Something I’m going to try to add to the blog this year are some comments each week from beat writers who cover the opposing team. They know those teams better than anyone else, and I think their views would be valuable to UW fans wanting to know what they may see from the other team each Saturday.
For this week, I asked two LSU beat writers — Randy Rosetta of the Baton Rouge Advocate and James Varney of the New Orleans Time-Picayune — for their thoughts on what they are seeing out of the Tigers as the season nears. Each of these were filed in the last day so this is as up-to-date a look as you can get.
First, here’s Rosetta’s take on the Tigers:
The two problems that pestered LSU throughout 2008 remain the major question marks as the 2009 season gets set to take off: Quarterback play and defense.
Sophomore Jordan Jefferson started the final two games last season, including a 38-3 romp over Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl when he earned Offensive MVP honors. If Jefferson, a 6-foot-4, dual-threat QB, can take the confidence he’s established in spring ball and fall camp and continue to be effective – mostly by getting the ball to the Tigers deep cast of offensive playmakers — that position should be much better.
Defense was a glaring weakness a year ago as LSU allowed 30 points or more five times and got gashed for 50 or more twice in the same season for the first time in program history. The collateral damage was a complete turnover in the defensive coaching staff, with Les Miles bringing in longtime Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis to breathe new life into a unit loaded with talent.
Two key positions changes punctuate Chavis’ overhaul: Junior Chad Jones was moved into the starting free safety spot and senior Harry Coleman went from strong safety to an outside linebacker role. Jones may be the best athlete on LSU’s campus in any sport and now has the freedom to roam and make big plays. Coleman is the hardest hitter for the Tigers and provided built-in flexibility that allows him to stay on the field on passing downs because he has cover skills.
And here’s Varney’s:
For LSU I think the biggest question is Jordan Jefferson at quarterback. The team will go as far as he can take it. Yes the defense hurt the team last year (it, not Jefferson, cost LSU the Arkansas game) but I’ve never seen anything like the pick-6 problems LSU had last year. Interceptions from Jarrett Lee probably cost LSU the Alabama game and made many games (Auburn, e.g.) closer than they should have been. So if Jefferson protects the ball then LSU should have no problem going 9-3, minimum.
That’s where the defense comes in with a chance to make it better. Most everyone assumes the defense *will* be better but no one knows for sure — or just how much it might improve. I mean, for all the talk of LSU’s incredible talent, Chad Jones is finally a starter after LSU struggled to find replacements for LaRon Landry/Craig Steltz, etc.
And there are more questions about the d-line than any other unit. Rahim Alem is the best of that bunch, but he first came on only in the last few games of 2008. Charles Alexander, who will probably start in the middle because he’s a senior as much as anything, has struggled with injuries. So how much pressure will LSU be able to sustain in a game, and how will it contain a QB like Jake Locker?
Finally — and who knows when this will be an issue but for most teams it is at some point — who knows how good Josh Jasper will be as a kicker. Colt David was the best kicker LSU ever had — it was basically a guaranteed 3 points minimum from the other team’s 40 and in. That’s gone at the moment.