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Sneak Peek: The LSU Tigers

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How do the national champions follow up an incredible 2019 season?

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Champions-Louisiana State Celebration Russell Costanza-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be taking a quick look at every Auburn opponent on the 2020 schedule.

2019 Record: 15-0

2020 Signing Class: 4th (3rd SEC)

Head Coach: Ed Orgeron (5th Season)

Key Departures:

  • QB Joe Burrow - 402/527 (76.3%) 5,671 yds 60 TD 6 INT
  • RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire - 215 carries 1,414 yds 6.6 avg 16 TD 55 rec 453 yds 8.2 avg TD
  • WR Justin Jefferson - 111 rec 1,540 yds 13.9 avg 18 TD
  • TE Thaddeus Moss - 47 rec 570 yds 12.1 avg 4 TD
  • LT Saahdiq Charles
  • C Lloyd Cushenberry
  • DT Rashard Lawrence - 28 tackles 6.0 TFL 2.5 sacks 3 PBU FR FF
  • OLB K’Lavon Chaisson - 60 tackles 13.5 TFL 6.5 sacks 2 PBU FF
  • LB Jacob Phillips - 113 tackles 7.5 TFL sack PBU FF
  • LB Patrick Queen - 85 tackles 12.0 TFL 3.0 sacks INT 2 PBU FR
  • S Grant Delpit - 65 tackles 4.5 TFL 2.0 sacks 2 INT 7 PBU FR FF

Key Returners:

  • WR Ja’Marr Chase (Jr) - 84 rec 1,780 yds 21.2 avg 20 TD
  • WR Terrace Marshall Jr (Jr) - 46 rec 671 yds 14.6 avg 13 TD
  • LB Damone Clark (Jr) - 50 tackles 4.0 TFL 3.5 sacks
  • DB Kary Vincent Jr (Sr) - 47 tackles 2.0 TFL 4 INT 8 PBU
  • CB Derek Stingley Jr (So) - 38 tackles TFL 6 INT 15 PBU FR
  • S JaCoby Stevens (Sr) - 92 tackles 9.0 TFL 5.0 sacks 3 INT 6 PBU

Preview

On September 30th, 2017, Ed Orgeron’s LSU Tigers lost at home to Troy. It was the 2nd loss in three weeks and things were starting to get uncomfortable for Coach O just five games into his first full season as the Tigers’ head coach. Rumors of infighting between the head man and offensive coordinator Matt Canada were rampant. With a trip to the Swamp up next and Auburn coming to town a week later, it sure seemed like a possible Ole Miss redux was underway in Baton Rouge. Ed O was once again the joke of the SEC.

But not for long.

LSU has lost exactly five games since that Troy upset. They rallied to beat Florida and Auburn in successive weeks and finished 9-4 in 2017. LSU followed up with a 10 win season in 2018. Then in 2019, Coach O and the Tigers went out and won the whole damn thing behind the most prolific offense in college football history.

Ain’t no one laughing now except Coach O.

What LSU accomplished in 2019 was remarkable. Joe Burrow transformed from mediocre QB that needed max protect every other snap to a Heisman winner who excelled at getting his playmakers the ball behind 5 man protections. It was an offense that was downright unstoppable, only scoring less than 35 points once in 2019. But even in that one contest against Auburn’s stout defense, LSU still put up over 500 yards of offense.

I mean just look at those numbers. Joe Burrow threw SIXTY touchdown passes. Ja’Marr Chase caught TWENTY touchdowns. Justin Jefferson had ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN receptions. Terrace Marshall missed 3 games and still caught THIRTEEN touchdowns. Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for more yards than any AU running back last season and would have finished #2 in receiving for Malzahn’s Tigers. Just insanity.

But can they do it again? Joe Brady, former no name NFL analyst turned offensive wunderkind, is gone to the NFL. Long time stud defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is now the head coach at Baylor. Fourteen members of the 2019 national champions were drafted in the NFL.

Winning championships is hard. Winning multiple championships is much harder. Just ask Larry Coker, Gene Chizik, Mack Brown, Jimbo Fisher and countless others who reached the mountain top only to see their programs crumble underneath them. Will Coach 0 join them or is this only the start of his ascension?

Fortunately for LSU, elite talent remains, it’s just unproven. Myles Brennan has the daunting task of replacing Joe Burrow. A former blue chip prospect, Brennan has patiently waited his turn and folks in Baton Rouge think highly of his upside. But he won’t be as good as Burrow this fall. The question is how big a step back does LSU’s offense take from Burrow to Brennan?

Luckily for LSU’s new starting QB, plenty of skill talent remains. Yes, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jefferson and Thaddeus Moss are all gone. But the nation’s best wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is back as is former 5-star Terrace Marshall Jr. LSU also returns two former 5-star running backs in John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Prince along with former blue chip Chris Curry. There’s also an assortment of young WR talent that looks poised to make an impact including 5-star freshman Kayshon Boutte.

Oh and they signed one of the freakiest athletes of the 2020 class in Arik Gilbert. Seriously, this kid is absurd and will be a bone fide stud in LSU’s offense.

Probably the most underrated piece of that LSU offense last season was its offensive line. The Tigers often relied on only 5 man protections and this unit was outstanding all year HOLDING up against elite pass rushes. However, four starters have departed with right tackle Austin Deculus the lone man returning. There’s definitely plenty of talent up front it’s just about getting it to gel quickly enough to execute the Tigers RPO heavy offense.

On defense, Dave Aranda is gone and a familiar face has returned to roam the Tigers sidelines. Bo Pelini is back in Power 5 football following five years as head coach at Youngstown State. He took the Penguins to the FCS National Championship his 2nd year but was unable to replicate that success in his following 3 campaigns. Under Pelini, LSU will be transitioning back to a four man front meaning some pieces on this defense will have to adjust to new responsibilities and positions this fall.

Up front, LSU is loaded as always. K’Lavon Chaisson, Rashard Lawrence and Breiden Fehoko are all gone but plenty of talent returns. The Tigers have some big fellas to eat up the middle in guys like Tyler Shelvin, Saiki Ika and Glen Logan. On the edge, LSU will have to make some adjustments transitioning from 3-4 OLBs to 4-3 DEs. There are a lot of different faces that will get looks at this position but keep an eye on former JUCO TE prospect T.K. McClendon. Ed O has been consistent in praising his development and the scheme change better fits his skillset. He could be a breakout player for this Tiger defense in 2020.

One of the positions hardest hit by attrition was linebacker where Patrick Queen and Jacob Phillips both decided to leave for the NFL following the 2019 season. Luckily for LSU, they landed one of the premier grand transfers on the market in former North Dakota State star Jabril Cox. He will likely earn a starting role on the outside while someone like Damone Clark takes over at the MIKE.

Two starters depart in Thorpe Award winner (lol) Grant Delpit and cornerback Kristian Fulton. But arguably the nation’s best corner, Derek Stingley Jr, returns along with nickel back Kary Vincent Jr and safety JaCoby Stevens. Former Auburn commit Cordale Flott looks to be the incumbent at the corner spot opposite Stingley while former AU target Maurice Hampton likely fills in for Delpit at safety. The Tigers also signed the #1 CB in the nation in the 2020 class in Elias Ricks who could easily see time early on the back end of LSU’s defense.

2019 was a magical season for LSU. They put a fun brand of football on the field and used it to obliterate most every opponent that stood in their way. But 2020 will likely provide a few more stumbling blocks. So much production is gone and with two brand new coordinators, it’s hard to see LSU repeating in 2020. Auburn gets the defending champs at home this fall. If Gus Malzahn is ever going to beat Ed Orgeron, it better be this year.

War Eagle!