Midseason report card for LSU: Tigers score high marks after 5-0 start
The No. 6 Tigers are 5-0 and have a Heisman Trophy hopeful on their hands. With 1,022 rushing yards and an average of 204.4 yards per game, it’s easy to see why Leonard Fournette is considered by some to be the best player in college football.
Fournette isn’t the only story midway through the season. There have been highs and lows outside of the running game for the Tigers.
Here are the grades for LSU’s midseason report card:
Fournette has been the entire LSU offense at times this season. The Heisman front-runner has had to put LSU on his back for most of the season while Brandon Harris and the passing game continue to try and find a groove.
The looming concern with LSU’s offense lies with its passing game. The Tigers passing attack showed signs of improvement last weekend against South Carolina. Harris completed 18 of 28 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns against the Gamecocks and made some great throws on Saturday. Wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural are talented wideouts who haven’t shown it yet.
The Tigers must establish some semblance of balance offensively. LSU will continue to rely on Fournette, but Harris must prove he can win games if Fournette struggles against schemes designed to stop him.
LSU hasn’t played its best defensively. The Tigers have been dominant for stretches, but let opponents climb back into games. The Tigers are ranked 14th in the country with an average of 291.4 yards allowed per game. LSU has allowed 22 points per game, which does not resemble the stingy LSU defense of seasons past.
A few big plays from the Tigers’ defense could take some of the pressure off of the offense. But LSU has only seven takeaways this season. History would say LSU’s defense has yet to play its best football.
Perhaps this unit is good, but not great– we’ll have to wait and see.
Special Teams C-
There have been memorable moments for the special teams unit, such as Tre’Davious White’s punt return touchdown against Syracuse a few weeks ago. However, LSU’s special teams have been sloppy.
LSU has allowed six kick returns of at least 30 yards and three punt returns of at least 20 yards. The Tigers’ kick return unit will need to do a better job of containing opposing return men.
Kicker Trent Domingue has been one of the few positives. Domingue hit 7 of 7 field goals and has been perfect on all 24 of his extra point attempts.
Everything looks better because of Fournette, but LSU’s coaching staff hasn’t gotten the most out of this team yet. The offense has been mainly one-dimensional, the defense has suffered far too many lapses and the special teams have been lacking in most facets.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron could do a better job getting Harris involved in the offense. A zone-read featuring Harris and Fournette could be lethal. The Tigers haven’t capitalized on Harris’ running ability as much as they could have. Harris has wheels and can throw on the run.
First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele hasn’t imprinted his identity on this defense yet. LSU’s defense has struggled at times during every game this season. The Tigers have been inconsistent in the second half of games. The Tigers have allowed 30 points in the first half, compared to 80 points in the second half. Halftime defensive adjustments are lacking, and that could kill the Tigers against well-coached teams like Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
Team MVP: Leonard Fournette, sophomore, running back
This is indisputable. When LSU has needed a play, Fournette has been there. Fournette might be the best player in the country and is undoubtedly LSU’s most valuable player.
Offensive MVP: Fournette
Defensive MVP: Deion Jones, senior, linebacker
Jones has been the standout performer on LSU’s defense. Jones’ 31 tackles are the second-most on the team. He has 0.5 sacks and also an interception returned for a touchdown against Eastern Michigan. Jones has been all over the field for the Tigers and is the anchor of the unit.
Best Freshmen: Will Clapp, redshirt freshman, guard; Maea Teuhema, freshman, guard
Clapp and Teuhema are both deserving of this honor. They have stepped in and done an excellent job paving the way for Fournette and will be two anchors on the offensive line for years to come.
Biggest surprise: Jamal Adams, sophomore, defensive back
Adams has been quietly productive this season. Adams has recorded 21 tackles, two tackles for loss and intercepted two passes this season. He has been a pleasant surprise on LSU’s defense.
Best play: Fournette flips Auburn defender over his shoulders en route to touchdown
This might be the play of the year nationally. Fournette put himself in the national spotlight with this 29-yard touchdown run. Fournette was en route for an easy touchdown when Auburn defender Tray Matthews attempted to jump on top of him. Fournette was having none of that, as he effortlessly threw Matthews over his shoulders on his way to the end zone.
Most likely to explode in second half of the season: Brandon Harris, sophomore, quarterback
The Tigers will need Harris to have a better second half of the season as they get into the meat of the SEC slate. Harris will develop into another threat alongside Fournette on the offense.
Most likely to go pro early: Kendell Beckwith, junior, linebacker
Beckwith leads the team in tackles and has been a consistent force on LSU’s defense.
Projected finish: 10-2
LSU faces three teams currently ranked in the top 20 in rushing yards allowed per game. Knocking off Alabama on the road will be a daunting task that could define the rest of LSU’s season. Getting past Ole Miss on the road and Texas A&M at Death Valley won’t be easy. LSU will need to prove in the coming weeks it can win with an offense whose performance doesn’t rest solely on the back of Fournette and a stout defense that can play a full four quarters.
Leonard Fournette TD run and Tray Matthews flip https://t.co/gpbsD9EiW6
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) September 19, 2015