LSU’s 2014 regular season ended on Thanksgiving in fitting fashion: The Tigers followed a miserable performance in a 17-0 loss at Arkansas with a stunning display in a 23-17 win at Texas A&M.
A description of coach Les Miles’ 10th season in Baton Rouge takes just two words: roller coaster.
The 8-4 year was marked with deep lows and scintillating highs. Heck, LSU fans rushed the field for the first time in more than a decade (Ole Miss) and, three weeks later, fell victim to an opponent’s field rushing (at Arkansas).
The highs: Six games came down to the final play, and Miles’ team won four of them. They stormed back from fourth-quarter deficits in three of those and won two SEC road games in hostile venues.
The lows: The Tigers dropped just their fourth and fifth games (Mississippi State and Alabama) under Miles at night in Tiger Stadium and lost by their biggest margin under the coach (41-7 at Auburn).
The highs and lows continue as we grade each position group:
Offensive line: B-
The scoop: The unit entered the season as an experienced and veteran group expected to carry the team. So anything less an “A” here is a disappointment. The line struggled early without center Elliott Porter before coming together and helping LSU run for at least 180 yards in four straight SEC games. Pass protection was a problem all year.
Star of the group: LT La’el Collins. His decision to return for his senior season will make him $2-3 million in signing bonus money. He often played like a first-round draft pick.
Looking forward: The unit loses Collins and Porter and could lose draft-eligible LG Vadal Alexander and RT Jerald Hawkins. Either way, a shakeup is in store.
The scoop: LSU’s QB situation was rocky at best. The Tigers finished averaging 163 passing yards per game. That ranked 114th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams before this weekend’s games. Starter Anthony Jennings finished the regular season with a completion percentage of 48.8, which would be the worst for an LSU QB since Marcus Randall completed 48.1 percent in 2002. Brandon Harris had 452 passing yards in limited duty.
Looking forward: This should be the hot topic all offseason. The competition is wide open for Jennings, Harris and, maybe, a junior-college quarterback.
Running backs: B
The scoop: The four-headed backfield of Leonard Fournette (891 yards), Terrence Magee (545), Kenny Hilliard (434) and Darrel Williams (285) lived up to preseason expectations. It took time for Fournette to find his groove — and the holes. Magee ran with explosiveness, and Hilliard and Williams were the hammers.
Star of the group: Fournette. The true freshman and former top-ranked recruit showed flashes of brilliance, but he’s still breaking out of that high school running style.
Looking forward: Fournette is the future, but the Tigers won’t have any shortage of talented RBs, including Williams and commits Nick Brossette and Derrius Guice.
The scoop: Travin Dural emerged early as the go-to guy for Jennings, and freshman Malachi Dupre evolved into a long-ball threat, but the rest of the wideouts and Jennings never really meshed. There was miscommunication and dropped passes.
Star of the group: Dural. He finished the season leading LSU in receptions (37), yards (758) and touchdown catches (seven).
Looking forward: Just four receivers caught passes. Four. That’s the bad news. The good news: All four return in 2015.
Defensive line: B-
The scoop: This group — specifically the tackles — got off to a rough start, but they improved with every game, hitting a high point in back-to-back games against Ole Miss and Alabama. DE Jermauria Rasco might be the smartest player on the field, and DE Danielle Hunter is rangy and athletic, but they combined for just 5.5 sacks.
Star of the group: DT Christian LaCouture. This might seem like an unusual choice, but the sophomore has evolved into a solid interior defensive lineman.
Looking forward: Will Hunter stick around for his senior year? He’s projected as high as a second-round draft pick. LaCouture and DT Davon Godchaux are back.
The scoop: This unit took a similar path as the defensive line. It grew with each game and was playing its best by Games 9 and 10. The infusion of MLB Kendell Beckwith can’t be overlooked, but Kwon Alexander has been the rock of the group all season. He finished leading LSU with 79 tackles.
Star of the group: Beckwith. He replaced senior D.J. Welter midway through the loss at Auburn and has been a difference-maker. He’s fast, athletic and smart.
Looking forward: Beckwith returns, and he’ll likely have a five-star redshirt freshman behind him in Clifton Garrett. But does Alexander make the early jump to the NFL?
The scoop: The defensive backs finished the season allowing just 162 passing yards per game. That ranked fourth in the nation before this weekend’s games. They allowed some long balls at times — think Auburn, Mississippi State and even Florida and Alabama — but the good heavily outweighed the bad.
Star of the group: CB Tre’Davious White. White’s man-to-man defense is some of the best in the land. He proved it against Bama receiver Amari Cooper, among others.
Looking forward: The Tigers lose senior S Ronald Martin, and CB Jalen Collins and S Jalen Mills are possibilities to leave early. CB Rashard Robinson’s future is shaky, too.
Special teams: B-
The scoop: Outside of one game, the glaring weakness is Tre’Davious White at punt returner. He has struggled. Leonard Fournette is in the middle of the pack nationally in kick returns, and kicker Colby Delahoussaye — despite his late-season blips — finished 11-for-15. Trent Domingue’s kickoffs rank in the top 20 nationally, and punter Jamie Keehn is in the top 10.
Star of the group: Keehn. The junior from Australia finished with a 45.0-yard average. He somewhat broke out of his inconsistencies as the season went on.
Looking forward: All of the key pieces should return.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.