Preview: No. 5 Tigers Open 2020 Season at Home

by Cody Worsham | Digital Media Reporter
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Preview: No. 5 Tigers Open 2020 Season at Home

The wait is over.

For a team looking to defend its title. For a group of returners ready to emerge into new roles. For a class of newcomers hoping to make an immediate impact. For a coaching staff eager to start the season off on the right foot. For a fanbase who wondered if this football season would ever come.

Wonder no more. Football is back.

Nine months after claiming the program’s fourth-ever national championship and 12th SEC title, the Tigers return to the field to take on Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:30, and attendance is capped at 25 percent capacity, a safety precaution due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re ready to play a football game,” says head coach Ed Orgeron, who is 6-0 in season openers. “All of our fans will be watching, and those fans that will come, I know they will give a lot of noise and make it as game-like as we possibly can. We’re going to have to provide our own energy. We’re going to have to play very well.”

No. 5 LSU returns eight starters and 41 letter-winners from its undefeated national championship squad. New starters primed to write their own stories in Baton Rouge take over the reins of an offense that led the nation in points per game (48.4) and yards per game (568.4) under returning coordinator Steve Ensminger

Junior quarterback Myles Brennan is set for his first career start. The Ocean Springs, Miss. native has appeared in 17 games as a Tiger, throwing for 600 yards and two scores.

“The only thing that we don’t know, and I do believe that he’s going to do very well, is how he’s going to do in the fire, and the only way to know that is put him in the fire,” Orgeron says. “I trust Myles. He’s become a team leader.”

Brennan will have plenty of talent to distribute the ball to. Wide receiver Terrace Marshall (58 receptions, 863 yards, 13 TDs in two seasons) is a preseason All-SEC pick, while freshman tight end Arik Gilbert will be counted on to integrate into the passing game quickly. So, too, will freshman wideout Kayshon Boutte and junior Racey McMath (285 yards, 3 TDs in 2019). 

New No. 18 Chris Curry, who rushed for 89 yards in the CFP National Semifinal win over Oklahoma last year, leads a loaded backfield. Sophomores John Emery (188 yards, 4 TDs) and Tyrion Davis-Price (295 yards, 6 TDs) give the Tigers three proven backs in a revamped rushing attack.

“I think Chris is going to be the first back in, but I consider him, Tyrion and John all starters,” Orgeron says. “Throughout the camp, if I had to say there was a lead back, it would be Chris Curry. I think he had a tremendous camp, but so did the other two guys. They’re very explosive. If we have one strength on our offense, we feel that it is the running back group led by Kevin Faulk, who’s done a tremendous job.”

Tackle Austin Deculus and guard Ed Ingram provide stability along the offensive line, as will left tackle Dare Rosenthal, who played 229 snaps in 2019. Guard Chasen Hines has played in 18 games, and Harvard transfer Liam Shanahan takes over at center. 

Defensively, the Tigers will line up in a 4-3 under Bo Pelini, back as LSU’s defensive coordinator for the first time since leading the program to the 2007 national championship. 

Consensus All-American corner Derek Stingley (6 INTs in 2019) and All-SEC safety JaCoby Stevens (one of two players nationally with 3 INTs, 5 PBUs, and 5 sacks in 2019) lead a loaded secondary. Sophomore corner Cordale Flott allowed just 34.6 percent of throws his way to be caught in 2019 and can play outside or in the nickel for the Tigers, while veteran safety Todd Harris and sophomore Maurice Hampton give depth and versatility at the back of the defense.

Three-time FCS national champion and All-American linebacker Jabril Cox will start alongside No. 18 Damone Clark at linebacker, while returning starter Glen Logan holds down a four-man front on the defensive line. It’s a defense that looks to be more attack-minded under Pelini.

“We are so much better on defense right now than any part of the season last year,” Orgeron says. “I feel Bo Pelini has come in and he’s brought a new energy, a new excitement and the 4-3.”

Kicker Cade York (school record 152 points in 2019) and punter Zach Von Rosenberg return to lead the Tiger special teams, while Stingley and Emery are set to handle punt and kick return duties, respectively. 

LSU opens a 10-game schedule consisting entirely of SEC opponents with Mississippi State, who will move to the Air Raid passing attack under head coach Mike Leach. Stanford transfer KJ Costello is in line to start under center, while All-SEC running back Kylin Hill provides a weapon in the run game as well as a receiver out of the backfield. First-year defensive coordinator Zach Arnett will lean on senior Erroll Thompson, the only active SEC player with 200 career tackles, to lead a new-look defense. 

“I have a lot of respect for Mississippi State,” Orgeron says. “We’ve played them a bunch. Those men are very tough. They love football. They’re going to be very well coached. So it will be a tremendous challenge for our football team. 

“But you know what, we’re ready to play. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. I want to compliment our football team for not blinking, for always believing that we were going to play, always preparing like we were going to play. Our coaching staff, always preparing like we were going to play. Never took a day off, and we didn’t think about nothing else but the safety of our football team and starting the season off right.”