LSU is a shell of the same team that ran roughshod through the 2019 college football world en route to a 15-0 record and national championship.
Departures from that star-studded team included a program record 14 players drafted by the NFL, 12 of which earned roster spots, another landed on a practice squad and another on injured reserve.
The attrition on LSU’s roster would later include transfers and the ability to opt out of the 2020 season because of coronavirus concerns. Four players chose that route, most recently the team’s top offensive weapon in wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and defensive line centerpiece in nose guard Tyler Shelvin.
LSU lost a total of 33 players from arguably the greatest team in college football history, thinning the Tigers’ roster to 70 players. Yet that didn’t deter the program from receiving a pair of preseason Top 5 rankings from both the Associated Press poll and the Amway Coaches poll.
However, skepticism from national pundits began showing up when it began to handicap the favorites in this year’s race for a national championship which will be conducted in a truncated season where in some cases, teams are playing conference-only schedules, while two of the major Power 5 Conference brokers (Big 10 and Pac 12) aren’t expected to play until next spring.
There’s not only very little support for LSU being able to hold onto its national crown, but the Tigers aren’t a trendy selection when it comes to repeating as Southeastern Conference champions as well.
“I think it’s going to be a natural tendency for them to predict us not having the success that we would have if we would have a lot of guys coming back,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Tuesday during his weekly Zoom conference. “But that doesn’t bother us. I think we have a great team and we’re going to use that as an advantage. We’ve been picked high; we’ve been picked low and none of them usually pan out.
“This time last year nobody picked us to go 15-0 and had a great season. We’re going to have to block out that. I think those guys have legitimate reasons to say they lost this, they lost that, (they have a) new quarterback. I can understand where they may pick us not to have the success that we think we’re going to have. I think we are underestimated because they don’t know the young talent that we have. They don’t know the new coaches that we have. We have to go and prove it week in and week out. (We have) 10 SEC games, buckle up. It’s going to be fun.”
With LSU nearing the start of its season on Sept. 26 at home against Mississippi State, the Tigers went through their first fall scrimmage last Friday with an expected mixed bag for a team with a bevy of new starters and inexperienced players vying for playing time.
Orgeron praised the play of projected starting quarterback Myles Brennan, all three of LSU’s running backs expected to contend for playing time and the Tigers defense that applied pressure throughout the scrimmage.
“All of these preseason games are designed, although we’re going against each other, to give the feeling of a game,” Orgeron said. “To get prepared for a game to see how we do in live action. I thought our team did very well on both sides of the ball.”
Freshman tight end Arik Gilbert continued turning heads with the former Gatorade national player of the year scoring two touchdowns, Orgeron said.
“The offense made some big plays,” he said. “There were some huge plays made by some young players, especially Arik Gilbert who looked phenomenal on a couple of big-time plays.”
Orgeron on other subjects:
On what he liked in Myles Brennan’s play in the scrimmage
“I think his command of the offense, his pocket presence, seeing the field a little bit better, making quicker decisions, knowing where to go with the ball, maybe in a pre-snap read or right after the snap. All things that takes experience, but overall, we’re very pleased with Myles.”
On sophomore running back John Emery’s improvement over last season
“John has made tremendous improvement. He came in as a great talent, a great young man from right there in Destrehan. Was the top running back in the country. Had some ball-security issues last year. He has not had those ball-security issues this year and he’s catching the ball very well out of the backfield. Is playing on special teams and is becoming an every-down back. Can catch the ball, can protect, can run the ball inside and outside. He’s considered a starter as is Chris Curry and Tyron Davis (Price).”
On using a running back-by-committee approach this season
“I see that, especially at the beginning of the year using all three backs, maybe four to give them a shot to see what they can do. But if a back is hot, having a great game, we’re not going to take him out. I want our guys to do what they do best whether it be catching the ball, blocking, outside runs, inside runs. Let’s use the running back that can use that skill the best. When the ball is in the red zone, I want the ball in our best player’s hands whoever that player may be. The situation will dictate itself of who’s going to be playing to start off the game. If a guy’s the best in every situation he plays.”
On running back Chris Curry carrying momentum this year from his performance in last year’s national semifinal against Oklahoma
“The big game that he had. Obviously, he waited his turn and had provided a spark for us when Clyde (Edwards-Helaire) was down. It gives him some confidence. I think it gives him motivation for this year. We can use Clyde as an example. No one at this time thought Clyde would have the year that he did except his teammates and his coaches and he even surpassed that. Where’s the next great LSU back, and all of a sudden Clyde has a great year. I believe one of those backs or maybe all three of them will have that type of year this year.”
On updating junior safety Todd Harris progress from returning from injury and reviewing the safety position
“He’s getting better. He’s not full speed. He’s not 100 percent healthy but he’s getting close. We feel with the development of JaCoby Stevens and the development of Mo Hampton that we have three guys that are starters there. We’re really excited about Jordan Toles. We think that he’s going to be excellent. We think we’re going to be in excellent shape back there. We have three really great college safeties that we’re very pleased with. Todd brings a lot of leadership, lot of communication, does the right thing, makes plays. He can play down, he can play back, can play zone, can play man. He’s a good physical tackler. He’s a good team leader for us.”
On whether the offensive line has started to gel
“The acquisition of Lian Shanahan really helped us out. He’s smart and makes all of the calls at center. That’s where it all starts. The communication that goes down the line of scrimmage. He’s given our offensive line confidence that he can do it. Obviously, he’s a veteran player, very smart. It starts with him. Dare Rosenthal is going to have an excellent year. He’s a big-time athlete. Ed Ingram has a lot of experience. We won a championship with Austin Deculus and Chasen Hines. We feel good about our first five. We’ve got to be able to develop depth because we don’t want it to happen, but as we know it somebody’s going to get hurt. Somebody’s going to have to step up and more than likely it’s going to be a young player and we have to get them ready.”
On a playing order on the wide receiver depth chart
“We’re looking at Kayshon Boutte starting as a freshman and Racey McMath. Terrace Marshall has to be our go-to guy; Arik Gilbert. Those are the top four receivers that we have right now. Koy Moore’s coming along pretty fast. Jontre Kirklin’s having a good camp. We want to play six or seven receivers and keep them fresh.”
On the 42 former LSU players on active NFL rosters
“We’re proud of all of our young men. Proud of Tre’davious White and the big-time contract that he got. Every Tuesday we make a cut-up of all of our NFL guys that are doing very well. We keep up with him. We know what they’re doing.”
On balancing live tackling in practice and keeping a team fresh
“I think it’s been balanced already by the new rules. We’re under a 20-hour work week, we have 25 practices in seven weeks. Our guys are practicing four days a week, three days off. Monday’s a light day. Tuesday and Wednesday are heavy days and Friday’s a full-speed scrimmage. I think the only way to get ready to play football is to hit. We hit every day in practice that we can, but we also stay fresh. It’s not a matter if you hit or you tackle it’s how long you practice and how many times you do it. We need full-speed work. We had some missed tackles last preseason game. We’ve got two more scrimmages left before a live game so hopefully we can eliminate them.”
On first-year Passing Game Coordinator Scott Linehan breaking any tendencies from last year’s offense
“What we did last year worked pretty good. So, if we can do it the same way and it works, I won’t complain a bit I promise you. Scott has brought some different stuff. He’s been phenomenal, especially in the red zone and on third down. We have some different formations but still out of the spread. We have some different passing concepts still out of the spread. He brought us some concepts on how to use different players in different positions which we’re going to use. I’ve got to compliment Joe Brady. He did a phenomenal job for us last year. I think coach Ensminger’s been behind all of this. I know he’s going to work well with Scott, and we look forward to those guys having a great year.”
On sophomore place-kicker Cade York
“Cade’s done fine. He’s gotten stronger. He had a good scrimmage. He’s kicking the long ball very well. Very consistent this year. He’s going to have to have a good year. We have some young guys behind him that are competing with him. It’s an open competition. Right now, he’s our starting kicker but he’s going to have to prove it in preseason games.
On freshman cornerback Elias Ricks
“Elias Ricks is doing very well. He did a great job in Big Cat (drills) the other day. He was very physical. He’s working very hard. You’re going to see a lot of Elias this year as a starter or maybe not as a starter, but definitely in the rotation playing a lot. We feel like he’s going to be an outstanding player for us.”