The midway point of a season is time to take stock, reassess, judge where a team and its players and coaches have come from and try to figure out where they’re going.
Most everyone figured LSU would be a good team in 2019. But who could have foreseen this?
The brilliant passing of quarterback Joe Burrow. The seemingly seamless fusion of the go for broke instincts of offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and wunderkind passing game coordinator Joe Brady. The mostly, merely adequateness of Dave Aranda’s defense. And the second act of Ed Orgeron’s head coaching career that, with seven wins over Associated Press top-10 teams in three years on the job, has shined brighter than anyone could have imagined.
Grading the No. 2-ranked Tigers at the midway point of their 6-0 season is mostly to applaud what they have done well. There are certainly no failing grades and a couple of “How could they be better?” questions on the list. But as the English say, let’s have a go at it, starting with …
Not to be a fawning bag of mush here, but is it possible to give Burrow a higher grade than A+? Is there a letter only dogs can hear? He leads the nation in passing efficiency and completion percentage, is second nationally in five other major categories and is on pace to break a slew of LSU passing records (he already has records for most touchdown passes in a game with six at Vanderbilt and consecutive 300-yard passing games with four). Heisman Trophy voters at ESPN peg him as the current favorite for the award. But just as importantly, the former Ohio State transfer has made this his team. His blend of test pilot self-confidence and brilliant performances make him a man others follow. The only question now seems to be, can the Tigers follow him to a national championship?
Advocate columnist Scott Rabalais rounds up the Heisman Trophy chatter on these standout college football players heading into Week 8 of the season.
Running backs: B+
If we were throwing the lowest score out, this certainly would be an “A.” The first month of the season it seemed LSU’s running backs were merely floating on Burrow’s current. But the past two games LSU has rushed for 248 and 218 yards, respectively. The latter coming against Florida with 134 yards from Clyde Edwards-Helaire, balance the Tigers needed to keep the Gators’ superb defense off theirs. The only disappointment has been the muted contribution of five-star freshman John Emery (27 carries, 116 yards, two TDs).
Wide receivers: A+
Maybe you thought Burrow had some of this in him. But LSU’s receivers have more than exceeded expectations. They probably led the Southeastern Conference in dropped passes in 2018. Now they just want to lead the nation as one of the best receiving corps. Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall and the rest have been outstanding. Burrow can throw it, but they have to catch it, and they have.
Tight ends: A
After sitting out as a transfer in 2017 and because of injury in 2018, it’s hard to be happier for any LSU player other than Thaddeus Moss. D.J. Shockley of the SEC Network tabbed Moss as the Tigers’ X-factor. Fourth on the team with 11 receptions, it’s easy to see why. Stephen Sullivan has also been solid criss-crossing between the tight end and wide receiver positions.
Offensive line: B+
Last season it seemed the Tigers were forced to start a new O-line every game. This year has brought some of the same, with four lineups in six games, but really it has just been the left tackle spot that has been in flux with Saadhiq Charles, Dare Rosenthal and Badara Traore as starters. The return of Ed Ingram is a huge plus, and center Lloyd Cushenberry has been a rock in the middle.
Defensive line: B
Part of me wants to give the LSU D-line an “Incomplete” grade because of injuries. Jeremy Lawrence, defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl, hasn’t started since Week 2 at Texas. Praise is due for nose tackle Tyler Shelvin, who finally is fulfilling his huge potential, and end Neil Farrell, fifth on the team with 26 tackles with a co-team high four for loss.
Again, injuries have worked over this group, but the front has to be more productive in bringing quarterback pressure. That includes outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, who missed two games but has just two sacks.
Freshman Marcel Brooks has transitioned to outside linebacker — the position LSU always envisioned for him — and after a sack against Florida, is he the next piece of the Tigers' pass rush?
Freshman cornerback Derek Stingley joined Burrow and safety Grant Delpit as midseason AP All-Americans. Some say he’s the best cover corner in the college game already. Delpit has been playing out of position and has underwhelmed, but he’s getting back to where he can wreak his all-purpose havoc. Kristian Fulton has had his moments but still seems slowed by that November 2018 foot injury.
Special teams: A
Freshman kicker Cade York has missed a couple, but his biggest problem is comparisons to Cole Tracy. Zach Von Rosenberg’s nearly 45 yards per punt average is adequate. Avery Atkins is still a kickoff touchback machine. And LSU has a blocked punt TD by Micah Baskerville and punt return TD by Trey Palmer. In all, not eye-popping but quality work.
Brady’s addition has been a revelation. Credit to Orgeron for hiring him and Ensminger for not having an ego to bruise. Aranda hasn’t seemed to live up to his enormous $2.5 million salary, but “The Professor” hasn’t forgotten how to coach. Injuries and LSU’s offensive pace has stressed the “D,” but there’s still time for improvement before that Crimson-letter day in November.
Nose tackle Tyler Shelvin and offensive lineman Donavaughn Campbell may both be available for LSU's game at Mississippi State on Saturday, Tig…
Count it once, twice, and it checked out: everyone who was supposed to be at LSU's session of open practice Wednesday afternoon was there.