So six weeks into the season and what’s happened in Baton Rouge?
Hurricane Matthew forced the postponement/cancellation of LSU’s game at Florida — and now it looks like it’s back on — and everyone has an opinion about how it was handled.
And this week, LSU’s beloved mascot, Mike VI, died.
Who is your offensive MVP?
Hickey: Danny Etling. Yes, that’s the SEC’s No. 9 passer by production as your offensive MVP. To me it comes down to the fact that in a year of massive instability, Etling has provided some.
Spiegelman: Is it crazy if I want to nominate Steve Ensminger after one game as LSU’s play caller? But seriously, the obvious names in August are not in the discussion. Brandon Harris — benched. Leonard Fournette — injured. Malachi Dupre — I’ll leave that as a “TBD.”
You can give credit to quarterback Danny Etling for coming in and playing well in place of Harris, and doing so behind a nicked up and ever-changing group of offensive linemen, but the answer has to be Derrius Guice. Yes, LSU’s other All-World running back leads the team in rushing and has been a sparkplug for the team. With controversy under center and injuries ravishing the backfield and up front, having a dependable presence in Guice has been the difference in LSU’s three wins.
Suss: Will Clapp. It’s been a rough year for LSU’s offense. But somehow amid the quarterback change and the drops and the injuries to Leonard Fournette and various offensive linemen, LSU still ranks No. 5 in the nation in yards per carry as a team. Clapp, who is hurt at the moment, was a huge part of that through the first five games. He’s been a steadying presence and, had he not gotten hurt against Missouri, it likely would’ve been him, not Ethan Pocic, who won SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week.
Who is your defensive MVP?
Hickey: Arden Key. No quarterback is safe when this guy is in the game. And in this pass-oriented world, nothing could be more important to a defense.
Spiegelman: I’m fairly confident I could make an argument for Tre’Davious White or Jamal Adams, but my gut is telling me to say Kendell Beckwith. The standout linebacker returned for his senior season and is playing absolutely out of his mind. Beckwith leads the Tigers in tackles (45) and is filling up the stat sheet with 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
More importantly, Beckwith the quarterback of LSU’s defense and has been a force in the middle for first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. He’s played well in pass coverage and has been absolutely stellar against the run, and is one of the major reasons why LSU has been so stout on the defensive side of the ball so far in 2016.
Suss: Arden Key. As tempting as it is to award this honor to shutdown cornerback Tre’Davious White, no LSU player has been quite as dominant this year as Key has. His seven sacks rank first in the SEC and second in the nation, and that’s with Key having played one fewer game than the players ahead of and behind him.
Player you didn’t expect to be discussing at this point?
Hickey: Etling. Of course.
Spiegelman: D.J. Chark. Sure, after an offseason of hype surrounding Brandon Harris, I would not have guessed that Etling would be the unquestioned starter heading into mid-October. But it’s LSU and quarterback is such a polarizing position, so yeah, I’m going with Chark.
Suss: Danny Etling. Teams that start the season ranked in the top five with College Football Playoff aspirations don’t often switch quarterbacks three weeks into the year. Etling has stepped up from unknown to unremarkable, but he hasn’t turned the ball over often and he’s managed the game well, blocking out Brandon Harris from re-establishing himself as LSU’s starting QB.
Most impressive newcomer?
Hickey: Michael Divinity Jr. He has been the most productive freshman with 13 tackles including one for loss. This is a veteran team. Not many choices to be had here.
Spiegelman: I don’t think you’ll notice his name in the box score very much, but freshman linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. has played very well when he’s been on the field. The All-American from New Orleans’ West Bank was thrust into a starting timeshare with Tashawn Bower once Corey Thompson was injured in fall camp. Divinity, a 5-star recruit, has responded with 13 tackles, including one for loss, as a true freshman.
Suss: D.J. Chark. While not exactly a newcomer, the junior wide receiver had never caught a pass prior to this season. But in 2016, he’s established himself as LSU’s best deep threat, averaging more than 13 yards per catch with one touchdown. He’s also run the ball well, carrying five times for 53 yards on end arounds and jet sweeps.
Who are the three most important players in the second half?
Hickey: Derrius Guice, Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams. Guice is nice, but if Fournette doesn’t get back onto the field in the second half of the year the Tigers will be spending Christmas in Shreveport for the Independence Bowl. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)
Etling is certainly a capable game-manager, but it will be interesting to see if he can become something more under Steve Ensminger. They’re going to need him to be to beat the likes of Ole Miss, Alabama or Texas A&M.
It can be difficult to pick the most talented player on LSU’s defense, but a lot of people think it’s Adams. He’ll need to continue elevating his game with the league’s best offenses on tap, especially now that fellow safety Rickey Jefferson will be out of the lineup for an extended period of time.
Spiegelman: If LSU is going to make a run in the SEC West, it’s going to be in marquee games against Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M. That’s quite a fun bag of differing teams, so just give me some leeway as I trot out these names.
Leonard Fournette. Yes, remember No. 7? A healthy Fournette is a difference maker on any given Saturday. That’s not to take away from Guice, who has been a marvel to watch, but Fournette is a once-in-a-generation type talent. He can change the dynamic of any game.
Maea Teuhema. Basically, you can sub Teuhema at any position along LSU’s line, which means he’s the team’s LT, LG, RG and RT until further notice. That kind of versatility is what makes him so integral to this team’s success, especially against some marquee defensive fronts like the ones they’ll see from Alabama, Ole Miss and A&M.
Kevin Toliver. He’s a starting cornerback, though I’d still list him behind Tre’Davious White and Donte Jackson on the depth chart. Nonetheless, when Toliver has played well, it makes the LSU secondary unstoppable.
Suss: Donte Jackson. As LSU prepares for dominant spread offenses like Ole Miss, Texas A&M and even Southern Miss, Jackson’s cornerback play opposite White will be extremely important.
Andy Dodd. Poised to take over for Pocic as LSU’s starting center because of injuries to Clapp and Toby Weathersby, Dodd’s ability to lead the offensive line will be key.
Colby Delahoussaye. Since the start of the 2012 season, LSU has played 18 SEC games that were decided by seven points or less. A reliable field goal kicker will be paramount as the team’s schedule gets more and more difficult.
Leonard Fournette’s midseason report card would be …
Spiegelman: Incomplete. To be fair, injuries are out of Fournette’s control. I like that the LSU coaches are being precautious with No. 7 because they should be — particularly since the running game has been absolutely find with Guice, Darrel Williams and Co. stepping up.
Suss: Rushing: Incomplete; Receiving: Incomplete; Blocking: Incomplete; Draft Stock: Incomplete; Health: D+