DJ Chark has been electric on offense and special teams for LSU this season
Head coach Ed Orgeron’s first season guiding the LSU Tigers was anything but boring, even finishing on the border of fantastic. The Bayou Bengals started out 3-2 with a head-scratching 24-21 loss to Troy at home mixed in, but rebounded for a 9-3 showing (6-2 in SEC play), highlighted by wins over then- No. 21 Florida and No. 10 Auburn. The luster on LSU’s season can add some shine with a Citrus Bowl win in Orlando over No. 14 Notre Dame on New Year’s Day.
Through the ups and downs, the Tigers played some great football worthy of postseason team honors:
Offensive MVP: DJ Chark, WR
When most people think about LSU’s offense they think about running backs, but the big spark game after game in 2017 came from the aerial attack with highlights provided by Chark. The senior upped his receiving yards from 466 to 811, entering this game averaging 23 yards per reception with three touchdowns. He also helped the offense with field position and by taking some pressure off the rest of the guys with his punt returns. Chark earned All-SEC honors as a return specialist after fielding 16 punts, taking two of them back for touchdowns. As an extra bonus, he added a rushing touchdown.
Defensive MVP: Devin White, LB
After losing Duke Riley and Kendall Beckwith from the 2016 squad, there were question marks about the play of LSU’s linebackers going into 2017. Enter White (above, right), who quickly removed those fears as the sophomore has started all 12 games and leads the team with 127 tackles and 12.5 tackles for a loss. He also has recorded an interception.
Best Freshman: Tyler Taylor, LB
Taylor gave LSU fans a lot of hope for the future with his play at linebacker. Playing in all 12 games with four starts, Taylor racked up 30 tackles with 1.5 tackles for a loss, narrowly edging out end K’Lavon Chaisson for top freshman honors.
Best Play of the Season: DJ Chark Punt Return for a Touchdown vs. Auburn
LSU entered the fourth quarter against Auburn down 23-14. With 14:33 left to play in the fourth, Chark fielded a punt taking it back 75 yards to pull LSU within striking distance of an eventual 27-23, come-from-behind win at home.
Best Performance: Derrius Guice vs. Ole Miss
Ole Miss was not the best run-stopping team in the SEC, but that should not take away from what Guice did against the Rebels on Oct. 21. Playing in Oxford, Guice carried the ball 22 times for 276 yards with a score leading the way to a 40-24 romp over Ole Miss.
Best Game: Win at Florida
Looking back now, LSU’s 17-16 win over Florida on Oct. 7 may not seem like a big deal, but it was. Orgeron was already behind the proverbial eight ball coming off an embarrassing home loss to Troy. A 3-3 start could have dismantled the team and turned the fan base completely against their new coach. In a defensive struggle, the Tigers edged out the Gators in total yards, 341 to 302, and kept Florida off the board in the fourth after squandering 13 third quarter points for the big team win.
Biggest Surprise: The Lack of Total Offensive Production
After the coaching staff was dismantled with the in-season firing of former head coach Les Miles in 2016, many believed that the offense would be more prolific in 2017 under new coordinator Matt Canada. The change in offense produced 11 more passing yards per game on average, improving from 190 to 201. But, the big change was LSU’s inability to run with authority. A big drop-off was seen in the ground attack, going from 233 rushing yards per game to 210.
Biggest Disappointment: Home Loss to Troy
The thought that LSU scored a late touchdown to make the game look closer in a 24-21 loss to Troy is upsetting for any Tigers fan. Never in a million years would one think Troy would be able to beat LSU in Death Valley, but it happened. The Trojans essentially dominated the game, up 24-7 with 8:14 left to play in the game. Troy outgained LSU on the ground 206 to 162. The Tigers were without injured running back Derrius Guice, but still.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Danny Etling, QB
Etling may never get the love he deserves from LSU fans, but he had a very solid senior season. He finished sixth in the SEC in passing (2,234 yards) with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions while completing 60 percent of his passes. The offense may be handed over to Myles Brennan in 2018. Brennan, a true freshman in 2017, appeared in six games completing 14 of 24 passes for 182 yards with a touchdown and two picks. LSU is now going into the unknown at the quarterback position.
Player to Watch in 2018: Foster Moreau, TE
Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire may be the future of the Tigers' running game, but the secret weapon in 2018 might be Moreau. The tight end was third on the team in receptions (20) and fourth in receiving yards (214) while tying for the team lead in touchdown catches (3). With DJ Chark and Russell Gage graduating, more will be expected of Moreau especially with a young quarterback slated to lead LSU next season.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Starting Quarterback
Not only will Ed Orgeron and Matt Canada have a quarterback battle on their hands but they also must get the named starter ready for what should be a very tough season opener against Miami at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. And the schedule is relentless with Auburn already looming in Week 3.
— 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 and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.