The LSU football team had a season full of ups and downs. The Tigers finished the 2012 campaign with a 25-24 loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Monday night. While they finished the season with a 10-3 record, LSU was just a handful of plays away from potentially facing a different end to their season.
The Tigers played a lot of youngsters during 2012, which allowed them to gain valuable experience heading into the 2013 season. It was certainly obvious throughout the season that different positions were ahead of the others in terms of development and consistency. Here are my season-ending grades for each position.
Offense is up first. Be on the look-out for defense and special teams soon.
Throughout the season Zach Mettenberger showed flashes of greatness, sometimes in bunches. However, Mettenberger was more inconsistent than great during the season as a whole. The LSU passing game struggled early in the season, partly because of timing issues with the receivers and drops, but also because of problems with protection up front. Mettenberger and the receivers had perhaps their best game of the season against Alabama with Mettenberger throwing for 298 yards and one touchdown. He finished with 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns.
During the 2012 campaign the LSU passing attack averaged 200.5 yards per game, a fairly low figure given the expectations heading into the fall. LSU's passing attack finished the season ranked 94th in major college football. Pocket awareness was also an issue for LSU this season, as Mettenberger struggled at times to pick up blitzes. Mettenberger was sacked over 30 times during the course of the season, good enough for 75th in the country.
Heading into 2013, the passing game will be a big emphasis of improvement for LSU and head coach Les Miles. It will also be interesting throughout the spring to see how LSU will run the quarterback position next fall.
Running Backs: B+
As was expected the LSU rushing attack was relied on heavily in the 2012 season. With Alfred Blue being lost for the season early on, the Tigers needed other players to step up to pick up the slack of the injured Blue. LSU found that person in freshman Jeremy Hill. Hill finished the season with 775 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hill was the top rusher in a crowded Tiger backfield. As a whole, the LSU running game finished the season with 2,258 yards, averaging 173.7 yards per game, good enough for 50th in the NCAA.
LSU also missed junior Spencer Ware, who had a series of injuries that kept him from being 100% at times throughout the season. While LSU also had backs like Kenny Hilliard and Michael Ford, Hill received a majority of the workload after his exceptional performance against South Carolina. Hill finished the season with four 100-yard games. Hill was also responsible for sealing a couple of important games for the Tigers this season with big runs at the end of the game. All in all, the LSU backfield had a very productive season running behind fullback J.C. Copeland, and contributed in large part to the success of the Tigers this season.
Heading into 2013, the LSU backfield could become a lot thinner, depending on who decides to skip their senior season. One thing is certain: Hill will once again be relied on heavily next fall.
Wide Receivers: B-
Early in 2012, the LSU receiving corps struggled mightily with route running, timing, and simply catching the ball. However, as the season progressed they became much more reliable and productive. They made it clear to the media when they were struggling that they would get the problem corrected, which they ultimately did. The improvement of the LSU receivers can be seen in one play this season: the 22-yard reception by Jarvis Landry in the Tigers' regular-season finale against Arkansas.
Landry became the most reliable receiver for the Tigers, as well as a favorite target of Zach Mettenberger. Landry finished the season with 573 yards and five touchdowns. Landry trailed only Odell Beckham Jr., in yards, as Beckham Jr., finished with 713 yards and two touchdowns.
While they had a slow start to the season, the LSU receivers came through biggest when needed. They had great performances against Ole Miss, and Kadron Boone put LSU ahead for good with a diving touchdown reception against Texas A&M.
In 2012 LSU lacked a tall vertical threat with James Wright dealing with a shoulder injury and struggling in general, so how the receiving corps will improve in 2013 will be interesting to monitor.
Offensive Line: B+
The 2012 season was a turbulent one for the LSU offensive line. The Tigers lost Alex Hurst and Josh Williford in the first half of the season. That duo had previously anchored the right side of the line for LSU. Hurst left the team for personal reasons and Williford missed most of the season after suffering a concussion against Florida. LSU replaced Hurst and Williford with true freshman Vadal Alexander and redshirt freshman Trai Turner, respectively. LSU also lost starter Chris Faulk for the season early with a knee injury, forcing senior Josh Dworaczyk to take over at left tackle.
The LSU line performed beyond expectations throughout the 2012 season, given the injury situation with the group. They allowed quite a few sacks on the season, over 30 in fact, but they paved the way for a running game that anchored the LSU offense. With the exception of their performance against Clemson, the LSU line performed relatively well with backups in place for the second half of the 2012 campaign.
With most members of the line returning next season, the 2013 offensive line for the Tigers will figure to be one of the best in the SEC, and possibly all of college football.
Season Report Card: Offense
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