LSU Season Preview

05:00 August 22, 2014

Tigers Looking to Reload in 2014

 On an unseasonably cool and breezy south Louisiana summer night, LSU head coach Les Miles and his LSU Tiger's enjoyed a night away from football. No practice. No workouts. No game film. It was an evneing of bowling, putt-puut and fun for all. The team bonding event was the first of its kind for the 2014 team. It was a signal that not long from then Miles would lead the Purple and Gold out on the field for the tenth-straight season. 

 

As for the activities, Miles described his bowling game as “rusty is at least what I am” but managed to sink about a three-foot putt and celebrated like he had won the Open Championship. “I can’t help it. I can’t help it,” he proclaimed with his arms raised in the air. 


By the numbers, Miles’ resume is off the chart. He’s won 95 games in nine seasons in the toughest conference in college football. Since 2006, he’s had more players drafted to the NFL than any other college in the country. A national championship and two SEC title trophies sit not far from his office off of Skip Bertman Drive as well. But life in the SEC West ain’t easy. Watching Alabama and Auburn play for national titles the last two seasons can’t sit well in Miles’ stomach.    


Offensively, most of the players you remember from 2013 are making money playing football now. Five starters were drafted, including impact players like Jeremy Hill (led the team in scoring), Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Polished, pocket-passing quarterback Zach Mettenberger is finally using his NFL arm in the NFL. Think about this: LSU had a 1,000-yard rusher, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 3,000-yard passer on the field at the same time and they finished third (5-3) in the Western Division. Heading into 2014, the most-experienced returning pass catching option is Travis Dickson. That says a ton. Dickson has hauled in a whopping 12 receptions in his career.  The next highest is sophomore Travin Dural with seven. True freshmen Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn have a shot to play quickly at receiver. The good news: of the six returning starters on offense, four of them are on the offensive line. “La' el Collins and Jerald Hawkins will be two of the finest tackles in our league.  We'll be veteran at the guards and at the center.  It should give the opportunity for that offense to continue up and down the field,” Miles said. 


 Expect a heavy dose of the run game early and often. That, at least, would give the quarterback a little room to develop and protect the team from mistakes (see: 2008). Whether it’s sophomore Anthony Jennings or true freshman Brandon Harris LSU will be starting a first-year quarterback in the toughest conference in college football. There’s no telling who will play or how often. Given Miles’ history, it’s likely it will be both. Miles loves having two options to use behind center and Jennings and Harris will both get their opportunity this fall.  New Orleans native Leonard Fournette enters the season with the most hype of any player on the roster. Some consider Fournette the best running back to come out of high school since Adrian Peterson.
 If that wasn’t enough, check out this quote from Les Miles at SEC Media Days in July: “He expects himself to be something very special.  I think if you look at Michael Jordan, he could not have been coached to be Michael Jordan.  Michael Jordan accepted the role of expecting him to be better than any.” My goodness, that’s big expectations to hold to kid who hasn’t played a snap of collegiate football. Luckily for Fournette, he won’t have to carry the entire load. LSU returns two seniors, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, at the running back position to help.    


Defensively, the unit is more experienced than the offense. I should have said it earlier, but I wanted to wait to this section to do it: that third-place finish in the SEC West was more because of LSU’s defense than those record-breaking offensive numbers. It wasn’t defensive coordinator John Chavis’ finest group by far. That unit didn’t lose nearly the pieces the offense did either. Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are back at end. Some predict Hunter to be a high NFL draft pick next after the season and Rasco has shown some flashes when healthy. At tackle, Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas will lead a group with little experience behind them. Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain and Frank Herron all took a redshirt last season but they’ll be needed. Chavis loves having physical, athletic linebackers and he’ll love this year’s group. Lamar Louis, D.J. Welter and Kwon Alexander should provide a solid starting “middle three.” There’s depth, too. Kendall Beckwith, Deion Jones and Duke Riley all played valuable minutes last season. “We're going to have speed and ability there.  When you change the formation, that linebacking corps is challenged.  That will be a great group for us,” Miles said. 


Most teams who start a pair of sophomores at the cornerback spot in college football are in trouble. Not LSU, they’ve got two of the best. Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson look to build on solid freshman campaigns where they proved they could play as young Tigers by playing in a combined 25 games. Fellow cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Ed Paris, a true freshman, will be needed in four- and five- wide receiver sets from the offense. The safety situation is hard to figure out. There are a lot of guys with experience but no one has taken a firm hold at the strong or free safety positions. Jalen Mills made the transition to safety during the 2013 season. But, off the field, legal trouble likely has him in Miles’ doghouse. Mills was suspended indefinitely when this article was published. He’ll likely be the starter if he can get that behind him. And that secondary could use his knowledge of the defense after starting every game (26) of his college career. The junior has five interceptions and 124 tackles in his career so far. Ronald Martin, Rickey Jefferson, Corey Thomson and Dwayne Thomas will have their shot to shine. The fall camp will be filled with completion for playing time at safety. Don’t count out true freshmen Jamal Adams and John Battle either, two new faces that Miles has indicated will play early in their LSU career. 

Special Teams 
Colby Delahousaye will handle the kickoffs, field goals and extra points. As a freshman, he set the LSU record for successful field goals to open a career with nine straight. He finished the season making 13 of his 14 attempts. Jamie Keehn is back as the Tigers punter. With LSU leading the nation in third-down conversion percentage, Keehn didn’t have to punt much in 2013. 2014 could be a much busier for the Australian native who averaged 41 yards a punt last year.  “We will have the style of returners that LSU will be comfortable with. Jamal Adams, Tre'Davious White, to name a few. Terrence Magee will return on kickoffs,” Miles announced at SEC Media Days in July.


The schedule is tough. It always is in the SEC. But adding a neutral-site game against national title contender Wisconsin makes it tougher. Much tougher than a three-foot putt on a beautiful summer night. 

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