LSU lost many key components from its historically great and record-setting 2019 team. Six offensive players were selected in the NFL Draft this spring. Three were chosen in the first round. Joe Brady, the passing game coordinator, departed to serve as offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. As we look at the LSU 2020 offense preview, does the 2020 squad have the capability of repeating as champions?
LSU 2020 Offense Preview
Myles Brennan has the unenviable burden of replacing the most successful quarterback in the 127-year old football program at LSU. Last season, Joe Burrow won multiple Southeastern Conference and national awards. Additionally, he was a unanimous selection as a First-Team All-American.
Brennan, a junior, appeared in eight games last season in order to close out some routs. He completed 42 out of 70 passes, resulting in 353 yards, a touchdown, and one interception. Ed Orgeron deliberately prevented Brennan from playing in 2018 until the second to last regular-season game against Rice in order to redshirt him. He connected on four of his six passing attempts for 65 yards. As a freshman, prior to Burrow’s arrival in Baton Rouge, Brennan saw limited action in six contests. In 2017, Brennan threw 24 passes, totaling 14 completions, 182 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.
Brennan must remain healthy and ambulatory since LSU has no other quarterback with any collegiate game experience. Behind him on the depth chart are three freshmen (T.J. Finley, Walker Kinney, and Max Johnson) and A.J. Aycock, a sophomore. With no non-conference games available, the reserve quarterbacks will receive few opportunities for playing time barring an injury to Brennan.
The Fightin’ Tigers lost their two leading rushers in terms of yards, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (1,414) and Burrow (368). Edwards-Helaire ran for 16 touchdowns, equaling the total of the rest of his teammates combined. Edwards-Helaire also accounted for 55 receptions, third-highest total, for 453 yards, fifth-most on the team.
A trio of underclassmen at running back seeks to replace Edwards-Helaire. Tyrion Davis-Price carried the ball in every contest in 2019 except for the national championship game as a freshman. He totaled 64 attempts for 295 yards. His six rushing touchdowns ranked as second-most on the team. Sophomore John Emery Jr. rushed 39 times for 188 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games last year. Chris Curry, a sophomore, compiled 189 yards on the ground on 38 attempts but no touchdowns. Curry redshirted in the 2018 season after appearing in only four games without recording any statistics on offense. Of these three running backs, Davis-Price caught the most passes (10) in 2019 which ranked ninth on the team while his 74 receiving yards were 10th.
The Purple and Gold linemen in 2019 won the Joe Moore Award as the most outstanding offensive line in college football. Three members of that group (Damien Lewis, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Saahdiq Charles) heard their names called during the NFL Draft. That crew helped the Tigers finish with the highest average of total yards (554.3), second-most passing yards (386.8), and third loftiest number of points scored (47.8) per game in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Unfortunately, few of the components in that unit are returning for this season. Austin Deculus, a senior, started nine games last year. Ed Ingram, a junior guard, also played a significant amount of time last season. A redshirt sophomore, either Dare Rosenthal or Cameron Wire, is projected to start at left tackle. At the right guard, three freshmen (Anthony Bradford, Kardell Thomas, or Marlon Martinez) are competing for that spot.
Although glaring departures among the offense occurred, the wide receiver corps is the least depleted. Two key wideouts will return for this season. The Tigers will rely on two frequent starters from 2019, Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr., to bolster the offense.
In 2019, Ja’Marr Chase led the Tigers in terms of receiving yards (1,780) and receiving touchdowns (20) while missing only one game. He set the SEC’s season records for both categories. As a sophomore, he ranked second on the team in the number of receptions with 84. He was chosen as a unanimous All-American and the winner of the Biletnikoff Award. He compiled more than 100 receiving yards in nine games and caught at least one touchdown in 11 contests.
Marshall Jr. participated in 12 contests during last season. His 671 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns put him in third place among his teammates. He finished fifth on the team with 46 catches.
Questions revolve around whether any tight end can contribute anything to the offense. The level of valuable production of the departed tight end, Thaddeus Moss, will be very difficult to match. Moss finished fourth on the team in terms of receptions (47), receiving yards (570) and touchdown receptions (four).
Every current tight end lacks significant experience. Eight of the 10 tight ends on the roster are freshmen or sophomores. Only one of the 10, Jamal Pettigrew, has even caught a pass in a college game. Pettigrew, a senior, missed all of the 2018 season then caught just one pass for a one-yard loss in 2019. The highly touted incoming freshman, Arik Gilbert, may need to see extensive playing time.
In conclusion of the 2020 LSU offense preview, this season will serve as a test of the quality of recruiting that Orgeron and his coaches have done. Coach O and his staff brought in the majority of the players on the current roster. Combining graduation and early departures, LSU lost much of the talent responsible for its national championship.
Orgeron and his crew have the opportunity to prove that the overdue changes to and amazing results of LSU’s offensive schemes are permanent. Any remaining critics might still believe that 2019 was a one-time wonder, expecting a regression into mediocrity. Can he and his team prove that the program is a legitimate and perennial contender for the Southeastern Conference and national championships once again?