry Sullivan is retiring. The news, which was not unexpected, was communicated with the following press release:

Jerry Sullivan Announces Retirement

BATON ROUGE – LSU senior offensive assistant and passing game coordinator Jerry Sullivan announced his retirement from football on Wednesday.

Sullivan, who spent seven years on the LSU coaching staff from 1984-90, joined Ed Orgeron’s staff as a consultant in 2017 and was then elevated to senior offensive assistant and passing game coordinator for the 2018 season.

One of the most respected wide receiver coaches in football, Sullivan spent 25 years in the NFL before coming back to LSU in 2017.

“Jerry had a great career, one that saw him develop, groom, mentor and train some of the best to ever play the wide receiver position at any level of football,” Orgeron said. “I can’t thank Jerry enough for the contributions he made to our program over the past two years.”

Here’s wishing Sullivan, a 50 year veteran of the coaching community, all the best in his retirement. As for now, we don’t know who might fill the position or whether LSU will replace that coaching role with another, but we’ll keep you posted as soon as any news breaks.

In recruiting news, yesterday I mentioned two “new” names to monitor as LSU looks to complete its 2019 class, and today there’s another. According to LSU’s list of official visitors published by 247Sports, tight end Garmon Randolph (6-6, 215) of Jefferson, Ga. is set to visit LSU next weekend on Saturday, January 9. Two other prospects – Mississippi State commit DT Nathan Pickering and Florida State commit SDE Quashon Fuller – are also set to visit that weekend, but we’ve already mentioned those two. Back to Randolph, he’s a tight end who impressed with his height and athleticism during LSU’s elite camp last summer, and for a while there was a lot of buzz about LSU being really high on him. After LSU landed commitments from tight ends TK McClendon (now a signee) and Ray Parker, I kind of forgot about Randolph, but evidently, the LSU staff never did. Randolph is “only a three-star” but has a stellar list off offers from programs such as Alabama, Auburn, and Ole Miss, and would be an outstanding get, especially if Parker, who did not sign in the early period, isn’t part of this class.

Now back to that series we started last week. So far, we’ve covered Offensive Line, Red Zone Offense, and Running Game as three areas where LSU needs to improve to be a championship contender. You can find those installments here. Now, onto Part 4.

AREAS WHERE LSU FOOTBALL MUST IMPROVE TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP

Part 4: Return Game

We see fewer and fewer kickoff returns because of the stronger and stronger legs out there, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire showed how vital it can be with a 77-yard return to start the Fiesta Bowl. If Edwards-Helaire is going to begin the 2019 season as the No. 1 running back (as experience suggests he will), LSU would be well-served to find someone else for the role of kickoff returner. With all the speed and talent at wide receiver, they should have plenty of options. Also, running back Tae Provens could be an asset here with a way to get him on the field. Provens might also challenge for the punt return job.

Right now LSU needs to find a punt returner who can be a lot more decisive than any they had this season. Jonathan Giles spent most of the season in that role and didn’t really get it done. Justin Jefferson replaced him and muffed a punt after losing his footing in the Fiesta Bowl, and he let another roll about 20 yards. There’s no reason to think Jefferson can't improve and hold onto the job, except for maybe the fact that LSU signed a “generation talent” this December who could very well excel in that role. Of course, I’m talking about Derek Stingley, Jr. During his prep career at Dunham school, the five-star prospect returned a whopping 15 punts/kicks for touchdowns and was a scoring threat virtually every time he touched the ball.

Whether it’s Stingley, Jefferson, Edwards-Helaire or anyone else, LSU needs to elevate its return game to LSU standards. LSU averaged only 5.82 yards per punt return (100th in the nation and LSU ’s lowest average in over a decade) and this was the first season that LSU failed to record a touchdown in the return game. 

Stay tuned for more in this series.

Mentioning Stingley reminds me to pass this along: Here’s a good read on him by 247Sports: Stingley's already impressing Aranda, Burrow. And here’s a tweet by his father, Coach Derek Stingley, Sr., that says a lot to me about the kind of family he comes from: “This guy started his first day of college today! Help us pray for a successful college experience on and off the field, in and out of classroom, and to have an all-around awesome learning experience into manhood. #GeauxTigers #LsuStudentAthlete”

Closing Tidbits: 

• LSU baseball is just around the corner and here’s some news that only adds to the anticipation. In Perfect Game’s preseason poll released yesterday, LSU came in at No. 1. Last month, Collegiate Baseball Magazine pegged LSU at No. 1 in their preseason poll too. Of course, preseason and in-season rankings don’t necessarily correlate to where a team ends the season (LSU has earned a No. 1 ranking at some point during the season in seven of the past 11 seasons), but having both major publications think so highly of the 2019 Tigers is certainly encouraging. LSU will begin preseason workouts on January 25 and will open the 2019 season at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 15, versus Louisiana-Monroe in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.

• It’s rare that we post track and field news here, but this should be of great interest to Tiger Fans. LSU freshman Mondo Duplantis, the brother of LSU baseball’s Antoine Duplantis, was named to The Bowerman 2019 Men’s Preseason Watch List on Tuesday afternoon. The Bowerman consists of the Top 10 athletes in collegiate track and field and is presented every December to the top male and female track and field athletes of the season. Duplantis is the only freshman to be named to the men’s list. Here’s more on the topic.

• Here are a couple of links that should be of interest to a lot of you: NOLA.com: LSU’s offensive production turns into pay day for Steve Ensminger | AFCA executive director proposes amendment to college football's targeting rule 

• Lastly, here’s a reminder that we’re working on our list of Top LA Prospects for 2020 and hope to begin revealing our list in a  couple of weeks. So far, we have 105 names on the list, but it’s impossible to identify everybody deserving of recognition. If you have someone you’d like to nominate for our list, please let me know. We’d especially like to hear from high school coaches who have D1 prospects.  

Folks, in 27 days you won’t see these solicitations anymore for a long, long time, but for now, I need to keep reminding you: If you appreciate these daily doses of Tiger news, please show it and help keep them coming by donating to our annual fundraiser. DandyDon.com is primarily reader-supported and depends on the generosity of folks like you to keep this site free of subscriptions and void of click-bait. Thanks in advance for your continued support.

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1/9/19 5:35 am CST

Good morning, Tiger Fans,

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There’s a lot of good news to get to today, starting with Jake’s recap of LSU basketball’s big win over Alabama to open league play. After that, several encouraging briefs on the football and recruiting fronts and a tidbit on the coaching carousel. Let’s jump to it.

The LSU men’s basketball team entered last night’s game against Alabama with 11 days separating the last time the Tigers played a game, but in LSU’s 88-79 thrashing of the Crimson Tide, the Fighting Tigers certainly didn’t shoot like it. With a 49 field goal percentage (67 percent from behind the arc), LSU recorded its first conference victory of the season while also disrupting a five-game win streak by the Alabama Crimson Tide. Here’s how the Tigers got off to a blazing 1-0 SEC start…

The name of the game in the first half was penetration, and Tremont Waters was the maestro. His penetration opened up outside shots by Tigers like Darius Days and an 8-0 run gave LSU an early 14-10 lead, which put LSU in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the contest. The question on everyone’s mind going into this contest was just how LSU would fare in the post against an Alabama team that bullied the Tigers at times last season. Well, LSU was right there step for step in rebounds with Alabama (Tide out-rebounded Tigers just 16 to 15 in the first 20 minutes). Kavell Bigby-Williams was a beast inside. He recorded five rebounds and two blocks in the first half alone. But LSU did most of its offensive damage from the outside. The Tigers were raining 3-pointers (8-of-10!!) with even Emmitt Williams getting in on the action and hitting his first trey of the season. Days and Smart had three triples each in the first half. The Tigers took a 43-28 lead into the half thanks to that hot shooting and physical play inside.

LSU was so dominant in the first half that Naz Reid didn’t even score a basket, and it didn’t affect LSU in the slightest. Reid got on the board with a poster dunk over an Alabama defender one minute into the second half, and that just so happened to give LSU a 19-point lead against an Alabama team that most recently knocked off Kentucky. You could argue for several different players as the MVP of the first half, but there’s no question Bigby-Williams was the man in the second half. His presence inside was the difference in this game. He finished the game with 14 points and 13 rebounds, but most of LSU’s second-chance points in the half came because of Bigby-Williams offensive boards. After switching to a zone and getting some stops, a 7-0 Alabama run cut LSU’s lead to nine with less than seven minutes remaining in the contest. And Alabama cut it to six with three minutes to play. Waters made the assist of the game, a no-look pass from a seated position to Days, to give LSU a little more cushion with two minutes left for the Tigers to close it out. Waters led the Tigers with 19 points in the victory.

With the impressive league-opening win, LSU improved to 11-3 overall. Next up for the Tigers is a road contest against Arkansas at 5 p.m. Saturday. That game will also broadcast on the SEC Network.

Turning to football, the season’s final polls are out and the Tigers finished with their highest ranking since 2011. LSU checked in at No. 6 in the AP poll and No. 7 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. Not bad for a team that played one of the toughest schedules in the country and was projected by some to finish 6-6 and fifth in the SEC West, right? Here are the complete rankings.

Speaking of polls, a few “way too early” rankings for the 2019 season have been kind to the Tigers – some more so than others. LSU’s preseason ranking is No. 4 on  WatchStadium.com; No. 6 on  247Sports.com; No. 7 on YahooSports.com; and No. 10 on ESPN.com. On a similar note, SuperbookUSA has released 2020 College Football National Championship Game winner odds and has LSU as the 13th most likely team to win it all next season with 50/1 odds. 

One thing that would help LSU’s odds a great deal is if several draft-eligible players decide to return to LSU, and two Tigers did just that yesterday. Linebacker Michael Divinity tweeted that he is coming back, as did long snapper Blake Ferguson. That’s certainly great news.

So to recap, here’s where LSU stands with potential early departures. So far, only CB Greedy Williams and DL Ed Alexander have announced that they’re going pro. Breiden Fehoko, Michael Divinity, and Blake Ferguson have said they’re returning. We expect CB Kristian Fulton to return, though no “official statement” has been made. That leaves DL Rashard Lawrence, OL Damien Lewis, and LB Devin White to monitor. Of course, White seems the most likely not to return since he’s a projected early first-round pick, but he keeps dropping signs that make you wonder. Yesterday he tweeted, “We were projected to finish 6-6. We held our heads high and went to work every day, we overcame a lot of obstacles and stayed to course, that was just the start of what @LSUfootball is about to be doing in the near future  #GeauxTigers” 

Turning to football recruiting, here are a couple of “new” names to keep in mind as LSU looks to complete its 2019 class: Defensive linemen Charles Moore and Jared Harrison-Hunte. Moore (6-4, 268, Louisville, Miss.) is not exactly a new name to Tiger Fans, but he’s one we haven’t written about in a while. He de-committed from Mississippi State on Monday and is expected to visit LSU, Tennessee, and possibly others before Signing Day. As for Harrison-Hunte (6-4, 286, Middle Village, New York), I was told yesterday that he’s someone LSU safeties coach Bill Busch is recruiting and that an official visit from him could be in the works.

Closing Tidbits:

In coaching carousel news, Ohio State has hired Michigans’s Greg Mattison as their defensive coordinator. That’s significant to LSU fans since Ohio State flew into Baton Rouge last week, presumably to speak to either Bill Busch or Corey Raymond for a position they now have apparently filled. 

• Last week I mentioned the tragic hunting accident that cost former LSU offensive lineman Matt Branch his left leg and nearly cost him his life. A lot of you have asked what exactly happened, and this article by the Clarion-Ledger provides the answer: 'His pants were just soaked in blood.' Hunter's leg amputated in Miss. after dog shoots him. Please continue to keep Matt in your prayers and do what you can to help. (Here’s his GoFundMe page.)

• Lastly, mark your calendar for LSU Baseball Fan Fest which is set for noon on Sunday, Jan. 27 at The Box. The event will provide fans with exclusive access to the baseball facilities and will include food, drinks, and the opportunity to meet the 2019 LSU Tigers, along with former players and coaches. Tickets are $30 for adults, $15 for children ages 6-12, and children under six will be admitted free. Here’s more information.

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