Photos by LSU Sports
After finishing 8-4 last season, LSU’s football program will be looking to improve upon last year’s results. Finishing 8-4 is no easy task, especially in the SEC while playing against some of the best teams in the country, but it wasn’t enough to be at the top of the conference. Alabama finished last year’s season with an overall record of 14-1 and was a perfect 8-0 against teams in the SEC (LSU included).
Some of the biggest names on the team are departing, as the NFL took some of LSU’s best players in the draft earlier this year. The biggest and most recognizable of these names would be star running back Leonard Fournette, who was drafted in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The NFL draft also took five of LSU’s veteran wide receivers, as well as leaving them without some of their defensive stars like safety Jamal Adams, who was drafted by the New York Jets.
Ed Orgeron took over the head coaching job early on last season and changes are already taking place. He is now working alongside the new offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, who is looking to shake things up on offense with Orgeron. Les Miles’s shoes are a big pair to fill, no doubt. But with the departure of so many big names and the potential of some of the talented young players on the team, it’s as good a time as ever to gradually adapt the team to the style of play that Orgeron envisions.
New offensive coordinator Matt Canada will be leading the attack for LSU this season. Last season, he led Pitt’s offense, which was the only offense capable of beating Clemson—the defending national champions. Canada is expected to push LSU’s offense in a direction that will include more passing and more versatility overall.
While Canada and the rest of the offense will be looking to pass more with the help of senior quarterback Danny Etling, don’t take this to mean that they will abandon the run game or even use it much less at all. The impending loss of Leonard Fournette to the NFL raised some questions and concerns as to who would lead the rushing attack for LSU. But those questions were quickly answered last season when Derrius Guice stepped up to take over for Fournette. He rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 TDs, and averaged over seven yards per carry. LSU’s run game can continue to be a dominant force in the SEC with Guice in the backfield.
The biggest changes, however, will occur within the passing game. Quarterback Danny Etling already has experience working under Ed Orgeron and knows both the old style of play with which LSU is acquainted, as well as Orgeron’s slightly different approaches and goals. Etling may not win the Heisman Trophy, but he’s a solid signal caller who can get the job done when he’s needed.
The main concern on offense for the moment is the wide receiver corps. LSU lost their two best receivers, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, when they got drafted to the NFL this year. D.J. Chark has returned for his final season and will be the number one target for Danny Etling. Chark is an immensely talented receiver, but he’s going to need help from his other wide receivers and tight ends. Matt Canada will need to continue to rely heavily on the ground game and work on developing the young receivers and getting them to build chemistry before the season begins.
There was some uncertainty as to whether defensive lineman Christian LaCouture would return for his fifth season. He missed last season after suffering a fairly major knee injury, but has made a full recovery and will be returning to play his final college season for LSU. He will be moved from tackle to defensive end as the team makes some small changes to its front seven.
There was also some concern as to the possible return of the star linebacker/defensive end Arden Key. He led the SEC in sacks with slightly over one per game. There’s no guarantee of his return for the 2017 season, but he is expected to play despite not participating in spring practice due to personal reasons.
In the secondary, we have a lot to look forward to, but also a lot of rebuilding. It will be exciting to see how they do without Jamal Adams, Duke Riley, Tre’Davious White, and Kendell Beckwith. Many of their dependable stars left, but they have young players eager to fill their shoes with Donte Jackson, John Battle, and freshman JaCoby Stevens trying to prove themselves this season.
Ed Orgeron wants to be a bit more aggressive this season when it comes to special teams. He wants LSU’s special teams to be less pedestrian and less conservative, and understands the importance of aggressive plays like blocking kicks and going for gold on kick returns.
Freshman placekicker Connor Culp will be coming into his first year as a starter, and trusted punter Josh Growden will be returning after a season averaging over 40 yards a punt—quite an impressive number in college football.
A few players were banged up at the end of last season, but there are no existing injuries to cause any concern at the moment. The team is healthy and has a solid selection of young talent and potential, as well as weathered veterans to show them the ropes.
Barring any major injuries this offseason or during the 2017 season, it’s fair to slap a 9-3 predicted record on this upcoming season. If senior quarterback Danny Etling can step up and get the job done through the air, a 10-2 record is absolutely within the realm of possibility.