Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
SEC TEAM PREVIEWS LSU:
Orgeron, LSU in ‘next man up’ mode
LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron leads his players onto the field before LSU's 65-14 NCAA football game victory over Northwestern State Saturday in Baton Rouge, La., September 14,2019. Photo/Patrick Dennis)
Eighth in a series previewing the 2020 SEC football season.
FAYETTEVILLE — After winning it all, LSU lost a ton.
The Tigers, who capped their 15-0 national championship season by beating Clemson 42-25, lost 20 players to the NFL. An NCAA record-tying 14 Tigers were drafted, and six more signed free agent deals.
A school-record five LSU players were first-round picks, with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow going No. 1 overall to Cincinnati; linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson No. 20 to Jacksonville; wide receiver Justin Jefferson No. 22 to Minnesota; linebacker Patrick Queen No. 28 to Baltimore; and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire No. 32 to Kansas City.
Joe Brady, LSU’s passing game coordinator who won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant, also left for the NFL to join Coach Matt Rhule’s staff at Carolina.
After Rhule resigned at Baylor, and he was replaced by Dave Aranda, LSU’s defensive coordinator the past four seasons.
Despite all those losses, LSU is expected to keep winning big. The Tigers are ranked No. 6 in The Associated Press preseason poll.
“I’m excited about this football team,” LSU Coach Ed Orgeron said. “I think we’re very talented.”
Two Tigers — junior wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and sophomore cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. — were first-team All-Americans last season. They go against each other every day in practice.
“It’s everything we sell in recruiting,” Orgeron said. “Iron sharpens iron.
“You’re looking at two of the best players in the country, and they’re similar. They’re very humble, they’re very hungry. They just want to compete. I show what they do to the team, and I use it as an example.”
Redshirt junior Myles Brennan is set to replace Burrow, who had 60 touchdowns and six interceptions, at quarterback. In 10 games off the bench, Brennan completed 24 of 40 passes for 353 yards and 1 touchdown.
“I think that Myles waited his turn, he’s matured, he’s different from when he showed up,” Orgeron said. “Now, he was a very talented young man when he showed up. He’s gained his weight, 218 pounds. He’s very confident.
“I think he played the role of the second-team quarterback very well. It was Joe’s team, everybody knew it, so Myles just kind of stood in the background. Now, he’s not in the background. He’s leading.
“Everybody believes in Myles. He’s very vocal out there. He’s a totally different kid. He knows the offense.”
Chase won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver last season when he had 84 catches, and set LSU records with 1,780 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns.
Also back is wideout Terrace Marshall, who had 46 catches for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns. There is good depth behind Chase and Marshall with senior Racey McMath and sophomore Jaray Jenkins. The Tigers also added the nation’s top tight end recruit in Arik Gilbert.
Chris Curry, who rushed 16 times for 90 yards against Oklahoma in the playoff semifinal game, leads a deep group of running backs.
The only returning starter on the offensive line is tackle Austin Deculus, but talented replacements are on the roster. Liam Shanahan, a senior graduate transfer from Harvard, might be the starting center.
“Obviously, the guys we had last year were very good throwing the ball, and I think we’re going to be very good throwing the ball again,” Orgeron said. “But our running game’s going to be better.”
Stingley, who led the SEC with six interceptions and 15 pass breakups, is among four returning starters on defense, with senior safety JaCoby Stevens, senior end Glen Logan and junior tackle Tyler Shelvin.
Stevens had 92 tackles and three interceptions last season.
“JaCoby’s one of our best players,” Orgeron said. “We’ll use him at safety, nickel and rush him. The closer he is to the ball, the more plays he makes.”
Jabril Cox, a graduate transfer from North Dakota State, is expected to be a starting linebacker. He was a two-time FCS All-American and has 258 career tackles, including 14 sacks.
“He’s focused, razor sharp,” Orgeron said. “He’s always studying. Very smart. He knows the defense. Very fast.
“Obviously, he has a lot of experience of playing the position. He’s a physical tackler. He can shed blocks well, can rush the passer well, drops in coverage. He’s a complete linebacker.”
Cox helped North Dakota State win three national championships.
“They have a tremendous culture there,” Orgeron said. “Those guys win year in and year out. He’s a great character young man.
“Now, the thing I saw on film was a big linebacker that could run and hit and key and diagnose. I think this guy is going to have an excellent year at LSU.
“Obviously, he was overlooked in recruiting, but here’s his shot.”
Orgeron hired Scott Linehan and Bo Pelini as LSU’s new passing game coordinator and defensive coordinator, respectively.
Linehan has extensive NFL experience, including a head coaching stint with the Rams. He was the Cowboys’ passing game coordinator from 2014-18.
Pelini, who as a head coach was 67-27 at Nebraska and 33-28 at Youngstown (Ohio) State, is in his second stint at LSU. He was the Tigers’ defensive coordinator from 2005-07, helping LSU win a national title in his third season.
LSU opens against Mississippi State and new Bulldogs Coach Mike Leach.
“We’ve already game-planned for him and his coordinators,” Orgeron said. “We don’t know exactly the personnel and how it fits the offensive and defensive schemes.
“It will be new for them, too. They don’t know what Bo’s going to do, what Scott’s going to do.”
Two Tigers with starting experience — nickel back Kary Vincent and defensive lineman Neil Farrell — opted out of playing this season. Vincent made eight starts last season and Farrell three.
“We don’t blink. It’s next man up,” Orgeron said. “It’s why we have depth. We get guys ready.”
At a glance
LAST SEASON 15-0, 8-0 (SEC and national champions)
COACH Ed Orgeron (40-9 in four seasons at LSU, 56-36 overall in eight seasons)
RETURNING STARTERS Offense 3, Defense 4
KEY PLAYERS WR Ja'Marr Chase, CB Derek Stingley Jr., QB Myles Brennan, FS JaCoby Stevens, WR Terrace Marshall, LB Jabril Cox, OT Austin Deculus, RB Chris Curry.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Steve Ensminger (third year)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Bo Pelini (first year)
SEC WEST TITLE SCENARIO LSU lost 20 players to the NFL, but there is still plenty of talent in Baton Rouge. Not that the Tigers needed help, but the SEC office did them a huge favor by adding Vanderbilt and Missouri to the schedule. LSU still has to play its annual game against Florida, but the Tigers don't have to play defending East champion Georgia or fast-improving Tennessee. LSU also gets an open date before playing Alabama, and the Tigers get the Crimson Tide at home.
At a glance
Sept. 26 Mississippi State
Oct. 3 at Vanderbilt
Oct. 10 Missouri
Oct. 17 at Florida
Oct. 24 South Carolina
Oct. 31 at Auburn
Nov. 14 Alabama
Nov. 21 at Arkansas
Nov. 28 at Texas A&M
Dec. 5 Ole Miss
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