What was always a strength became a weakness in 2013. The Tigers defense allowed 22.3 points per game, which is the highest total LSU has given up since 2008.
With signs of life against Texas A&M (held the Aggies to 299 total yards and only 10 points) and six sophomores or freshmen (Tre'Davious White, Corey Thompson, Rashard Robinson, Danielle Hunter, Jalen Mills and Micah Eugene) who have gained tremendous understanding in John Chavis' system, the Tigers will have a veteran group on defense next season.
That's without mentioning juniors D.J. Welter, Ronald Martin and Jermauria Rasco coming back.
Like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire dominated the weekend's box office, this Tigers defense is "catching fire." Immediately regretting that reference.
And thank heaven they are, because I was starting to sweat interviews with Ego Ferguson. Any signs of him turning green, and I was jetting.
Inexperience should not plague this LSU defense in 2014. But something always has to go wrong. Look at 2014 as the complete opposite of 2013. Experienced defense and an inexperienced offense is in the Tigers' future.
So then, what is the blueprint for this LSU team to win the SEC West and get back to Atlanta for the beginning of December? That whole trip to the Georgia Dome on Dec. 31 thing isn't a coveted destination within the fanbase.
If anything, it will be the youth on offense that leads LSU to another Chick-fil-A Bowl before an SEC championship.
Great QB Competition This Offseason
I'm not sure LSU fans appreciate Zach Mettenberger enough.
I mean, we're talking about a guy who needs 74 passing yards to become the third player in LSU history to pass for 3,000 yards. Not to mention he ranks third in LSU single-season history with 2,926 yards. With 422 yards this Friday, he will pass Rohan Davey's 2001 record for most passing yards in a season.
Mettenberger's greatness is demonstrated by his third-down production. The Tigers lead the nation in third-down conversion percentage, converting 58.6 percent of the time. That's the best conversion percentage LSU has had since, um, ever (best in school history).
So, how do you replace a guy who's lethal on third down and can vertically stretch the field?
What's that thing coaches are supposed to do? Oh yeah, maximize the abilities of the next guy, and luckily for LSU, the Tigers have two potential breakout athletes at quarterback next season.
LSU needs high school senior and already-signed Brandon Harris to come in and compete right away. With Harris pushing true freshman Anthony Jennings, iron will sharpen iron, and a better LSU quarterback will emerge because of the competition.
Both quarterbacks will lack the knowledge of a second-year starter, but under Cam Cameron's tutelage and system, either player should be able to lead a run-heavy LSU offense while being supported by a much-improved defense.
Develop Defensive Playmakers
You can't just snap your fingers and make this defense better. Still, there's an overall positive outlook for next season.
Fact: A year of playing time will benefit White and Robinson as corners.
Fact: D.J. Welter is improving, Kwon Alexander is adapting and Kendell Beckwith is athletic enough to play at linebacker or defensive end.
Fact: The defensive line will be strong on the outside with Hunter staying and Jermauria Rasco returning (should he forgo the NFL draft). But it will also be drastically weakened on the interior without Anthony Johnson and Ferguson.
Johnson and Ferguson got a bad rep this season, but the truth is both defensive linemen played well. They simply did not have the backups behind them to anchor the defensive tackle positions without missing a beat.
There's a first for everything, and in 2013, the Tigers did not have quality depth on the defensive line.
Here's where LSU wins the SEC championship next season. The Tigers should be improved in every area on defense, minus defensive tackle, and as you know, a great defensive line separates the great teams from the good teams.
If LSU can recruit some studs on the defensive line (looking at you Gerald Willis and Davon Godchaux) and transform Mickey Johnson, Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas into athletic, powerful defensive tackles that resemble old LSU greats, the Tigers will be a contender. No doubt about it.
Talented Skill Players Will Have to Jump the Learning Curve
Lastly, the Tigers have to overcome the elephant in the room.
No, not the Alabama Crimson Tide, though LSU will have to deal with them in time. Right now, it's about overcoming the losses of personnel.
With 2013's offseason serving as a guide for future offseasons (lost 11 juniors including Tyrann Mathieu), it's safe to say talented LSU underclassmen are all but gone.
For the first time in school history, LSU has a 2,500-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers. Sadly, all four players are likely out of the door next season.
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Mettenberger is a senior, Jeremy Hill is three years removed from high school and both Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are juniors.
About that elephant in the room, again. Jennings, Travin Dural, Terrence Magee and maybe junior Kenny Hilliard will be the new faces of the offense next season. Those four players combined for 1,054 yards total yards in 2013.
Obviously, they will need a lot of help. Such service could be lent by hopeful LSU prospects like 5-star running back Leonard Fournette, 5-star wide receiver Speedy Noil and 5-star wide receiver Malachi Dupre.
Until they commit with LSU, commits Harris and wide receiver Trey Quinn will be relied on heavily. Luckily for the Tigers, they have plenty of offensive weapons at their disposal with Quantavius Leslie, John Diarse, Kevin Spears and Avery Peterson sporting purple and gold again.
However, these inexperienced players will have to adapt to the speed of the game quickly.
With the right coaching, it can be done. And with Cameron teaching the offense, the Tigers will be in the proper position to play for an SEC title in 2014.
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