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Spring Check-In: Southeastern Louisiana

Checking in with LSU’s home opening visitors from Hammond.

NCAA Football: Southeastern Louisiana at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

As we often remind you, we are a FULL SERVICE LSU football blog, and as such we even have some spring scoopage on the Tigers’ home opener guest, the in-state Southeastern Lions.

Stu Lewis, the host of Kajun 107’s LionUp Tailgate, was good enough to fill us in on how Hammond, America is viewing this September’s matchup. You can follow Stu on twitter here.

1. The Lions will have a new coach this fall after a successful run under Ron Roberts. How was Frank Scelfo’s opening spring practice received?

Despite the fact that Southeastern just lost its most successful coach since the program returned, there seems to be a lot of excitement around the program coming out of spring. You can chalk it up to the hiring of quarterback guru Frank Scelfo, the return of OC Greg Stevens whose 2013 Lion offense set almost every school record, and a super-dynamic starting quarterback returning in junior Lorenzo Nunez. With those pieces in place, the buzz around Hammond is that this could be one of the most explosive offenses in the Southland Conference this season. Nunez showed some flashes of big-time talent last season but was hampered by injuries and missed multiple games. If he can stay on his feet and iron out some details in his game under Scelfo, he’ll be in the running for Southland player of the year.

There’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered on the defensive side of the ball. First-year defensive coordinator Louie Cioffi has an NFL resume, but will be tasked with replacing basically all of last year’s defensive productivity. SLU’s top seven tacklers from last season are gone, as is every player who notched an interception and 15 of 2017’s 20 team sacks. Spring practice has at least given us a look at some of the faces who will be stepping into bigger roles this season.

2. Can you brief us on what style of offense and defense we can expect to see out of Southeastern?

The offense is going to be a full spread with everything going through the quarterback. You won’t see a snap from under center unless it’s a one-yard quarterback sneak. Scelfo has been pushing for a quarterback battle between Nunez, sophomore Byron Walker, and Fresno State transfer Chason Virgil, but it’ll take a major showing in fall camp for someone to unseat Nunez. SEC fans might remember Nunez at South Carolina where he started a few games at quarterback before being moved to wide receiver. That should tell you something about his athleticism. Greg Stevens will get creative with getting him moving with the ball, they’ll try to spread out the defense and then move the quarterback side-to-side, often on designed runs. This system worked wonders back with Bryan Bennett at quarterback in 2013 in route to a Southland championship. I’m not quite ready to put Nunez in the same category as Bennett, but he’s got the legs to make some plays and a decent arm.

The Lions return rushers Marcus Cooper and Julius Maracalin, but are replacing most of the offensive line from last season. There’s some skill returning at wide receiver with seniors Nih-Jer Jackson and Jake Ingraffia likely leading the way. It will be interesting to see how the ball gets spread around and how Scelfo’s influence mixes with Stevens’ scheme.

The defense is switching to a 3-4 under Cioffi. That will be the most noticeable change for the Lions. They played aggressive in spring practice and you can expect that to continue, especially as they try to figure out who the playmakers are going to be. Just from an early glimpse, it looks like Southeastern’s secondary will likely be its strongest position on defense, led by LSU transfer Xavier Lewis. Shamar Busby is another guy who was productive last season who will also be expected to take a bigger role. Cioffi coached some great high-performing secondaries in the NFL, so you can expect the DBs to be held to a high standard.

3. We know that former LSU DB Xavier Lewis has transferred in — any other names to know?

Lewis is a guy expected to come in and lock down one of those starting corner spots, he’s definitely a guy to watch this season. Nunez is the guy on offense, keep your eyes on him. He’s got the legs to give DBs trouble, it just all depends if he can improve as a passer after completing under 50% of his attempts last season.

A few others just to watch:

  • Jake Ingraffia — If you’re a fan of undersized white slot receivers, this guy is as undersized and as white as they come. Great hands, hard worker, sneaky fast, you know the rest.
  • Tamarcus Russell — For starters, no relation. A senior who will step into one of the starting linebacker spots. Has shown some speed, solid tackler.
  • Juwan Petit-Frere — Had some dynamite kickoff returns last season, averaging over 34 yards per return. Has wheels when he gets in the open field. Stevens will work him in on offense too.

4. What’s the feeling for Southeastern fans on this matchup? The baseball series has been competitive, but is there any real hope here, or just looking to gain experience for the rest of the Southland schedule?

I think most Southeastern fans are just excited to see the Lions play in Tiger Stadium in front of a big crowd. The schools are only separated by an hour and let’s not kid ourselves, most Southeastern fans are also LSU fans. It seems just about every other Southland team has gotten a chance to go play in Death Valley over the last decade and now it’s finally our turn.

As far as the Lions’ chances go... Hey, never say never. We see an FCS team creep up and beat a ranked FBS team just about every season now, but a lot of things will need to bounce Southeastern’s way for that to happen. I think LSU’s front seven will be as good as there is in the country this year and I doubt the Lions will run right at them. If Nunez can get outside the pocket and make some plays, they might be able to put some drives together. Defensively, the Lions have some bodies in the secondary that can keep up with LSU’s talented receiver corps, but it won’t matter if they can’t get after whoever is playing quarterback for the Tigers or stop the run.

LSU will still be slowly revealing the new offense in the second game of the season, and Southeastern will still be finding its new defensive identity. I’m mostly hoping it’s loud and healthy tune-up for Southland play, which immediately begins the week after the Lions travel to Baton Rouge.

Wait, what do you mean you don’t sell alcohol in the stadium??? Get on the Southland’s level!