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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Opponent preview: LSU

We keep the preview train a-rollin' with a trip to the bayou for a game against LSU.

If you missed a previous post, click on any of the following links to go back and read them: Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Ball State, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky.

And as usual, follow the War Eagle Extra on Twitter here for even quicker updates once practice starts.

Louisiana State Tigers
  • Head coach: Les Miles (5th season at LSU, 42-11; 9th season overall, 70-32 at Oklahoma State and LSU)
  • 2008 record: 8-5 (3-5 SEC, 3rd West), beat Georgia Tech 38-3 in Chick-fil-A Bowl
  • Returning starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
  • Total offense: 368.1 (5th SEC, 55th nationally)
  • Total defense: 325.5 (9th SEC, 32nd nationally)
  • Series: LSU leads 23-19-1
  • Last meeting: LSU won 21-16 last year at Jordan-Hare
  • Consensus prediction: Second in the SEC West
Five-week schedule glimpse
  • Oct. 10: Florida
  • Oct. 17: Bye
  • Oct. 24: Auburn
  • Oct. 31: Tulane
  • Nov. 7: at Alabama
LSU took a major step back after winning the national championship in 2007. The Tigers, who had gone 34-6 the previous three years, went 8-5 overall, with a 3-5 mark in the SEC. Quarterback was an issue all season, with three different players starting at least one game, but a normally dominant defense didn't live up to its billing as LSU lost three of five down the stretch. The Tigers saved face by thrashing Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but Miles overhauled the coaching staff in the offseason, hoping to breathe new life into the team.

To see if Miles will succeed on that front, I went to Randy Rosetta of The Advocate in Baton Rouge. You can read his work online here and follow all of The Advocate's LSU coverage here.

AB: Les Miles overhauled his defensive coaching staff following a disappointing 8-5 season in which the Tigers allowed 30 or more points on five different occasions. What kind of changes have defensive coordinator John Chavis and his assistants made?
RR: Schematically the defense will look very similar to last season and the year before under Bo Pellini. The difference in philosophy will be that Chavis and his staff won’t make situational changes as much if at all. Instead, Chavis’ philosophy seems to be to put his best 11 players on the field and trust them to make the stop whether it’s against the pass or run. Last season the defensive co-coordinator plan struggled because there was so much confusion with all the shuffling in and out to match up with what formation or tendencies the offense was showing. Now, the 11 players who start a series will stay on the field, period.
AB: LSU has always been known for its run-stuffing ways. After losing three starters on the defensive line, including defensive end Tyson Jackson, will the Tigers be able to be amongst the country's best at stopping the run again this year?
RR: As strange as it is to say LSU might actually be better and deeper up front this season despite the loss of the latest top-10 NFL draft pick in Jackson. Senior Rahim Alem is back as one of the best rush ends in the SEC and freshman Sam Montgomery projects as the next great LSU d-lineman and should have an impact right away. Lazarius “Pep” Livingston and redshirt freshmen Chancey Aghayere and Chase Clement are also cut from the same cloth. On the interior, Drake Nevis, Al Woods and sixth-year senior Charles Alexander are the kind of hole-pluggers who will force inside runs to the edges and give the ends and linebackers time and opportunity to make plays. So the long answer to the question is that the talent level is similar if not better and without the confusion of last season, LSU will re-emerge as one of the best rush defenses in the SEC.
AB: Jordan Jefferson established himself as the starter after finishing up last season strong and turning in a good spring. Is that starting status on solid footing or can someone like sophomore Jarrett Lee, who put up solid numbers after starting most of last year's games, or true freshman sensation Russell Shepard get into the mix once the season gets underway?
RR: Jefferson is the starter as practice opens and seems to be a very good fit in offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s offense because of his dual-threat capabilities. That said, Lee, despite his problems last year, started eight games and is much more in tune with SEC defenses than Jefferson. Lee is also much more of a threat in obvious passing situations, despite his penchant for interceptions — especially the seven that got returned for touchdowns. Shepard will definitely have a role in the offense at QB, running back and receiver and will likely be the wild tiger option should Crowton opt to use it. So Jefferson will have the ball in his hands more than anybody else, but don’t be surprised if Lee and Shepard both get some situational opportunities on a regular basis. If anything happens to Jefferson, Lee is the immediate backup.
AB: With Georgia's Knowshon Moreno and Alabama's Glen Coffee gone, Charles Scott is the premier running back in the league. Can he improve on the 1,174 rushing yards he put up last year and perhaps gain some national attention or will Miles opt to divvy up carries amongst a talented pool of tailbacks that is among the deepest in the SEC?
RR: As long as Scott is healthy, he will be the go-to back and get 20-25 carries a game (more in games when LSU is trying to gobble up clock), including most anything inside the 5-yard line when the Tigers need a low-risk touchdown. With Jefferson more of a dangerous running threat than Lee and Andrew Hatch were last season, Scott’s role might diminish slightly if Crowton and Miles decide to inject some option look. Keiland Williams, Richard Murphy and even 100-meters national champion Trindon Holliday are better suited for the option game. But Scott will get tons of chances to hammer away at opposing defenses and could nudge his numbers up to the 1,500-yard, 25-touchdown range as long as LSU stays in games and is not playing from behind.
AB: Miles had gone 33-6 in his first three seasons at LSU before last year's mediocre finish. The pessimist will say he's the benefactor from all the talent Nick Saban recruited to the Tigers before he left. The optimist will say that Miles has accomplished plenty on his own accord, with four bowl wins and a national title to his credit, one that came in his third year with the school. Will Miles be able to keep up LSU's string of success or was last year the first signs of a decline for the program under his watch?
RR: I think it’s too early to identify a decline, particularly since LSU’s last few recruiting classes have both been pegged as top-five or 10 classes. While last year was a rapid fall, it’s worth mentioning that LSU began the season without a quarterback who had taken a meaningful snap in a game after Ryan Perrilloux earned a one-way ticket to Jacksonville State with his off-field shenanigans in the afterglow of the 2007 national championship. LSU must play better defense to stay in the upper echelon of the SEC and nationally and the offseason restructuring of the staff seems to be an important step in that direction. If the Tigers get back to their stingy defensive ways that made them dominant this decade, they should round back into form over the next few years — with nine-, 10- or even 11-win seasons possible. If that doesn’t happen, then neither Miles nor Vince Lombardi or anybody in between has much of a shot to keep LSU on top.
NCAA '10 on PlayStation 3 says ... No. 14 LSU 24, Auburn 21. These two teams always play close games, and even the video game system knows that. A heart-breaker for Auburn, which ties things up on a John Douglas touchdown run midway through the third quarter, only to watch LSU's Josh Jasper make a 28-yard field goal a little bit later that proved to be the difference. Auburn actually leads 14-7 early after Kodi Burns throws for touchdowns to Ben Tate (75 yards) and Derek Winter (7 yards). With the running game stuffed, Burns finishes with 372 passing yards but three interceptions. Tim Hawthorne enjoys a 7-catch, 149-yard receiving day. But LSU is too much. Charles Scott rumbles for 134 rushing yards and a score. Jordan Jefferson throws for 278 yards and a score in the win. Auburn drops to 5-3 overall (3-2 SEC), with games against three ranked opponents -- Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama -- still to play.

Up next: Houston Nutt's and the Ole Miss Rebels come to Jordan-Hare for SEC West showdown.

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