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March 31, 2013

LSU Spring Football - My Answers to Questions Posed by Chat Sports

Chat Sports recently graciously included me in a round table discussion about LSU Football that will feature several LSU Football bloggers.  I encourage you to go to Chat Sports to see the full discussion that will include several really qualified experts on LSU football as well as my opinion.  Below you will find my full answers to the questions that I answered for Chat Sports.

What does LSU need to do to beat Alabama in 2013?
Despite popular misperception, LSU is no underdog in what has become “The Game”.  Les Miles has been LSU’s head coach since the 2005-06 season and during his tenure LSU is 5-3 versus Alabama in the regular season.  Over the last eight years less than 10 points has determined the winner of the regular season matchup in all but one game (LSU beat Alabama 28-14 in 2006-07).  Understandably, perceptions of this matchup changed in the 2011-12.  Though LSU went undefeated during the regular season, the Tigers barely got out of Tuscaloosa with an overtime 9-6OT victory and got pummeled 21-0 in the post season rematch. Maybe “pummeled” is a bit strong considering that 15 of those 21 points were all earned via 5 field goals ranging from 23-44 yards.  The sole Alabama touchdown in the contest was made with less than 5-minutes left in the game and the extra point was missed.

All LSU needs to do to beat Alabama in 2013 is bring their “A” game, the entire game.  And remember last year’s game in which the Tide narrowly escaped defeat in the last 51-seconds of “The Game” on the only drive of the 4th quarter in which the Tide did not go three and out.

Who will emerge as the starting running back in 2013? And why?
If Alfred Blue is 100% by the beginning of the season, he will likely be the starting running back.  However, LSU will continue to likely rotate in several really good running backs.

When I was a student at LSU in the mid-1980s LSU had an exciting running back tandem of Dalton Hilliard and Gary James.  I think a similar “throwback/retro” running scheme with Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill would cause nightmares for opposing defenses and thrills for Tiger fans.

But, to answer your question, a healthy Alfred Blue and Jeremy Hill will most likely be the every down go to running backs that will trade off starting.  It is noteworthy that Hilliard and Terrence Magee have both had really good showings this spring and may end up with plenty of quality carries.

Going into the spring, what do you think is LSU’s biggest weakness? And what do they need to do to improve?
While LSU will have to continue to develop a stronger passing game and work very hard to maintain a stellar defense that will be missing key players from last year, offensive center is the biggest question mark coming from what we have learned this spring. 

The only center listed on LSU’s roster is Elliott Porter and he may not end up being the starting center.  LSU has worked a couple of other guys at center this spring including true freshman Ethan Pocic.  Quarterback-Center exchange is a notable problem coming from what we know of LSU’s most recent spring scrimmage. 

The good news is that LSU is loaded with really good offensive linemen and they have until the end of the summer to shore up a position that P.J. Lonergan aptly anchored the last few years.

Who will emerge as the star of the 2013 Tigers team?
2013 is the time for Zach Mettenberger to step up and prove his star value.  I think if Mettenberger can get the ball near Jarvis Landry, that the “Mettenberger to Landry” combo will provide plenty of highlight footage for TV watchers.  It is also easy to pick Hill or Hilliard as potential stars. 

Defensively, there is a real opportunity for a defensive lineman to step up.

Name one under the radar player who is going to have a breakout season in 2013.
Jermauria Rasco has made his presence known this spring and appears to be the most likely candidate.  Danielle Hunter may also fill that bill.  Both of these guys have been mentioned in the mainstream media as potential “breakout” guys and so maybe neither qualifies as truly “under the radar.”  So I will throw four more names in to the “under the radar breakout” category:

Deion Jones and Christian LaCouture on defense
Quantavius Leslie and John Diarse on offense

Deion Jones showed a real ability to knife into the backfield and disrupt thing in a couple of plays early last season and if he live up to those flashes of potential, we are talking “return of the honey badger” type fun.

LSU recruited true freshman Christian LaCouture out of the Nebraska cornfields of defensive blackshirt central; a place where in times past they used to grow big mean defensive linemen well, like corn.  During the spring LaCouture has shown he can play D-line at LSU from day one.  He will have to wait for his turn in the rotation but, if he plays like I think he can, he will see his time on the field increasing with each game.

Quantavius Leslie and John Diarse are wide receivers with some size and toughness.  I believe that Diarse, who is a true freshman, is a longer shot this year, but; I believe he will work his way into a key role at LSU before he graduates.  On the other hand, Quantavius Leslie is a 6’4” 190-lbs. junior college transfer wide receiver.  These factors point to a conclusion that would suggest LSU has brought in Leslie for an immediate need/impact.  LSU did miss having a solid receiver with Leslie’s size last year and Mettenberger will have lots of motivation to improve his passing game.  I have not heard a thing about Leslie.  For all I know he may not even be eligible to play next year but the question kind of begs a bit of gambling.

I could make the case for just about any LSU player to have a breakout season next year.  LSU is loaded with talent player and any one of those players could have a breakout season.  But, I couldn’t pick just one.  So those are my four not so long longshots.

Which true freshman will have the biggest impact in 2013?
Ethan Pocic will see a lot of time in LSU’s offensive line rotation and may end up being a four year starter at center.
Christian LaCouture will be an impact player in 2013 and may end up being counting in the ranks of the great defensive linemen from LSU before the end of his college career. 

August 13, 2012

LSU Defense Post Honey Badger

Playmakers like the Honey Badger don't just grow on trees.  Before a single snap has taken place this season Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu has disrupted college football.  Mathieu's dismissal has LSU scrambling to fill his position, school's like McNeese State dreaming of defensive dominance, and the AP preseason votes being recalled and recast.  How many individual players can boast that AP ballots for preseason rankings hinge on where they play?  There is no doubt, Tyrann Mathieu is an impact player.  But the fact is LSU will no longer have the services of the Honey Badger.  So, what does LSU's defense look like without the Honey Badger?

First, let's get some perspective.  As exciting as Tyrann Mathieu has been the last two years, he was just about to start only his third year at LSU.  In 2010 Mathieu had a spectacular Cotton Bowl but the top cornerbacks on the 2010 team were Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne.  Peterson was the impact player of 2010.  Peterson was the shutdown corner in college football in 2010 and as a punt returner, Peterson returned 26 punts for 418 yards and two touchdowns.  Peterson also set an LSU record with 932 kickoff return yards.  Claiborne was a bit of question mark at the beginning of 2010.  Remember, Claiborne was a converted wide receiver that had played quarterback at Fair Park High School only two years previously.  Everyone tested Claiborne in 2010 and that may have something to do with his stellar career and first round selection in the NFL draft.  My point is that as outstanding as Mathieu has been LSU had defensive backs before the Honey Badger and will continue to have great defensive backs step forward this year. 

Keeping that in mind, LSU's defense is way more than just great defensive backs.  Just starting his fourth year as LSU's defensive coordinator, John Chavis has established LSU as "Defense U" with the only other possible contender being SEC West rival Alabama.  The running for "Defense U" drops off significantly after LSU and Alabama. While still putting things into perspective, I should also mention that LSU is 75-18 in the last 7 years under the leadership of Les Miles.  75 wins in 7 years doesn't occur on the shoulders of one great impact player.

So with a little bit of perspective in mind, what are John "the Chief" Chavis and Les "the Mad Hatter" Miles going to do this season without Tyrann "the Honey Badger" Mathieu?  The rave reviews of Mathieu by Chavis and the look on Miles' face at having to announce Mathieu's dismissal tell us that the coaches are going to have to really go to work but this isn't their first rodeo.  It appears that LSU's defense may have more help from the offense this year.  Mettenberger promises to stretch the field with a long range passing game; LSU has 5 or 6 top notch running backs and the depth and; experience at offensive line should provide opportunities to pass and run.

When LSU is playing defense Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery will not be giving quarterbacks much time to figure out how to exploit a thinner defensive backfield.  Up until a couple of years ago the stars of LSU's defense was the defensive line.  The quality of LSU's defensive line hasn't changed.  LSU's D-line is still outstanding.  

The only possible question mark prior to the dismissal of Mathieu was the linebacker corp.  I think the linebackers are going to really shine this season.  Kevin Minter is a solid leader in the middle and may prove to be one of the truly great linebackers to play in Death Valley.  Lamin Barrow registered a sack in the scrimmage as an outside linebacker and I think he is a real candidate to take the "no holds barred"  beserker pass rush duties that Mathieu was famous for last year.  I think Barrow can produce sacks and turnovers.   

Miles mentioned that a linebacker that can cover might be the solution to the nickel package.  Interesting fact, according to 7 incoming freshmen defensive backs have been clocked a 4.4 or 4.5 seconds in 40-yards. Incoming linebackers Deion Jones, Kwon Alexander, and Lamar Louis are all 6' tall or taller, weigh at least 200lbs. and can run at least a 4.5 40.

In terms of replacing Mathieu at cornerback when not in the nickel, true freshman Jalen Mills has been getting a solid tryout and may split time with redshirt freshman Jalen Collins.  Both of these guys were already likely to see a lot of playing time prior to the Honey Badger's exit and the Jalens may have the opportunity that Morris Claiborne had in 2010 to prove that neither man is a weak link.  Speaking of the Morris Claiborne experience, LSU has just converted a fast "Mo Claiborne like" wide receiver to cornerback.  Keep an eye on Kavahra Holmes.  Holmes is 6'2" 180lbs and was clocked at 4.4seconds in the 40 by  As a converted wide receiver, Holmes also has good hands and knows how to catch a ball.  The same thought pattern made Morris Claiborne into the NFL caliber shutdown corner that he is today.  Moving Holmes to the defensive side of the ball is not a bad idea.  We may have to wait for next year for his time to come but, don't be surprised if Holmes becomes one of the future great LSU cornerbacks.

LSU is going to miss the Honey Badger.  Tyrann Mathieu was the key to several LSU wins last year.  But rest assure, LSU is not a one player team.  Talent runs deep on the bayou.  The void left by Mathieu will be filled.  

I remember a commercial a few years ago where different people would proclaimed "I am Tiger Woods."  The message of that commercial was that there is greatness in each of us.  I am looking forward to seeing LSU Tiger defenders step up this year and proclaim "I am the Honey Badger."  It will be exciting to see who steps up this year and creates turnovers and that spark that were the mark of a truly outstanding football player.  I truly wish Mr. Mathieu the best and look forward to seeing him in the NFL.  I can forgive you for the selfish mistakes you have made that has put your LSU family in this difficult position and I wish you the very best. 

August 11, 2012

ESPN has named USC #1?!

I have been kind of busy working, raising a family and working on a second Masters degree through the University of Missouri (my first was at Texas A&M after undergrad at LSU).  When did USC become the team to beat this year?  I know preseason rankings don't mean diddly but should ESPN rank USC preseason #1?

Let's set aside the fact that ESPN is rewarding a team on its first year off of sanctions and evaluate the possibility that USC deserves to be ranked #1 in preseason.  Often it is said that preseason rankings are largely based on the previous year's performance.  I do not follow USC so let's take a look back at how they performed last year.

Did USC play quality ranked opponents last year?  Yep, USC played two ranked teams Oregon and Stanford.  USC beat a then #4 ranked Oregon team 38-35 and only lost to a #6 ranked Stanford 56-48 in triple OT.  Wonder if that was the same Oregon team that LSU beat 40-27 despite LSU having starting players missing and the distraction of legal action looming over there heads at the time?  Must not be the same Oregon team, because the score seems to indicate that LSU's win was a bit more substantial.  Maybe the triple overtime loss to Stanford was an impressive loss.

Was that USC's only loss last season? No, USC also lost to Arizona State 43-22.  Maybe Arizona State was really good last year.  Um, well ASU wasn't half bad they went 6-6 in the regular season and only dropped to 6-7 after losing to Boise State 56-24 in the MAACO Bowl.  Interesting.

Well maybe USC blew out ever other opponent last year.  There is still hope that USC may be a legitimate preseason #1.  USC opened up at home last season by beating Minnesota 19-17.  Admittedly, a close game but maybe Minnesota was a powerhouse last year.  Oh, nope - Minnesota went 3-9 last year but of those 9 losses they did have one close loss.  Wait that was the two point loss to USC at USC.  I will also mention that USC only beat an unranked Arizona team by 7 point last season but I think you get the picture.  Last year's record does not warrant naming USC preseason #1 even if the entire USC team is returning this year.

Maybe USC compares favorably to LSU and Alabama that are ranked #2 and #3 respectively by ESPN.  In 9 out of 14 games LSU played against ranked opponents.  They went 13-1 only losing in the BCS championship.  Even in that one loss LSU allowed only one touchdown.  Though LSU had almost no offense in both of the games against the eventual national champions, LSU was the only team to defeat last year's national champions.  LSU finished with a two touchdown or greater lead in all but one of their 13 regular season wins.  Alabama only had one loss last year; a 9-6 home loss to LSU.  Alabama beat all opponents, except LSU, by 18 points or more and they beat LSU 21-0 in the BCS national championship.

By what objective standard did the experts at ESPN determine that USC is preseason #1?  While preseason rankings are meaningless, no good LSU fan will forget the split 2003 national championship.  Even though LSU beat Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship game, the national championship title was shared that year with USC.  That could happen again this year.  I hope LSU and USC have the opportunity to face off at the end of the season this year.

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