SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  LSU Tigers

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Nick Saban (4th year, 26-12)
2002 record: 8-5 (Lost to Texas 35-20 in Cotton Bowl)
SEC finish: T-2nd (West)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 196.9 ypg
(4th in SEC, 29th in nation)
Pass: 153.1 ypg (9th, 102nd)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 134.1 ypg (5th, 40th)
Pass: 152.7 ypg (1st, 2nd)
Projected Starters
Offense (7 returning starters in bold)
WR   14   Michael Clayton   Jr.  
WR  Devery Henderson  Sr. 
LT   76   Andrew Whitworth   So.  
LG  68  Terrell McGill  So. 
C   55   Ben Wilkerson   Jr.  
RG   72   Stephen Peterman   Sr.  
RT   60   Rodney Reed   Sr.  
TE   47   Eric Edwards   Sr.  
QB   18   Matt Mauck   Jr.  
RB  10  Joseph Addai  So. 
FB  49  Brandon Hurley  So. 
Defense (7)
DE   84   Marcus Spears   Jr.  
DT  95  Kyle Williams  So. 
DT   93   Chad Lavalais   Sr.  
DE   94   Marquise Hill   Jr.  
SLB   58   Lionel Turner   Jr.  
MLB  99  Jason LeDoux  Sr. 
WLB  27  Eric Alexander  Sr. 
CB   13   Corey Webster   Sr.  
CB   21   Randall Gay   Sr.  
SS  Adrian Mayes  Sr. 
FS   8   Jack Hunt   Sr.  
Special Teams
33  Andre Boagni  Fr. 
80  Donnie Jones  Sr. 
KR  Devery Henderson  Sr. 
PR  Shyrone Carey  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  UL-Monroe 
Sept. 6  at Arizona 
Sept. 13  Western Illinois 
Sept. 20  Georgia 
Sept. 27  at Mississippi State 
Oct. 11  Florida 
Oct. 18  at South Carolina 
Oct. 25  Auburn 
Nov. 1  Louisiana Tech 
Nov. 15  at Alabama 
Nov. 22  at Ole Miss 
Nov. 29  Arkansas 
Did anyone in the SEC take a bigger roller-coaster ride last season than LSU? In the Tigers' best game of the year, a 36-7 victory over Florida in Gainesville, starting quarterback Matt Mauck was lost for the season with torn ligaments in his right foot. Then, they were seemingly beaten at Kentucky when the most replayed play of the season -- Marcus Randall's thrice-tipped, 75-yard Hail Mary to Devery Henderson as time ran out -- provided a 33-30 win.

Finally, when the SEC Western Division title was in their grasp, the Tigers allowed Arkansas' Matt Jones to throw a game-winning 31-yard TD in the final seconds as the Razorbacks prevailed 21-20.

"We went being touched by the angels to win a game, to being touched by the demons," LSU coach Nick Saban said. "We never really found an identity last year, never found a personality."

The Tigers have a few defensive holes to fill up the middle, but with a healthy Mauck, a pair of exciting running backs and a veteran line, it's a good bet LSU will enjoy a much more stable season this year.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

In the spring, Mauck's lack of mobility due to last season's foot injury became a bonus. For the first time, he was forced to become a drop-back passer, patiently staying in the pocket and not taking off at the first sign of pressure.

There shouldn't be a dropoff at running back, even with the departures of Domanick Davis and LaBrandon Toefield. The new dynamic duo is powerful sophomore Joseph Addai and converted junior wide receiver Shyrone Carey. Addai came on strong late last year, finishing with 438 yards and four touchdowns. Carey (5-foot-6, 185 pounds) runs under the radar.

The Tigers have three solid receivers in Michael Clayton, Henderson and Skyler Green. Even with LSU's quarterback woes last year, Clayton still caught 57 passes for 749 yards and five touchdowns.

The offensive line has four returning starters, and there is dependable depth. Sophomore Terrell McGill is the only new face.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

To repeat or improve on last year's solid defensive performance, some new linebackers and a defensive back or two must emerge.

Defensive lineman Chad Lavalais is a dominating 6-3, 289-pound specimen with tremendous hand strength, quick feet and speed. In the past two seasons, he's had 37 quarterback hurries. Junior Lionel Turner, no slouch himself last season, is the lone returning linebacker in the 4-3 alignment. Jason LeDoux is in Bradie James' vacated position, and Eric Alexander is the starter on the weak side. Saban wants his linebackers to be more vocal.

In the secondary, three starters are gone, including All-SEC cornerback Demetrius Hookfin and strong safety Norman LeJeune, whose 15 tackles for a loss ranked fourth in the SEC last season. Senior cornerback Corey Webster, All-SEC last season when he led the league with seven interceptions, is the lone shred of stability in the secondary. He played more physically in the spring when some new faces stepped up.

Travis Daniels can play either corner or safety, and the emergence of Ronnie Prude at cornerback will allow Saban more flexibility. Also, Saban is trying different combinations of players at cornerback and safety. Offensive players Clayton and freshman running back Justin Vincent saw some spring practice time with the defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Tigers are on the lookout for a new kicker. For now, Saban is banking on freshman Andre Boagni . As unsettled as place-kicker is for the Tigers, the punting situation is the opposite. Senior Donnie Jones ranked fifth in the nation last season and second in the SEC, averaging 44 yards per punt.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

If LSU wants to regain the swagger it had two years ago when it won the SEC championship, the Tigers need to duplicate that season's game-to-game approach. Last year's preseason expectations overwhelmed LSU.

The Tigers should have a balanced attack with a veteran line, a nice set of backs and a big-game receiver. The defense must find adequate linebackers and safeties to replace losses, and a kicker has to show up. Saban's fourth Tiger team can, at the very least, better the 5-3 league record it had in each of his previous three seasons.

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