Looking Towards Oregon-L.S.U.
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 10, 2011
L.S.U.’s 2011 season will begin with a bang: Oregon, Sept. 3, in Arlington, Tex. — two teams whose national championship aspirations might receive a tremendous boost or suffer a disappointing setback depending on the game’s result. The head-first dive into 2011 contains that boom-or-bust theme, with L.S.U., for instance, looking at a torrid start should it knock off the Ducks in what should be the marquee game of the season’s opening weekend. Considering the game’s importance, it’s never too early to take a look ahead.
The excitement in Baton Rouge — about the entire 2011 season — is understandable. Still, one couldn’t blame Les Miles for wanting to push this game back a few weeks. L.S.U.’s question marks entering the 2011 season might eventually resolve themselves, but these issues — touched on below — might still be in place come the first Saturday of September. Take, for example, the following:
1. Game one for the new offense. There’s no question that Oregon will remain potent offensively, thanks to the return of LaMichael James, Darron Thomas, several talented skill players on the outside and a handful of young players itching to make an impact. Oregon will score points, even against L.S.U.; how many points, however, remains to be seen.
L.S.U. will be in a different boat: the season opener marks the first game for new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, who plans to install a less predictable, more pass-heavy offense. Focus on the words predictable: this offense will do its best to keep opponents off balance, which was not a phrase often used to describe the work done by his predecessor, Gary Crowton.
2. A new look under center. File this under the same theme as above: just as Kragthorpe’s offense will be in its infancy, there is a strong chance that the season opener will be the first start for L.S.U.’s new quarterback. Now, there is a sincere chance that Jordan Jefferson will retain his starting role, particularly given his strong play down the stretch last fall. Jefferson was effective over his final three games — even if that period included a loss to Arkansas — mixing in consistency in the deep passing game with a solid dose of yardage on the ground.
Nevertheless, last fall saw Jefferson take a significant step back in his progression into a legitimate SEC quarterback. His uneven play, from start to finish, leaves newcomer Zach Mettenberger, a Georgia transfer via junior college, with a meaningful chance at unseating Jefferson for the starting job. If Mettenberger does outplay the incumbent starter during the spring and the fall, a date with Oregon is not exactly the finest way for him to begin his college career; while he has all the tools to succeed, Mettenberger has yet to take a snap on the F.B.S. level.
3. Competition in the secondary. It’s not a matter of numbers: L.S.U. returns the majority of last season’s contributors. It’s more about the challenge of finding a new stopper, a role held more than capably by Patrick Peterson over the last two seasons. Who becomes L.S.U.’s new top cornerback? Based merely on experience, junior Morris Claiborne will be charged with defending the opposition’s top receiving option; he’s currently battling an ankle injury, but will certainly be back at full strength by the fall.
The most intriguing competition is occurring at both safety spots, however. It’s a matter of numbers, as noted above: L.S.U. has several young, athletic options, such as sophomores Eric Reid and Craig Loston, but the period heading into the fall will be vital for the team to search out and identify roles for the returning contributors.
4. Filling the interior of the defensive line. Want to slow down Oregon? Two teams provided the blueprint last fall: the first was California, though the Bears were aided by a banged-up LaMichael James; the second was Auburn,which did a superb job slowing down the Ducks on the ground. If L.S.U. is going to duplicate this plan, it will need to find new starters inside to replace Lazarius Levingston and Drake Nevis.
Is sophomore Michael Brockers ready to step into a starting role? He made a single start a season ago, starting in place of Levingston in a loss to L.S.U., and will be at least a vital part of the line rotation. Miles has already pointed towards a pair of freshmen as potential difference makers: Ego Ferguson, a redshirt freshman who could stand out against the run; and true freshman Anthony Johnson, rated by most recruiting services as the top interior line prospect in the country.
To beat Oregon, you need to stop the run. As a whole, there are not significant questions regarding this defense; still, if the youngsters up front can’t provide a push on first and second down, Oregon might experience significant success moving the football.
Is it September yet?
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Tags: Craig Loston, Eric Reid, Jordan Jefferson, L.S.U., Les Miles, Michael Brockers, Morris Claiborne, Oregon, Steve Kragthorpe, Zach Mettenberger
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