High Expectations, For Good Reason

Oct 1, 2016 | By | Reply More

 

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by Brian Haldane

Expectations are high for the LSU Football Tigers in 2016, even for LSU standards. Tiger fans never start a season by negotiating down on their prospects. However, once the season arrives and the games play themselves out, those preseason aspirations fizzle when there are bumps in the road and preseason hype turns out to be exactly that… Hype. But, there are plenty of reasons to believe this year’s LSU Tigers can truly compare to the greatest they’ve ever put on the field.

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Let’s start with experience. Predicting a team’s success based off of returning starters is not the end all, be all for accuracy, but it is a great starting point. Experience matters for three reasons; winning begets winning, losing leaves a sting to overcome, and there is no better teacher than “having been there.”
With that in mind, LSU is tied for the most returning starters of any team in the SEC. Seventeen starters return from last year. Only Tennessee has as many. Add to that, they break down to nine returning starters on offense and eight on defense. Of course, this means there are very few positions that need to be filled with less experienced guys.

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On offense, LSU brings back some dangerous weapons in key positions. First of all, there’s Leonardat running back. Fournette enters 2016 in the top two or three for Heisman hopefuls, depending on who is doing the ranking. He is also within reach of being the all-time leading rusher in LSU history. Kevin Faulk currently holds that title with 4,557 career rushing yards. Fournette starts 2016 with 2,987 yards. While a 1,570 yard season may seem like quite the hill to climb, we should remember that he had 1,953 yards last year. What makes the prospect of Fournette overtaking Faulk even more impressive is that if he eclipses Faulk, he will have done it in three seasons, compared to Faulk’s four.

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Behind Fournette is Catholic High product, Derrius Guice. Guice takes his opportunity to learn from Fournette very seriously. He watches closely when he’s not in the game, and shows what he has learned when he gets his opportunities. Last season, Guice averaged 8.5 yards per carry. This tells defenses, just because Fournette isn’t in, doesn’t mean you can relax.
LSU got a big win when wide receiver Travin Dural decided to return for his senior season. Dural had his best year as a sophomore. His numbers dipped in his junior year. But that was because he tore his hamstring, early in the Ole Miss game last year, and essentially missed the last three games of the season. He is back to form after surgery on his hamstring and sitting out spring practice. He is now determined to impress NFL scouts this year.

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Lining up opposite Dural is Malachi Dupre. Dupre, from John Curtis High School in River Ridge, led LSU in receiving last year with 698 yards. Many experts feel he will surpass Dural as the “go to guy” this year. In fact, Dupre starts this season on the Bilitnikoff Watch List, which is given to the best receiver in college football.
Behind Dural and Dupre are three sophomores, DJ Chark, Tyron Johnson, and Jazz Ferguson. They bring speed, size, and route running ability, to the table. What’s more, they are being taught by wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig, who is receiving praise from inside the program, and throughout the Conference.
Up front, Coach Miles is still evaluating options as to which players start where. The early thinking is that they will have Ethan Pocic play center, flanked by William Clapp and Maea Teuhema to his left and Josh Boutte and Toby Weathersby to his right. If this is how they line up, it will give Quarterback Brandon Harris 1,631 pounds of offensive line protection. Les Miles said at SEC Media Days that there will likely be some movement between these positions, and that fans will see KJ Malone a good bit as well.

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As for quarterback Brandon Harris, he has garnered a lot of attention in the offseason. Harris completed just over 53 percent of his passes last year. Some were disappointed in his play, but what gets overlooked is that if one incomplete pass per game had been caught, that number would have risen to just under 60 percent. Many of the talking heads in college football say that if Harris can complete 60 percent of his passes or better, LSU is in great shape offensively. Also overlooked in Harris’ numbers from last year is the fact that for the first seven and a half games of the season, Harris didn’t throw a single interception. It wasn’t until the first drive of the second half of the Alabama game that he got picked off. (I apologize for bringing that up. It’s a visual I’m still having trouble getting past.) One other note on Harris is that he played the home stretch of last season with a sports hernia injury and it showed in his on-field production. Harris had surgery on the hernia in January and looked great in the spring.

Defensively, LSU made an offseason splash by hiring Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda. Aranda held the same job with the Wisconsin Badgers last season where he had the seventh best defense in the nation. Unbelievably, he accomplished that while starting four walk-ons. Naturally, when given the spoils of LSU’s defensive talent, everyone is expecting those numbers to improve.
Among those spoils is Arden Key. Key is heading into his sophomore year primed to make a name for himself. In Aranda’s system, Key will have the opportunity to rush the passer from many angles, possibly from either side of the ball, stuff the run, and even drop back into pass coverage from time to time.
The prowess that LSU is known for in the defensive backfield will also be alive and well in 2016. Cornerback Tre’Davious White was projected to be a first round pick in this year’s NFL draft, but opted instead to return to LSU for his senior season. White enters this season on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list. The Jim Thorpe Award goes to the best defensive back in college football, and believe it or not, but White is not the only LSU Tiger on that watch list. Safety Jamal Adams is in the running for that award as well. Adams led the Tigers with four interceptions last season and was third on the team in tackles
The biggest defensive question heading into 2016 actually comes from one of the one of the best athletes on the field. The change in defensive scheme to a 3-4 means Davon Godchaux moves to nose tackle. Godchaux is under 300 pounds, which is considered light for the position. But, Defensive Line Coach Ed Orgeron is confident that having Godchaux’s explosiveness at that position will serve the Tigers well.
Another reason to believe the hype heading into this season is the schedule. It is daunting to play road games in the Southeastern Conference. Some of the most hostile, volatile stadiums in the country are in the SEC. For example, when Bleacher Report ranked their “10 toughest college football stadiums to play in,” four of them came from the SEC. Unfortunately for LSU, they have to travel to two of them this year, when they go to Auburn on September 24th and Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Day. Working in LSU’s favor is that Tiger Stadium was number one on that list.
While these reasons to be pumped up for this season, they are but a few in a list that could go on for days. I generally try to temper my expectations when so much about college football is unpredictable, but I’m finding that hard to do this year.

Photos by Stephen Franz, LSU Staff Photographer and LSU Athletics

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