TSD is taking stock of where the Tigers stand through 12 practices/scrimmages this spring while also previewing the most important areas to monitor during Saturday's game.
WHERE THEY STAND
It's been a developmental spring for the LSU offense with a trio of young quarterbacks learning the ropes. Sophomore Anthony Jennings and early enrollee Brandon Harris have stepped to the front of the line at the position, but both have been subject to poor ball-handling (in a system where the QBs are operating less from under center), inconsistent passing and, during the last scrimmage, heavy pressure. They're also becoming a more active part of the run game, something offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is instructing at length this spring, drilling Harris and Jennings on the read-option and pitch game.
Of course it hasn't helped the green signal callers that the Tigers have been depleted at running back and receiver. In the backfield LSU must wait until Fall Camp to debut freshmen Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams while senior starter Terrence Magee sprained an ankle a little more than a week ago, leaving Kenny Hilliard the only viable option at the position. At receiver LSU has been a combination of short-handed and, quite frankly, not up to snuff. John Diarse, Quantavius Leslie, Avery Peterson and Kevin Spears have all spent time absent or in green no-contact jerseys, and their connection with the quarterbacks is light years away from what Zach Mettenberger had established with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Suffice it to say the arrival of freshmen Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn and Tony Upchurch will be much-anticipated.
The offense has been solid, however, up front, returning four of five starters on the line. La'el Collins and Vadal Alexander continue to form a potent and beefy left side while Elliott Porter and Jerald Hawkins have continued to man center and right tackle, respectively. The fifth and final starting position, right guard, has featured competition between two seniors – Evan Washington and Fehoko Fanaika. Washington is the leader in the clubhouse, but Fanaika remains in the picture, the biggest option available to new position coach Jeff Grimes, described recently by Alexander as "technical in his approach."
Moving back a level LSU is looking solid at linebacker, having moved Lamar Louis from second-string Mike ‘backer to a starting spot on the strongside, filling a hole for the Tigers and also making them a more stout group predicated on stopping the run. D.J. Welter is back for one more go on in the middle while Kwon Alexander is on the verge of a monster season on the weakside. In the secondary LSU has been without safety Corey Thompson (knee) but continues to improve its depth in the back, bringing along sophomore Rickey Jefferson, securing more first-team reps than usual for Ronald Martin and, most importantly, continuing the transition of Jalen Mills from cornerback. Speaking of those corners, the Tigers are in good hands with returning starters Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White to go with early enrollee Ed Paris.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR SATURDAY
For a number of reasons, all eyes will be on the passing game. The biggest one is that three young quarterbacks – Jennings, Harris and redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig – will take center stage inside Death Valley, two for the first time. But, don't forget, due to Magee's injury LSU is really only going to have two scholarship rushers at its disposal Saturday, Hilliard and Melvin Jones (normally a fullback). So while formations, play calls and schemes will be vanilla per the usual in spring games, the Tigers will almost have to go to the air more than they'd originally planned … or else we're all going to witness a whole lot of walk-on rushing.
It will also be interesting to see how much, if any, tempo Cameron calls for on Saturday. LSU busted out a no-huddle two-minute drill at practice on Thursday, and it serves to reason Cameron will use the spring game as an opportunity to do the same when/if presented with a timing scenario late in the first half. I'm more wondering how much LSU will go that route early in Saturday's game, when the clock isn't a factor. Alternating pace will be a part of the plans in 2014, but will we see it in the spring game?
Three other things I'll be watching on the offensive side: Can Leslie build on his 135-yard, three-touchdown receiving performance in Saturday's scrimmage? How much Will Jennings/Harris throw to the tight ends, especially Desean Smith? And, how will the very young but promising second-team offensive line look?
Defensively, LSU should get an interesting test Saturday. The Tigers, with a reshuffled linebacking corps and a slew of new faces at defensive tackle, will be forced to honor the inside run as Hilliard and Jones figure to be the primary (non-quarterback) ball-carriers. That's about as physical a challenge as any defense can find considering those two backs weigh a combined 478 pounds. But the defensive front seven will also have to respect the quarterback keep off end, meaning the perimeter defenders will be put to the test as well. We'll get a nice glimpse at how the Tigers stop the run based on the spring game.
Three other things I'll be watching on the defensive side: Now firmly at middle linebacker, how will Kendell Beckwith move and perform as a presumed starter for the second team? Will Bain, Greg Gilmore or Frank Herron rise to the occasion with ample time Saturday on the second-team defensive line? And, how will Paris (a candidate for time this fall at dime back) play in his first run inside Tiger Stadium?