By Zachary Junda
With the 2014 football season starting this week, we’ve tackled 14 of the most burning questions facing the Tigers this season: seven for offense, seven for defense, going into LSU’s upcoming season.
Last week, we focused on LSU’s offense under second-year coordinator Cam Cameron, who will seek answers at quarterback and wide receiver early on while relying on the strength of a stout offensive line and a corps of freaks at running back – including freshman phenom Leonard Fournette.
This week we take a look at LSU’s defense under John Chavis, which has the makings of a great unit. Let’s dive in.
• Who’s the next great LSU defensive lineman?
Hold on, let me try my Barney Stinson impression: Haaaaaaave you met, Danielle Hunter? Hunter’s 6-foot-6, 241 pounds and looks like he’s made out of bronze. Stature wise, he’s really close to KeKe Mingo, give or take an inch. And hey look at that, Mingo wore 49 and Hunter wears 94. This stuff writes itself. Whether or not he can match the production of Mingo is yet to be seen, but he started to emerge as a force to be reckoned with in 2013; in 10 starts he racked up eight tackles for loss and three sacks, both good for second on the team. Hunter’s breakout game was against Florida. He recorded seven tackles, a tackle for loss and used his long arms to deflect two passes. Hunter’s thought to be the next great LSU defensive lineman and he definitely looks the part. Production is the question now and Hunter’s definitely showing promise.
• On a scale of 1-10, how worried should I be that LSU has to replace both their starting defensive tackles?
Honestly? About a seven or an eight if you thought Anthony Johnson actually lived up to the hype of being the next Glenn Dorsey. But if you’re like me and thought that Johnson looked like Dorsey post-knee injury then I wouldn’t go higher than a four. I’m not saying Johnson was a disappointment, but in his LSUSports.net bio this sentence exits: “lost 40 pounds since his freshman season when he played at 330 pounds.” I mean, if we’re using how much weight a guy lost as a complement to his legacy, that’s not exactly a good thing, right? Then there’s Ego Ferguson, who in 12 starts in 2013 recorded all of one sack. Yeah. You can replace that kind of production.
Going off the first depth chart released, Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas are being tasked the role of replacing Johnson and Ferguson. Thomas is a redshirt junior, appearing in 14 games in his three years in Baton Rouge but battling a torn bicep injury that could limit his production; LaCouture is heading into a sophomore season after playing in every game as a true freshman. So, if health permits, there is experience returning at defensive tackle this season. It might be slight, but it’s more than what LSU has at quarterback or receiver. LSU also recruited about 47 defensive tackles in 2012, so this upcoming season will be that group’s first chance at working their way into the rotation. May I suggest Maquedius Bain as a guy to look for this season? And no, I’m not suggesting him because he has a total badass name. Okay you’re right, I’m suggesting him because he has a total badass name. But he was also a pretty highly touted badass on the field in high school. Bain was the sixth best defensive tackle prospect according to ESPN and No. 43 overall. So there’s that. Either way, while defensive tackle might be an area of concern early on, I doubt anyone will be missing Johnson or Ferguson for long.
• We’ve heard for years now that LSU has a stable of really talented linebackers, who’s actually going to step up and actually live up to the hype?
I’m absolutely enamored with Clifton Garret. He’s my favorite incoming freshman on the defensive side of the ball, and I only love Fournette and Dupre more than him. I absolutely expect to see Garret on the field as early as Wisconsin. Honestly I think he’s good enough to unseat D.J. Welter for the starting middle linebacker position. For now he’s listed behind both Welter and Kendell Beckwith. On the outside I’m a big fan of Kwon Alexander. I think he’s the best linebacker on the roster and I wouldn’t be shocked if he can have an All-SEC type of year.
• What can Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson do for an encore?
Be the best corner duo since Patrick Peterson and Mo Claiborne? That’s the feeling you get watching the two of them both have sensational freshman seasons. In fact, I think one reason Mike Evans left Texas A&M early was so he wouldn’t have to have Robinson steal his lunch money one more time. Did you see the job he did on Evans? Evans is a 6-foot-5, 235 pound bully who shoves defensive backs off of him to create separation, and Robinson, who’s four inches shorter and 70 pounds lighter, wasn’t having any of it. The best way to stand up to a bully is by hitting him in the mouth right? Well that’s what Robinson did all day long, holding Evans to a mere four catches for 51 yards. What’s scary is that White might even be better than Robinson. So to answer the question, I think Robinson and White can follow up their stellar freshman seasons by earning All-American honors and be Thorpe Award finalists – that is, if junior Jalen Collins, who began last season as the starter, doesn’t emerge ahead of Robinson, which is exactly what reports are coming out of practice. Whoever wins that job will be a stud next to a fellow stud in White.
• Who does LSU turn to at safety?
Right now Ricky Jefferson, brother of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, and Ronald Martin, who has been around so long I swear he was on the 1958 championship team, are your listed starters. If Jalen Mills’ legal issues don’t cost him playing time, he could be back into his starting free safety role opposite Jefferson before long. After Martin and Jefferson, you have guys who are probably better suited for depth purposes than actual performance. Guys like Corey Thompson and Russell Gage come to mind. Incoming freshman Jamal Adams is a guy to look for to make an early contribution. A composite five-star recruit from Texas, Adams is the guy many have pegged to be the next great safety from LSU and could start in nickel and dime packages. He may even end up starting in the backfield before long. He’s that good.
• Right now, who’s the best player on the defense? Who’ll be the best player come bowl season?
Right now it’s Tre’Davious White. Come bowl season I’d say Danielle Hunter.
• What’s a realistic expectation for the 2014 LSU defense?
Carry the 2014 squad. The 2013 defense took its lumps throughout the season and was thought of the worst defense since the 2008 season. And yet despite all the criticism, both warranted and unwarranted, and the agonizing inconsistency- especially in the secondary- LSU ranked 21st in points allowed and 15th in yards allowed in 2013. That 2013 team was still one of the best in the nation contrary to the irrational LSU fans out there. The problem the 2013 team had was forcing negative plays. The Tigers ranked 59th in sacks, 94th in tackles for loss (tied with Alabama actually. #FIREMILES am I right?) and 80th in forcing turnovers. They also struggled getting off the field, ranking 58th in third down conversion percentage. Those are the numbers that need to improve, and with seven returning starters you would expect them to do so.
• What’s the best and worst case scenario for LSU’s record this year?
Best case: 11-1 with a loss at Auburn; worst case scenario 8-4 with losses at Auburn, at Florida, home against Alabama and at Texas A&M
• How many tackles does DJ Welter need to miss before Tiger fans scream to get him out of there?
Trick question, they haven’t stopped screaming since last year.
• Who’s returning punts and kickoffs now that Odell’s gone?
Travin Dural, Terrence Magee or Jamal Adams
• Which unheralded freshman makes the most impact?
• Is LSU ever going to fill up the newly expanded Tiger Stadium? And if so, will fans actually stay the whole game or nah?
Sam Houston State just for those fans who will want to brag about how they were there for the first game with the expansion then leave after remembering that LSU’s playing Sam Houston State. Ole Miss if it’s at night, and maybe they stay the entire time; and of course Alabama will be packed and they’ll absolutely stay.
• What’s the craziest thing Les Miles can do this season?
A better question would be what’s the craziest thing he can’t do this season? With as many new faces on offense, what’s the over/under on gimmick plays he calls all season long? I say 3.5 and I’ll take the under. I say he calls two and they’ll be against Florida and Alabama.
• Am I a better dresser than Malachi Dupre?
Seriously? Did you see him on Signing Day? No you are absolutely not a better dresser than him