With new offense, new digs, LSU eyes ‘special’ 2019 season
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Quarterback Joe Burrow goes beyond LSU’s evident talent and experience at key positions when explaining his assertion that the Tigers are primed to have a “special” season.
“It’s kind of hard to just describe it,” Burrow said with a relaxed, matter-of-fact certainty to his tone. “There’s just something about this team, this year, these coaches. It just feels right.”
LSU has a slew of prominent players back from a squad that last year posted the Tigers’ best season in a half decade. And those veterans have been joined by some promising new recruits at a newly remodeled football headquarters providing seemingly every amenity that $28 million could buy.
Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron — a burly, raspy-voiced Cajun entering this third season in charge of the flagship program in his home state — said players were “fired up” about the new digs when they reported for August camp. But he also noted, “now, the expectations are raised.”
LSU won 10 games last season, capped by its triumph in the Fiesta Bowl.
That success came despite playing all but its opener without top edge pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, who is back from knee surgery and hungry for a big year. LSU’s secondary is again expected to be among the nation’s best, featuring safety Grant Delpit, who led the Tigers in both sacks and interceptions last season.
Justin Jefferson, who was LSU’s best receiver a season ago, returns to help Burrow spearhead a spread offense designed to emulate that of the prolific New Orleans Saints — with some run-pass option mixed in. Orgeron even brought in former Saints assistant Joe Brady to work in tandem with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger on designing and calling plays.
“We’re excited about the offense, excited about the guys that we have coming back,” Orgeron said. “On defense, we’ve got a lot of talent. We’ve got a lot of speed. We have to figure out ways to make tackles in the backfield and sacks. We want to be more aggressive.”
LSU’s first big test comes in its second game of the season on Sept. 7 at Texas. The Tigers visit arch nemesis Alabama, which has won eight straight in the series, on Nov. 9. Those two games could decide whether LSU contends for a College Football Playoff spot in a season when the national title game is scheduled to be played in New Orleans.
Some other things to look for heading into LSU’s upcoming season:
Orgeron, a former college defensive lineman who also has coached that position extensively, said rotations along the Tigers’ defensive front will include a “Green Team” in pass rushing situations.
Chaisson is on the “Green Team,” which Orgeron said will “get all those speed rushers on the field at the same time.”
“If we can have a four-man rush and play coverage, it would be great,” Orgeron said, stressing that he’s focused on “getting quarterback pressure this year no matter what it takes.”
Brady spent the previous two seasons with the Saints, a period during which New Orleans developed third-string QB Taysom Hill into change-of-pace read option threat. Before that, Brady worked at Penn State under then-offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, now the head coach at Mississippi State.
Orgeron sought to hire Brady after first hosting him as a guest speaker who’d been invited to explain run-pass option concepts to LSU’s staff. Orgeron says he now has the offense he has always wanted, featuring a spread scheme with which he has been enamored since serving as a Saints assistant under Sean Payton in 2008.
Delpit and cornerback Kristian Fulton both have been named to the watch list for the Bednarik Award, presented to the nation’s top defender.
LSU’s other projected starting cornerback is 6-foot-1, 190-pound freshman Derek Stingley Jr., who blanketed top LSU receivers and intercepted Burrow in the spring game. Converted receiver JaCoby Stevens has been adept at playing a hybrid safety-linebacker position — called a “quarters” safety — which has come into vogue during the proliferation of spread offenses.
The secondary at “DBU” is so deep that former highly rated defensive back recruit Kelvin Joseph has sought to transfer because his prospects for playing time are better elsewhere.
TIGHT END CONVERSON
LSU hopes its conversion of 6-5, 242-pound receiver Stephen Sullivan into a tight end gives LSU’s offense the dynamism it needs against top defenses.
Orgeron said Sullivan embraced the change after Brady met with him to go over old video of how the Saints once deployed tight end Jimmy Graham as a prime receiving threat.
“We can do the same things,” Orgeron said. “He’s totally bought into that.”
Orgeron stepped up recruiting of field goal kickers in 2018 and it paid off with the acquisition of graduate transfer Cole Tracy, who was a Lou Groza Award finalist. But Tracy only had one season of eligibility. LSU has replaced him with freshman Cade York, who was among the nation’s top kicking recruits. Orgeron said York appears to have a “strong” and “very accurate” right leg.