LSU coach Ed Orgeron said the team that plays against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 won’t be the same team that played in the regular season, and that statement holds especially true for the Tigers’ defense.
In addition to losing cornerbacks Greedy Williams to an early exit designed to protect his draft status and Kristian Fulton to a season-ending injury, LSU will also be without linebacker Jacob Phillips due to a targeting ejection in the fourth overtime of the Tigers’ 74-72, seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M in the regular-season finale.
As a result, LSU will have to move some pieces around in the back half of its front seven. During his first in-person media availability session since the season ended, Orgeron hinted that moving Patrick Queen back inside could be the answer to some of the issues.
“I think you can look at Patrick Queen, maybe move him back to (inside) linebacker and see whose the best one there,” Orgeron said.
Sophomore Patrick Queen spent the last couple games of the season at outside linebacker, which got him out of Devin White’s shadow a bit and gave him more playing time.
Queen’s versatility has become a handy asset for the Tigers as they’ve been able to move him around and let him show his worth at multiple positions, making him a more rounded athlete and setting him up for success in the future.
It’s a blessing because like playing behind Devin and getting a few reps a few series per game, then being told to play outside and get a lot more playing time is a good feeling,” Queen said. “It means they’re not giving up on you. They’re giving you a chance to play.’
Queen said he still hasn’t gotten official word of what position he’ll be playing in the Fiesta Bowl, but he said he’s up for whatever defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and the coaching staff have planned for him.
“Coach Aranda just told me to stay ready,” Queen said. “He doesn’t know yet on the final decision, so I’m going to come out and compete.”
Other young linebackers are also expected to get some playing time, including freshman Micah Baskerville who has 18 tackles this season.
Thankfully for LSU, junior inside linebacker and Butkus Award winner Devin White wasted no time declaring he would play in the bowl game despite being a projected Top 10 pick in the NFL Draft in a number of draft boards from multiple national publications.
He said the 15 practices leading up to the bowl game are invaluable for young players looking to make a name for themselves heading into the offseason.
“Shoot, it helps them a lot,” White said. “Usually we’re rushing like three days of practice and then throwing them in a game. Now they get to practice, practice, practice. Develop their technique and abilities and get in the playbook a little more because they know what’s expected of them.
“I really like the bowl practices, and we do it like spring ball. It’s all about technique and fundamentals.
White said he himself was the beneficiary of such time to develop early in his career.
In LSU’s win against Louisville in the Citrus Bowl his freshman season, White put together a solid performance in which he tallied five tackles, including a 19-yard sack on quarterback Lamar Jackson.
“I remember because we had so much time,” White said. “I switched positions. I was playing behind Duke (Riley), and then (Kendell Beckwith) got hurt, so I was playing behind Beck. Bowl season came in and me and Donnie Alexander were rotating in and out. So I was getting more reps and getting more comfortable.
“Then the bowl came and I just got it. I made (five) tackles and a sack. That’s when it clicked.”
White and the Tigers are counting on that same kind of realization from its young linebackers as they go against an efficient and up-tempo offense with a depleted defensive roster.
Queen said he expects conditioning to be a big part of LSU’s upcoming practices, and Orgeron said the Tigers will run two offenses against their starting defense in preparation.
It may not be an ideal circumstance for an LSU team trying to be the team to break UCF’s 25-game undefeated streak, but it will undoubtedly give underclassmen with limited opportunities to this point the ability to make a name for themselves.