REPORT CARD: The final grades are in

Obviously there is still football left to be played by the Tigers, and while it's important to finish up strong LSU's trip to either Dallas or Orlando for New Year's Day is considered extra credit.

Finals are over, and report cards are ready to be distributed for the 2004 regular season.


Without question this year was something few Tiger fans have ever experienced in their lives, an LSU team attempting to live up to the hype of coming off of a National Championship season.


Of course the higher end of those expectations were not met, and that may be difficult for some to accept considering both USC and Oklahoma are battling for berths in the Orange Bowl. 


But anyone should be able to identify the position players the Tigers lost and the ones both the Trojans and Sooners were able to retain fairly easily.


That being said, LSU was a heartbeat away from defeating the current No. 3 team in the nation on the road.  And if a variety of things had gone differently in the Tigers' one-point loss to Auburn, maybe, somehow, Black Saturday in Athens could have gone differently as well.


Enough of the woulda, shoulda, coulda though…





Both midterm and final grades were turned in this season following a jaw-dropping performance by fifth-year senior Marcus Randall.


Randall's off-the-bench performance in a road-win against Florida, and his "where has this guy been all season?" showing in Little Rock came on the eve of turning in marks, and may have helped he and redshirt freshman JaMarcus Russell out a bit.


Despite a lackluster home schedule for the second half of the season, both Randall and counterpart Russell (who started the three final home games) found themselves relying heavily on the running game to put points on the board.


With two weeks to prepare for Troy, Randall threw for 328 yards on 24 completions.  He also threw three interceptions, and needed a next to the last minute touchdown to rally the Tigers past the Trojans.


Randall and Russell combined for just six completions and 102 yards against Vanderbilt, another six completions with two weeks to prepare for Alabama for 91 yards, and found Tiger receivers a mere eight times total against Ole Miss for 81 yards.


This year mirrored Randall's replacing an injured Matt Mauck in 2002 from the standpoint that he didn't start every game for the Tigers.  Even without the impending bowl game, Randall's numbers are similar.


Thanks to his performance in Arkansas, Randall finished the regular season completing 92-of-147 passes – 63 percent – for 1,181 yards with 9 TDs and 5 INTs.


Russell's mop up duty against the Razorbacks provided him with no passing opportunities, and he ended up hitting on 61-of-129 attempts for 925 yards – 47.3 percent – with 7 TDs and 4 INTs.


Headed into the 2004 campaign, Randall was the only LSU quarterback to have taken a snap on the collegiate level, and it definitely showed throughout the entirety of the season as neither he nor Russell managed to definitively take hold of the position.


Odds are Randall will get the start the last time he dresses out as a Tiger on New Year's Day, but only if his talents as a rusher can be utilized against a defense similar to that of the Razorbacks.


GRADE: C + (A little bit of a drop from midterms.  Five comeback wins definitely kept fans in their

seats for much of Tiger Stadium's Saturday nights this year, but too many open receivers were missed by Randall and Russell to warrant a higher grade.)





From the moment Mauck announced he was leaving for the NFL, there was no doubt in anyone's mind running back would be even more of a key for LSU to have success this year.


Many had hoped the stable of running backs would provide the Tigers' quarterbacks with enough of a security blanket at the beginning of the year to get the aerial assault off of the ground.  Instead the tailbacks became the focal point of LSU's offense out of necessity.


In addition to losing Barrington Edwards before Week 1 arrived, the Tigers' backs suffered early on from an offensive line that didn't seem to be opening the type of holes expected.


Nick Saban's off the cuff comments about Justin Vincent placing too much pressure on himself in the offseason came to fruition as the sophomore never seemed to have the same zip in his step that made him a household name at the end of 2003.


Alley Broussard and Joseph Addai definitely took up the slack, playing anything you can do I can do better from week to week.


While Addai helped save the day in The Swamp (10-93) and rushed for 99 yards against Alabama, Broussard ran hard against Vanderbilt (9-80) and had a record day against Ole Miss (26-250).    


GRADE: A- (A shaky start, but without Broussard's 542 yards and Addai's 447 yards on the ground over the final six games 9-2 would not have been the Tigers' record.)





Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson weren't present, and it was evident.


Dwayne Bowe appeared to be headed for a banner year early on, but saw his production taper off to the point he finished the season with 31 catches for 437 yards.


LSU's leading receiver was actually Craig Davis, who hauled in 41 passes for 648 yards.


Bowe led the Tigers with 5 TDs, but right behind him was of all people Addai, who snagged 4 TDs on the year to give him 22 receptions for 280 yards.


David Jones ended up being LSU's top tight end with eight catches for 138 yards and a lone touchdown – the score that put the Tigers ahead of Troy with time running out.


Like the running backs, LSU suffered an early casualty when true freshman Lavelle Hawkins decided he wanted to go home, and the Tigers' remaining freshmen (Early Doucet and Xavier Carter) combined for 22 receptions and 4 TDs.


Carter hauled in five catches for 118 yards, and Doucet's 17 receptions accounted for another 255 yards.


What's missing the most from the receivers' statistics are the numbers Skyler Green was expected to put up.


Green came into camp not in the best of shape, and wasn't the only one, and suffered injuries early.  That contributed to a season which saw him grab just 18 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown.

There is little doubt that the receivers' performances were directly affected this year by the play of quarterbacks.


GRADE:  B (Simply not able to be utilized enough.  Alone Mauck completed 229 passes including the 2003 SEC Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl.  This year Randall and Russell have thus far combined for 156 completions.  Rushing numbers indicate the receivers and tight ends have done their jobs at the line and down the field without the ball though.)





What a mess.


Or at least what a mess it appeared it should have been.


Center Ben Wilkerson was the mainstay of the offensive line through the Florida game as Andrew Whitworth, Rudy Niswanger, Will Arnold, Paris Hodges, Nate Livings and Terrell McGill all saw starts.


What was supposed to be one of the rocks of LSU's offense simply wasn't when the season began,

and a lack of lanes for running backs to travel on had many scratching their heads.


With injuries requiring players to shuffle around and ultimately the loss of Wilkerson on the last play of the Vanderbilt game, things seemed to be getting dire.


Nothing could have been further from the truth though as LSU's offensive line play actually improved with players moving into slots they hadn't started the year at.


GRADE: B+ (Most of the sacks suffered by Randall and Russell were the result of the quarterbacks holding onto the ball too long.  Against some tough, and not so tough defenses, the O-line ultimately proved to be a strongpoint.)





Through 10 games, LSU's defense was ranked third overall and much of that had to do with what was going on in the trenches.


The Tigers' allowance of just over 250 yards per game and 16.1 points per game were only enhanced the day after Thanksgiving with a showing that gave up only 151 yards and 14 points to Arkansas.


Marcus Spears won't be waiting around long on draft day thanks to a season that saw him record nine sacks.  With any justice the senior will be given real consideration for both the Bednarik and Lott Trophy in spite of being on a team with two losses.


Kyle Williams didn't make everyone forget Chad Lavalais entirely, but he most definitely reminded everyone of him predecessor on more than one occasion.


Along with Claude Wroten, who really started to come on late, Williams and Spears combined with Melvin Oliver and Kirston Pittman to help produce a front nearly as formidable as the one that terrorized teams in 2003.


In the wake of losing Marquise Hill and Lavalais, LSU regrouped and produced a line that for the most part proved to be a force to be reckoned with.


GRADE: A (As much as Hill was missed this year, the loss of Spears for 2005 will be doubly felt.)





In the wake of losing Darius Ingram and Dorsett Buckels, LSU's linebacker corps lost a bit of depth early on and seemed to be one of the defense's main weaknesses.


Missed tackles and missed assignments appeared to be the hallmark of the unit early on, but as the season progressed so to did the linebackers.


Lionel Turner and Cameron Vaughn are right up at the top of the list when it comes to who leads LSU in tackles, and Ken Hollis was one of a few to show marked improvement.


Chevis Jackson and Ali Highsmith appear to be the future leaders of the Tiger's linebackers, and it will be interesting to see what exactly becomes of E.J. Kuale's career after his first season with the Tigers was marred by a suspension.


Luke Sanders' season was cut short by injury as well, just when it seemed the true freshman would be seeing more playing time.


There wasn't that feel of an Eric Alexander in this bunch, but for the most part the middle of the field wasn't exploited.


GRADE: B (Lack of depth seemed to hamper number of blitzes.)





Bump and run and jamming at the line appeared to be foreign concepts to Corey Webster and Travis Daniels this season.


Yes, the Tigers were ranked No. 4 in overall pass defense heading into the Arkansas game.  But there simply seemed to be too many times when Webster and Daniels were challenged by opposing quarterbacks and defeated this year.


That was definitely true of David Greene's onslaught in Athens, and after his play in 2003 it appears Webster's draft status will receive a bit of a blow.


To his credit, Webster found himself serving in multiple roles from the start, and an injury away from the defensive side of the ball was even enough to keep him from playing against Florida.


Ronnie Prude filled in for Webster at that juncture, and will likely be looked upon along with Mario Stevenson next year to secure the outside for the Tigers.


GRADE: B (Only Oregon State and Georgia passed for over 200 yards against the Tigers this year.)





As a sophomore, LaRon Landry will do something he did as a freshman – lead the Tigers in total tackles.


Jessie Daniels isn't far behind Landry on the list this year, and the two have combined for a total of six interceptions on the season.


If not for Daniels' tackle of Chris Leak on a third and six, the Tigers would never have had a chance for a last-second comeback.


In just their second seasons with the program, Landry and Daniels became even more of focal points than last year, and for the most part appeared to have everyone – including themselves - in position on defense to make plays.


While Daniels had a two interception night to help end Ole Miss' chances at a victory in Tiger Stadium, Landry duplicated the feat just one week later to help LSU beat Arkansas.


GRADE: A (No sophomore jinx here.)





Of the seven missed extra point attempts this season, the one way back on Sept. 18 looms the largest now.


Although the loss at Auburn cannot be blamed entirely on that miscue, it did go a long way in helping to determine the Tigers' fate at the end of the season.  It also played some role in the rise of Auburn this year.


LSU's latest failure in the PAT department came during the closing moments of the Arkansas game, when Ryan Gaudet's kick sailed wide left.


Saban's lips were easily readable for anyone paying close enough attention, and suffice to say part of what he related to Gaudet simply isn't printable.


Chris Jackson appears to be getting down the mental aspect of kicking field goals, and while he still has a ways to go to supplant Donnie Jones from the consciousness of LSU fans his punting showed marked improvement over the long haul.


What never seemed to improve this year was the decisions of LSU's return specialists.


From Xavier Carter's immortal blunder in Athens to Skyler Green's multiple indecisions on punt returns, the Tigers seldom managed to utilize their return game to set up the numerous short fields that one season prior had made offensive scoring drives sure bets.


Green finally broke his funk with a punt return for a touchdown against the Commodores, but for the most part he looked indecisive when it came to whether he should field kicks.


Also out of character were the number of big returns the Tigers' coverage teams allowed opposing squads.


GRADE: C – (Only Jackson's field goals are saving this from slipping down.)      





No, the two-quarterback system employed by LSU this season is not going to be the model for teams to follow in the future.  No, Nick Saban shouldn't have pulled Marcus Randall after the first series at Auburn.  No, LSU's 9-2 season wasn't a high-octane, show of dominance for most of the season.


But yes, the Tigers did finish the season 9-2.  They did overcome adversity in coming from behind on five separate occasions – including the season opener.  And there were some milestones reached.


Saban is the first coach to lead LSU to an undefeated season at home since Cholly Mac did so in 1972.  He's the first coach to lead the Tigers to four straight New Year's Day Bowls ever, and is the first coach poised to have LSU finish in the Top 10 in back-to-back seasons since McClendon did so in 1969 and 1970.  (The Tigers' Top 10 finishes in 1986 and 1987 came under Bill Arnsparger and Mike Archer respectively.)


This may have been Saban and staff's best coaching job to date at LSU, and anyone upset about a 9-2 season need only remember one more comparison the current coach draws with McClendon.


They are the last two coaches in Tiger history to last five full regular seasons at LSU.


GRADE: A (Those five come from behind wins would have been losses more than likely under the previous three regimes.)

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