With LSU on a bye this week, SEC Country is taking a look at the plays, players and moments that have defined the first two-thirds of the Tigers’ season. Tuesday, we took a look at the biggest “what if?” of 2017. Wednesday, we named the defensive MVP. Thursday, we name his offensive counterpart.
LSU’s best offensive player is unquestionably running back Derrius Guice. And if for some reason this fact were considered an opinion, his 276-yard rushing performance at Ole Miss surely silenced those doubters.
LSU’s best wide receiver is undoubtedly senior DJ Chark, who is steadily climbing up NFL draft guru Mel Kiper’s “Big Board” into potential first-round territory. Despite not having a catch against Ole Miss, Chark still ranks third in the SEC in receiving yards (585) and second in yards per catch (24.3).
Both of those players should be doing big things at the next level this time next year. Yet, despite their massive star power, we aren’t naming either one LSU’s midseason offensive MVP.
Guice has been too bedeviled by injuries this season, though it looks like that may be behind him going down the homestretch. And for all Chark’s talent, his stats might not be as strong this season if it weren’t for another wideout who has forced opposing secondaries to play honest against the LSU passing game.
Our offensive MVP is that other wide receiver — a player who started his LSU career as a defensive back.
LSU midseason offensive MVP: Russell Gage Jr.
When the Tigers need someone to make a big play, Russell Gage Jr. has developed a habit of being that guy.
His diving catch in the back of the end zone at the end of the second quarter gave the Tigers the confidence they needed to rally to a win against Auburn, cutting the visitors’ lead to 23-14 as the teams headed to the locker room. Prior to that play, he provided the first sign of life for the LSU offense with a 70-yard run that set up the Tigers’ first touchdown after falling into a 20-0 hole.
Against Florida, his 30-yard jet sweep gave LSU an early 7-0 lead. Coming a week after a humiliating loss to Troy, the touchdown was the wind LSU desperately needed in its sails.
And then there are the hurdles. Gage has the rare ability to make the jaws of opposing fans drop. He vaulted over would-be tacklers at both Florida and Ole Miss.
And perhaps this is cheating when it comes to naming an offensive MVP, but Gage’s contributions as a special team player cannot be ignored. He downed punts inside the 5 against Florida and Auburn, setting up the LSU defense for game-altering stops on both occasions.
Gage’s stats are odd. He actually has more rushing yards (176) than receiving yards (168). But those nearly identical numbers demonstrate why he’s the ideal player for offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme. He might not be the star, but he can do it all.
“He’s always going to be there as a gunner on special teams. He puts his body through a lot,” Chark said. “Then, he comes on offense and gives you a sense of security. He knows what to do. He can always make a spectacular play at any moment. So, it kind of takes the pressure off you having a guy out there that’s always a leader. Always hype, always bringing intensity to the game.”