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Five Things LSU Needs To Do To Compete For the Title in 2016
Better QB Play
The first seven games of the regular season gave Tiger fans a glimpse of what LSU’s offense can be with a dominant rushing game and capable passing game. Through those games, Brandon Harris demonstrated poise as he racked up some pretty impressive stats (completed 59 percent of his passes, threw for 1,098 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions). Of course, what most remember more than his hot start is Harris’ decline in the final four games of the season, during which he threw five interceptions and only three touchdowns. Several factors contributed to the decline: Better competition, offensive line injuries, Dillon Gordon's injury affecting the running game and a sports hernia that had to be at least a minor hindrance. Still, all excuses aside, the Tigers must get better quarterback play than they did in 2015, whether from Harris or someone else. I’ve been hearing positive things about Purdue transfer David Etling who will be eligible this year after sitting out last season.
Diversity & Creativity on Offense
With 30 yards on 16 carries, Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin didn't continue running at Clemson's defense with a “we're going to run it until it works” mentality. Instead, creativity provided championship-winning plays for the Tide. One example that comes to mind is a 2nd-and-13 call with Alabama leading 38-33 late in the fourth quarter. With roughly four minutes to go, instead of trying to continue to milk the clock, Kiffin called for a short tight end pass that O.J. Howard turned into a huge gain to put Alabama deep in Clemson territory. From there, it was all Alabama. LSU has the caliber of athletes to do the same thing. Alabama's strength will always be its ground-and-pound game, but that doesn't mean they're one-dimensional about it. Diversity and creativity goes a long way in making Alabama hard to defend, and with a little more of those two elements LSU can be just as hard to stop.
Defense restored to its Glory Days
While this might be a gigantic task, it’s very plausible given the resources LSU’s defense has in 2016. For starters, the brightest young defensive coordinator in the game, Dave Aranda, is bringing the knowledge he used to produce a defense that allowed 16.9 points per game in his three-years as Wisconsin's DC (ranks second nationally). That’s an awful lot better than the 24.3 points per game LSU allowed last year in Kevin Steele’s first and only season as DC. Mix Aranda’s brilliant pass rushing philosophy with a returning defensive line, a seasoned secondary and quite possibly a linebacker unit being led again by Kendell Beckwith (fingers crossed) and you’ve got a recipe for a championship defense. Defense wins championships, and at LSU, the Tigers have the ingredients to produce a championship-level unit.
Special Special Teams
Again reflecting on the national championship days ago, one play that altered the course of the game was a special teams call that gave Alabama the ball on an onside kick. Tied at 24, Alabama fooled Clemson and perfectly executed the onside kick to give the Tide the football near the 50-yard line. It was so pretty even Nick Saban had to smile. What was missing most in 2015 for the LSU Tigers? Game-changing special teams play. From booming punts that altered field position to electric touchdown returns in big games, the Tigers’ special teams were sorely lacking in 2015. For the Tigers to contend for a title, they must put the “special” back in special teams.
The last time LSU beat Alabama just so happened to be the last time LSU reached the national title game. It’s been five long years since that 2011 contest, but things are setting up nicely for a Tiger win in 2016. LSU could return as many as 18 starters (if Beckwith and White return) including starting quarterback Harris and the best running back in the nation in Leonard Fournette. Alabama, on the other hand, will be without at least nine starters on defense, without Jake Coker at quarterback, and without Heisman winner Derrick Henry at running back. Plus, LSU gets Bama at home. This could very well be LSU's year.
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