This season will mark 12 years since Les Miles’ LSU Tigers delivered the BCS National Championship to the state of Louisiana. The 2011 Tigers came close to delivering another, but came up short versus Alabama. Can they overcome the Crimson Tide in 2019, and return to College Football’s biggest game?
They’re coming off the back of a 2018 campaign that held much promise. After reeling off five straight wins, there was much hype around the LSU Tigers. However, a shock defeat to a below par Florida Gators team in game 6, threatened to derail the season. Down 19-20 in the closing minutes of the game, they were in a position to drive down the field for their sixth win. Unfortunately, Joe Burrow was intercepted and the resulting touchdown put an end to the game.
Burrow and the Tigers bounced back the next game. Number 2 ranked Georgia were mauled in Tigers Stadium. Showing incredible resilience, Burrow accounted for two touchdowns as the LSU defence shutdown highly rated quarterback, Jake Fromm.
The biggest game of the year came in game 9.
At 7-1, and ranked number 4, there was a genuine belief that the LSU Tigers could overcome the all powerful Alabama. Without the heartbeat of the defence, Devin White, for the first half, they never really competed on either side of the ball. The Tigers were shut out 29-0, putting to bed any chance of a place in College Football’s final four.
Easy wins followed over Arkansas and Rice, before one of the greatest games in history ended their regular season with a loss. In an absolute shootout of a game, Texas A & M outlasted LSU for a 74-72 win in the seventh overtime period.
They closed out the season with their 19th consecutive bowl game. In the Fiesta Bowl, they became the first team to defeat UCF in two years. The season that had held such promise, ended with a 10-3 record.
Can the LSU Tigers turn promise in to the playoffs in 2019?
There is huge promise in this 2019 LSU Tigers team, and once again it starts with defence. Despite losing Devin White and Greedy Williams to the NFL, the defence may be even better in 2019. White was the team MVP, captain, and the Butkus Award winner. It’s foolish to think he won’t be missed. However, there is so much talent on the roster. Michael Divinity Jr returns for 2019, and alongside K’lavon Chaisson and Patrick Queen, will form a solid linebacker group.
The secondary is legit. Grant Delpit led the team in interceptions and sacks in 2018, and will be the star of the defence. With Christian Fulton, they have a cornerback who is better than the outgoing Greedy Williams. In a major coup, they recruited one of the top players in the nation, Derek Stingley Jr, to play alongside him. Good luck trying to throw the ball on LSU this year.
Up front, they return Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan, who combined for 15 tackles for loss in 2018. The defence is secure from front to back.
The key to the LSU Tigers offence will be the performance of Joe Burrow.
He ended the season positively with a strong performance against UCF, despite getting knocked about. In that game, he showed the physical resilience needed to succeed. After the crucial pick 6 against Florida, he showed the mental resilience to bounce back versus Georgia. In 2019, he’ll need to combine both, with greater accuracy throwing the ball.
His main target will once again be Justin Jefferson. It’s been six years since Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr combined for over 2300 yards, and no receiver has broke 1000 yards for LSU since. Only Jefferson and DJ Chark have racked up more than 800 yards in a season in that time. Jefferson has the speed, and big catch ability, to be a true WR1.
The big loss on the offence for 2019 is Nick Brosette. The running back accounted for over 1100 yards from scrimmage in 2018. His back up from last year, Clyde Edwards-Helaire will look to replace his production as the feature back. However, expect to see Chris Curry feature after an impressive spring game performance. They will also have the heavily recruited John Emory Jr in the backfield rotation.
Finally, it would be disrespectful to not mention the loss of the comfort blanket for the LSU offence. When Burrow and co couldn’t punch it in to the end zone for the Tigers, Cole Tracy ensured that points were put on the board. After suffering kicking misery in the past, Tracy was transformational at the position for the Tigers. He leaves the program with the NCAA record for filed goals made. His could be the hardest loss to replace.
Three key players to watch…
#24 Derek Stingley Jr – Cornerback
If the name seems familiar, you’re probably thinking of Darryl Stingley. Derek is the grandson of the former first round pick, and is about to make a name for himself in college football.
As I mentioned before, Derek Stingley Jr was a major recruiting coup for Ed Orgeron and LSU. Why? As a 5* recruit out of Dunham High School, he was rated the number 1 player in the nation by Rivals.com. He showed his versatility while at Dunham High, playing cornerback, safety, wide receiver and returning kicks. In his final 20 high school games, Stingley Jr snagged 14 interceptions and during his senior season added 8 touchdowns off 24 receptions. His play earned him the 2018 Gatorade Louisiana Player of the Year Award.
After enrolling early to the LSU Tigers, he’s been able to impress the coaches with his performance during spring practice. In the game itself, he grabbed his first interception. He’s put himself in line to start as a freshman, forming a formidable cornerback duo with Christian Fulton.
He has naturally outstanding ball skills, as well as a sharp eye for the game. His intelligence off the field only helps to his understanding of the game on the field. Derek Stingley Jr has the potential to be a lockdown cornerback for LSU for at least the next three years.
#4 K’lavon Chaisson – Linebacker
Big things were expected of K’lavon Chaisson in 2018. After an impressive freshman season that saw him contribute 27 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss, he was primed for a breakout year. In game 1 versus Miami, it looked like those expectations were justified. Already with a tackle for loss, the sophomore showed incredible explosion and speed to send Malik Rosier crashing to the turf, for an 8 yard sack. Unfortunately for Chaisson, and the LSU Tigers, the Miami game would be the only action he would see in 2018.
The former 5* recruit out of North Shore High School has had a full year to recover from a season ending injury sustained versus Miami. After gaining a medical redshirt for 2018, he is once again primed for a breakout sophomore season.
Chaisson combines speed and explosiveness, to provide a true pass rush threat for the LSU Tigers. In addition to his pass rush prowess, he is effective in dropping in to coverage. This was evidenced by pass break ups in games versus Arkansas and Notre Dame in his freshman season.
Those inside LSU believe Chaisson could be the most explosive linebacker to ever play for the Tigers.
#22 Clyde Edwards-Helaire – Running Back
When Nick Brosette left at the end of 2018, it wasn’t too hard to find the next man up. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the clear RB1 in the LSU Tigers running back stable for 2019. With a lot less carries than Brosette last year, Edwards-Helaire still accounted for 658 yards and 7 touchdowns. In fact, in terms of yards per carry, he actually outperformed Brosette. He’ll be tasked with handling a much greater workload in his junior year.
He can be a do it all weapon for the Tigers. As well as rushing the ball, he’s a capable catcher out of the back field. He is also set to feature prominently in the return game. Edwards-Helaire got the Fiesta Bowl of to a dramatic start with a 77 yard kick return, the longest of his career.
On that return, he showed the speed and elusiveness that make him a quality running back. Another element of his game is his strength and determination. He is so difficult to bring down. This was best evidenced in the win over Ole Miss last season. On 2nd and goal, Edwards-Helaire took the snap. He burst out left looking to get around the edge and in to the end zone. However, at the 3 yard line he was met by two defenders and looked to be stopped. Showing strength he shook off the tackle. Showing balance he managed to stay on his feet. Finally, showing great awareness he lunged for the line and an LSU touchdown.
Alongside Joe Burrow, the performance of Clyde Edwards-Helaire will define the LSU Tigers offence in 2019.
A familiar foe holds the key to the 2019 schedule…
The 2019 schedule is littered with “should win” games for the LSU Tigers. They start the campaign at home versus Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt. Games 3-5 see Northwestern State and Utah State visit Tiger Stadium, with a trip to Vanderbilt sandwiched in between. Although Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and Utah State’s Jordan Love, will be formidable opponents, they should be easily winnable games. As should the games against Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas.
After losing in Texas and Florida, to the A & M Aggies and the Gators respectively, in 2018, LSU have a change to avenge those defeats on home territory. Despite an air of expectation in Florida particularly, these are two winnable games. They will of course be tough, but they are must win games if the Tigers have any aspirations of making the final four.
It’s another team from Texas that will provide an early tough test for the Tigers.
Under the leadership of junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, the Texas Longhorns look set to be a force in college football in 2019. In week 2, the LSU Tigers have to travel to Texas and take down the Longhorns. It will be no easy feat, and an early defeat to a Big 12 program would stick in the mind of the selection committee.
However, the biggest test of the season will come in game 9.
Any route to the final four hinges on the game against Alabama. It’s highly unlikely that the Crimson Tide drop any other game, so a win for the Tigers is a must if they have any chance of getting to the SEC Championship game. After losing 29-0 at Tiger Stadium in 2018, they’ll be hungry for revenge. That will be easier said that done when they line up in Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 9th. It will be a true test of how great the LSU defence can be. There’s possibly never been a greater receiving group in college football than Alabama will boast in 2019. Delpit and co will have to bring their very best to the table.
This 2019 LSU team is full of talent, passion and potential. Are the Alabama Crimson Tide the only team preventing them from roaring all the way to the College Football Playoffs?
Feature Image Credit: Eddy Perez (WAFB)