1, How did the three straight losses in November impact LSU’s offseason? What changes were made to the scheme in all three phases?
Billy Embody: It was a wakeup call for this program and mainly the players in my mind. It was almost a show of force by the decision makers that could have gone in a different direction from Les Miles. The players recognize that he could have just as easily been removed as coach.
With that, the players have taken more upon themselves to take ownership and move this program forward. Outside of Dave Aranda coming in on defense, Dameyune Craig comes in to bring in more passing game expertise and to help Cam Cameron develop Brandon Harris. Jabbar Juluke arrives after Frank Wilson's departure to lead the running backs, which should help with more consistency in that rotation. These moves have paid dividends early in many ways, but now, it's time to put them to the test.
2, What do you expect the big change will be in LSU’s defense after the switch from Kevin Steele to Aranda?
Embody: LSU has created more depth on the defensive line with this move. The athletes that LSU has had in the trenches and at what are now outside linebackers should be pretty special in Aranda's scheme. The difference is in the communication. The players have said repeatedly that Aranda's scheme is simpler and easier to pick up than former DC Kevin Steele's. That'll help limit a lot of the blown coverages from last year.
3, How have the injuries on defense impacted LSU’s depth and its prep work for the opener?
Embody: It hurts losing a Christian LaCouture, who had a lot of experience, and Isaiah Washington, who was expected to play a lot as well. Corey Thompson worked hard to adapt to the new F linebacker role, but now will sit the first few games. It hurts LSU's depth at linebacker the most with Thompson's injury.
LaCouture and Washington's injuries just opened up areas where younger players can step up now like Rashard Lawrence, Travonte Valentine and others. That's where LSU's depth along the defensive line has really shown. Les Miles is still very high on his defensive group.
4, Leonard Fournette’s talent speaks for itself. When teams successfully contain him, what do they usually do?
Embody: Hit him, hit him, hit him. If the team flies around to the ball and gang tackles well, they'll have a chance to contain him. If you come out timid, he'll recognize it and take advantage of it. I hate to say it's that simple, but you've got to hit him and hit him early.
5, What’s LSU’s plan with quarterback Brandon Harris?
Embody: This is Brandon Harris' team and his teammates recognize that and is ready to take a step forward. Improvements and tweaks to play calling will really help Harris out this fall as the staff is looking to develop his groove earlier in the game.
6, It seems one of the main position battles in camp for LSU was on the offensive line at the two tackle spots. How strong is the group expected to be this season?
Embody: They're a versatile group, but cohesiveness is what I'm most worried about. Now the interior seems to have been set for the past two weeks so those concerns are going away for me. K.J. Malone and Toby Weathersby will be the left and right tackle, respectively, while Maea Teuhema is listed as the backup as both. If either were to go down, Teuhema will be poised to step in and play for either and be effective.
7, Preseason polls don’t mean a heck of a lot, but what’s your take on the Tigers being ranked No.5 to start the season?
Embody: It's a recognition of having one of the best backs (and backfields) in the country, a lot of returning talent and a new defensive scheme that is scary good. Last year, the team's flaws came to a head in the three-game skid. With all the experience in leadership, I wouldn't expect something like that to happen again under Les Miles. Their high ranking is well-deserved and about right in the grand scheme of things.
Now, I have LSU beating Alabama this year and winning the SEC so I would have had them a spot or two higher, but that's a different discussion.
8, It was hard to avoid the circus surrounding Les Miles’ job status prior to the bowl game. How much is he on the hot seat entering this season?
Embody: I would say it's not as hot as you'd think. If LSU loses three games though, it could heat up again. If LSU's decision makers allow this to happen again like last year, it will really hurt recruiting. So they'll be smarter about it this year. Unless the Tigers are truly embarrassed somewhere along the line, I expect him to be back. I don't see a year like last year happening again though.
9, What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give LSU trouble? Where do you think the Tigers have the edge over the Badgers?
Embody: There's a chance that Wisconsin's running and play action game could give LSU some trouble early. It's the first game in a new scheme so there's a good chance LSU will face some mistakes on that side of the ball with run fits and overplaying things. If Bart Houston can take advantage, the Badgers can get on LSU early.
Wisconsin has to contain LSU's running backs. I respect Wisconsin and what they've been about through the years, but Leonard Fournette & Co. isn't the same group from two years ago. This is a really special group and I'd be surprised if the Tigers don't rush for 250+ yards as tough as that might be to hear.
10, What is the one thing LSU needs to do well in order to win Saturday?
Embody: Run the football early and often. Control the clock with that and set up Brandon Harris with winnable situations. This was one of the best quarterbacks on third down last year and a strong running game will help that.
In a tough environment, LSU will have to come up early with some big plays to settle down. It's going to be different playing in a stadium that has so much history and one that'll likely be a hostile environment. Some big plays early would help.