LSU prepares for season opener against BYU

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Last week, Danny Etling was named the starting quarterback for the regular season opener against BYU. Photo by LSUsports.net.

For the third time in four years, LSU will begin its season with a non-conference clash against a gritty, blue-collar team at a neutral site.

The Tigers were supposed to play in Houston, but Hurricane Harvey has caused catastrophic flooding in the city.

ESPN and NRG has moved the game to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, where LSU is 9-1 in their last 10 appearances.

Last year, the Tigers played Wisconsin in Green Bay’s storied Lambeau Field. Back in 2014, they played the Badgers in Houston. LSU pulled out a squeaker in the Texas showdown, but they lost last year’s Lambeau clash, 16-14.

That loss was just the beginning of a wild and turbulent season for LSU that resulted in the firing of head coach Les Miles just four games into the season and the hiring of new head coach Ed Orgeron and new offensive coordinator Matt Canada at the end.

With their new coaching staff intact, the Tigers are ready to begin a new season, with hopes that things will go much more smoothly at the start of this year than they did in 2016.

LSU has always been known for their defense, but on Saturday night, all eyes will be on the offense.

After years of teetering in mediocrity, the Tigers brought in one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. In Canada’s one year at Pittsburgh, he transformed them into an offense that put up 42 points per game.

LSU averaged just 9 points per contest in their four losses from 2016.

Senior Purdue transfer Danny Etling will be back to lead the Tiger offense. He was officially named the starter last week by Coach Orgeron.

After taking over for a struggling Brandon Harris, Etling played well late. In the final three games against Florida, Texas A&M and Louisville, he went 50-82 for 745 yards with four touchdowns and only one interception.

Unfortunately for Etling, he has lost two of his top targets in Travin Dural and last year’s leading receiver Malachi Dupre.

The top LSU target returning will be D.J. Chark, who had a breakout 2016. He finished with 466 yards and three touchdowns.

The Tigers are depending on a plethora of inexperienced receivers to step up and become playmakers. These wideouts include Russell Gage, Donaldsonville alum Stephen Sullivan, Drake Davis and Derrick Dillon.

Experience won’t be an issue at running back.

Despite losing one of the greatest backs in school history in Leonard Fournette, the Tigers bring back Heisman hopeful Derrius Guice. Though he only made five starts in 2016, Guice piled up 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns.

LSU will face a BYU defense that Etling said reminds him of the Wisconsin defense of last year. They play a 3-4, they’re strong, they stick to their assignments and they’re physical.

The Cougars were ranked ninth against the run last season, only yielding 113 yards per game. They ranked 34th overall and only surrendered 20 points per contest.

BYU returns their two leading tacklers in linebackers Fred Warner and Butch Pau’u. Though, they’ll be without third-leading tackler Francis Bernard. The linebacker also had two sacks and three interceptions last season.

Sack leader Sae Tautu is also gone.

The Cougar secondary struggled last year, ranking just 96th overall. They lost Kai Nacula, their leader in interceptions from that team.

Defensively, LSU had a tremendous 2016 under Dave Aranda, as they gave up just 15 touchdowns and 16 points per game.

The Tigers lost some key starters from that team—including defensive lineman Davon Godchaux, linebackers Kendall Beckwith and Duke Riley and defensive backs Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams.

Luckily, LSU still returns many talented players with great experience like Christian LaCouture, Donte Jackson, Kevin Toliver II and Arden Key—who set a new LSU single-season sack record in 2016 with 12.

But Key will be out for Saturday night. He is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

They’ll face a BYU offense that will be drastically different from last season.

The Cougars had a run-heavy, option-style attack behind quarterback Taysom Hill—who ran for 603 yards and eight touchdowns.

With Hill gone, Tanner Mangum steps in at quarterback. Mangum is a pocket passer that threw for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2015, when Hill went down with an ACL tear.

The Cougars’ reliability will also increase with the loss of leading rusher Jamaal Williams—who rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016.

The Cougars had a game against Portland State this past weekend, in which they won, 20-6. It allowed them to work out a few kinks in preparation of the matchup with LSU.

But in the Tigers’ favor, it allowed them to scout BYU, and it will allow them to keep the intricacies of Canada’s offense a mystery until Saturday night.