FG Question: Can you update us on the injuries?
Ben Love:Les Miles said Wednesday during the SEC Coaches Teleconference that LSU expects to “have everyone that played in the last game” at Auburn. As for who that rules out: DB Dwayne Thomas, who is done for the season with a torn right ACL, and most likely DT Quentin Thomas, dealing with an arm injury. In Dwayne Thomas’ stead true freshman Jamal Adams, former five-star and the No. 1 safety in America in 2014, has stepped in for nickel and dime situations while another first-year player, Davon Godchaux, has entered the starting lineup on the interior of the defensive line for Quentin Thomas.
Elsewhere QB Brandon Harris suffered a sprained ankle late in the third quarter on Saturday, but he’s been active in practice and splitting first-team reps with Anthony Jennings. Starting fullback Connor Neighbors, like Harris, was also in a walking boot earlier this week, but the senior is expected to play Saturday.
FG Question:Since the head coach has been there almost a decade, how did LSU get in the position of needing to start a freshman QB?
Ben Love:The Tigers, under Miles, have had more problems recruiting quarterbacks that actually stay on campus and pan out than any program in America. It’s nothing new. Consider the fact that six former LSU quarterback commits or signees are now on other rosters – Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati; Rob Bolden, Eastern Michigan; Stephen Rivers, Vanderbilt; Hayden Rettig, Rutgers; Jerrard Randall, Arizona; and Jeremy Liggins, Ole Miss.
It’s also fair to wonder aloud just how good those six, outside of Kiel, have turned out to be. So clearly there are issues of evaluation. With Cam Cameron now on campus, it would stand to reason that development won’t be a problem. But, to answer your question, they tried throwing a lot of guys on the wall (see the list above) hoping in each class at least one would stick. None did, with the exception of Jennings, who’s only a sophomore. Harris is the more talented player, and that’s why I expect him to start Saturday night, but it’s not an ideal situation. Attrition, and just missing on a number of guys, has put them in this spot.
FG Question: Are the Tigers’ defensive troubles (75 points allowed in the last two SEC games) more a reflection of youth, lack of talent (as compared to recent excellent defenses full of NFL draft picks), or simply facing great offenses?
Ben Love:It’s probably fair to say a mixture of all three, with the hope being it’s mostly the first one and the fear being it could be the second. No doubt Auburn and Mississippi State are top-notch offensively, but LSU even struggled on defense to contain Wisconsin’s run game and has given up long runs to several of its cupcake opponents. So the biggest problems for John Chavis’ group are internal.
Back to that debate of youth versus worse comparative talent: What’s clear is that players that would normally be third or fourth in line at their positions at LSU, typically subbing in for small stretches in rotational roles, are wearing starter’s shoes this season. So whereas in previous years those guys (like Godchaux and Christian Lacouture at defensive tackle) would play sparingly, they’re LSU’s main two guys on the interior of the D-Line right now.
That bodes well for next season, and the hope like I said is it means the talent is still there it was just expected to grow up too fast, but then again we won’t know that definitively until 2015. What we do know without question is that in 2014 they’re not ready. It would be helpful if some of the veterans at defensive end, linebacker and cornerback reverted back to their better forms from a season ago.
FG Question:What does LSU do if the ground game is shut down?
Ben Love:Pray for lightning in an 8-mile radius of the stadium? I mean there really is no good answer here, not with the way Harris threw the ball in a tough road environment at Auburn. Particularly with the way Florida’s offense has performed with Jeff Driskel at the helm, I think in this scenario LSU would take its chances punting all night and trying to win the game with defense and special teams. But, in times of desperation, I believe jump-balls and back-shoulder fades to Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre would be their best shot.
FG Question:How much faith do LSU fans have in their D at this point?
Ben Love:They have more in the secondary than in the front seven. Those guys, from corners Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson to safeties Jalen Mills and Ronald Martin, are at least experienced. Against Auburn they often times were in position but just yielded great athletic plays to the likes of Sammie Coates and D’haquille Williams. So I think there’s a sense the defensive backs, now bringing in Adams for more time, could turn it around.
It’s a different story, though, with the defensive line. With the exception of defensive end Danielle Hunter, no one in the front four has been consistently productive … and even he’s better as a pass-rusher. So there are problems galore defensing the run, and I think fans have accepted LSU will surrender chunks of yards at a time on the ground. The fans have pinned a lot of their hopes on Kendell Beckwith usurping the starting Mike linebacker role from D.J. Welter, but that won’t be a cure-all for a group that has problems that, frankly, may only be fixable through recruiting in February.