REPORT CARD: Final Grades of 2008
TigerRag.com gives one final look back at the 2008 season.
by Matt Reynolds
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
(At left, The Florida defense swarms over LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee. (Photo by Steve Franz)
Many people expected much more from the 2008 LSU Tigers than an 8-5 record. However, when looking back at the play of this season unit by unit, it almost seems as if eight wins was overachieving.
It’s obvious that the quarterback position was the root of the Tigers’ problems in 2008. But when analyzing the defensive side of the ball, you won’t find much to applaud either.
Despite being ranked among the worst in the nation in turnovers, the LSU offense actually performed quite well. The lack of consistent quarterback play seemed to cast a shadow over an offense that scored well over 30 points per game.
But there is little that can be said about the defense that grossly under-achieved throughout the course of the season.
To close the book on 2008, here are Tiger Rag’s final marks on a season that Tiger fans are anxious to put in the past.
Talk about this position is to the point of overkill this season, but frankly it can’t be stressed enough that the lack of experience and decision making at this position was the “hamartia” of the 2008 LSU Tigers.
After Florida won its second BSC title in three years last Thursday, ESPN Gameday personality Lee Corso gave his 2009 preseason top five. Surprisingly, LSU was listed at No. 4 and he contributed the boost to the top to the play of freshman Jordan Jefferson.
A top five spot may be somewhat generous, but after watching Jefferson for two games, it seems apparent that LSU may have found its leading candidate for the starting job next year.
Every team that had success in the SEC this season had an experienced quarterback that limited his mistakes to a minimum. That is, besides Ole Miss’ Jevan Sneed, who was getting his first crack as a starting quarterback after transferring from the University of Texas. But Sneed’s talent was evident by the end of the season, as his poor decision making skills improved, thus thrusting the Rebels into the national spotlight by seasons end.
Everyone in Baton Rouge was guilty of it before the season began. It was a common theme that it doesn’t take a superstar quarterback to win championships, as Matt Mauck and Matt Flynn were used as examples. Well, hastily overlooked was the fact that these referenced quarterbacks were already battle tested, which was the exact opposite of what LSU had to work with in the 2008 season.
And so we all witnessed the very unraveling of an “elite 11” quarterback in his redshirt freshman season. With more interceptions than touchdowns – over half of them taken back for touchdowns – Jarrett Lee was tabbed by many as possibly the worst starting quarterback in the SEC.
Andrew Hatch did what he could, before his leg injury. But let’s be honest. Do you think the Harvard transfer ever expected to be a starting quarterback at a program like LSU when he transferred two years ago when super prep talent Ryan Perrilloux was waiting in the wings? Absolutely not.
It has been rehashed over and over. Why didn’t Jefferson see the field earlier in the season? That’s a question that only Les Miles and his staff truly know the answer.
As far as the season in entirety, it was a disappointing year at the quarterback position, but Miles has to be pleased with how it looks for next season after Jefferson’s bowl performance in Atlanta.
It looked like Charles Scott was going to shatter the record books at LSU after the first few games of the season. We all remember the “Chuck the Truck for Heisman” talk that was floating after the Mississippi State game.
Well Florida put all that talk to rest two weeks later, but Scott still had one heckava year. He rushed for 1,170 yards and was one touchdown away from tying LaBrandon Toefield’s rushing touchdown record of 19. Now LSU has to be worried about the junior coming out early for the NFL draft since his stock rocketed this season.
Keiland Williams seemed to buy into his role as a backup to Scott, as the junior contributed throughout the season when called upon. Williams carried the ball 83 times for 417 yards on the season.
Richard Murphy was the hot name after the spring game when the rangy running back stole the spotlight. But the season was somewhat of a disappointment for the talented back from Rayville as he never was able to show his game breaking abilities when given the opportunity.
Fullback Quinn Johnson finished out his career at LSU in style, scoring three touchdowns on the year. Before this season, Johnson didn’t even have three carries.
What junior Brandon LaFell did during the season was nothing short of remarkable. Despite the situation at quarterback, LaFell was able to finish as the second best receiver in the SEC, pilling up 929 yards on 63 receptions for eight touchdowns. Like Scott, LaFell has some soul searching to do, as an early exit to the NFL draft is obviously a possibility.
Before the season began, several mock drafts websites had Demetrius Byrd as one of the top five seniors in college football. It’s safe to say that wasn’t the case by years end, as Byrd was clearly not the same player he was during the Tigers title run. Mabye it was a disconnect between he and his quarterback or LaFell’s play over shadowed the Miami native, but I think it’s common knowledge that the “Byrdman” underachieved this year with only four touchdowns.
Tight End Richard Dickson was money again this season, and will be one of the top tight ends in the SEC next season. As a junior this year, Dickson caught five touchdowns.
Kind of like preseason rankings, I now believe that preseason hype is a bunch of bologna after this football season.
There was talk of this O Line being possibly one of the best in the history of the school during the fall workouts, but that was clearly not the case.
The wear and tear of SEC play and possibly the mental anguish that was inflicted on the team during the later part of the season could have affected this talented bunch.
Senior Herman Johnson did earn All-American honors, but Ciron Black was considered by most to have a much more dominant season than he did. But still, he was only a junior, and if he decides to come back for another season, the Tigers could have another All American lineman next year.
The play of Brett Helms, Lyle Hitt and freshman Joseph Barksdale was as good as to be expected, and reserve senior Ryan Miller was a key contributor on the season.
Much like the O Line, the defensive front was supposed to be monstrous this year. With a senior-laced bunch, the preseason accolades where rolling in for Tigers such as Tyson Jackson.
Kirston Pittman, Marlon Favorite and Charles Alexander were the other seniors that were supposedly going to help man the best defensive line in college football this season. On paper, it’s certainly easy to see why many would have thought this. But many factors helped produce a mediocre season for this group and ultimately led to the departure of D Line coach, Earl Lane.
A pleasant surprise was the play of junior Rahim Alem, who led the team in sacks with eight. Alem’s physical nature was a force on the field all season and most teams had trouble matching his speed and surprising strength off of the line. Without a doubt, Alem was this unit’s best player.
One thing you can say about this bunch, they were deadly at stopping the run this year.
Unfortunately, most of the Tigers opponents chose the air option when trying to move the ball on the Tiger defense. This group wasn’t exactly the swiftest bunch in the nation, which gave them trouble in coverage in some situations.
Also, rarely were three linebackers on the field much during the season, as the nickel and dime packages were used to combat most of the passing attacks the Tigers faced.
When the Tigers where faced with having to stop the running attack, such as the triple option attack of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, they shined.
Perry Riley had a solid season with 60 tackles, and his play in the bowl game earned him defensive MVP honors.
Darry Beckwith is the only backer that LSU will lose, so new defensive coordinator and linebacker coach John Chavis will inherit an experienced group.
What more is there to say? Some blame the scheme, and some say it was the confusion created by the co-defensive coordinator disaster. And some may point to the inexperience of three new starters in the defensive secondary. Whatever it was, it was awful.
How many times did you hear the words “blown coverage” come out of Gary Danielson’s mouth this season?
LSU has been a team that has prided itself on tough defensive, especially secondary, play over this decade. That was far from the case this season.
The defense back play was so out of synch that it forced the LSU coaching staff to put freshman Patrick Peterson in the mix maybe before he was ready. Although Peterson is without question one of the great young talents on the Tiger squad, the co-defensive coordinator antics might have caused him to be put into situations he wasn’t prepared for, or at least that is the way it appeared.
But alas, the Tigers will have a secondary squad back next year that has seen the worst of the worst and surely has learned a lot from the tough 2008 season.
Colt David became LSU’s all-time leading scorer just a year after leading the SEC in points. The former walk-on leaves LSU as one of the best kickers in the history of the school, if not the top dog.
After a horrid start to the season, punter Brady Dalprey turned out a pretty good season. The first year starter was no Donnie Jones by any stretch of the imagination, but got the job done.
It seems LSU is still struggling to find ways to use the speedy Trindon Holliday and the punt return game, although having a couple of bright spots in the North Texas game, may not be the role for him.
Holliday and Keiland Williams were consistent on kickoff returns, but rarely busted off huge gains.
The only special teams touchdown of the season was a punt return by Holliday against North Texas.
In the kick coverage department, Ron Brooks, Ryan Baker and Stevan Ridley have become fan favorites with their inspired play. Baker will almost surely see time at linebacker next year, while Brooks could see action at cornerback. With Quinn Johnson leaving, Ridley might be a sufficient replacement at fullback in some packages.