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Season recap: LSU

LSU

Record: 13-0, 8-0 SEC

Where do you start with these Tigers?

The preseason was full of drama. Offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe announced that he had Parkinson’s disease and gave up the play-calling duties. There was also the infamous bar brawl that led to the arrest of senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson and his subsequent suspension from the team.

But in the words of LSU coach Les Miles, the Tigers never flinched. They opened the season with a 40-27 victory over No. 3 Oregon at Cowboys Stadium and haven’t looked back since.

Jefferson returned to the team after missing the first four games. His charges were dropped to a misdemeanor. Jarrett Lee started the first nine games at quarterback and was remarkably efficient. He’d thrown 13 touchdown passes and only one interception entering the Alabama game, but was picked off twice against the Crimson Tide.

Jefferson, who had some success running the option against Alabama, played most of the second half and all of the overtime and took over as the Tigers’ starter the next game.

With the way LSU has run the football, particularly in the second half, it hasn’t really mattered who’s been at quarterback. The Tigers have mashed opponents with their running game after the break.

Case in point: They rushed for 202 yards in the second half against Georgia in last Saturday’s SEC championship game after being held without a first down in the first half.

It’s a running game that has gone hand-in-hand with a defense that ranks near the top nationally in just about every major statistical category.

The only thing the Tigers have more of than speed on defense is depth. They routinely play eight or nine defensive linemen and are equally deep in the secondary.

They haven’t given up more than 11 points in a game defensively since the fourth week of the season, when they won 47-21 at West Virginia. In their last seven games, the first-team defense hasn’t allowed a second-half touchdown.

And when you talk about striking quickly, LSU has been lethal.

The Tigers unleashed a 42-0 run against Georgia after falling behind 10-0 in the SEC championship game. The week before, Arkansas led 14-0, but the Tigers answered with a 41-3 run to turn that game into a rout.

Offensive MVP: Offensive guard Will Blackwell. Nobody has worn teams down in the second half this season like the Tigers have with their offensive line, and Blackwell is the leader of that group. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior opened the season at right guard but wound up switching to left guard. He was dominant on both sides and paved the way for the Tigers to lead the league in rushing offense against SEC competition, averaging 220.4 yards per game.

Defensive MVP: Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. By now, everybody knows him as the “Honey Badger.” A finalist for the Heisman Trophy, Mathieu put together a season for the ages. He led the Tigers in total tackles with 70, playing cornerback, nickel back and even some safety in the Arkansas game. He also led the SEC with six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries and scored four touchdowns, two of those coming on punt returns against Arkansas in the regular-season finale and then Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Turning point: Some might say it was Morris Claiborne’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to break open a close game on the road at West Virginia, but the 9-6 overtime victory at Alabama was the game that propelled the Tigers to this point.

What’s next: The Tigers hope history is next. They’ve already beaten eight nationally ranked teams and will try and make it four wins over top-three teams in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game when they go up against Alabama for a second time on Jan. 9. If LSU can finish this thing out and go 14-0, it would have to rank as the greatest season in SEC history.