2014 Opponent Preview: LSU

LSU must replace a ton of talent on both sides of the ball for Les Miles heading into the 2014 season.

While Alabama’s loss of talent on both sides of the ball has been well-documented, perhaps no team in the country was hit harder than the LSU Tigers. Without quarterback Zach Mettenberger, receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and running back Jeremy Hill on offense and defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston on defense, Coach Les Miles will need plenty of his magic to keep his program among the best in the country in 2014.

The good news for LSU is that there is still plenty of talent in Red Stick to get the job done, particularly on offense. Leading the way is one of the deepest running back groups in the country. Last season Terrance Magee (5-9, 214, Sr.) and Kenny Hilliard (6-0, 233, Sr.) combined for 936 yards and 15 touchdowns last year and will be a solid one-two punch but the story is true freshman Leonard Fournette. The No. 1 player in the country last year, Fournette (6-1, 224) has been compared to Adrian Peterson and is a blend of size, speed and power that will be hard to keep off the field.

The running game should help to take the pressure off either Anthony Jennings (6-2, 211, So.) or true freshman Brandon Harris (6-2, 184, Fr.) at the quarterback position. Playing at the end of the 2013 season, Jennings had flashes of brilliance in his limited duty. His biggest moment came in a 99-yard game-winning drive against Arkansas, but he struggled in a start in the Outback Bowl and again in spring practice. That opened the door for Harris and the athletic newcomer had a good start to his career after enrolling in January. The battle will be one to watch early in fall camp.

Brandon Harris

At wide receiver LSU is without two 1,000-yard receivers as well as Kadron Boone. Travin Dural (6-2, 182, So.) is the leading returning receiver for the Bengal Tigers after catching seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. Freshman Malachi Dupree (6-3, 188) enters as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the country a year ago while Trey Quinn (6-0, 192) could also be a newcomer to watch this fall.

The strength on offense is up front where former Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes takes over a group that returns four starters including a pair of potential NFL first round picks on the left side. Earning All-American honors last year, La’el Collins (6-5, 315, Sr.) is a physical tackle that has the feet to handle even the best pass rushers. Beside him is massive Vadal Alexander (6-6, 342, Jr.). At 6-6, 342, Alexander is the road grader of the group. Also back are center Elliot Porter (6-4, 300, Sr.) and right tackle Jerald Hawkins (6-6, 301, So.).

Always loaded at defensive tackle, years of early defections have depleted LSU’s interior defensive line and the results are a group void of experience heading into the 2014 season. Junior Quentin Thomas (6-3, 290) is the veteran of the group but has just 10 career tackles in 14 games played. A physical player that saw action in all 13 games last season, sophomore Christian Lacouture (6-5, 298) is also back for the LSU defense and should be an impact performer this season. Help could come from redshirt freshmen Greg Gilmore (6-4, 311) and Maquedius Bain (6-4, 308).

Quentin Thomas

At defensive end LSU returns two talented performers in senior Jermauria Rasco (6-3, 262, Sr.) and junior Danielle Hunter. Last season Rasco finished with 56 tackles, four sacks and six and a half tackles for losses while Hunter (6-6, 241, Jr.) made 57 stops and was second on the team with eight tackles for losses. Former Auburn commitment Tashawn Bower (6-5, 243, So.) was impressive in the spring and should get some serious playing time this season.

Even without Barrow LSU is still stacked at linebacker with D.J. Welter (6-1, 235, Sr.) and Kwon Alexander (6-2, 218, Jr.) both returning after playing well a year ago. Welter was second on the team in tackles with 80 while Alexander added 65 stops and six and a half tackles for losses. Speedy Lamar Louis (6-0, 216, Jr.) and versatile Ronnie Feist (6-2, 225, Jr.) should be players to keep an eye on this fall as well.

In the secondary Tre'Davius White (5-11, 177, So.) could be the next great LSU cornerback after a very strong freshman season that saw him finish with 55 tackles and a pair of interceptions. A Freshman All-SEC performer two seasons ago, 6-2 Jalen Collins is an experienced defender that should challenge for playing time this fall at cornerback. Back after making 67 tackles with three interceptions in 2013, Jalen Mills (6-1, 189, Jr.) is one of the leaders on defense and has a chance to be one of the best safeties in the SEC.

Opening the season against Wisconsin in Houston, LSU has Sam Houston State and ULM the next two weeks before Mississippi State comes to Tiger Stadium for one of the bigger early games in the SEC West this year. Two weeks later LSU travels to Auburn for the first of back-to-back road games with a road trip to Florida the next Saturday. By that time we will know if LSU’s offense will be good enough to get the job done. An early struggle could spell trouble for Miles and the Tigers if a quarterback doesn’t step up and take over the job. Early wins over the Badgers and the Bulldogs would make the showdown in Jordan-Hare Stadium a must-see game in 2014.

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