Today is my ninth day in Baton Rouge and outside of being around or working on things LSU Football round the clock, I've seen it rain every day I've been here, unpacked my apartment, eaten a lot of Raising Cane's, had Smoothie King smoothies nearly every day and drank a lot of coffee.
On to what you guys actually want to hear about. Football wise, it's a huge step up for me in terms of intensity and the level of talent out there - both on the field and covering what's on the field. SMU was much more laid back. LSU is a rush of energy every day you're out there looking for that little tidbit that might make your notes or story pop even more.
I'm going to break down a few things I've noticed this week as "the new guy" to this beat. Some may be obvious, some might not be. Hope you enjoy!
Paranoia at its peak
I get that LSU is heading into a season where offensively, they're expected to implement more spread principles this year to help Brandon Harris' development. There's calls out there that you can hear on occasion when reviewing video. That being said, the Iso plays, fullback dives, flood routes using tight ends, slants in the redzone are all basic football concepts. Media isn't out there when true install is going on and I gotta be honest, it's tough to take away even that much of Iso right or Iso left because there's not tight ends and linemen out there. The quarterbacks and running backs could be running weakside, strongside, etc., but we have no idea. True team work begins as we're kicked out so I'd just say, relax and let us snap some pics. Besides, the players want some new Twitter profile header images from us.
Continuing with the offense...
I've been watching or playing football ever since I can remember, but I can't come up with a backfield that has had this much talent top-to-bottom that I've been around. You've got the best running back in the country in my mind in Leonard Fournette (sorry Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook). That's great, but LSU has three more running backs that could come in and contribute serious yardage to the backfield including Derrius Guice (8.5 YPC), Darrel Williams (nearly 5 YPC) and Nick Brossette, who a lot of people are high on him coming off injury. That's incredible depth. Feed the "trained assassins" and setup play-action.
That offensive line though...
From what I've watched when I watched every game from last year, LSU's offensive line was inconsistent in the pass protection game and wasn't able to get things going for the three-game skid. Toby Weathersby has All-SEC potential at right tackle and Ethan Pocic is on my shortlist for the Rimington Award for top center. LSU made the right move keeping those two at those spots. When Maea Teuhema returns from his sprained ankle, LSU will finally be able to work on a solid group to start off the season. While the Tigers do have as many as seven guys that really contribute along the line, continuity is key, which is why Teuhema's timetable to return now gets more and more serious. Will Clapp and K.J. Malone will man the guard spots once Teuhema returns in my mind. When that continuity can start being developed, LSU should see a bump in their ability to communicate pass protections and protect Harris better.
Keys to Harris
Harris will be successful this year. Really believe he's ready for something big. If he puts last year behind him, which I think he has, he can really lead this offense. Get the play-action game going for him, get the tight ends heavily involved and then use one of the bigger and more talented receiving corps in the country making plays. He'll need time, but not as much as you'd think to make this happen. The spread principles being implemented could go a long way and that'll only help open up holes for the ground game to get more room to work. Harris has the leadership and from what his teammates say, the leadership to lead this team to a national championship.
The Aranda Effect
Every single LSU player we've talked to has had nothing, but praise for Dave Aranda and the 3-4 scheme he brought in. He's simplified the way the defense is communicated and has done a phenomenal job with that. Having watched Wisconsin a few times while Aranda was the defensive coordinator there, LSU fans are going to love this. LSU recruits extremely well already and this defense will only excite more players to join. It'll only get better from here, but this scheme utilizes LSU's depth at defensive line extremely well. Linebackers are a little thin as of now, but this scheme will create some playmakers for the team with all the talent. It's in full-attack mode all the time. Enjoy the "guerilla warfare" as Aranda likes to call it.
Line Depth is Scary
In the SEC, you've got to be 2-deep, almost 3-deep across the line as you run through this league. With the 3-4 being installed, LSU has a lot of playmakers in that 3-man (sometimes 4-man) front. Davon Godchaux, Christian LaCouture, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron are all names Tiger fans are familiar with, but when you add guys like Rashard Lawrence, Ed Alexander, Glen Logan and potentially Travonte Valentine to that mix, it's scary. That's 3-deep in terms of talent LSU can turn to across their 3-man front and when they go 4-down, you have Lewis Neal, Arden Key and Sci Martin to the edge? Wow. The front three for Aranda is going to make this defense. They'll allow guys like Duke Riley, Kendell Beckwith and Devin White to flow through and make plays. Get ready to watch LSU roll out an impressive group each and every play in the trenches. Should be fun to watch.
LSU was 51st overall and 11th in the SEC in pass defense last year. Ouch. LSU lost Jalen Mills, but returns talented defensive backs and has an influx of young talent in Saivion Smith, Cameron Lewis, Eric Monroe and Kristian Fulton too. Not all will play, but the playmakers on the backend of the defense are something special. This year, "DBU" will return with Tre'Davious White leading the way for the Tigers in the nickel. Donte Jackson will be opposite Kevin Toliver, both of which sat out the spring (academics, torn labrum respectively). Jackson clocked a 4.24 recently and will bring the backend speed LSU needs while the front seven is in attack mode. The question is who is next to Jalan Adams at safety? Rickey Jefferson will likely be the man and seems to be more comfortable in this new system. The defensive backs are freed up to make more plays and just play ball in this scheme. Big year expected for the DBs.
- It has rained every single day in Baton Rouge I've been here. I don't know if that's my fault, but man...
- Saivion Smith will be a major player here at LSU and I don't think it'll be a shock to see him taking some major playing time later on this season. Absolute stud.
- Guice won't hit his 8.5 yards per carry from last year, but he'll top 800 yards on the year I think.
- Duke Riley will lead the team in tackles this year. He's that comfortable in this defense already. He's confident and poised to step up big-time.
- Dee Anderson is the dark horse out of the freshmen receivers to really step up. He's a little skinny, but he's got a ton of talent.
- Rashard Lawrence will have a real chance to be starting or getting starter snaps by halfway through the season. It was only Day 2 and he was already up with the vets.
- LSU will use more two tight end sets in creative ways than they have before. Think New England Patriots with how they utilize them. Caleb Roddy is a huge depth boost there.
- LSU will beat Wisconsin by at least two touchdowns. Book it.