The 2016 version of the Purple and Gold has a lot of talent. So there is no need to panic as far as talent is concerned. On offense, junior running back Leonard Fournette returns for his third, and most likely, final season. In 2015, Fournette rushed for 1953 yards and 22 touchdowns, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The LSU offense averaged 437 yards per game. The Tigers are deep at the running back position thanks to sophomore Derrius Guice and junior Darrel Williams. Guice averaged 8.5 yards per run last season.
The offensive line has experience and talent. Senior center and guard Ethan Pocic ,senior guard Josh Boutte, and sophomore guards Garret Brumfield and Maea Teuhema return to form a better than average interior of the offensive line. Head coach Les Miles named his starting offensive line, but then said nothing was certain, so the starters are not set yet.
Junior Malachai Dupree and senior Travin Dural are two dynamic receivers. It is hard to find a better duo in college football. Will they get to prove it? That remains to be seen. In 2015 Dupree had 698 yards in receptions with six touchdowns. He averaged 16.2 yards per catch. Dural had 533 yards in receptions, averaging 19 yards per grab and three touchdowns.
Junior Brandon Harris returns at quarterback. In 2015 he threw for 2165 yards, 13 touchdowns, and six interceptions. He was also the fourth leading runner on the squad.
There are no other quarterbacks on the LSU roster with any substantial playing experience.
Dave Aranda is the new defensive coordinator for the Purple and Gold. During his three year stint at Wisconsin, prior to coming to LSU, the Badgers were ninth in the country in total defense for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Wisconsin was second in the country in total defense for the 2015 campaign. The Badgers were fourth in the country in defense against the run last year. They were fifth in the nation in pass defense last campaign. In 2016 Aranda will have the Purple and Gold playing a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Hopefully Aranda will turn the LSU defensive fortunes around this season. The Tigers sunk to an uncharacteristic 25th in the nation, 45th in road games, in total defense last season.
The Tiger defensive players will have to adjust to the new scheme. One of the most important players in the 3-4 defense is nose tackle, or as some call it, the nose guard position, where the defender plays over the center on the opponent team. A good, large nose tackle will occupy two blockers on the offensive line, freeing up a player on defense.
Junior Greg Gilmore and sophomore Travonte Valentine have been sharing duties at the nose tackle position in preseason. Gilmore played in all 12 contests last year, but started in one. He had 13 total tackles in the 2015 season. Valentine, a former highly touted high school player, had actually been kicked off the LSU squad, and brought back. He has yet to play a down. He weighs 355 pounds according to the LSU roster. If Valentine can play well at the position, it would be a big asset to the Tiger defense.
Senior defensive tackle Lewis Neal was fourth on the team in tackles last year with eight sacks. Junior defensive tackle Devon Godchaux had 41 total tackles, including six sacks during the 2015 season. Godchaux played multiple positions on the defensive line. Senior defensive lineman Christian LaCouture has been lost to injury. The Tigers have some highly rated freshmen like defensive tackle Rashad Lewis, who have yet to play in a college football game.
Unlike the past few years, when the Tigers have played three, and even two linebackers in a game, this year they will play four. Senior Kendall Beckwith was second on the squad in tackles last year with 84 stops, 50 unassisted, and 10 tackles for losses (tfls). Arden Key, the sixth leading tackler on the team as a freshman, is learning to play the linebacking position. Senior Tashawn Bowser played well at defensive end last year. In the Aranda scheme he will have to play an interior lineman or linebacker. Last year Bowser weighed between 250 and 260 pounds, not a good weight to play as an interior down lineman in a 3-4 defense.
The strongest part of the LSU defense may be its secondary. A lot of players in the secondary can play both safety and cornerback positions. Junior safety Jamal Adams was the third leading tackler on the team in 2015 with 67 tackles, 40 unassisted, and five tfls. He also had four interceptions. Senior cornerback Tre’Davious White was the fifth leading tackler on the team last year with 44 tackles, 30 unassisted. Senior Dwayne Thomas brings more versatility back to the secondary.
Seniors Colby Delahoussaye and Cameron Gamble return as placekickers.
For the second straight year there have not been mass defections to the NFL from this team, which is a good thing. However, the Purple and Gold cannot continue to be predictable on offense. The SEC West is just too good.
Les Miles claims to have had an epiphany on offense, but what that means is anybody’s guess. Fans in Tiger Town will find out.
This year the Purple and Gold will not have to wait until November to find out where they stand on the SEC and national scene. Three huge road games await them at Wisconsin, Auburn, and Florida before the second weekend in October.
One thing is clear, this Tiger team, coaches included, can go as far as it wants to go.