By Casey Gisclair
LSU closed out its regular season with a win over Texas A&M to finish 8-3 and Les Miles lived to see another day in Baton Rouge. The Tigers’ season took a disappointing turn in November, with three straight double-digit losses, but there are still signs of hope for the future of the LSU football program, even besides sophomore superstar running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette gets all of the love, but believe it or not, he, alone, does not an SEC team make.
Fournette is an absolute beast and is hands-down one of the best players in the country, but without a lot of other things going right on the gridiron, the Tigers wouldn’t have been able to achieve the fairly solid season that they have.
So here it is, folks – a column dedicated to a lot of the little things that occur each Saturday, but don’t get as much sunlight as No. 7 does when things go right.
As a whole, the LSU defense was a mess in 2015. The Tigers’ defense was a unit that struggled to match the lofty standards that former defensive coordinator John Chavis set during his tenure in Baton Rouge, but it surely wasn’t the secondary’s fault.
LSU’s defensive backs were a pleasant surprise throughout the season, limiting opponents to just 211 yards passing per game and 6.4 yards per pass. The Tigers did most of their damage while being short-handed for most of the year. Senior Jalen Mills was pretty much a non-factor throughout the season and true freshmen Kevin Toliver and Donte Jackson were thrust into heavy action.
Sure, there were some bad spots, and it wasn’t always perfect, but by and large, the LSU secondary wasn’t half bad in 2015.
Pass Rush Resurgence
For as great as Chavis era was in Baton Rouge, the Tigers struggled to rush the passer at an elite level in the final season of his tenure. LSU recorded just 19 sacks for -115 yards in 2014 – a mark that just doesn’t quite feel right considering all of the great talent the Tigers have had in the trenches in the past decade.
This season, first-year coordinator Kevin Steele upped the number to 28 sacks for -193 yards. The trade-off for a quicker, more aggressive defensive line was that LSU allowed big yardage on the ground at times in the season. But on obvious passing situations, they were far better equipped to make a run at opposing quarterbacks.
The 2015 Signing Class
The heralded 2015 recruiting class was really, really good on the field – especially late in the season. We already talked about Toliver and Jackson – each making a huge impact in the LSU secondary. But how about Arden Key? As an undersized true freshman, Key used heart and talent to log five sacks and a team-high nine quarterback hits. With a little added beef, he will be a force in the future.
Also playing huge roles on the field for LSU this season were offensive guard Maea Teuhema, halfback Derrius Guice and to a lesser extent Tyron Johnson and Nick Brossette – all true freshmen. The cupboard isn’t bare. The Tigers have young talent oozing out of its locker room, including even more to come in the Class of 2016.
Malachi Dupre’s Success
The LSU passing game was again an inconsistent mess in 2015 – especially late in the season when quarterback Brandon Harris sort-of crashed and burned. On that rare occasion, however, when Harris was calm, collected and had time to throw the ball down the field, Dupre was open and ready to make a big play.
In a passing offense that only generated 1,904 yards on the season, Dupre accumulated nearly a third of it all with 39 catches and 602 yards on the season. In a passing offense that has just 12 touchdowns, Dupre recorded six of the bunch, emerging as Harris’ go-to option in the red-zone. If the LSU passing game can get its magic fix in 2016, Dupre will be ready to soar – maybe even to a level of superstardom. He certainly paved the way for that this season.
Imagine this: an LSU football season without any clock management gaffes at all. That was the case in 2015 as the Tigers were 100 percent clean in their clock management – never once doing something that was completely bone-headed. One would think that’d be a given, but with this program, you just never can be so sure. Even small victories like this one count for something.