Breaking Down LSU
By Freddie Vickers
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Despite some high-profile losses, this LSU team may be even better than last year.
LSU will begin fall camp in August trying to cleanse their minds of the 2011 season in which they blew a huge opportunity. LSU ran through one of the toughest schedules in college football all the way to the SEC Championship Game, where they destroyed the Georgia Bulldogs. One month later, they prepared to play a rematch game versus the Alabama Crimson Tide for the national champioship. The rematch wasn’t very good to the Tigers, as they couldn’t muster a single point and saw the BCS Championship Trophy go to one of their biggest rivals for the second time in three years.
2012 will be a sort of “redemption year” for the Tigers. For the first time in many years, they have an elite talent under center to go with the deepest stable of running backs in the country. The offensive line is one of the best in the nation, and the defense is set up to have another stellar year.
When LSU lost Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee to graduation, many of the Tiger faithful thought they got a lot better, because now Zach Mettenberger will be the man. Mettenberger steps in to lead an offense that could be one of the best in the country. Mettenberger will have a ton of talent around him, including one of the deepest running back corps in the country.
Spencer Ware should get the start for LSU when they take the field versus North Texas. Ware had a good year in 2011 with 727 yards and eight touchdowns, not bad for splitting carries with three other running backs. Michael Ford was actually the leading rusher for the Tigers in 2011, as he had 772 yards and seven touchdowns. Freshman Jeremy Hill could be a change-of-pace back to offset the big bruisers the Tigers possess.
The offensive line, along with the running game, will definitely be the strength of this LSU offense. They return four starters up front including All-SEC tackle Alex Hurst. J.P. Lonergan returns at center to give the Tigers one of the top offensive lines in the country.
The wide receiving corps returns some talent, but will need a leader to emerge. Senior Russell Shepard needs to be that guy. Shepard was a do-it-all player his first two years in Baton Rouge, but took a step back in his junior season. Odell Beckham. Jr. returns for his sophomore campaign after a freshman year where he put up great numbers for a freshman. Beckham, Jr. caught 41 passes for 475 yards and had two touchdowns. These guys will have to step their game up in 2012 if the Tigers want to be balanced on offense.
The 2012 LSU Tiger defense should be just as good as the 2011 version. The defensive line has two bookends that are among the best in the country. Sam Montgomery returns after a year in which he led the team in sacks (9) and also had 13.5 tackles for loss. At the other end, Barkevious Mingo will try to improve on his five quarterback hurries he had in the SEC Championship Game.
The linebacking corps may be the question mark, if there is one with a defense this talented. Junior Kevin Minter returns at the Mike linebacker position where he recorded 61 tackles in 2011. He will be joined by juniors Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow, both of whom saw significant action in 2011.
The secondary loses Morris Claiborne, who was a first round NFL draft pick, but does return two starters in junior corner Tyrann Mathieu and junior safety Eric Reid. Mathieu exploded on the scene in 2011, playing with reckless abandon and has become an elite playmaker in college football. At the other corner position opposite Mathieu, LSU will line up with Tharold Simon. Simon broke up a team best 10 passes in 2011 and also added two interceptions. The wild card in the secondary is junior Craig Loston. Loston has been a beast on special teams his first two years, but did record 14 tackles and one pass breakup in 2011.
The 2012 version of the LSU Tigers is every bit as good as last year’s group, and has the ability to once again represent the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game. The schedule is tough, with big home games versus Washington, Alabama and Mississippi State. The tests will come on the road as the Tigers travel to Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas.