Tuesday, September 1, 2009

CFI Countdown: #6 LSU Tigers

2008 Record: 8-5 (SEC 3-5)
Bowl Game: Won Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Georgia Tech 38-3
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Stadium: Tiger Stadium (94,000)
Head Coach: Les Miles
Overall: 70-32 (9th season)
@ LSU: 42-11 (5th season)
Link to LSU Football Page

We saw two different packs of LSU Tigers last season. One group went 8-5 in the regular season, including 3-5 in SEC play. That’s quite a drop-off from Les Miles’ first three seasons in the Bayou when the Bengals totaled 34 wins and won a BCS Title. Then there was the group that showed up for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and took it to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Which group will we see in 2009?

When the Tigers Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Gary Crowton (3rd season)
Scheme: Multiple Sets
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: WR Demetrius Byrd, OG Herman Johnson, C Brett Helms, FB Quinn Johnson

One of the major reasons LSU failed to reach their pre-season expectations was the inconsistent to poor play they received from the quarterback position. Neither Jarrett Lee nor Jordan Jefferson was ready for primetime as freshmen, although Jefferson impressed in the bowl game and appears to be primed for a breakout season. Jefferson still has progress to make as a passer, but his ability to run the football brings an added dimension to the offense. The most talented signal caller on the roster figures to be true freshman Russell Shepard, who is expected to take the field at some point this season. No matter who lines up at quarterback, LSU will be riding Chuck the Truck, senior tailback Charles Scott. He is a bruising between-the-tackles runner who figures to carry the workload in deep backfield. Fellow senior Keiland Williams provides quality depth and could start for many programs, while champion sprinter Trindon Holliday serves as the ultimate change of pace back and junior Richard Murphy is a very talented fourth stringer. They will be doing a lot of their running behind left tackle Ciron Black, one of the best in the nation, who returns to lead a very strong front five, although Brett Helms must be replaced at center. If the quarterback play is up to par, there’s more than enough talent at receiver for the Tigers to put up big numbers offensively. Brandon LaFell is arguably the top senior wide receiver, while junior Terrance Toliver hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of his talent. Senior Chris Mitchell is a solid backup, with freshmen Chris Tolliver and Rueben Randle ones to watch. Somewhat overlooked is senior tight end Ed Dickson, who figures to play a key role in both the rushing and passing attacks.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) WR Brandon LaFell (SR), 2) RB Charles Scott (SR), 3) Terrence Toliver (JR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: John Chavis (1st season)
Scheme: Multiple 4-3
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: DE Tyson Jackson, DT Marlon Favorite, LB Darry Beckwith, DT Ricky Jean-Francois, S Curtis Taylor

Not many teams have the type of quality or quantity that the Tigers do in the defensive backfield. Cornerback Chris Hawkins is a solid senior and sophomore Patrick Peterson possesses All-American type potential. The same could be said for junior free safety Chad Jones and sophomore strong safety Karnell Hatcher. Jones just oozes with talent with his great size/speed combo and there are high hopes for Hatcher, as well as fellow sophomore Ron Brooks. Senior Danny McCray expects to see a lot of playing time in a reserve role, just as he has the past two seasons. The top backup corner is Jai Eugene, who started last season as a sophomore. They lose a lot up front, but the cupboard isn’t empty. Senior end Rahim Alem came off the bench in 2008 and was a productive pass rusher—this season he will be asked to play a bigger role. Senior tackle Charles Alexander also provides experience, while Al Woods, also a senior, is still waiting to fulfill his potential. Woods is one of the more talented interior linemen but has been merely a tease to this point. Several young players will compete for playing time behind the starters. There is no lack of experience at linebacker where seniors Perry Riley and Jacob Cutrera, as well as junior Kelvin Sheppard all return. Former safety senior Harry Coleman will see time as a backup backer and in a new hybrid position the Tigers are developing. Defensive coordinator John Chavis was a good hire and should play a role in improving the defense in 2009.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) CB Patrick Peterson (SO), 2) FS Chad Jones (JR), 3) DE Raheem Alem (SR)

The Schedule

With Vanderbilt the only 2008 bowl team on the September docket, many of the cubs should be ready to play like Tigers when the heart of the schedule rolls around. They begin October with a trip to Georgia followed by home games against Florida and Auburn. In November they must take on SEC West favorites Alabama and Ole Miss—both on the road—making a West crown and trip to the SEC Championship game a tall task.

Pivotal Point

As a whole they must play to their potential, and nowhere is that more important than the quarterback position. Sophomores Lee and Jefferson, as well as freshman Shepard were all highly recruited. Not only did Lee and Jefferson fail to reach the productivity level of many of their predecessors, their mistakes were often the difference between winning and losing in 2008. Lee in particular made numerous costly errors, including seven interceptions returned for touchdowns—simply an astounding number. Lee owns a big time arm and Jefferson brings athleticism—each should be capable of doing the job in the SEC… if they can hold off Shepard.

CFI Final Analysis

It’s unfair to put all the blame on the quarterback play for last year’s disappointing five-loss season. Too often if appeared the defense thought all they had to do was show up and the opposition would roll over. How else do you explain allowing 31 points or more five times, including 51 by Florida and 52 by Georgia? They gave up more than 30 points three times in 2007, but only once in regulation. If the defense can bounce back under Chavis it will take heat off the quarterback and put the Bayou Bengals right in the mix along with ‘Bama and Ole Miss for the West crown.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies
#8 Georgia Bulldogs
#7 USC Trojans

Photos Courtesy of SEC Sports Media, Steve Franz/LSU Sports Information