Richard likes to break these up in to several parts, but I like lists, so I'll keep this to one article. There's a lot of optimism surrounding this Tiger team which is great, but let's not pretend 2008 was nothing but a bad dream. One dominant win in the Corporate Sponsor Peach Bowl does not suddenly mean all that ailed this program is suddenly cured.
Last year was a miserable year. You can even go through the archives to relive if you're feeling particularly masochistic (or you're a fan of a rival school looking for some schadenfraude). And many of those same problems are lurking right outside the frame. With that in my mind, here are the five things about this season which are keeping me up at night.
#1 THE QUARTERBACKS.
Jefferson comes into the season as the establishes starter, but this is a guy who boasted a completion percentage below 50 percent last season, and that's with a 16-25 gem against GT helping out the old statline. Jefferson can run, but he also took 9 sacks in 73 attempts (compared to Lee's 8 in 269). Jefferson has not shown an ability to throw the deep ball to stretch the defense, a critical skill in the SEC. He doesn't need to be a big armed gunslinger, but he does have to have some ability to throw downfield.
If Jefferson should be ineffective or get hurt, Lee is sitting on the sidelines. Lee has all of the tools and he throws a pretty ball, but it's hard to tell how much psychic baggage he is carrying from last season. He's saying all the right things in fall practice, but that's just practice. If he gets in a game, it is 100% certain he will make a poor play at some point. And there is just no telling how he will react to a bad play.
#2 THE SECONDARY.
It's no secret that teams passed at will against LSU last season. The reason there is essentially an open tryout at every position on defense is because of how badly the team got torched by even mediocre SEC quarterbacks. Now, I'm willing to place a lot of blame on last year's defensive co-ordinators, but that doesn't completely absolve the players. Guys like Chad Jones, who we are expecting big things from, were nearly invisible last year.
Some disturbing numbers: 250-175-210-215-249-215-307-280. Those are the passing totals of LSU's opponent in each SEC game. The only team that failed to throw for 200 yards was Mississippi State. While teams were throwing all over the field, LSU managed 5 interceptions in SEC play. Peterson looked awesome late in the year, but we need the rest of the secondary to start living up to their recruiting rankings.
#3 SPECIAL TEAMS.
If there's one segment of the game even more underrated than line play, it's the special teams. Field position is one of those vital things that no one pays any attention to. Sure, it gets lip service, but no one really cares about the punter. And if punters are underrated overall, the skill most underrated by a punter is the ability to pin the other team inside the 20. Dalfey excelled at the coffin corner punt, putting 22 inside the 20. Helton supposedly has a bigger leg, but LSU will miss that directional punting ability.
And, God, did our return game suck or what? Holliday had one huge return against North Texas, but take that away and he returned 20 punts for 187 yards. That's not that great. Chad Jones tried to fair catch everything. For a team full of speed guys, you'd think someone would be able to return a friggin' punt. Don't even get me started on the conference worst kickoff return game.
Also, Colt David may have only been 16 for 21 on field goals, but he didn't miss a single attempt inside the 40. That's really all you can ask for from a college kicker. We're going to miss him.
I singled out the secondary, but the whole defense sucked last year. Yes, mom, I know I shouldn't say "sucked". But it really did suck. There's no other word to use. I also know I shouldn't start a sentence with a preposition. Sorry again, mom.
LSU ranked 9th in the SEC in scoring defense, 9th in total defense, 5th in rushing defense, 11th in pass defense, 8th in pass defense efficiency, and 8th in turnovers forced. The defense failed in pretty much every way a defense can fail. Let's just say, I wasn't a fan of Mallveto.
I, like many fans, are expecting instant improvement. Not just because Chavis is a great co-ordinator, but also because the guys leaving were pretty bad (I really need to stop picking on them - I'm sure they are nice guys who will one day turn into fine football coaches at high levels - but this was like watching Mike Archer getting promoted to head coach too soon in his career). Maybe we're asking for too much too soon.
#5 THE SCHEDULE.
Opening on the road, cross-country, is never easy. Yes, it's Washington, but it would be an easier game if we had a tune up first. Anything can happen on the opening weekend. Especially breaking in a new defensive staff.
Then there's that whole at Georgia, at Bama, and at Ole Miss thing. LSU has about as tough of an SEC schedule as a team can have.
I really am optimistic heading into this year. I believe that a lot of last year's problems, particularly on defense, have been solved. That does not mean this is a perfect team and that another miserable year can't happen (and let's pause to reflect how awesome it is that going 8-5 qualifies as a miserable year around these parts nowadays - that's how far this program has come in 10 years). This team should rebound, but let's not kid ourselves, there's reason to be skeptical of the Tigers this season.
Oh yeah, and Bama is really, really good.