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Your Inaugural ATVS Pre-Season Roundtable

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Here we come. Alas, after our collective desert wanderings, Tiger fans have finally come to that most cherished of cherishments, game week.

 At this point, the questions about this team have been hashed and rehashed over by all of the interwebs, but we at And the Valley Shook figured one more time couldn't hurt.

And with that said, welcome to the ATVS Season Opening Roundtable Discussion.

I almost went with a King Arthur metaphor (probably my Clive Owen-like rugged good looks), but I passed.

Gentlemen, one week out from the Washington game - what is the first thing you'll be watching for from the Tigers next Saturday?

Poseur

We've beat this drum a lot on here, but the defense takes a lion's share of the credit for last season's struggles.  LSU made even the most inept passing offenses look good, and Washington has a pretty decent pass offense.  The Huskies are likely to let Locker loose and he's going to have every opportunity to throw all over our secondary.  We'll know a lot real quick on how well the defense can defend the pass.

But even more than that, last year's defense was living in a perpetual state of confusion. How many times did we have guys running to the sideline at the last second or players standing up with a deer-in-the-headlights kind of way obviously thinking something the lines of "I have no idea what the play is. Hell, I don't even know if its a man or a zone"?  I'm looking for a team to simply look like it knows what its doing. Even if it doesn't... lie to me, Chief. 

Richard

In the literal sense, the very first thing I will be looking for is who is on the kickoff/return team.  I actually pay attention to these things and I'm not just trying to be a smart-ass.

When the regular teams take the field, the first thing I'll be looking for on offense is the personnel groupings.  Who comes into the game in 3- and  4-wide receiver sets, and how often do we employ those sets?  Who's our fullback? I'll be looking for some tendencies.  How often do we pass when we have a fullback in the game? How often do we run when Deangelo Peterson is the tight end?  How often do we use Russell Shepard as a decoy?

On defense, I'll be looking first at the secondary. That's where all the interesting stuff will be happening.  Mainly, again, personnel groupings. But also, I want to see how our guys cover the pass.  As Poseur observed, our pass defense was wretched in 2008. Positively incompetent. We made awful passing teams look solid, and solid passing teams look like world-beaters. The lion's share of that is on the secondary, though part of the problem was an inconsistent pass rush and not enough help from the linebackers in coverage. This is going to be a story we watch over the first few weeks of the season, because while Washington will tell us something about our pass defense, I don't think we'll be able to set anything we think we learn there in stone.

The other thing I'll be watching immediately on defense is the defensive line. How much penetration do we get?  (That's what she said.) Does the next generation of defensive lineman (Levingston, Nevis, Woods) make plays? Honestly, I don't think we'll see a drop-off because, while we lost a lot of talent, for whatever reason (cough*earllane*cough*malveto*cough) those guys weren't actually all that productive. I shouldn't blame Malveto, because honestly they weren't that productive under Pelini either. I would really like to see a defensive line that gets after it and plays aggressively.  I'll live with the occasional successful draw play if it means seeing more plays being made in the opponent's backfield.

Unlike Poseur, I am not going to be watching to see if the defense is in a constant state of confusion.  I am taking it as a given, without even entertaining the though otherwise, that the defense will enter each and every snap knowing exactly what it's supposed to be doing.

Billy

The first thing I'll be eyeballing is the quarterback. If Jordan Jefferson can come out with the kind of calmed collected-ness he showed to start the Chick Fil-A Bowl, after a two-time-zone road trip and in a hostile stadium, it'll be a good sign that he's ready for a big year.

Defensively, I just want to see some consistency and some organization. I think that in general, fans are expecting John Chavis to turn this outfit into the '85 Bears overnight, and I doubt that'll be the case. What I want to see is a plan. Organization, a defense that at least knows what it is doing. I doubt that results in dramatic changes in the yards and points per game department, but it will result in more third-down stops, big plays and turnovers.

That said, if somebody turns Jake Locker into Willie Tuitama circa 2006, all bets are off and this season starts looking a lot more fun.

Richard

Can I ask the next question? Too bad, I just did.  What game (other than the first one) are you most looking forward to right now?  

Poseur

Well, I'm also really looking forward to the Vanderbilt game because my tickets just arrived in the mail and I'll be bringing my girlfriend for her first Saturday Night in Tiger Stadium. Every school brags about how great their gameday experience is, and we're no different, but one of my favorite things is bringing someone to see LSU on a football Saturday for their very first time. It's like watching it all again through their eyes and it is really, really cool.  Two years ago, I took my friend Jude to a game. He is a Clemson grad and at the end of the game he completely agreed that we were the real Death Valley. He just couldn't believe the atmosphere, and it makes you realize how special of a place Baton Rouge is.

But that's not really the answer you were looking for, was it? From a football standpoint, the game I am most looking forward to is the Georgia game. Alabama is always a great game, and Ole Miss has a bigger selling point than usual, but Georgia is a team that A) we don't play very much and B) has kicked the stufing out of us the last few times we did play. The final score of our last three games were 52-38, 34-14, and 45-16. Hard to believe, but last year was the close one. It's the first real big game on the schedule and it could very well set the tone for the SEC season.  Beating Georgia would exorcise a lot of demons. Also, if we lose to Georgia, it's going to be real hard to get jacked up for Florida next week. I think the season hinges on the trip to Athens, but more than anything, we owe those bastards. I'm sick of getting pummeled by the Bulldogs.  

Billy

I don't share his love of hoodies, scowling or desperate housewives, but Bill Bellicheck and I do have one thing in common -- a belief in one game at a time. More so because I'm just so ready for not just game one, but WEEK one.

This Saturday I plan on hunkering down on as couch and ingesting food and drink that may be less than perfectly healthy. I plan on watching ESPN Gameday (holding my ears during the new theme song with shocked disbelief that something could actually make me MISS Big & Rich) followed by every game that I can cram into my eyelids before that 9:30 kickoff. Georgia-Okie State, Bama-Va. Tech, you name it, I wanna watch it.

Plus, just call me eager to see LSU shake off the 2008 cobwebs.It's, time to resume the business of winning.

Richard

Poseur stole my answer, so I'm changing it. I'm going to say Vandy. Can you believe that the Vandy game will (assuming all goes according to plan) be Jordan Jefferson's first start in Tiger Stadium?  Also, it's the first conference game of the season. 

In conference play I really want to see better toughness than I saw last season. I want to see someone out there mixing it up. This is college football. Rah rah rah sis boom bah and all that.  It's not supposed to be characterized by NFL-style discipline. It's supposed to be raw, emotional.  I really think that in college, teams play better when they play with passion, even at the expense of discipline want to see someone go after it. Maybe a corner trading shoves with a receiver after the play. Maybe a defensive lineman laying an unnecessarily hard hit on a tackle. Maybe a running back putting a defender on his back.

When better to show it than in the first conference game, when it really starts mattering?

Poseur

I have to agree with Richard that I like to emotion out there. And while it is frustrating as hell to see Alem kick a football down the field, teams that get penalized a lot tend to be pretty good. I like when teams go right up to that line, and that means they will step over it occasionally.  It's hard for me to get after a team for that, as much as it hurts to watch when it does happen.  I like to set the baseline for criticism, which leads me to my question: what is the minimum level for you to be happy with this season? What constitutes a successful year?  

Richard

Every year, the goal is the same:  SEC Championship. I think of everything in terms of "what is our path to the SEC Championship?" We certainly aren't going to get it every year, but we really need to be competitive at all times. Last year we weren't, and last year was a failure.  

To me, a successful year starts with looking at the schedule. Look at the teams we play and think, "Who should we be able to handle easily if we play as well as we expect?" This year, that's Washington, Vandy, ULL, MSU, Auburn, Tulane, and La Tech. A successful year starts with wining those seven games. We won't necessarily win all of them, but the surest route to a successful season is winning those games.

Then we have 5 games that appear, as of this moment, to be considerably more difficult.  Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Arkansas. Assuming we win all the games we rightfully should win, the season hinges on these 5 games. The baseline for criticism starts at winning two of these games. If we win only two, we have had a season I would consider to be somewhere on the precipice of success, but not quite there. It wouldn't be slightly disappointing to win 2 of those games, but I wouldn't be angry about it. I wouldn't think this team underachieved.  I would be underwhelmed, but not exactly unhappy. If we only win one, or if we lose one of the other games, I will be considerably more upset.

I think people are talking about this team being a year away, and I just don't see it that way. This is a year in which we have the personnel to make noise. Our three or four best offensive players are all seniors. Lafell, Black, Scott, Dickson.  We also have some important role players on offense who are seniors: Hitt, Keiland, Chris Mitchell. Two of our top 3 defensive tackles and our best defensive end are seniors: Alexander, Woods, and Alem. We have 3 seniors starting at linebacker.  Plus, there is no guarantee that Chad Jones will be playing football at LSU in 2010.  This is not to say that we don't have good young talent that will be back in 2010. Surely we have Patrick Peterson, Terrance Tolliver, Joseph Barksdale, Jordan Jefferson, and others, but if we don't make noise this year a window of opportunity will have closed on us.

Billy

Obviously, you never know how a season is going to go with injuries and the breaks of the game like dropped passes (or interceptions), penalties and missed field goals. This is why I always find it really hard to pick a definite record -- I tend to go with more of a range of wins, give or take.

I think 9-3 is kind of the baseline for this year, and I could see things sliding a game or two one way or the other. The thing to keep in mind, frankly is that there are other teams out on that field, and sometimes good teams have bad luck and lose to other good teams. You're looking at potentially three road games against teams that, at the very least should be ranked and could be top-10 quality. Oh plus a home game against the most loaded SEC team in history. Plus an Arkansas team that could be damn good by the end of the year.

The big thing I plan on watching this year is quality. Let's face it, last year would have been a bad year even if Jarrett Lee only throws three picks against Bama or if Chris Hawkins bats down that last pass versus the Razorbacks. Sure, the record would have been 10-3, but every loss would have been a complete beat-down. I just want to see this team play better in 2009, win, lose or draw.

And, while I get Richard's point that there's talent to win now, but there's still a lot of youth in the secondary, receiver, offensive line and linebacker positions (specifically backups like Stefoin Francois and Ryan Baker). There could be a ton of experienced talent returning in 2010 (and several other SEC teams will be losing a lot of experience), plus the schedule will be more favorable, at least in conference. I think that's why people have an eye on 2010 as a killer year.

Billy

Let's wrap this up with one last go-round -- What player(s) are you looking forward to seeing the most this Saturday?

Poseur

I've been preparing for this season by watching the Russell Shepard recruiting youtube over and over again. I cannot wait to see this guy in an LSU uniform. But there's nothing I enjoy more than watching people get hit really, really hard. Football is controlled violence and I may or may not have some anger issues to deal with. So I'm looking forward to a defense that goes out and hits people. Last year was such a disappointment for me because I didn't get to see my Tigers play defense like, well, Tigers.

So I am absolutely giddy over having three, count 'em, THREE senior linebackers. Riley, Cutera, and Coleman are experienced players who should center the revitalized defense.  I want each one of them to kill a guy. Well, not really, but I do want our linebackers to actually dish out some big hits this season, something that was sorely missing last year. They have worked their entire careers for this season. Make it count, guys. 

Richard

Chad Jones and Patrick Peterson. Dear god, I hope these two are as good as advertised. We could have a special secondary if they live up to their billing.

Billy

It feels like we've been waiting for years on Shepard. Probably because he committed in the Summer of 2008. He could be the kind of guy that makes opposing fans hold their breath every time he gets the ball, and even with Trindon Holliday, LSU still hasn't had that kind of guy in a long time.

Put Jefferson on there for me, and Terrance Toliver as well. From an offensive standpoint, I keep thinking back to the 2007 opener at Mississippi State, where we didn't totally know what we (as a fan base) would see, but we knew we were excited. I feel like this offense could be downright scary.

Defensively, I just want somebody, ANYBODY, to make one of those wow plays. I'm talking the Glenn Dorsey-chucking-Chaz-Ramsey-into-the-running-back-type of play. The kind that shows that you're the kind of player offensive coordinators will have to game-plan around. I don't care who it comes from - though Peterson, Jones and Rahim Alem seem the most likely candidates.