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Eight Reasons to be Optimistic About LSU Football
Matt Canada – Master of Disguise
Sure, there are some legitimate concerns about LSU’s offense, but I think it’s safe to say that Matt Canada’s unpredictability will offset many of them. Instead of running a predictable offense that requires one or two check-reads on defense, Canada’s schemes utilize steady movement to keep defenses wondering what the heck is coming next. A great demonstration of this can be found in this YouTube video, which illustrates the shifts involved with a typical Matt Canada offense. The constant movements and re-alignments keep opposing defenses on their heels, and changes to tempo make it even harder for defensive coordinators to combat, a fact Dave Aranda has attested to since going up against his Tiger counterparts under Canada’s direction. There’s a simple reason why Canada averaged more than 40 points per game and 447 total yards in his one-year stint at Pittsburgh last year — his offensive strategy keeps the defense guessing. After years of relatively predictable LSU offenses, I suspect that will be a welcome change.
Perhaps an even bigger reason to be excited about LSU this season is the brilliant mind of Dave Aranda. At a recent TAF Tiger Tour event, Coach Orgeron called Aranda the smartest coach he’s ever worked with and suggested that he has the ability to watch all 22 players at one time and make adjustments on the sideline based on what he sees. To do that in the heat of the battle is pretty remarkable. Of course, you don’t need anyone to tell you how remarkable Aranda is. Last year’s numbers speak for themselves. In his first year as LSU’s defensive coordinator, Aranda limited opponents to less than 16 points per game, kept the Crimson Tide scoreless through three quarters, and virtually shutdown Louisville’s Heisman quarterback, Lamar Jackson. All this begs the question: What will the mastermind be able to do in his second year with a much deeper defensive line complimented by pass rushers like Arden Key and potential superstar K’Lavon Chiasson? Of course, Aranda will face the stiff challenge of replacing Kendell Beckwith at linebacker and Jamal Adams and TréDavious White in the secondary. The good news, though, is that LSU has recruited extremely well in both areas, giving Aranda numerous young and talented Tigers to take up the task.
Rougarou* and Friends
Given Ed Alexander’s nickname — The Rougarou* — there was only one Power 5 University he was fit for. With his presence and the presence of many others, LSU should have immense defensive line depth. That’s typically a recipe for success. No other position outside of running back returns this much experience. Presumed starters Greg Gilmore (nose tackle) and Christian LaCouture (defensive end) have played in a combined 65 games in their career. LaCouture returns from a season-ending injury last season and had 35 tackles as a junior two years ago. Add fellow projected starter Rashard Lawrence to the mix, and LSU has a three-man unit ideally suited to battle the elite offensive lines of the conference. And when you look behind them, there is little to no drop-off. Alexander will serve as Gilmore’s replacement in the middle, while veteran Frank Herron will serve as a key reserve at defensive end, that is if he doesn’t beat him out for the starting role. After hearing Coach Orgeron rave about Herron following Saturday’s scrimmage, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start ahead of LaCouture.
Adding to the Tigers’ depth at the position are redshirt freshman Glen Logan and senior Deondre Clark, as well as four freshmen who were added to the mix in the latest signing class. These include Neil Farrell Jr., Justin Thomas, and Aaron Moffitt. The wild card of the class remains Tyler Shelvin, who has shed about 50 pounds in preparation for the season and is said to be in great condition at around 330 pounds. As reported earlier, Shelvin is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse. His arrival would be the icing on the cake for what is primed to be a stellar defensive line unit.
*The “rougarou,” also known as the “loup-garou,” is a large, mythical werewolf-like creature said to prowl the swamps of Cajun country. A somewhat fitting nickname for the 6-foot-3, 339-pound Louisiana native, isn’t it?
More Bang for the Buck
Another positive that has somewhat of a cloud around it currently is the status of LSU’s linebackers. When you combine the departures of Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley with the uncertainty of Arden Key’s health, this position can easily draw pessimistic views. Look beyond that. Whether Key is back in action by the start of the season or not, he should be the same game-changing playmaker he was a season ago when he returns. And while he’s out, LSU has other talented players like K’Lavon Chaisson, Ray Thornton, and André Anthony developing experience at the Buck position. One of the most exciting wrinkles to Dave Aranda’s defense this season is that the Buck and the F (both outside linebacker positions) will be interchangeable. That means that when Key is healthy, there’s a possibility he could play opposite of Chiasson, who Ed Orgeron has raved about since his arrival. Other names to keep an eye on at the outside linebacker positions are sixth-year senior Corey Thompson, Michael Divinity, Devin Voorhies, Sci Martin, and MJ Patterson.
As far as replacing Beckwith in the middle, Devin White is in line to do so and seems poised for a huge season. (Check out this pic.) As a freshman, White was phenomenal as Beckwith’s backup and earned Freshman All-SEC honors for his 30 tackles and three tackles for loss. Standing next to him at inside linebacker will likely be Donnie Alexander, who has packed on more muscle and is up to 230 pounds. As Orgeron has said this summer, you can’t call him “Little Donnie” anymore. Like White last year, LSU could see numerous freshmen contribute to the linebacker corps this season. In what was a stellar class, freshmen Tyler Taylor, Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips should all vie for an opportunity to see the field this season. This linebacker corps has experience and depth, but most of all, the athleticism required to make Aranda’s defense thrive.
Pondering the possibilities of LSU’s new hybrid fullback/tight end position (sometimes referred to as the F-back or H-back) can be downright exhilarating. For years, we’ve talked about the possibilities of LSU’s tight ends and how they could impact LSU’s offense only to see the tight ends used in a minimal capacity. Now, with this hybrid back, fullbacks and tight ends are merging as one. And they’re literally doing just about everything. Canada asks this position to block, motion frequently (no surprise there), run routes out of the backfield and carry the ball on speed sweeps among other things. Players that will fill this role have to be versatile, which is why stellar athlete David Ducré seems to be a perfect candidate for the role. However, players like J.D. Moore and Foster Moreau will likely start at the position, as they are the most experienced of the bunch and should be explosive weapons in Canada’s offense. Like wide receiver, LSU will have plenty of options behind these guys. Bry’Kiethon Mouton proved himself to be a valuable fullback last season, while 6’6" Jacory Washington and 6’7" Jamal Pettigrew have the height to impact the passing game. Given the collection of different skill sets, this hybrid position will give a creative offensive mind like Canada several options for adding intricate wrinkles and make this Tiger offense all the more different than any we’ve seen in the past.
Short on experience, but tall on talent
Speaking of the passing game, Tiger fans can take solace in knowing that while LSU’s wide receiver corps may be short on experience, it’s awfully tall on talent (and extremely tall in stature as well.) We all know that senior DJ Chark is an ideal candidate to excel in Canada’s revamped offense, which is reason for optimism in itself, but there are several other receivers poised to have breakout seasons as well. One name that’s been thrown around a lot this summer is Drake Davis, who certainly looks the part. At 6’4”, 218 pounds, Davis came to LSU as a 4-star athlete from IMG with offers from elite programs across the country. His size and speed should make him a prominent fixture in the lineup, and the same could be said for 6-foot-6 wideouts, Stephen Sullivan and Dee Anderson. Those three soaring sophomores are joined by the very athletic senior Russell Gage, who recorded a handful of receptions last season after spending his first two seasons as a defensive back. Other playmakers to look out for are speedster Derrick Dillon, who could play a vital role in the return game, and newly dubbed wide receiver JaCoby Stevens. Stevens, a former 5-star athlete who has experience playing wide receiver in high school and will be an immediate threat from the get-go. The unit also added two speedy in-state prospects in Mannie Netherly and Racey McMath, so the choices of athletes for Canada are plentiful. Sure, this unit is largely unproven, but with its mix of talent and height, it could very well end up being a strength of this team.
Pardon the pun, but senior quarterback Danny Etling returns to the offense with a much healthier back after undergoing an offseason procedure, and the word is he’s better than ever. Because media members haven’t had a chance to watch him throw, it still remains unknown as to whether Etling has more zip on his throws. At SEC Media Days, D.J. Chark admitted he was caught off guard by Etling’s arm strength in throwing drills, suggesting he can put more power into his throws. With Etling back at quarterback, a few questions come to mind. Will his arm strength be significantly better as players have suggested? How will Matt Canada’s offense benefit him? Will Etling get revenge on Alabama? That last one is particularly interesting since Etling is the first quarterback to get a second chance at Alabama since Zach Mettenberger did in 2013. Etling returns after recording 2,123 passing yards and 11 passing touchdowns. We suspect his improved health and an unpredictable offense will help those numbers grow immensely.
Guice is Nice!
“Guice is nice” has a good ring to it, and he might be a nice guy, but man does he run angry. Showcased in his ability to rip through tackles and tiptoe on the sidelines, Derrius Guice is one of the nation’s best running backs. Obviously, he will be featured heavily in Matt Canada’s new offense and that in itself is a huge reason for optimism.
During LSU’s TAF Tiger Tour, Coach Orgeron spoke about Canada’s new offense and how he ran a play that had one of LSU’s offensive lineman score a touchdown in a scrimmage. Orgeron joked with Canada, complimenting him on the creativity but suggesting he better give Guice the football or they’re both out of a job. Obviously, Guice will get more than his fair share of touches. At Pittsburgh last season, Canada gave ultra talented running back James Connor 216 carries to go along with his 21 receptions. With a back as fast, elusive and durable as Guice, you better believe he will have similar numbers in 2017. On an offense that will have new faces on the offensive line and at wide receiver, Guice is one of the few proven commodities on the unit. Last season, he led the SEC in rushing with 1,387 rushing yards. He also broke the single-game rushing record with 285 yards against Texas A&M. What do you think he will do now that he doesn’t have to share the backfield with a fellow Heisman favorite?
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