LSU’ s 2014 season, by Les Miles’ standards, was a disaster. The Tigers tied the program’s worst record since Miles came to Baton Rouge in 2005, finishing 8-5 and lost 31-28 to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl.
LSU has enjoyed seven seasons of 10 or more wins under their brash leader, just three times dipping to a mere mortal SEC-level of eight or nine victories. If the Tigers are hoping to right the ship and get back into SEC West title contention some serious question marks have to answered and solidified once camp begins on Aug. 6.
LSU’s Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Which Quarterback Can Get the Ball to the Receivers?
LSU may have dodged the proverbial bullet when a request to drop unlawful entry charges against 2014 starting quarterback Anthony Jennings was made and granted. Jennings was reinstated on Friday, allowing him to join the LSU squad now clear of legal problems.
The junior signal-caller has the lead to take the ball once the Tigers kickoff against McNeese State on Sept. 5., but is that a good thing? Neither Jennings nor backup Brandon Harris could get the ball to the Tigers’ elite receiving corps consistently throughout last season. Jennings completed 48.9 percent of his passes with Harris finishing slightly better at 55.6, but he also had 182 fewer attempts. Of the two quarterbacks, Harris has a higher ceiling. If Harris wins the job he could grow into the player needed to deliver LSU back to the Promise Land.
Regardless of whoever wins the job, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron may need a magic elixir of some sort that will help his quarterbacks make their pre-snap reads correctly and allow them to make their progressions in the pocket. If LSU continues mediocre play under center again in 2015 the Tigers’ hopes of winning the SEC West will leave little margin for error.
2. Defensive Tackle Depth
The Tigers are solid in the middle with starters Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux but have lost some depth in the offseason with the dismissal of Trey Lealaimatafao and transfer of Travonte Valentine.
The big question at defensive tackle is what happens when Godchaux and LaCouture need a breather? How far does the talent level drop off when they are off the field?
3. Production at Defensive End
LSU has an even bigger problem than their front line depth at defensive tackle with question marks at end. Juniors Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal are expected to win the starting jobs with recently reinstated Maquedius Bain and true freshman Arden Key as the backups.
Statistics can be misleading but one stat that is telling for LSU is its 2014 sack total. The Tigers had 19 sacks in 13 games. Sadly seven of those sacks were produced in a blowout win against Sam Houston State.
Last year Bower had 2.5 sacks and Neal, a seldom-used player, had none. Can new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele find a way to utilize the talent on the roster in a way former coordinator John Chavis could not?
4. New Defensive Coordinator
Few can argue Kevin Steele’s resume or his knowledge of defense. Some could contend that his last two years at the Alabama are somewhat questionable. Steele spent 2013 as director of player personnel and then took over as linebackers coach last season. Talk was Saban was ready to let Steele walk before Miles hired him to replace Chavis, which raises other competency questions or personality friction problems.
Steele has two stints as a defensive coordinator, one at Alabama (2007) and the other at Clemson (2009-12). The big question that will be answered in Week 3 when LSU faces Auburn, if not the week prior against Mississippi State, is can Steele’s defense stop SEC offenses?
The presence of new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will either help or hinder Steele in the long run. If LSU has trouble navigating the schedule in November, a battle for defensive authority could go down behind the scenes.
5. How Far Can Leonard Fournette Carry LSU?
Fournette is without a doubt already one of the best running backs in the nation but some questions still surround the amazing talent. The true sophomore from New Orleans eased into the 2014 season not really getting going as a featured back until Week 7 against Florida, when he carried the ball a season-high 27 times for 140 yards. Fournette’s other regular season standout games came against Ole Miss (113 yards on 23 carries) and against Texas A&M (146, 19). He closed his freshman campaign with 143 yards on 11 carries against Notre Dame.
In six games Fournette had at least 15 carries. If LSU wants to get back to the 10-win mark in the regular season, the Tigers will need him to bump that production up to at least 15 rushing attempts in each of the Tigers’ eight SEC games. Can he do it? That is the big question.
The preseason All-SEC tailback was listed at 6-1, 230. However, reports are Fournette has added some bulk in preparation for more carries but has maintained his speed. A scary thought for SEC defenses.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.