Updated: Sep 22, 2020
By Lonn Phillips Sullivan
The Tigers went through their final preparations before game week on Friday night as the SEC universe experienced a backdrop of palpable celebration, beer-drenched fiending and football fever in the crisp fall-tinged air ....not even a pandemic can kill the traditional pageantry of LSU football....much like some sorta birthday party ending in a brutal war, we all end up drunk on each other's blood.
While many pointed to Covid's disruption of the team's preparations, Coach Ed Orgeron's staff made damn sure there wouldn't be any interruptions, pulling off an organizational masterclass since March, raising their already championship-worthy stock to its highest potential.
Despite the tension, there were no hits on Friday: LSU players were in helmets, but no pads...
Orgeron said he's done having his guys "hit each other, now it's time to geaux hit someone else," with Friday evening set as a mental crash course through every scenario our guys could face on the field....so, yeah...while hits weren't occurring, Friday was possibly the most important night thus far of LSU's 2020 build-up.
For anyone unfamiliar with a walk through, we're not talking about a usual practice: there's no pads, no hitting...no contact whatsoever; LSU reverted to the highly-detailed pandemic work of installing and re-installing their offense and defense (which they installed 6x during the no contact height of Covid);
Friday evening was all about extreme focus on formations, cadence, timing, second or third reactions, organizing devastating DE stunts inside, perfecting those routes (Linehan getting animated), arranging the secondary's constantly-shifting schemes, assigning linebacker responsibilities...as well as where you'll see Jacoby Stevens line up (hint: all over the damn field).
Last night was all about placing everyone in the right spot at the precise time, discussing various scenarios which may arise, assigning individual tasks / responsibilities....all while anticipating and game-planning Miss State's tendencies / secret weapons.
Accordingly, the squad and staff went through every play the Tigers will run 7 nights from today...and there were a couple things which intrigued us most:
1. BEST DEFENSE IN CFB /
EXPECT JACOBY STEVENS' NEW NAME TO BE "HOUDINI" /
Yes, LSU still hasn't played anyone, but maaaaan this defense is based around a bevy of propulsive, hypnotic and beastly veterans such as Glen Logan, Jabril Cox, Damone Clark, Derek Stingley (a sophomore as a veteran is definitely an LSU thing) and of course Jacoby Stevens at the back end, all flying around with unstoppable menace.
During Friday's walk through, there were frequent discussions between the secondary and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, CBs Coach Corey Raymond, Safeties Coach Bill Busch and Ed Orgeron, and a great deal of movement from our defense, especially our secondary...without giving anything away to our future opponents, I'll just say this:
Week 1's Miss State, as well as the rest of the SEC, have no earthly concept of how destructive, physical and utterly unpredictable Pelini's 2020 team has been, and the two scrimmages brought this reality to the forefront....and they're still keeping "a few plays up their sleeves".
If you geaux back and watch how former Tigers DC Dave Aranda deployed Jacoby vs Arkansas last year, then you'll get a pretty good picture of the way Pelini will be utilizing Jacoby Stevens, the new play-making, history-taking #7;
Stevens remains a mammoth at the line of scrimmage, displays a constant knack for pre-snap diagnosis, reads the eyes of a quarterback better than any strong safety in the collegiate game, and possesses extremely underrated aerial skills (check out his INTs vs Vanderbilt & Mississippi State last year or ability to challenge Oklahoma's Ceedee Lamb, 3 total picks in 2019).
Taking on this added responsibility, Stevens is going to accelerate his game like never before, and as long as our defense keeps leaders such as Jacoby, Todd, Damone, Neil Farrell, Glen Logan and Jabril Cox, then there'll always be an accountable veteran in every area of the defensive lineup.
Thanks to these championship veterans stepping up unselfishly, this unit's dependence on youthful energy down the stretch or in the blitz may actually be a plus, allowing certain players to read the game and make plays while our younger guys battle and win the war of attrition.
Alongside #7, watch for Todd Harris' rise from a nasty knee injury, featuring in a wide variety of Pelini sets, Orgeron finally dubbing the free safety "at 100% and practicing."
One thing we must all realize though:
This LSU staff is committed to letting Harris grow into the contact while Mo Hampton takes over the free safety spot. It's pretty special how much this medical staff seeks to protect Todd, even as the young man itches to get out there and show what he can do for a full season.... once Todd shows full health and agility on that leg, you know Coach Ed Orgeron is going to give him that chance.
Will Orgeron feel comfortable throwing a starting safety pairing of Harris and Stevens out there for Week 1 against Mississippi State?
Highly doubt that...I don't think you could throw that kind of extremity on to Todd's recovering knee after he hasn't played a football game in a full year and 5 days (9/14/19)...you can't demand that type of intensity right out of the gate...the obvious reason why Harris starting Week 1 wouldn't make sense?
We have the talent, depth and most importantly the experience to cover the free safety role with Mo Hampton...
The sophomore is an electric church of quarterback doom and we expect a ruckus anytime a football comes near his vicinity.
Appearing in big minutes vs Clemson, starting vs Oklahoma, Arkansas and Georgia, Mo has mo' big game experience than any other sophomore safety in the country...and more than most junior or senior safeties....
Expect Safeties Coach Bill Busch to use Mo as a passing game shield for Pelini's madcap blitzing and personnel experiments (see Jacoby Stevens)....we witnessed Hampton break up long bombs from Myles without using a hand, purely cutting out the angle thanks to his origami speed and we believe Hampton could easily be one of this 2020 defense's best players.
Get ready for the most unorthodox blitz schemes possible...truly the offense will have no clue what's hitting them...we may never get to see LaRon Landry or Craig Steltz deleting a quarterback on a Pelini-dialed safety blitz again, but if I told you instead of 2 candidates for this "long run-up" blitz, our defense currently has 7!
There is a top secret play I don't even really believe, let alone fathom what I've seen...we'll just say Derek Stingley is utilized in a rather brilliant, unorthodox way nobody will see coming...a play to shock an offense into a pillar of feces.
Elsewhere, cornerback Jay Ward was injured and will be "out for two weeks" Coach Ed Orgeron revealed this week on OTB, leaving us light in the depth department...perfect segue into...
New cornerback Darren Evans, the graduate transfer out of Nicholls State, was a necessity DBU "Miyagi" Corey Raymond had his eyes on for a while.
Once Kary Vincent opted out, taking his track champion's speed and prowess at both free safety or corner with him, Corey Raymond had no choice but to bring in some needed depth (Raymond knowing Orgeron planned ahead and saved a scholarship just in case this exact scenario occurred).
Evans was out there with the team, already immersing himself as a Tiger, a goal he'd always aimed for was now a reality...here is a big chance for Darren Evans to play some snaps vs Miss State (in lieu of Jay Ward).
Still, say what you want about injuries (our burden is significantly lighter than so many other teams) or the extremity of our unique opt outs / transfers situation, LSU's 2020 defense has every chance to be the best in the country when you name the starting 11: FARRELL, LOGAN, IKA, ANTHONY, COX, CLARK, BASKERVILLE, STINGLEY, FLOTT, STEVENS, HAMPTON / HARRIS....could the situation get even better if Shelvin joins Farrell in a shocking return?
Linebackers Jabril Cox and Damone Clark will lead the team intellectually and physically from the second level, the pair orchestrating group film sessions and mapping out their developing on- field chemistry...both should exceed 85+ tackles over 10 games, however the duo are keenly hungry to create turnovers from the LB position.
Also we were told by a team rep "watch out for this defense...they know they can be legendary...they talk about it every day...there's a chance they could do what Joe did on offense this season...and that gets everyone going before practices, they'll just talk."
3. WINNING IN THE TRENCHES
I like what I'm seeing from James Cregg's bullish Joe Moore Award-defending offensive line....nothing has really changed...except for the people (only Austin Deculus's gorgeous locks ring familiar for casual Tiger fans)...but the same attitude remains:
Win every snap...bully the opponent in the trenches, wear them down from the constant tempo & post-snap movement while consuming their souls; this defense will wreak havoc on the SEC's mental stability until Tiger-caused psychosis has taken control.
Center Liam Shanahan and Right Tackle Austin Deculus are the alphas, the pair becoming fast fwriends who have assumed leadership of this line, but watch out for Dare Rosenthal who many have mentioned, especially Coach O.
A guy who's consistently under the radar for the Tigers' line?
Freshman and third generation Tiger Thomas Perry: the kid displays the right amount of energy and chemistry alongside Cregg's O-line...Perry will prove to be an astute commitment.
This line will be tested against Miss State, but we believe this group can withstand the pressure and supply Myles every second he needs....practicing and battling against LSU's D-Line sharpened their skills remarkably so.
Kevin Faulk's running backs could take this offense over, such is their consummate control over proceedings....
The whole "WILL Myles Brennan top Joe Burrow?" ridiculousness will probably never end, but it could definitely fade as Ensminger's Tigers rush the ball down opponents' throats this season, before slicing and dicing SEC rivals through the passing game...
This was the exact formula for 2019 LSU's success:
The Tigers ran the ball only slightly less than Joe threw it around, yet another shocking statistic of 2019's magic: 567 passing attempts (61 TDs) to 513 rushes (32 TDs). The Greatest Offensive Show could also run the ball with a savage omnipotence. 2019 LSU were the true definition of balance...Joe never had to throw it 61 times....(Joe didn't even reach 40 passes during the 7 OT A&M game).
This also means a great deal of passing in the flat to the running backs, too.
5. ARIK GILBERT'S IMPORTANCE IS BIGGER THAN STATS OR MEASUREABLES COULD EVER SAY...
Most of all, Myles Brennan will be saved offensively by Arik Gilbert...
The Marietta Monster provides a match-up nightmare for every defense LSU will face, spreading out the linebackers and safeties when coupled with 3+ receivers....either he'll be more open or he's freeing up a teammate.
This is why our O-line must be firing for this to work:
Also, in these sets where LSU is hunting for maximum yardage, John Emery may not see playing time due to his lack of physicality in pass protection compared to TDP or Curry...this is all based around Gilbert having the freedom to run routes without worrying about blocking the edge...we can have the former defensive end blocking at his best as well, though if the Tigers are to defend their crown, they'll need Arik Gilbert's constant threat in the passing game to earn Terrace Marshall, Trey Palmer, Kayshon Boutte, Koy Moore, Racey McMath or Jontre Kirklin that extra few inches.
As we've seen with a 3+ WR & Gilbert formation already, LSU could be just as unstoppable, with "pick your poison" options everywhere Myles looks...on every snap Gilbert plays, there will be at least one or two wide open options for Myles Brennan.
6. TREY PALMER IS READY FOR #2
We've been told by a trusted longtime source that Racey McMath's biggest competitor for the 2nd WR spot is Trey Palmer edging Kayshon Boutte.
We're told he's been "frankly stunning"...and after seeing the previous preseason game, I agree;
Trey took a long touchdown to the house, showing off his blistering yards after catch pace.
There's so many ready to take the mantle....guessing who'll be 2nd to Terrace is hard...but we've always sensed Kayshon Boutte....now, we're being told Trey Palmer....
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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: JAMER!!! Casa Chavanne stands, 1971Tiger, Peggy, Susan Brignac hope the ribs have fully healed 100%, KAJUN Kannabis we are with you in the trenches during your battle against cancer. AD, JBen, AG, Tony, CLAYETH, Harold, Tigerfan85, NURSEKORT