By Casey Gisclair
The LSU football team has high hopes for the 2015 season, but those hopes will only come to fruition if certain key players perform at a high level.
Some of the Tigers’ key cogs are known, while others are less experienced, but for that magical double-digit-win season to happen, the following five guys have to shine in a big way.
LSU’s KEY PLAYERS FOR 2015
Leonard Fournette – Sophomore Running Back
This one seems like a no-brainer.
Fournette will be LSU’s bell cow running back in 2015 – a guy who is already generating buzz about a possible run at the Heisman Trophy.
The powerful, bruising halfback took college football by storm in the final two games of 2014, rushing for 289 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ final two games in 2014 – all while only getting 30 carries.
In the Music City Bowl, Fournette was one of LSU’s only bright spots. He punished Notre Dame to the tune of 143 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns. Fournette also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
All reports out of summer camp so far seem to indicate that Fournette is hungry to build on those numbers and chase college football greatness.
LSU needs it.
With unproven quarterbacks and an offensive system that features the power running game more than almost anyone else in the country, Fournette needs to have a huge season for the Tigers to have any hope of remedying their offensive woes.
Fournette says that he’s ready for the challenge.
Who are we to bet against he and the entire Buga Nation?
Colby Delahoussaye – Junior Kicker
On paper, Colby Delahoussaye has been money throughout his career as a Tiger. The rising junior connected on 24-of-29 field goals in two seasons – a percentage that makes him among the top returning kickers in the country.
But in the back-end of 2014, Delahoussaye wasn’t good. In fact, he was downright awful.
After making a last-second, game-winning kick against Florida in the middle of last season, Delahoussaye was never the same. The New Iberia native made just 6-of-10 kicks in the final five games of 2014. In the Tigers’ final two games, Delahoussaye was abysmal, connecting on just 1-of-4 tries, including two misses on tries from the 20-29-yard range.
That has to change. In the SEC, even the most dominant teams will play several close games throughout the grind of the season. In those contests, kickers are of utmost performance – especially when a team has an offense like LSU’s, which isn’t known for scoring tons of points.
Les Miles has said multiple times throughout the spring and summer that Delahoussaye’s late-season demons are behind him, but time will tell. The Tigers need their kicker to be pretty good to have a chance.
Trey Quinn – Sophomore Wide Receiver
Throughout the first half of last season, Trey Quinn was a valuable weapon for the LSU offense – a guy that Anthony Jennings trusted in key third-down situations.
After a couple key drops in the Alabama game last November, Quinn fell completely out of the team’s rotation at wide receiver. In some games, he didn’t even play.
With a full offseason to get those Alabama game cobwebs out, Quinn is expected to rejoin LSU’s primary depth chart in 2015, and is a guy who can post big numbers if the Tigers fix their passing game.
When Quinn is at his best, he’s a guy that defensive coordinators have to scheme for. He loves to catch passes right at the line of scrimmage and scamper up the field for five or six yards. If opponents aren’t able to make man-on-man tackles, Quinn has the ability to turn those short passes into huge gains – something that the LSU faithful hope to see early and often this fall.
With a powerful running game and guys like Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre flanking deep into the secondary, there will be a lot of room underneath the safeties for the Tigers to make plays. Quinn’s skills dictate that he’s the perfect man for that job.
Kendell Beckwith – Junior Linebacker
LSU fans have wanted to see Kendell Beckwith on the field from the moment that he signed his National Letter of Intent in 2013.
It took a while for it to happen. Miles’ undying loyalty to the often-overmatched D.J. Welter lingered deep into 2014.
Once Beckwith became the Tigers’ full-time middle linebacker, he showed his loyal supporters that he was worth the hype. In the final month of 2014, Beckwith was a disruptive playmaker – one of the best linebackers in the country.
The linebacker wasn’t a starter for the first-half of the season, but he still finished second on the Tigers defense in tackles, recording 77 for the season. Beckwith also recorded 7.5 stops for a loss, two sacks, and an interception.
With Welter gone to graduation, the LSU defense now belongs to Beckwith. He will make all of the team’s calls throughout the season and will unquestionably be among the team’s leaders on that side of the football.
The Tigers have linebacker depth, but no one on the bench is nearly as physically imposing as Beckwith. He is the one LSU player who absolutely, positively needs to be healthy throughout the season.
Jamal Adams – Sophomore Safety
Adams had a glistening freshman season for the Tigers, recording 66 tackles and five stops for a loss. He needs to do that and more in 2015 – especially after what’s happened to the Tigers’ secondary depth in the offseason.
After a successful 2014 season, Adams entered this fall knowing that his role in the Tigers defense would be bigger as a sophomore.
That enhanced role expanded even more a few weeks ago when veteran safety Jalen Mills suffered a lower leg injury – an injury that will put even more pressure on Adams to be a big-time playmaker as a sophomore.
Adams has the talent – we saw that last season. Even before then, he was a Blue Chip prospect and one of LSU’s most touted signees in recent years.
With less depth at the position than ever before, Adams will have to prove productive against a tough early-season schedule that will pit LSU against Mississippi State and Auburn – two teams who might be near the top of the conference in passing offense.