Catch up on previous 2020 opponent previews!
Winning championships is incredibly difficult but winning multiple times is damn near impossible.
As college football fans we’ve been spoiled by the unprecedented dual hegemony of Alabama and Clemson and how reliably they’ve been able to win it all and then turn around and do it again (or at least challenge for it). Even in a sport where only 12(ish) of the 130+ programs have a shot at the title, the fact that the Tide and Tigers are able to do what they’ve done has rarely been seen in history.
So it’s pretty awesome that LSU went full-on Mongol horde and laid waste to the college football landscape with a blistering assault of points. They also probably won’t do it again this year.
There are a couple of reasons I believe this. First, let’s go with the fact that LSU lost 20 guys from the 2019 roster to the NFL. Yes, you read that correctly. TWENTY. They set a record by having 14 of their players drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft and another six signed free agent contracts. LSU recruits well, but losing 20 NFL-caliber players is tough to overcome.
Second, between dismissals, transfers, and a few opting to sit out the 2020 COVID season, the Tigers lost an additional 11 players from their 2019 roster. That means that 31 players who suited up in 2019 will not be there in 2020, leaving 49 scholarship players - two of which are the kicker and punter - that have FBS playing experience. Overall, they currently have 73 scholarship players for 2020 which - as we know from the fallout of our sanctions - is quite a bit less than the usual allotment of 85. It would be a good year to be a walk-on at LSU; there’s plenty of schollys to hand out!
Finally, let’s pay homage to The Godfather Bill C.’s returning production metric, looking at what kind of production returns from last year’s team. And it’s....bad. As in, “4th worst in the country” bad. The 31 guys they lost attributed to 58% of the team’s total production, meaning they bring back just 42% of 2019’s production - 30% of the offense (128th), 54% of the defense (92nd).
But hey, they’re still the defending champs, they still recruit at an elite level, and will still be ready to wreck shop just like they did last year.
Speaking of last year, here’s the body count of LSU’s 2019 warpath:
They had two close calls in a row against Auburn and Alabama, but outside of them and Texas in the second game of the year, no one came close.
LSU performed at the 90th percentile or higher in eleven games, five of which were the last five games of the year, which includes three of the top four teams in the country. Auburn was the only team to limit them offensively, and while the defense had three hiccups against Florida, Bama, and Ole Miss, also found a higher gear as the year went on.
They might not ever come close to matching that type of domination, but damn if it wasn’t fun to watch.
Ed Orgeron - 4th Year - 34-7 (19-5)
Imagine, if you will, that your ultimate success or failure as an individual hinges on you being able to intelligibly take instruction from Ed Orgeron over a Zoom call.
You know, the guy who sounds like this...
...on a notoriously finicky video service, run by a 60-year old Cajun man who you would totally believe has never been on the internet in his entire life.
I love “DaCoachO” and his players love him, too. And that statement has seemingly been true since he started as a strength coach in Arkansas in ‘96. The effect that he has on his players creates loyalty once they are on the team, but also an instant chemistry on the recruiting trail that gets them on campus in the first place. Orgeron developed his recruiting chops while compiling countless NFL talents in Miami at The U. Ed O was a vital piece of the USC juggernaut in the early aughts, recruiting multiple #1 classes for Pete Carroll’s Trojan war machine. And while his first run at the head coaching gig was an outright disaster at Ole Miss, his second-stint rebound with USC coincided with two spikes in improvement, nearly earning the head position once Lane Kiffin was fired. And once he made the trek to LSU and Les Miles was fired...the rest was history.
Steve Ensminger - Offensive Coordinator: Ensminger is a former LSU quarterback from the late 70s. He had a super brief NFL stint before getting into coaching, almost exclusively coaching quarterbacks and coordinating offenses. In the past he hasn’t been very creative or effective, but with some help, he had an incredible year in 2019. He returns, while his advisor does not, so it’ll be really interesting to see how much of last year’s playbook he keeps.
Bo Pelini - Defensive Coordinator: you remember this guy, right? The former Cornhusker head man and cat afficianado was fired by Nebraska for never winning a conference championship, losing 4 games every year, and being a jerk that was difficult to work with. Nebraska has been in a black hole since his firing, and while he did bring FCS Youngstown State to the Playoff in 2016, he regressed to 6-5, 4-7, and 6-6 the last three years. He does have prior experience on Nick Saban’s LSU staff, and Ed O found him worth a hire. Pelini had his fair amount of issues at Youngstown State as well, so it’ll be curious to see if he can keep the templer and poor decisions to a minimum.
Greg McMahon - Special Teams Coordinator
Scott Linehan - Passing Game Coordinator: When Orgeron was compiling his 2019 staff, he wanted to bring in a young offensive guy with experience working in more complex NFL passing schemes. So he hired a 29-year old offensive assistant from the New Orleans Saints, Joe Brady, to introduce the Sean Payton/Drew Brees style of passing to the LSU offense. Obviously, it worked wonders. So much so that Brady is now the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. So Ed wanted to try and catch lightning in a bottle again by hiring another offensive mind from the NFL. Except, this time, he hired an offensive coordinator with a terrible track record in Linehan. We’ll see if Linehan can bring the same eye and approach that Brady did, but I find it hard to believe that the impact will be the same that Brady had on their magical 2019.
Kevin Faulk - Running Backs
Mickey Joseph - Wide Receivers
James Cregg - Offensive Line
Bill Johnson - Defensive Line
Corey Raymond - Cornerbacks
Bill Busch - Safeties
LSU’s 2019 offense wasn’t the greatest ever but it was certainly one of the greatest of all time. For the season, they were 3rd in both rushing and passing, 1st in executing on standard downs, 4th in passing downs, 1st in success rate, 1st in passing completion rate...they had their runs stuffed at a normal rate and gave up some sacks on standard downs, but otherwise, they were untouchable. Without the Joes (Burrow and Brady), it’ll be interesting to see how this offense is called and executed, but they still have all the talent in the world to work with.
Quarterback - Myles Brennan - Redshirt Junior
It always sucks to be “the guy after THE GUY,” especially when said guy is the school’s first Heisman winner in 60 years, torched almost every offensive record possible, brought home a National Championship, and became the first pick in the NFL draft. Myles Brennan is no slouch though; he is the state of Mississippi’s all-time leader in passing yards in the high school ranks and was a 4-star prospect in his own right. He’s spent three years in the wings, learning the offense and getting experience along the way. Regardless of the quality of offense that is called this year, Brennan should be more than adequately prepared to run it.
Running Back - Tyrion Davis-Price - Sophomore
Clyde Edwards-Helaire commanded almost every single carry that Joe Burrow didn’t have, but TDP did get some quality experience last year. He had decent opportunity and success rates in his small sample size, but will ask to be more of an asset for the less mobile Myles Brennan. Fellow freshman backs John Emery and Chris Curry had some bright moments last year — especially Curry when he filled in for Edwards-Helaire against Oklahoma — but expect to see all three this year.
Wide Receiver - Ja’Marr Chase - Junior
Chase and Jordan Jefferson were LSU’s do-everything receivers a year ago, with each going over 1,500 yards receiving and combining for 38 touchdowns. For comparison, Missouri’s entire offense combined for 29 touchdowns. Chase returns for 2020 after winning the Biletnikoff as the country’s best receiver, and now Terrace Marshall will be pushed into the spotlight as the team’s No. 2 wideout. With the chance to push to become a first-round draft pick, Marshall should have a huge season again in 2020. Oh, and LSU is also bringing in 10 blue-chip receivers of the freshman-variety, so they’ll be plenty of talent and athleticism to fill in the gaps.
Compared to the offense, the LSU defense was down right human. Ranking 20th overall, LSU excelled at clogging passing lanes and shutting down offenses on passing downs but weren’t nearly as reliable against the run. Bo Pelini was known to feature a similar type of defense in his days at Nebraska, but will be lacking the pass rush that he was used to deploying when he was with the Huskers. A switch to a 4-3 with almost exclusive 3-4 personnel is an interesting choice but, with so few returners on the defense, now is a good time to make that type of change. But just like the offense, the defense will field a ton of athleticism which should be enough to carry them through most games.
Defensive Line - Tyler Shelvin - Junior
You can kind of get the sense of Shelvin’s mass in the photo above, but the dude is 6’3” and 346 pounds. Remember Josh Augusta? He’s basically an inch shorter and about 16 pounds lighter. But also way more productive than Augusta ever was, logging 26 tackles and 3 tackles for loss in 2019. The interior line should be set, even with a move out of Dave Aranda’s 3-4 and into Pelini’s 4-3, as they return four talented guys who already command the two-deep. But the outside is where the questions are. Orgeron has mentioned six different guys who have looked good replacing K’Lavon Chaisson, but a.) of course he says that, and b.) when you mention six different guys without ever repeating a previous guy, that’s a bit concerning. I’m sure they’ll have a super talented guy wreck shop eventually, but three games into the season? Might still be an issue.
Linebacker - Damone Clark - Junior
The Tigers added Micah Baskerville from North Dakota State to the linebacking corps, giving them two experienced, talented guys to man the new 3-man linebacking depth chart. Clark will miss his friends in the NFL - Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips - but was a sound tackler throughout the year. Early reports out of camp are that Clark and Baskerville have been excellent together.
Defensive Back - JaCoby Stevens - Senior
Stevens headlines a talented secondary along with freshman phenom Derek Stingley Jr. and Cordale Flott. LSU was willing to give up explosive plays over the top while making sure to erase shorter passes; it worked with last year’s personnel so it’ll be interesting to see how Pelini deploys these guys in 2020. There is a lot of experience behind those three - and of course lots of talent coming in - but Pelini made a defensive name at Nebraska by using tons of DBs to cloud passing lanes while the d-line got pressure on their own. Does he replicate that with even better talent at LSU?
So what does it all mean?
...So we’ll probably lose. But I do think the Good Guy Tigers could win one or two in a ten game series.
LSU’s talent is going to be much deeper than Missouri’s, but they’re missing the juice that made the offense so effective last year. And a defense that was killer against the pass breaks in some new pieces while the linebackers push up last year’s backups. The LSU roster is thinner than usual, so if COVID forces some depth to come up and play unexpectedly...maybe Missouri can capitalize?
Playing in a near-empty Death Valley will be super interesting to see, but much like Alabama, I just want to see the young guys compete against a more talented roster. If you can’t win the game at least see individuals win their matchups and hang with the defending champs for a few quarters.