BATON ROUGE, La. -- Saturday’s nasty weather allowed us only five minutes of game time upon which to base our overreactions about LSU’s 2015 football team.
Despite the Tigers’ game with McNeese State lasting only two possessions before repeated lightning strikes in the area led to its cancellation, there are some reasonable inferences that we can make about Les Miles’ team based on what we saw. Here are four sets of observations:
Liberal use of freshmen: Miles obviously wasn’t blowing smoke when he predicted the Tigers would use true freshmen early and often. By our count, the Tigers used six members of the 2015 signing class that ESPN rated 10th nationally, including five-star cornerback Kevin Toliver as a starter.
On one offensive play, the Tigers used four true freshmen: running backs Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette lined up on either side of quarterback Brandon Harris in the shotgun and receivers Tyron Johnson and Jazz Ferguson were on opposite sides of the field.
The play didn’t turn out well for the newcomers, however. Guice went in motion to catch a screen pass from Harris, but was immediately blown up by McNeese’s Dominique Hill for a 4-yard loss because Ferguson whiffed on his block.
Donte Jackson turned heads in August with track-star speed, and LSU obviously will look to find ways to get the ball into the freshman cornerback’s hands. Jackson returned the opening kickoff for 22 yards and also entered the game at wide receiver to take a reverse handoff for a 4-yard gain.
Offensive scheme: There was a bit of the old and a bit of the new on LSU’s lone offensive possession.
The first play looked like old-school LSU power offense. The Tigers lined up under center with two tight ends (Dillon Gordon and Colin Jeter) and ran a toss dive to Leonard Fournette for a 1-yard gain. In fact, over its five plays, LSU lined up twice in a two-tight end set -- a formation that only six FBS programs used more frequently than did the Tigers in 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
However, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron also threw in some wrinkles and shotgun sets that better suit Harris’ dual-threat skill set. They ran Travin Dural in motion on the first play before the toss to Fournette and handed the ball to motion man Jackson on the reverse two plays later.
They lined up in the shotgun on three of five plays, the first of which was a well-executed zone-read handoff to Fournette, who followed pulling right guard Josh Boutte’s block and ran for a 10-yard gain.
Harris completed one of his two passes on the series -- the screen to Guice. On third-and-long, the Tigers split four receivers wide -- John Diarse to the left and Malachi Dupre, Dural and tight end DeSean Smith to the right -- but Harris underthrew a deep ball to Dupre, who had a step on Hill. Dupre’s leaping attempt to catch the ball at the McNeese 20 fell incomplete.
Defensive scheme: The Tigers attacked McNeese’s shotgun spread with its nickel package and the same personnel on all three plays before forcing a punt. Kevin Steele’s defense sent an extra man into the backfield on each play, which might offer some insight into the pressure LSU’s new defensive coordinator expects to apply.
Rickey Jefferson had a nice first series in what would have counted as his second career start. The junior safety flew into the backfield on first down and strung out a run toward the sideline, where Toliver tackled Tavarious Battiste for a 1-yard loss. On the next play, Jefferson might have mistimed his blitz by arriving at the line a tad early, but he still managed to accelerate to quarterback Daniel Sams for a sack and a 6-yard loss.
The Tigers blitzed again on third-and-17, this time with outside linebacker Deion Jones, and Sams completed a pass over his head to Zach Hetrick, but linebacker Kendell Beckwith and cornerback Tre’Davious White stopped Hetrick for a 9-yard gain to force a punt.
Personnel decisions: LSU’s early use of freshmen was probably the biggest surprise. Otherwise, the pregame indications about the Tigers’ position battles seemed to hold true.
Toliver got the nod at corner ahead of Ed Paris, who played on LSU’s kickoff return and punt return teams. Boutte and left guard Will Clapp started on either side of center Ethan Pocic. And Dwayne Thomas made what would have been his first career start, stepping in for the injured Jalen Mills at nickelback.
Among the new faces on the special teams units were safety Corey Thompson -- back from a knee injury that cost him the 2014 season -- and linebacker Ronnie Feist. Also, Miles followed through on his hint that Fournette might not return kickoffs, using Jackson and Darrel Williams instead.