Les Miles faced the press after the Bayou Bengal's 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech with a look of defeat not usually seen by a bowl victorious coach.
The tigers 8-5 season, 3-5 in conference play, was something no one expected from a team ranked sixth in the nation entering the season, but behind Miles downtrodden gaze was the hope for something he had seen in the turmoil that was the 2008 LSU football campaign.
That hope was the team’s ability to come together through adversity and injury. With the loss of Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch, the offense was left in the hands of Jordan Jefferson; Jefferson anticipated on having a red shirt season, but was saddled with the starting job in the last two weeks of the season. Despite two tough losses to Arkansas and ole miss, Jefferson put on a stellar athletic performance throwing only one interception and 273 total yards in both games.
Jefferson separated himself from fellow starting candidate Russell Sheppard in the spring, culminating in an 8-of-10 97 yard spring game performance, but Jefferson wasn't the only standout in the spring. Coach Miles told the press after the game, “Russell Sheppard, today, you have to see some of the things he did,” said Miles, “Certainly they were positive and negative. But quite frankly, here’s a guy who has made a lot of improvement in a very short time. he potentially can give the offense a different style of athlete.”
Don't be surprised to see Coach Miles using Sheppard in various forms in the offense this season much like Florida used Percy Harvin as a lethal weapon last season.
LSU has in its possession one of the most lethal groups of running in college football; this group is led by behemoth Charles Scott. Despite an injury plagued season in 2008, Scott racked up 1,174 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Scott is the type of power back that can wear down powerful SEC defenses, and bring in coverage to open up passes downfield.
Just behind Scott is fellow senior Keiland Williams. Although Williams is another massive back, he spent much of the time this spring working on balancing his running game. If Williams can carry for over 600 yards this season, both he and Scott will be duo to be reckoned with. top ranked sprinter Trindon Holiday will bring back the type of speed to the backfield that most have never seen; all while seeing his fair share of time at wide receiver.
The offense is accused by experts of lacking in receiver experience outside of standout senior Brandon LeFell. LeFell is one of only two returning receiver that had more than ten catches last season, but the tigers do have speed in Trindon Holliday and raw talent in incoming freshman Rueben Randle. Randel was rated as the top receiver in this year’s class by Scout; he, maybe alongside Russell Sheppard, will be critical in the success of this lean receiving corps. The one key ingredient in the receiving corps that seems to be overlooked by many is Terrance Toliver. Toliver has yet to perform up to his lofty recruiting status, but last season could have been a break out year for him if not for a lack of experience and confidence under center. Look for Toliver to challenge his critics this season and prove to be an outstanding wide out when paired with LeFell.
The offensive line returns top talents Ciron Black and Joseph Barksdale. These two are the anchor of an offensive line that allowed a dismal 1.69 sacks per game. That’s 45th in the nation and only 5th in conference. This is clearly an issue that must be addressed, but some of this sour performance can be attributed to Jordan Jefferson's learning on the job last season.
Last year’s defense was very un LSU-ish giving up 314 points last season compared to 275 in the tiger’s 2007 national championship campaign. Many of LSU's defensive woes will be remedied by the hiring of John Chavis. The former Tennessee coordinator brings a hard-nosed old-school style of defense to a Tigers team that suffered under co-coordinators last season. Chavis also brings an expertise as one of the nation’s top linebacker coaches. This specialty will greatly help to empower this year’s LSU squad.
Add Chavis defensive prowess with Ron Cooper, whose South Carolina defensive back squad had the best pass defense in the conference, and Brick Haley's extensive NFL and SEC experience to make for a much improved defensive staff in the Baton Rouge.
With all the great new things to see for the LSU defense this season there is one thing the tigers will greatly miss. Anthony Tyson Jackson had an amazing carrier in Baton Rouge, providing the team with 19.5 sack and 31.5 tackles for a loss in 53 games for the tigers.
Despite the loss of Jackson, the tigers return outstanding senior DE Rahim Alem. Alem brings the type of speed rushing capability that can be troublesome for opposing offensive fronts. Watch out for Drake Nevis to step into a starting role and emerge as a defensive powerhouse in the conference.
The linebacker position is one of the strengths for the tigers this season. Despite having to replace Darry Beckwith, who led the linebackers last season and added 51 tackles, they will add speed from an unlikely candidate harry Coleman. Wait, Harry Coleman? That’s right, the well known safety will be moving to strong side backer when LSU kicks off this season. This move may be questioned by some, but if it's good enough for john Chavis then we can all watch and learn. Also returning is phenomenal backup Jacob Cutera who should be able to handle a starting role for the tigers.
The secondary should be much improved with combination of a new coach and the return of some promising talent. With the move of Coleman to linebacker, the body of the secondary work will be left up to Chad Jones and Patrick Peterson. Jones, a starting outfielder for the newly crowned baseball national champions, is big enough and athletic enough to back up his outstanding 2008 campaign of 50 tackles, 7 broken-up passes, and a single interception. Last year’s standout on defense Patrick Peterson will be the man to watch in the secondary; his true freshman season was truly impressive with 41 tackles and one pick. If these two can continue their promising spring production, with occasional help from Coleman in the fall, the secondary will have the ability to once again shut down the pass.
Contention in the SEC west will be lax, despite many experts’ predications. Ole Miss caught lightening in a bottle last season after an abysmal start. After all, this is the same team that lost to Vanderbilt! The rebels have too many changes to overcome especially on the offensive line. Expect the rebels to drop out of the preseason polls in true Auburn fashion. Alabama goes into the season with an untested quarterback and key losses on offense. Andre Smith and Glen Coffee are two major losses that will hamper the tide this season. All in all Alabama is the team that will be the most prominent to give the tigers a run for their money (they still have Julio Jones), but expect the more seasoned offense of LSU to persevere. Tiger’s fans have much to hope for in the 2009 season. Expect for the Bayou Bengals to exceed all expectations; nothing will be out of their reach.