2020 LSU Season Preview

Sam Murphy
Editor in Chief

Confetti falling in the Superdome; celebration and pandemonium across the great state of Louisiana; Odell handing out $100 bills Monopoly money on the field; and the best season in the history of college football concluding in the most poetic way possible.

Yes, it’s true, the 2019 LSU Tigers completed the greatest season college football has ever seen. They had the Heisman winner, the Biletnikoff winner, the Thorpe winner (although, I’ll admit it should’ve gone to Jeff Okudah), the Broyles winner, the best offensive line, went 15-0 and beat six of the final top-8 teams in the CFP Rankings.

However, none of that matters in 2020. It’s time to turn the page to a new, SEC-only season in which only five starters return and a new defensive and passing-game coordinator are being worked in. In this piece, we’ll take a more in-depth look at each position group to see what the Tigers have coming into the 2020 season.

Offense

Quarterbacks

Joe Burrow exits following not only the greatest season in LSU history, but the greatest single-season we’ve ever seen by a collegiate quarterback. Enter Myles Brennan, a redshirt-junior quarterback out of Mississippi, who is finally ready for his turn after learning under Burrow for the past two seasons.

Brennan may have more natural arm talent than Burrow did, but it will be interesting to see if he learned any of the intangibles which made Burrow exceptional. Brennan won’t need to replicate what Burrow did last season for LSU to have success in 2020, but he also can’t perform like the LSU quarterbacks of old if this team wants to stay nationally relevant.

Backing-up Brennan, will be a pair of true-freshmen in Max Johnson and TJ Finley. There would be a clear drop-off, but should anything happen to Brennan, look for Johnson — son of former Buc’s and Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Brad Johnson — to step-in under center.

Running Backs

One of the biggest differences in the LSU offense this season will be a more balanced backfield. At least to start the season, we should see a three-headed monster headlined by redshirt-sophomore — and new #18 — Chris Curry and two true-sophomores in Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. We may also see true-freshman Tre Bradford in short spells as well.

Coming into last season, many people expected Emery and/or TDP to steal touches from future-first rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but he was able to easily manage the majority of the workload. Then, in the Peach Bowl semifinal, it was surprisingly Curry who stepped in for an injured CEH and ran like a mini-Marshawn Lynch in the blowout victory.

The backfield seems to be healthy and in good hands going forward. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the three separate themselves from the pack as the season progresses.

Wide Receivers

Up until three weeks ago, this looked to be the most stable position group on the team, but then reigning-Biletnikoff winner, Ja’Marr Chase, opt-ed out of the 2020 season. There’s no spinning this loss — it sucks and definitely hurts the team. Outside of losing Chase, the Tigers also lost first-round pick Justin Jefferson and now have to replace 195 receptions, 3,320 yards and 38 touchdowns between the two.

Former five-star and #1 receiver in his class, Terrace Marshall Jr. will step into the #1 spot for the Tigers with senior Racey McMath moving up to the #2. One of the most interesting battles of the offseason has been for the #3 spot. Expect to see a rotation of talented true-freshmen Kayshon Boutte and Koy Moore, sophomore-burner Trey Palmer, and veterans Jaray Jenkins and Jontre Kirklin until someone separates themselves.

Tight Ends

This is maybe the position group LSU fans are most excited about. Even with the loss of Thad Moss, most believe the room improves strictly from the arrival of Arik Gilbert — the highest rated TE in 247Composite history and the reigning Gatorade National Player of the year.

Gilbert comes in at a Megatron-like 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, with the ability the line-up out wide, in the slot and in tight on the end of the line. He will be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses his entire time at LSU.

Backing-up Gilbert is senior bruiser Tory Carter, 6-foot-7 true-freshman Kole Taylor, and 6-foot-5, 260 pound pitcher-turned-TE Nick Storz. Neither of them will push Gilbert for playing time, but Taylor and Storz may see some work in special redzone packages.

Offensive Line

It can be hard to be excited about an offensive line returning only one “starter”. Austin Deculus returns as that lone-man remaining at right tackle, but Ed Ingram, Chasen Hines and Dare Rosenthal all return with starting experience as well.

One of the saving graces of the offseason was the commitment of graduate-transfer Liam Shanahan from Harvard to come in and fill the void left by Lloyd Cushenberry at center. Shanahan being at center allows Hines to play his natural position at guard and he also brings three years of starting experience with him. They may not repeat for the Joe Moore award, but line play should be solid for Brennan and co.

Defense

Defensive Line

Senior leader Rashard Lawrence and first-rounder K’Lavon Chaisson have both moved on to the NFL and sophomore-breakout Tyler Shelvin opted out of the 2020 season a little more than a day after Chase. Some message board rumors say he’s coming back, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Of the one’s returning, seniors Glen Logan and Neil Ferrell Jr. should hold down the middle with Siaki Ika and Joseph Evans getting most of the rotation work. Incoming true-freshmen Jacobian Guillory and Jacquelin Roy should also see some playing-time to keep the legs fresh.

The biggest question mark on the team is certainly the new defensive end positions in the 4-3 scheme of new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. Seniors Andre Anthony and Travez Moore will get the first shot at holding down the position, but they will have to hold off the true-freshmen tandem of BJ Ojulari and Phillip Webb — both of whom head coach Ed Orgeron has been raving about all offseason.

Linebackers

After all the NFL Draft declarations, the linebacking room was looking a little too thin for most LSU fan’s comfort. Then, maybe *the* saving grace of the offseason showed up in North Dakota State grad-transfer linebacker Jabril Cox.

Now the hype-train isn’t Arik Gilbert-level, but Cox won three national championships at FCS-powerhouse NDSU and finished his career with 258 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, six interceptions and two FCS All-American honors. He’s a complete steal for the Tigers and can help maintain a championship attitude in the locker room.

Alongside Cox will be junior breakout-candidate Damone Clark — the other new #18 — and a rotation between senior Ray Thornton and Micah Baskerville for the third spot.

Cornerbacks

Sure, LSU lost senior Kristian Fulton to the NFL, but the biggest loss in the offseason may have been Kary Vincent Jr. opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Vincent certainly wasn’t the best DB on the team, but he was a steady spot at the oh-so-valuable nickel corner.

Headlining the returning group for the Tigers is true-sophomore and unanimous All-American Derek Stingley Jr., who might be the best defensive player in college football. Opposite him should be either another true-sophomore in Cordale Flott or true-freshman Eli Ricks, with the other stepping into the nickel role.

This is DBU, so I’m never too worried about the corner or safety positions. Yes, this group is young, but Corey Raymond knows what he’s doing and hasn’t given you a reason to doubt him yet.

Safeties

Thorpe Award winner* Grant Delpit is another guy who moved on to the NFL, but Jacoby Stevens was the best safety on the team last season. He was also rewarded with #7 for his excellent play last season and leadership off the field throughout this offseason.

Opposite Stevens will be either redshirt-junior Todd Harris Jr., who started three games last season before tearing his ACL, or true-sophomore and dual-athlete-star Maurice Hampton, who played really well down the stretch as a true-freshman. True-freshman Jordan Toles will likely also see the field sparingly.

Special Teams

The only loss on the special teams unit was long snapper Blake Ferguson. Cade York returns as the place-kicker after a solid true-freshman campaign; Zach Von Rosenberg returns for his eighth season as the LSU punter; and Avery Atkins is back to continue booming kicks through the endzone.

The biggest question is will LSU finally unleash the punt return capabilities of Derek Stingley Jr.? The offense certainly won’t be as effective as it was last year, so Stingley could finally flash in the open field if the coaching staff wants to risk putting him back there. If not Stingley, look for Trey Palmer to handle the return duties.

Season Outlook

DateOpponentTime(EST)/Network
September 26Mississippi State3:30 p.m., CBS
October 3at Vanderbilt7:30 p.m., SECN
October 10MissouriTBD
October 17at Florida3:30 p.m., ESPN2
October 24South CarolinaTBD
October 31at Auburn3:30 p.m. CBS
November 14Alabama6:00 p.m., CBS
November 21at ArkansasTBD
November 28at Texas A&MTBD
December 5Ole MissTBD
December 19SEC Championship3:30 p.m., CBS

The Tigers were given two gifts by the scheduling gods when their added opponents were Vanderbilt and Missouri. Also, they weren’t really given a true gauntlet stretch at any point of the season. They get three tune-up weeks to work out the kinks before their first true test on the season — going on the road to face SEC East-favorite Florida.

The most interesting part will be seeing just how many kinks there are with the switch to the 4-3 under Bo Pelini and the implementation of a completely new personnel group on offense under Steve Ensminger and Scott Linehan. The laziest take all offseason has been “LSU can’t compete for a playoff spot because of how much they lost.”

If anyone does the tiniest bit of research, they’d see how much talent is still left on this roster, even with all the departures to the NFL. Yes, the talent is young and there will be mistakes made and missed assignments, but the early season is as much of a cake-walk as the SEC can give.

Prior to the opt-outs, my true feeling on the season was a 9-1 ceiling with an 8-2 floor. However, the losses of Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin, on top of the NFL departures makes the 9-1 highly unlikely. I believe Myles learned a lot in the two seasons under Joe Burrow and has stepped up as a true leader throughout this difficult offseason.

The talent still around Brennan on the offensive side along with a defense — which should be better than its 2019 counterpart — should be enough to keep this team’s most likely outcome at 8-2, with a floor of 7-3. The swing games will be A&M and Auburn, but Kellen Mond and Bo Nix shouldn’t scare LSU fans, and the road atmosphere will be severely lessened with COVID restrictions.

Can Myles have success now that it’s finally his turn? Does Bo Pelini still have it after five years in the FCS? Will the NFL Departures be too much to overcome? We’ll find out over the coming weeks as the national champs begin their title defense. Geaux Tigers!


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