Picking through the pile of questions currently surrounding this LSU football team from our “virtual mailbag:”
Which quarterback is going to start the Florida game Saturday?
Jeff Driskel. Oh, you meant which quarterback is LSU going to start. As of press time, as we like to say in the biz, there was no definitive answer.
LSU coach Les Miles declined to pull a starter’s name out of his hat after Wednesday’s practice, but did say he expects Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris to both see the field against the Gators. He said a decision may not be announced until Saturday.
What’s the best guess then?
The pick here is Jennings. Given Florida’s internal upheaval since squeaking out a 10-9 win at Tennessee and the sexual assault allegations that led to the indefinite suspension of Treon Harris, the quarterback who led the Gators’ comeback win, one would think Miles would opt for his default mode. That means trying to play power football, out of the I, with two tight ends while hoping LSU’s slotted spoon defense can do enough to stop the sputtering Florida offense in its tracks.
Both quarterbacks have been better off the bench the last two games, Jennings committing huge mistakes to start against New Mexico State and Harris stumbling around against Auburn. Perhaps LSU needs to start third-stringer Brad Kragthorpe then bring in Harris or Jennings on the second snap.
The expectation here is for Harris to play, and that he and Jennings will continue to serve and volley the quarterbacking duties through most of the rest of this season.
Who is running the show on LSU’s offense?
Cam Cameron is the offensive coordinator, but Miles was seen during the Auburn game with a play chart in his hands.
Clearly those hands, as has usually been the case during his 10-year LSU tenure, have shaped the Tigers’ offensive philosophy if not actually every play that’s called. Miles sets the tone and it’s up to Cameron to call the kinds of plays he wants.
What Miles wants is to play old-fashioned power football, something LSU has been incapable of doing consistently this season. That means primarily running the ball. There’s nothing wrong with that. Auburn is primarily a running team and used that style of play to devastating effect Saturday.
But there’s also nothing wrong with running out of a spread formation, either, at least part of the time. Miles’ stubbornness to stick with the formula that, granted, has led to most of his 99 wins at LSU, is understandable. But coaches who see the future and themselves in it know they sometimes have to adapt to the changing times.
What is LSU’s biggest problem?
Believe it or not, it’s not the quarterbacks, or Miles himself. It’s the line play.
Though college football has under a technological revolution in recent years with spread offenses bristling with eight-wide receivers (almost), the old truth about football still holds:
You have to win the line of scrimmage.
That’s the battle LSU has lost more often than any this season. The offensive line can’t open enough holes for the Tigers to play the power game, though that’s in part because defenses are stacking the line against them.
The defensive line has underwhelmed overall, especially at tackle. LSU has nine active defensive tackles now that Trey Lealaimatafao is cleared to play (including converted end Lewis Neal) and none of them have been capable of any stop gap measures worth a hoot.
The thing that has set SEC teams apart in the conference’s age of dominance, including LSU, is the ability to produce stifling D-line play. Without it, every game will be a struggle.
Can the D-line play improve?
Miles claimed it already did despite the blowout loss to Auburn, but any improvement is being doled out in eye-dropper increments at best. But sure, this season is on-the-job training, especially for the tackles, whose group includes only one upperclassmen in the oft-injured Quentin Thomas.
Did LSU recruit bad defensive tackles?
If it did, it recruited ones that everyone else wanted. Perhaps the better question to ask is why those players haven’t developed. This can’t be a fun season in any way for LSU D-line coach Brick Haley, who like all LSU position coaches has a hand in who he recruits to his meeting room.
Can LSU at least make a bowl game?
It seems unthinkable that the Tigers won’t be playing somewhere in December or January, though not making it is a very real prospect at this point. The remaining schedule — at 3-1 Florida, 4-1 Kentucky, 5-0 Ole Miss, 4-1 Alabama, at 3-2 Arkansas and at 5-1 Texas A&M — offers no breathers.
You’d expect the Tigers to at least be able to split their last six games and finish 7-5. But which three could LSU win is complete guesswork at this point.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.