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LSU has the pieces for a title run. For Les Miles' sake, the Tigers better make one.

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When you keep your job against all odds and then field your most talented team in years, all eyes are on you.

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.


First things first: Baton Rouge and a lot of Acadiana are currently dealing with the effects of historic flooding. Much of the region has been declared a disaster area, and thousands have seen their homes flooded or outright destroyed. (SB Nation contributor and And The Valley Shook co-manager Billy Gomilla is among them.) My thoughts go out to those in the region, and if you're interested in helping in any way, I recommend starting with this NOLA.com link.

(Reminder: It's always a good idea to read as much as possible into the organizations you're donating to.)

This is a mere football preview, and I will therefore talk about football now. But just in case we needed another reminder, football is just a sport.


1. Here goes nothing

Let's recap approximately the last nine months of Les Miles' career:

  • LSU heads into November 2015 at 7-0 and fourth in the country, averaging 39 points per game behind Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette and play-action bombs.
  • LSU gets physically dominated by Alabama in a 30-16 loss. Fournette rushes 19 times for 31 yards while *new* Heisman favorite Derrick Henry rushes 38 times for 210.
  • The Tigers then lose by a combined 38 points to Arkansas and Ole Miss and fall completely out of the polls. Within three weeks, Miles has gone from the top 5 to almost definitely fired. Heading into Thanksgiving weekend, it is assumed that the Texas A&M game will be his last as head coach.
  • Miles does not get fired. He gets an extended salute before the game, and then his Tigers play their best game in a month. His players carry him off of the field, and the whole event appears to sway Joe Alleva, and Miles pulls off what almost no coach has ever done: surviving a booster coup attempt.
  • LSU dominates its bowl against Texas Tech, then Miles signs what is, according to the 247Sports Composite, the No. 3 recruiting class in the country. He also steals one of the best-regarded defensive coordinators in the country, Dave Aranda, from Wisconsin.
  • With almost everybody back from last year's team, Miles and LSU begin 2016 ranked, on average, about sixth in the country. From an S&P+ perspective, sixth is a few spots too low.

Miles was forced to come to grips with his coaching mortality last November, then survived.

He is beloved and embattled. He heads into 2016 with high expectations and excitement ... and he's basically one bad quarter away from ending up right back atop hot seat lists.

This is all very strange and, yes, very LSU.

Regardless, LSU does appear loaded and experienced. The Tigers still have Fournette, and two of the biggest issues of 2015 -- shaky run defense and shaky quarterback play -- could be rectified by the hire of Aranda and further seasoning for junior signal caller Brandon Harris.

Injuries are piling up for the front seven on defense, and the Tigers are just an injury or two away from playing a lot of freshmen at receiver. There is still plenty that could go wrong.

The vibes around this program are confusing, but on paper, LSU is ready for a run.

The upside is undeniable; we saw it for about three-quarters of last season.

This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Catch up on the SEC so far!

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-3 | Adj. Record: 10-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 10 | Final S&P+ Rk: 9
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
12-Sep at Mississippi State 16 21-19 W 91% 92% -2.1 -3.0
19-Sep Auburn 33 45-21 W 98% 100% +18.3 +17.0
26-Sep at Syracuse 85 34-24 W 83% 90% -7.4 -15.0
3-Oct Eastern Michigan 122 44-22 W 81% 96% -22.0 -22.5
10-Oct South Carolina 88 45-24 W 83% 92% -3.6 +6.0
17-Oct Florida 27 35-28 W 91% 94% +7.7 -2.5
24-Oct Western Kentucky 15 48-20 W 96% 95% +19.9 +11.0
7-Nov at Alabama 1 16-30 L 56% 7% -6.6 -7.5
14-Nov Arkansas 11 14-31 L 32% 1% -29.7 -24.5
21-Nov at Ole Miss 5 17-38 L 38% 1% -15.1 -16.5
28-Nov Texas A&M 34 19-7 W 89% 92% +2.8 +6.5
29-Dec vs. Texas Tech 60 56-27 W 98% 100% +17.9 +21.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 40.7 12 22.2 27
Points Per Game 32.8 44 24.3 41

2. Three awful weeks

I was nearly appalled at the thought of firing Miles over what amounted to three bad weeks.

LSU could expect to field an improved defense and its best offense in years in 2016. Odds are decent that the Tigers still won't be as good as Saban's Crimson Tide next year.

Does that warrant a change? From an outsider's perspective, no way in hell. Coaching changes are terrifying crap shoots. And LSU should know that as well as anybody. The Tigers have become permanent members of the ruling class because they nailed two straight hires: Saban in 2000, Miles in 2005.

But that's hard to do. LSU might be two-for-two, but the Tigers are also two-for-five.

This is college football we're talking about. Lost perspective is assumed. When a rival -- one coached by a man you used to employ -- is doing better than you after beating you in a national championship rematch, you start to think crazy thoughts, like, "I'm so sure we can do better that I'm willing to pony up an eight-digit buyout to roll the dice."

Make no mistake, though: These were three really, really bad weeks.

  • LSU in 9 wins:
    Average percentile performance: 90% (~top 13) | Yards per play: LSU 7.2, Opp 4.7 (+2.5)
  • LSU in 3 losses:
    Average percentile performance: 42% (~top 75) | Yards per play: Opp 6.5, LSU 5.1 (-1.4)

Now, most teams play better in wins than losses. That's not exactly uncommon. But the difference here was stark.

The response to this was interesting. While the defense was a clear cause of LSU's poor play -- you can't allow 6.5 yards per play to good teams and expect to keep up -- most of the blame seemed to get placed on quarterback Brandon Harris. "Les Miles can't develop quarterbacks!" became an overbearing narrative.

To be sure, Harris was awful in November. But it was more of a funk than yearlong awfulness.

  • Harris in November: 60-for-126 (48%), 806 yards, three touchdowns, five interceptions, 101.3 passer rating
  • The rest of 2015: 88-for-150 (59%), 1,352 yards, 10 touchdowns, one interception, 155.0 passer rating

Harris wasn't ready to poke holes in elite defenses like Alabama and Ole Miss. (And it bears mentioning that Texas A&M's defense was No. 2 in Passing S&P+.) But he was also a true sophomore. Even with a superhero at running back, a first-year starter is usually going to struggle against Alabama.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.41 8 IsoPPP+ 125.7 9
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.3% 35 Succ. Rt. + 106.8 45
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.0 69 Def. FP+ 26.8 14
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.1 15 Redzone S&P+ 105.6 52
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.5 ACTUAL 10 -7.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 39 17 45 9
RUSHING 7 7 27 5
PASSING 106 32 79 17
Standard Downs 18 39 14
Passing Downs 21 59 11
Q1 Rk 23 1st Down Rk 14
Q2 Rk 47 2nd Down Rk 33
Q3 Rk 7 3rd Down Rk 4
Q4 Rk 15

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Brandon Harris 6'3, 218 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9645 148 276 2158 13 6 53.6% 13 4.5% 7.1
Danny Etling
(Purdue)
6'1, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8967 89 162 800 6 5 54.9% 11 6.4% 4.1
Justin McMillan 6'2, 196 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8267
Lindsey Scott Jr. 5'11, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8410

3. "Miles can't develop quarterbacks!"

I get it. I watched him in November, particularly against Alabama (6-for-19) and Texas A&M (7-for-21). I understand the concerns about Harris.

But I also watched him against South Carolina, Florida, and WKU, when he completed 63 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 186.9 passer rating. And I watched him in the Texas Bowl, proving fully capable of torturing a defense so fully focused on stopping Fournette.

Yes, there were issues, but that is to be expected. Eight SEC teams primarily featured first-time starters at QB in 2015, and among them, LSU was fourth with a Passing S&P+ ranking of 32nd. And none of the three teams above the Tigers (No. 2 Ole Miss, No. 15 Alabama, and No. 27 Georgia) was starting a true sophomore.

In four to five non-sack carries per game, Harris ran efficiently, and for most of the year he provided passing vertical enough to overcome inefficiency. When you've got Fournette, you are allotted a little margin for error, and Harris was an awesome complement for much of the season.

The next step in his development is obvious. LSU's 2016 fate will be determined in part by his ability to avoid outright duds and do a little more damage against good defenses. That means quicker reads, occasionally more accurate throws, etc. It means normal development, in other words.

The "Can't develop QBs!" meme has been interesting to watch. LSU had one of the most devastating passing games in the country in 2013, and Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson developed well enough to combine for a 147.6 passer rating as seniors as LSU went to the BCS Championship.

"Miles can't develop QBs!" really comes down to "LSU's first-time starter has struggled against Alabama for two straight years."

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Leonard Fournette RB 6'1, 235 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9996 304 1957 22 6.4 6.8 44.4% 3 0
Darrel Williams RB/FB 6'1, 233 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9027 60 296 4 4.9 3.7 40.0% 0 0
Brandon Harris QB 6'3, 218 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9645 54 327 4 6.1 7.5 46.3% 9 3
Derrius Guice RB 5'11, 212 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9777 51 436 3 8.5 9.7 49.0% 1 0
Nick Brossette RB 6'0, 209 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9203 12 65 0 5.4 1.6 58.3% 1 0
J.D. Moore FB 6'4, 241 Jr. NR NR
Bry'Kiethon Mouton FB 6'1, 265 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8591
David Ducre FB 6'0, 236 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9155
Lanard Fournette RB 5'10, 199 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8382







4. Soak it in

I think there was another factor in how we viewed Harris' 2015 performance: we resented him in some way for blowing it for Fournette.

Fournette, an all-world recruit who has lived up to his hype nearly from day one, needed help that he didn't get late in the year. And fair or unfair, he was swiftly eliminated from Heisman contention because of it. He finished with 2,206 combined rushing and receiving yards and 23 touchdowns but fell to sixth in the voting.

Regardless, Fournette is everything he was supposed to be, and we get him for one more year before he leaves to make actual money. What he did to Auburn last year, he will probably do to someone else. He might do it a lot.

Fournette injured his ankle recently in practice, which reminded us of debates about injury risk and the ethics of forcing someone to play amateur football for three years even if he was pro-ready at 18. The injury doesn't appear serious enough to keep him out. Here's hoping we get plenty of opportunities to see a healthy Fournette in LSU's Mardi Gras colors this fall.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Malachi Dupre WR-X 6'4, 195 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9915 77 43 698 55.8% 29.1% 9.1 53.2% 45.5% 1.92
Travin Dural WR-Z 6'2, 207 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8885 56 28 533 50.0% 21.1% 9.5 46.4% 41.1% 2.15
Leonard Fournette RB 6'1, 235 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9996 33 19 253 57.6% 12.5% 7.7 57.6% 39.4% 1.77
John Diarse WR-Z 28 13 137 46.4% 10.6% 4.9 39.3% 35.7% 1.11
Tyron Johnson WR-X
18 9 150 50.0% 6.8% 8.3 44.4% 38.9% 2.17
Colin Jeter TE 6'7, 254 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) NR 18 12 132 66.7% 6.8% 7.3 55.6% 50.0% 1.24
Trey Quinn WR-Z
6 5 83 83.3% 2.3% 13.8 66.7% 66.7% 1.91
DeSean Smith TE 6'5, 249 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9420 6 4 82 66.7% 2.3% 13.7 16.7% 50.0% 2.41
Darrel Williams RB/FB 6'1, 233 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9027 6 4 31 66.7% 2.3% 5.2 33.3% 16.7% 2.35
Derrius Guice RB 5'11, 212 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9777 6 4 24 66.7% 2.3% 4.0 66.7% 50.0% 0.72
Foster Moreau TE 6'6, 250 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8206 1 0 0 0.0% 0.4% 0.0 100.0% 0.0% 0.00
D.J. Chark WR-Z 6'3, 187 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8728
Russell Gage WR-X 6'0, 179 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8517
Jazz Ferguson SLOT 6'5, 223 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8983
Derrick Dillon WR 5'11, 181 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9252
Stephen Sullivan SLOT 6'6, 235 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9407
Drake Davis WR-X 6'3, 217 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9406
Dee Anderson WR-Z 6'5, 202 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9211
Jamal Pettigrew TE 6'7, 250 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9088
Caleb Roddy TE 6'5, 276 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8802

5. Green receivers don't help your quarterback

The line appears solid, with three returning starters and a couple more with rotation experience. But for Fournette and the run game to click, they will obviously need the passing game to come through in key moments. Harris is under pressure, but the receiving corps has some pretty big question marks.

The main question: What happens if Malachi Dupre or Travin Dural get hurt? The top three backup wideouts are gone, and LSU got little from the tight end position last year.

Dural injured his hamstring against Ole Miss and then gained weight in the most understandable way (Popeye's addiction), but it appears he's fit and ready.

Ducre and Dural combined to average a solid 9.3 yards per target over about 11 targets per game. For their careers, they have averaged 19 yards per catch with 23 combined touchdowns. They are spectacular play-action weapons, but there will come a time when they need to make plays against a defense that is actually having some success against Fournette. Can they? And can Harris get them the ball? (And who's the No. 3 target? Tight end Colin Jeter? Sophomore Jazz Ferguson? A junior like D.J. Chark or Russell Gage?)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 112.2 3.29 3.29 45.1% 63.6% 17.6% 89.4 5.7% 8.1%
Rank 15 15 59 8 80 35 79 81 81
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Vadal Alexander RT 12 46 2015 1st All-SEC
Jerald Hawkins LT 11 37
Ethan Pocic C 6'7, 302 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9728 12 25
William Clapp LG 6'5, 309 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9054 12 12
Maea Teuhema LT 6'5, 315 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9827 11 11
Toby Weathersby RT 6'5, 302 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9497 1 1
Josh Boutte RG 6'5, 346 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9316 1 1
K.J. Malone LT 6'4, 303 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8657 0 0
Andy Dodd C 6'4, 318 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8886 0 0
Garrett Brumfield RG 6'3, 305 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9517 0 0
Chidi Okeke RT 6'6, 312 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9507

Adrian Magee LG 6'5, 309 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8772

George Brown Jr. RT 6'7, 283 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8722

Donavaughn Campbell RG 6'4, 344 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9343

Willie Allen LT 6'7, 310 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9246


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.22 46 IsoPPP+ 120.1 14
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.2% 57 Succ. Rt. + 121.8 6
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.7 98 Off. FP+ 31.8 29
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.6 81 Redzone S&P+ 109.5 30
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.2 ACTUAL 17.0 -4.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 25 12 6 14
RUSHING 17 40 17 51
PASSING 65 7 7 8
Standard Downs 19 18 18
Passing Downs 8 4 12
Q1 Rk 2 1st Down Rk 12
Q2 Rk 15 2nd Down Rk 23
Q3 Rk 98 3rd Down Rk 27
Q4 Rk 13

6. Upgrade

Kevin Steele's only LSU defense wasn't bad. The Tigers ranked 29th in Def. S&P+; they boasted an elite pass and passing downs defense and dominated the first quarter, giving the offense a chance to build a cushion. But the run defense was a little too leaky, and for one reason or another, LSU gave up huge ground in third quarters -- opponents averaged 2.1 yards per carry with a 126.0 passer rating in the first quarter but 4.4 and 168.7, respectively, in the third.

Steele was hired away by Auburn, and one didn't get the impression that Miles was fighting too hard to keep him. And in need of a new man to lead the D, he made a spectacular hire.

In 2010, Aranda took over as Hawaii's coordinator and improved the Warriors from 109th in Def. S&P+ to 78th. He took over the Utah State defense in 2012, and the Aggies improved from 96th to 12th. He followed head coach Gary Andersen from Utah State to Wisconsin 2013, and his first Badger defense improved from an already impressive 16th to 14th. After brief regression to 29th in 2014 (thanks in part to a complete rebuild of the front seven), Wisconsin surged back to eighth in 2015.

Aranda's Wisconsin defenses were aggressive and efficient; the Badgers ranked 16th in Success Rate+ last year but also prevented big plays and stiffened in the their territory, allowing only 3.3 points per scoring opportunity. They were well-rounded and intense, and while there were a few former star recruits, the caliber of athlete was nothing like what he inherits in Baton Rouge. His 2016 defense will be experienced and fast, and thanks mostly to good size up front, it appears the Tigers should transition from 4-3 to Aranda's 3-4 with minimal pain.

Though lineman Christian LaCouture is lost for the season to injury, LSU returns a vast majority of last year's two-deep in the front seven and loses only one defensive back. This could be fun to watch.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 109.4 3.04 2.91 37.5% 68.4% 18.4% 132 7.0% 8.6%
Rank 37 89 39 56 83 89 21 13 40
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Lewis Neal DE 6'2, 272 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8672 12 35.5 5.6% 9.5 8.0 0 6 1 0
Davon Godchaux NG 6'4, 299 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9328 12 26.5 4.2% 9.0 6.0 0 1 1 0
Christian LaCouture DE 6'5, 301 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9004 11 21.0 3.3% 2.5 1.0 0 1 1 0
Frank Herron DE 6'4, 305 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9588 12 16.0 2.5% 2.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Sione Teuhema DE 6'5, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8848 7 10.0 1.6% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Greg Gilmore NG 6'4, 308 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9579 12 8.5 1.4% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Deondre Clark DE 6'4, 272 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9324
Travonte Valentine NG 6'4, 356 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.8950
Rashard Lawrence DE 6'3, 301 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9846
Edwin Alexander NG 6'2, 333 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9653
Glen Logan DE 6'4, 315 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9280
Andre Anthony DE 6'4, 219 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9181








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Deion Jones OLB 12 78.5 12.5% 13.5 5.0 2 3 1 0
Kendell Beckwith ILB 6'3, 247 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9664 12 67.0 10.7% 10.0 3.5 0 1 2 0
Arden Key OLB 6'6, 238 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9589 12 30.5 4.8% 6.5 5.0 0 1 0 0
Lamar Louis OLB 12 21.5 3.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Duke Riley ILB 6'1, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8657 12 18.0 2.9% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tashawn Bower OLB 6'6, 253 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9187 9 12.0 1.9% 4.0 1.5 0 1 1 0
Corey Thompson OLB 6'2, 222 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9078 9 11.5 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Donnie Alexander ILB 6'1, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8703 12 9.0 1.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Devin Voorhies ILB 6'2, 223 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9156 12 5.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Isaiah Washington OLB 6'4, 236 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8711 6 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
M.J. Patterson ILB 6'4, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8700
Michael Divinity Jr. ILB 6'2, 234 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9667
Devin White ILB 6'1, 255 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9366
Ray Thornton OLB 6'3, 222 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9196
Sci Martin OLB 6'4, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8659








7. All about the run defense

It's been a good news, bad news situation in fall camp. Losing LaCouture hurts, and outside linebacker Isaiah Washington is out as well. Fellow outside linebacker Corey Thompson is expected to miss a few weeks with a fracture near his ankle.

But the addition of JUCO transfer Travonte Valentine offsets some of that loss. Valentine wasn't expected to reach eligibility but did, giving the Tigers a serious hoss to hold down the nose guard position.

Valentine is a favorite of SB Nation's recruiting analyst, Bud Elliott, who told me this: "Valentine is one of the most physically gifted huge defensive tackles to come out of high school in recent years. A rare athlete who can be explosive at 330-plus pounds, like an Albert Haynesworth. If he picks up the defense quickly and is in shape, he could be an instant difference-maker in the best division in college football."

Valentine gives Aranda flexibility. Other potential nose guards like Davon Godchaux and Greg Gilmore could flex to end if need be, and he could occupy enough blockers to free up not only linebackers but fellow lineman Lewis Neal, who emerged as a strong pass rusher last year.

Run defense will be the key, though. Linebacker depth has taken a hit, but if players like Kendall Beckwith and Duke Riley can flow to the ball well, and if LSU suffers fewer run glitches, a dominant pass defense will take it from there.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jamal Adams SS 6'1, 213 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9847 12 57.0 9.1% 5 0 4 6 1 0
Tre'Davious White CB 6'0, 197 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9732 11 37.0 5.9% 1.5 0 0 7 0 0
Kevin Toliver II CB 6'2, 193 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9948 12 29.5 4.7% 2 0 1 5 0 0
Dwayne Thomas CB 6'0, 201 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9167 10 29.0 4.6% 3 0 0 6 0 0
Rickey Jefferson FS 6'0, 209 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9149 12 28.5 4.5% 1 1 1 3 0 0
Jalen Mills FS 7 27.5 4.4% 1 1 0 3 0 0
Donte Jackson CB 5'11, 173 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9731 12 23.5 3.7% 0.5 0 1 2 0 0
Ed Paris FS 6'1, 203 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9786 12 3.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
John Battle SS 6'2, 202 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8801 12 3.0 0.5% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Xavier Lewis CB 6'0, 190 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9217
Kristian Fulton CB 6'1, 188 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9857
Saivion Smith CB 6'2, 192 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9744
Eric Monroe FS 6'0, 191 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9715
Andraez Williams CB 6'2, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9122
Cameron Lewis SS 6'2, 196 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8996








8. Better hope you can run

About the only negative thing I can find to say about the LSU pass defense is that the Tigers could have held onto a few more interceptions. They had only one against ranked opponents (and in the SEC West, they're going to face plenty of ranked opponents), and their ratio of INTs-to-breakups was a bit on the low side.

That's a pretty mild concern. With what should be a pretty strong pass rush helping out, LSU's secondary looks dynamite. Safety Jamal Adams is dynamic, and the top three returning cornerbacks (Tre'Davious White, Kevin Toliver II, and Dwayne Thomas) combined for 6.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and 18 breakups in 2015. And with Jalen Mills missing the first five games of the year, senior Rickey Jefferson got plenty of reps to prepare for succeeding him in 2016.

The LSU defense faces the opposite scenario as the offense -- if the run D holds up, the pass D will dominate. It might regardless.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jamie Keehn 58 40.7 5 21 19 69.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Cameron Gamble 5'11, 189 Jr. 43 57.8 5 2 11.6%
Trent Domingue 32 58.4 7 2 21.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Trent Domingue 49-50 10-12 83.3% 3-5 60.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Derrius Guice KR 5'11, 212 So. 20 23.6 0
Donte Jackson KR 5'11, 173 So. 8 20.5 0
Tre'Davious White PR 6'0, 197 Sr. 20 11.5 1
Donte Jackson PR 5'11, 173 So. 4 1.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 83
Field Goal Efficiency 51
Punt Return Success Rate 121
Kick Return Success Rate 83
Punt Success Rate 71
Kickoff Success Rate 115

9. Surprisingly bad special teams

It felt odd to see LSU combining mediocre punting with nearly nonexistent returns, but that was the case for the Tigers in 2015, who got only four kick returns of 30-plus (75th in the country) and one punt return of 30-plus and allowed a nation's worst 18.9 yards per punt return. Granted, not many of Jamie Keehn's punts were actually returnable, but those that were ended up very poorly for LSU.

Keehn's gone, and place-kicker Trent Domingue transferred over the summer, but this probably isn't the worst time for a special teams reset (even if the return men are all back).

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Wisconsin 37 12.7 77%
10-Sep Jacksonville State NR 42.5 99%
17-Sep Mississippi State 21 14.3 80%
24-Sep at Auburn 24 8.4 69%
1-Oct Missouri 47 22.8 91%
8-Oct at Florida 19 6.4 64%
15-Oct Southern Miss 72 27.1 94%
22-Oct Ole Miss 7 9.0 70%
5-Nov Alabama 1 1.1 53%
12-Nov at Arkansas 17 5.7 63%
19-Nov South Alabama 115 40.7 99%
24-Nov at Texas A&M 25 8.4 69%
Projected wins: 9.3
Five-Year F/+ Rk 43.4% (5)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 8 / 7
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 7 / 3.7
2015 TO Luck/Game +1.3
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 92% (96%, 88%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 8.6 (0.4)

10. Where's the fast forward button?

For reasons good or bad, this is going to be fascinating. This LSU team is more experienced and put together than any since 2011. Even with the late-season funk, the Tigers still finished ninth in S&P+ last year, their best finish since, again, 2011.

There will be plenty of opportunities for LSU to slip up before November. The Tigers have between a 69 and 80 percent chance against Wisconsin, Mississippi State, Auburn, Florida, and Ole Miss, and S&P+ says the odds of starting 8-0 are only about 16 percent.

Still ... this feels like a one-game schedule, doesn't it? Or at least, it feels like LSU's season begins on November 5, when Alabama visits town.