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LSU 2023 SEASON PREVIEW

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

FOLLOW US @LonnPhillips


It is upon us.....

We are just a month away from the start of LSU's opening date of fall camp, August 3rd, as plenty of outside focus, alongside a large bullseye are firmly placed upon Head Coach Brian Kelly's second Tigers squad.

Last year, Kelly and Co shocked almost every college football fan, player, coach, analyst, writer or internet troll; Nearly everyone underestimated LSU's 2022 veteran leadership or the playmaking power of their electric youth....

Pulling off 4 double digit comebacks, beating top 10 opponents, temporarily dethroning & haunting Alabama's Nick Saban, fielding a roster littered with gutty players who overcame all odds; Following an SEC West crown and respectable Championship Game showing, nobody will sleep on Kelly's players or staff this time around.

In fact, right next to Georgia or Alabama, LSU are now the hunted.
(L TO R) Emery Jones, Will Campbell

Producing double digit wins in a year where many expected lukewarm results from Coach Kelly under the pressure of LSU's recent scandals & the weight of the SEC's immense competition, but the lazy national narrative concerning Kelly's ability to recruit or "fit in" down South fell flat on its face.

Instead, with a roster held together by freshmen, 16 transfers, key Orgeron-era veterans, and a completely new staff, LSU beat Auburn & Florida on the road for the first time ever in a single season, embarrassed a top 10 Ole Miss squad, and of course, the feather in Brian Kelly's cap: a two point conversion overtime victory over top 10 Alabama.

Mason Taylor

Of course, there were extreme highs, yet LSU experienced some harsh reality hits during double digit defeats to Tennessee, Texas A&M, special teams-aided losses to Georgia as well as the last second week 1 heartbreaker vs Florida State.

Let's not forget: the mere fact LSU are a few years ahead of schedule isn't a miracle; it reveals the power of Fighting Tigers football as an institution. It still blows the mind what a colossal mess Kelly had to clean up.....so big, even Tom Cruise is making a movie about it (😎).

Accordingly, due to Coach Kelly's stunning first impression, his Tigers head into 2023 with rising expectation:

Ranked 6th in the 2023 preseason poll, given a chance to win the SEC West by a rising rebel faction of analysts, even facing mounting pressure to not only duplicate last year's SEC West crown and major victories over SEC rivals....there will be pressure to top 2022 and take LSU to their first College Football Playoff since 2019:
Many would see any regression as proof of Coach Kelly being cast as a "pretender" within the brutality of the SEC. For most of the campaign, as it was last season, all eyes and all blame will be aimed squarely at the head man, such is the height of his personality & reputation....as well as the toxic disdain his decision to leave Notre Dame still attracts.
(L TO R) Malik Nabers & Brian Kelly talk it out.

One of the major barriers between LSU and a title in 2023 could be a notable lack of experience in certain areas.

This team lost a variety of key veterans to the NFL, not only all over our defense, but three more along the offensive line, plus multiple experienced receivers, too. The vast majority of those elder players provided vital championship experience, as many were freshmen or red shirt sophomores on the Tigers' 2019 title winning squad (Baskerville, Ward, Jenkins, Bradford, Thomas, Wire, Harris, etc).

Regardless, this current group return nearly everyone on offense, including both Jayden Daniels and Garrett Nussmeier at quarterback, 8 scholarship running backs (4 of those 8 RBs rushed for at least 5 TDs last year), #1 WR Malik Nabers fresh off his first 1,000 yard campaign, a wide-ranging bevy of targets at receiver or tight end, 4 out of 5 starting offensive linemen, all while bringing in another double digit batch of well-traveled transfers to boost a younger defense littered with explosive potential.

Daniels & Nussmeier

There are holes on this team, perhaps weaknesses you could point out at this early stage....at least as areas of concern....

While LSU's offense could struggle if unable to expand the passing game or philosophically becoming bogged down in obsessive double, even triple tight end tendencies, any serious LSU football fan would recognize the lack of proven depth among our 2023 defensive squad is the ultimate concern:


LSU DEFENSE

Maason Smith

The edge of new D-line Coach Jimmy Lindsey is replete with a few stone cold impact players in junior Saivion Jones (4.5 sacks last season), transfer arrival & likely starter Ovie Oghoufo, potential sophomore phenom Quency Wiggins appears due for a more expanded role after just 37 snaps as a freshman, backed by two exciting debutant edge men, Jaxon Howard and Dashawn Womack.

Howard has been flying on all cylinders and building his game since his January arrival on campus, grabbing a sack and a TFL during the Spring Game; on the other hand, Womack continues to fight off injury just in time for an exciting start to a high caliber career.

However, outside of those 5 names, Jones, Oghoufo, Wiggins, Howard and Womack, the position cannot shake off depth concerns. If one or two names listed above fail to live up to LSU standards or are forced away by injury, DL Coach Jimmy Lindsey would be faced with a major dilemma going forward.

The interior is where LSU's defensive line should be at its most empirical, though once again, not without its own concerns. While the edge has depth worries, health will decide whether the Tigers' most dominant defensive position can be properly unleashed:

Mekhi Wingo during his ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ LSU debut

All-American level DL Maason Smith and Mekhi Wingo will be back to full health in time for fall camp, big news for Tigers fans hoping to finally witness this tandem together on field.

One of the rare athletic freaks of his time, Maason Smith returns from an ACL tear during the opening drive of week 1, looking to deliver on the promise of his freshman season. Smith shoulders hefty expectations heading into 2023, widely believed to be one of the best overall SEC defenders;

Meanwhile, Wingo, a valuable, consistent, totally wicked 3rd team All-American nears the end of his recovery timetable following an offseason labrum surgery.

Wingo played just under 900 snaps for the Tigers' defense last year, batting down Bryce Young passes, recovering 4th quarter fumbles at the goal line, sacking quarterbacks, pressuring ball carriers into poor angles, stuffing the run at will.....Wingo was the glue that held LSU's 2022 DL together.

Another DT currently recovering from injury is West Virginia transfer Jordan Jefferson, also working his way back before fall camp, too; fourth year Tiger Jacobian Guillory possesses plenty of promise and potential, performing remarkably well in his starts against Purdue & Mississippi State.

New LB teammates: Harold Perkins & (#1) Omar Speights

The linebacker position remained strong, with the SEC's #1 defensive machine Harold Perkins now joined by high value senior transfer Omar Speights; plus, the Tigers were able to fight off a near transfer from Greg Penn III, crucially keeping the team's 2nd leading tackler on roster (78 total tackles a season ago).

That starting two (Perkins + Speights) or power trio (Perkins + Speights + Penn) have no excuses if they don't become a Grade A level lineup;

From these three, Defensive Coordinator and LBs Coach Matt House can now field the right complimentary concoction. The speed of Perkins & Speights makes up for Penn's lack of juice, while Penn owns the brickhouse stopping power strength neither Perkins nor Speights possess.

But I feel many excited LSU fans or analysts are overlooking the lack of depth at linebacker.

After Perkins, Speights and Penn III, who really catches your eye and tells you they could play serious minutes this season?

Sophomore West Weeks, a player who's tenacity and nose for the ball can often times be equalized by a propensity for missed tackles or a lack of pace?

Another 2023 first year Tiger Christian Braithwaite is an intriguing piece to the linebacker puzzle; preferred walk-on transfer Seth Scott, who only days ago told LSUOdyssey.com he still "hasn't made it to campus yet".

You could throw names out, but none of these Tigers have ever proven anything on a collegiate field, as talented or as athletically gifted as they are....in fact, most of the candidates haven't been given the opportunity, such is their youth & inexperience.

Penn III & Brooks Jr destroy Alabama's Latu
However, LSU's front seven aren't where the biggest worries reside for this younger defense under second year coordinator Matt House: their defensive secondary is where we're focusing our attention:

Despite two fantastic coaches who constantly elevated their rooms last season, both CBs Coach Robert Steeples and Safeties Coach Kerry Cooks will have their hands full for a second straight season.

Health permitting, 2023 DBU has a solid base at safety in Tigers Major Burns and Greg Brooks Jr, a pair of Louisiana natives who arrived on campus via the portal in 2021 and 2022 respectively, abandoning both Georgia and Arkansas to represent the purple and gold.

Due to Burns' injury woes and Brooks' at times hot or cold play throughout 2022, we wonder about the depth at safety; graduate senior Andre Sam's transfer to the team was a solid pickup to back both Burns or Brooks, but the more big picture answer regarding depth at safety is one shrouded in intrigue:

Across both safety and CB rooms, LSU have more than a few Tigers capable of playing either position, including nickel, too....meaning it can be tough to discern which player is a firm candidate at any given spot.

Talented, multi-faceted young DBs such as Sage Ryan, Jordan Allen, Javien Toviano, Ryan Yaites and Ryan Robinson Jr have proven through spring that they can pull double or even triple duty if necessary.

On the outside at corner, replacing NFL-bound seniors Mekhi Garner and Jarrick Bernard-Converse, Robert Steeples put his faith in the transfer portal for a second straight season, bringing in former 5 star portal signing Denver Harris, local Zy Alexander, Syracuse Orangeman Duce Chestnutt, and one of his former high school players at De Smet, Ohio State defector JK Johnson....all of whom show flaws to their game, yet a whole lot of promise, ball skills, and pedigree, as well.

Harris is the headliner of the group, the big name target of LSU's prior coaching regime. Back then, the 5 star LSU legacy spurned Coach O and Corey Raymond for Texas A&M, where he spent a wild opening year.

Of course you've heard all about the off the field rumors and alleged locker room smoke out, but at the same time, amid a high profile turbulent year, Harris still stood out as the second highest graded A&M defender in 2022, posting a 71.9 overall defensive grade from just 211 snaps (14 tackles, 3 PBUs, 1 FF, 1 QB hurry, 4 catches and 1 TD allowed from 11 targets for 28 total yards).

Yes, he did give up some big plays at certain moments during LSU's Spring Game, but it's hard to discount Harris as a future starter and lockdown DBU representative...if Steeples believes he's the guy.

A big surprise from the Spring Game turned out to be the heightened focus and brilliance of second year CB Laterrance "LT" Welch, refusing to allow a catch when targeted on 6 occasions by both Daniels or Nussmeier.

Locking down former state track champion WR Chris Hilton Jr stride for stride on deep routes, breaking up or forcing incompletions down field as well as over the middle of his own end zone, Welch sent a message in April....will he continue his progress into the meat of the season??

Check out our exclusive conversation with Welch here to find out his mentality heading into the fall.

An offseason vs our receiving corps should profoundly sharpen up DBU 2023 for the long, tough SEC gauntlet ahead, one would think.

This is also where the priceless value of Steeples and Cooks' coaching will come into play; both stood out as proven sideline gems last season, often successfully adjusting after early TDs or big plays.

Both Cooks and Steeples were able to creatively plug and place holes along their secondary as well, such as when CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse moved to safety successfully, or safety Jay Ward switched to nickel, resulting in his best run of form last season.

Although their rooms mostly consist of transfers or freshmen for a 2nd straight season, Steeples and Cooks will get to know every tendency of their players while putting them in the best position to succeed.

Which leads right into a discussion of what LSU's offense could look like side by side and in reaction to their young defense.


LSU OFFENSE

(L TO R) Kyren Lacy, Jayden Daniels, Malik Nabers, Brian Thomas Jr

Alongside Jayden Daniels, a neverending conveyor belt of skill position talent, fronted by a bulldozing offensive line, Mike Denbrock's 2023 offense appears capable of scoring a lot of points.....and due to plenty of uncertainty surrounding their young defensive secondary, Daniels and co will need to help their defense out a lot more this year; I can picture this LSU squad needing to literally outscore some opponents.

Is Brad Davis' young offensive line unit up to the task?
(L to R) Lance Heard, Emery Jones Jr & Tyree Adams

Beat up through Spring, Davis now has his three oldest O-linemen healthy, prime juniors Miles Frazier, Charles Turner, and Garrett Dellinger all back to full fitness, plus the crucial retention of third year trenchman Marlon Martinez also bolsters options at guard, as well as providing a possible understudy for Turner at center.

The leadership and poise from those 4 will prove invaluable throughout the upcoming season, though the heartbeat of LSU's O-line will stem from whether their youth can deliver.

As long as sophomore standouts Will Campbell and Emery Jones are available, the Tigers will have a pair of fresh, yet experienced bookends, both playing just under 900 offensive snaps as debutants. Jones is also capable of starting at guard or even possibly doing a job at center.

But the depth of the offensive line relies totally on the readiness of their fringe players and freshmen: second year Tigers Bo Bordelon, Kimo Makaneole, transfer arrival Mason Lunsford, and a strong (yet unproven) debutant class featuring heralded locals Lance Heard, St Aug's Tyree Adams, alongside a pair of top 10 Georgia OL DJ Chester & Paul Mubenga.

Rounding out a group LSU fans could be watching develop and play significant OL roles for years to come, these first season Tigers will aim to echo Campbell and Jones' early stardom.

LSU 2022 RBs & Coaches

Running behind them will be an excellent, even imperious collection of running backs from Coach Frank Wilson, led by walk-on-turned starter Josh Williams, double digit touchdown machine Noah Cain, third year Tiger Armoni Goodwin (only held back by injuries), freshman combo Trey Holly & Kaleb Jackson, newly minted transfers Logan Diggs (powerhouse Louisiana native) & Tre Bradford (back for his third time as a Tiger), as well as the curious case of John Emery Jr, the multi-level threat who recorded 7 total TDs during pivotal moments of the season last year....but will he be eligible and ready for 2023 after academic exile yet again???

John told us himself that he's back with the team, then Head Coach Brian Kelly revealed there were still more academic requirements for the "Destrehan blur" to complete before his full, official return.

These backs will be expected to carry the load once again, despite an incredible corps of receivers, Mason Taylor at tight end, along with Jayden Daniels' predilection for running the ball, we've seen Mike Denbrock lean on his running backs to grind out tough yards or finish inside the red zone, specifically.

With six, likely seven different profiles of running back for Wilson to rotate, expect a carousel of backs battering, gliding, bursting, pushing, stiff-arming, and finishing for an offense replete with skill position freaks all over the field, yet still predicated on balance.

The biggest question regarding this LSU offense?

All of the attention is focused on whether the 2023 Tigers, with Jayden Daniels at the helm.....how much will Mike Denbrock unleash Cortez Hankton's bottomless receiving corps and has Jayden Daniels improved as a passer?

That continues to be the major question when you have a different athletic species altogether out wide: Malik Nabers, Brian Thomas Jr, Kyren Lacy, Aaron Anderson, Chris Hilton Jr, Jalen Brown, Khai Prean, Shelton Sampson Jr, Kyle Parker, alongside tight end / receiver hybrid Ka'morreun Pimpton, Jayden Daniels or Garrett Nussmeier have a wealth of targets.

Jalen Brown

Rarely trusting his receivers to finish off drives inside the red zone or missing wide open targets down field, Daniels opted to utilize his speed carrying the ball far more than his arm in 2022.....will that change due to a shift in personnel?


LSU SPECIAL TEAMS

kicker Damian Ramos

Following a disastrous special teams season where the Tigers lost 3 games largely due to their third phase, Head Coach Brian Kelly canned his longtime coordinator / recruiting chief and right hand confidante Brian Polian, the son of legendary NFL GM Bill Polian.

Proving he'll even sacrifice friendship in the name of winning, Coach Kelly made a move that may have been tough for him personally, but was also an undeniable decision that had to be made for the best of the program.

Now, under edge rushing coach John Jancek, it's hard to tell exactly where progress has been made within the Tigers' special teams units at this point, however we can offer input on the performances & evolution of LSU's kicking game.

Damian Ramos made some big kicks in 2022, such as his clutch 4th quarter trifecta in the Swamp, and he's been bombing some 60+ yard field goals in practice this summer. Still, he was inaccurate and shaky throughout LSU's Spring Game, showing nerves when wildly shanking a few kicks.

Whether you view this fact as good or bad, Jancek is stuck with Ramos as his "best option" for at least another season.

Punter Jay Bramblett

There's still a lot of concern over LSU's kicking game and special teams, but the bright spot would have to be punter Jay Bramblett returning for his final season of eligibility.

The second year Tiger and former Notre Dame transfer followed Kelly and Polian over from South Bend, becoming an invaluable fulcrum for their embattled special teams units. Bramblett averaged 44.5 yards per punt, pinning 18 of his 49 punts inside the 20 yard line, usually while booting around tremendous pressure.

Look for Bramblett to continue giving LSU every chance at great field position, it's just up to our punt coverage to completely flip its sluggish rate of play from last year.

On kickoffs, the Tigers are covered by Nathan Dibert, consistently booting the ball into the end zone or pinning teams deep, although he was often let down by Polian's haphazardly organized return coverage. Dibert made the 2023 All-SEC Preseason list due to his pedigree.

Also on the 2023 All-SEC Preseason list was long snapper Slade Roy, the best 2022 performer on special teams outside of Jay Bramblett and error-free return man Gregory Clayton Jr. In addition to his consistency, Roy made a terrific, game-changing play vs Miss St last fall:

Snapping the ball before flying 50 yards down the field as the first man to pop the Miss St return man, Roy recovered a big time fumble inside the 5 yard line.

All across the board, it's about pushing the fundamentals for Coach John Jancek, as he repairs the state of LSU's stressed and shredded special teams.

If LSU can merely perform at an average level (in comparison to last season) on punt and kick coverage, remain at or above 75% accuracy from field goals, and prevent kicking or punting blocks, then our 3rd squad will set up Denbrock's high octane offense and Matt House's younger defense with far more room to breathe.

I'm still iffy on special teams; Coach Jancek has his hands full, and it'll definitely take a Grade A job from the former National Champion & Kelly apprentice to maximize the pieces he has to work with.

Jancek must key on a few game-flipping returners, and I have my eye on Sage Ryan, freshman CB Ashton Stamps, and Aaron Anderson as those three primary return men.


IN CONCLUSION

Jayden Daniels vs Ole Miss

Unless a swarm of injuries attack our QB, OL, WR and LB rooms, LSU should be playing in Atlanta this December.

Featuring playmakers and gamechangers on defense in Perkins, Smith, Wingo and Burns, the SEC's #1 QB establishment with Daniels & Nussmeier, plus an abundant talent pool at receiver, running back, outside OL & interior defensive line, this is starting to feel like LSU's division and conference to lose.

There is too much uncertainty shrouding Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, the Tigers' three key challengers; their respective QBs Jalen Milroe, Carson Beck and Joe Milton are all more or less unknown quantities.

Key coaches left each staff; big time depth and roster pillars took off for the NFL, on both sides of the ball.

I smell blood....and so does Head Coach Brian Kelly.


By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

FOLLOW US @LonnPhillips

©️ 2023 Uninterrupted Writings Inc



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3 Comments


Excellent and thorough analysis. I feel this O Line has everything necessary to excel. How quickly our DB coaches develop the ample talent we have will indeed be a critical piece of the puzzle.

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Lonn Phillips Sullivan
Lonn Phillips Sullivan
Jul 18, 2023
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Thank you my brotha! I edited it one last time, made sure i didn't miss any typos etc. It's perfect now.

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