The only job Les Miles may be less qualified to hold than his current position is that of timekeeper at any Olympic games. That’s how bad of a head coach I believe he is. Trigger locks were invented to keep people like Les from killing themselves. Yet here he is, back for another run at disappointment for the fine folks in Baton Rouge. LSU lost 3 of their last 5 games with their only wins coming over Louisiana Tech (24-16) and Arkansas (33 – 30) in Overtime. The Tigers carried little momentum and even less optimism heading into the offseason. The question now is this: Do you trust the head coach to pull the 2010 team together?
The fact of the matter is that the Tigers need to be ready to go right out of the gate. North Carolina has one of the best defenses in the country this year, and LSU will be sunk immediately if they cannot figure out how to run the football this year. Leading rusher Charles Scott only managed 542 yards last season, and he’s gone to the NFL.
The good news for LSU is that their coach is on it! He knows his kids will be ready. Don’t believe me? Read this: “When I allowed our administration to envision this game, the decision being made to take it, was only based on the fact that my team would accept the competition,” The Hat told members of the media last week. George Bush can’t even understand this guy.
Miles has developed quarterbacks at a rate that would make the Mississippi coach blush. Just two years ago Jarrett Lee turned heads by throwing 6 touchdown passes TO THE OTHER TEAM. Jordan Jefferson emerged last year as a reasonably efficient signal caller, but the numbers were hardly overwhelming.
Ever since losing Jimbo Fisher the Tigers have been a team in search of an offensive identity. This year LSU faces the daunting task of needing to vault not only Alabama but also Arkansas – and perhaps Auburn – if they have any designs of getting back to Atlanta without a travel agent. Teams like this need good fortune, good special teams, and good coaching. If I were an LSU fan, I’d grab some Abita and boiled crawfish, and settle down for a very disappointing season.
For the first time in recent memory, LSU has but 2 players (LB Kelvin Sheppard & CB Patrick Peterson) on the preseason All-SEC teams. If the Bayou Bengals plan to make any noise at all this season, they will need Sheppard and Peterson to lead the charge. Because on offense, it could get down right offensive.
The Tigers return six starters on offense, but they lose their top options at running back or wide receiver. Terrence Tolliver looks to be Jefferson’s primary target this year. Many folks in Louisiana expect this to be the year Russell Shepard emerges as a big play threat. Running back remains a spot where LSU will likely use a committee approach, much like last season.
As mentioned above, Jordan Jefferson appears to have emerged as the leader under center. Jefferson produced solid numbers last year, especially in the second half of the season. While most of us willremember the Meltdown at Mississippi, he still managed to throw for more than 2,000 yards and 17 TDs. Miles believes Jefferson has a real chance to build on those numbers, largely because he has now been through the SEC wars. “I think our quarterback position will play extremely well. This will be the first time in two years we’ve had a quarterback start the season that has a complete season’s experience,” says the Mad Hatter.
A lot of that will be based on how the big uglies fare up front for the Tigers. Line play has not been a serious concern in the Bayou State for some time now. That all came to a stunning end last year, though, when the Tigers could not routinely open running lanes or protect their quarterback. Ciron Black and Lyle Hitt are long gone, and T Bob Hebert is still recovering from off-season surgery. He is also rehabilitating his image after a DWI arrest in May. If his suspension is lifted, Hebert is expected to anchor the line as the team’s new starting center. Will Blackwell is the unit’s lone senior – although based on last year new blood may not be such a bad thing.
Statistically speaking, the LSU defense in 2009 was a shadow of its former self. When you look at the stat that matters, though, the Tigers kept opposing offenses out of the endzone as well as anyone. This bend-but-don’t-break mentality does not reflect the typical attitude in Baton Rouge or that of defensive coordinator John Chavis. Chavis and the rest of the Tiger faithful need Drake Nevis to become the latest NFL prototype defensive tackle to come from LSU. He was a force last year and will be relied upon to draw double-teams while the rest of the new faces get adjusted to life in the SEC regularly.
LSU also needs to fill holes at the linebacking corp. Kelvin Sheppard returns, and he’s a great one to feature as the leader. Stefoin Francois moves up from the safety spot to try and fill one of the starting roles. Special team superstar Ryan Baker will get first crack at the other side in LSU’s 4-3 defense.
The secondary should be a strength, if only because Patrick Peterson will be lurking about. If Morris Claiborne lives up to the hype, LSU could have the best tandem of cornerbacks in the country. Jai Eugene will also return, but he’s moved to safety thanks to the emergence of Claiborne.
The kicking game will certainly be critical this year – as it is every year in the SEC with so many close games. Josh Jasper was perfect on PATs last year and connected on 17 of 20 FG attempts, including the game winner against Arkansas. Derek Helton is the returning punter and looks to improve on his 39.9 yard average from last year. As usual LSU has a plethora of options in the return game. The coaches want to put the ball in the hands of Russell Shepard as much as possible, so look for him to get a shot early in the spring at being the primary returner for both punts and kicks.
Jeff's Snarky Comment From the Casual Fans' Peanut Gallery: Les Miles looks like he’ll follow Spurrier as a one-hit wonder. The Yogi Berra of the SEC shoulda taken the Michigan job while he was hot.
If LSU was looking for a more difficult opponent to begin the season, it would be hard to do. While North Carolina has to answer plenty of questions on offense, their defense is as good as anyone’s right now – including most of the NFC West. LSU follows up the neutral site opener with a trip to Nashville before three straight home games. Then comes the trip to Gainesville and trip to Auburn with McNeese St. thankfully sandwiched in between those two. Alabama and Mississippi come to Red Stick this year before the Tigers meet Arkansas in their traditional Battle for the Golden Boot.
Aside from the start the schedule sets up nicely for LSU if – and that’s a big IF – the offensive and defensive lines can come together. Oh yeah… and their coach somehow learns how to manage a game, too.
What Will Happen
LSU is going to lose the opener. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not the end of the world. That comes later with losses on the road to Florida, Auburn and Arkansas. Toss in a home loss to Alabama, and the Les Miles Era will be near its end right after the Tigers are selected for a non-January 1st bowl game.
Returning Starters: 6
Key Players: Jordan Jefferson, Terrence Tolliver
Needs to Emerge: Russell Shepard
Returning Starters: 4
Key Players: Patrick Peterson, Kelvin Sheppard, Drake Nevis
Needs to Emerge: Stefoin Francois
Key Games: North Carolina, at Florida, at Auburn, Mississippi
Schedule/Predicted Finish: (7 – 5, 4 – 4)
Sept. 4 North Carolina * – L
Sept. 9 at Vanderbilt – W
Sept. 18 Mississippi State – W
Sept. 25 West Virginia – W
Oct. 2 Tennessee – W
Oct. 9 at Florida – L
Oct. 16 McNeese State – W
Oct. 23 at Auburn – L
Oct. 30 OPEN DATE
Nov. 6 Alabama – L
Nov. 13 ULM – W
Nov. 20 Mississippi – W
Nov. 26 at Arkansas – L
* Game played in Atlanta