Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Season report card: LSU
By Edward Aschoff
LSU passed with flying colors during the regular season, so it's no wonder the Tigers are a win away from taking home the national title.
When LSU wasn't throwing the ball, the Tigers were nearly impossible to stop. LSU's multi-headed rushing monster combined for 215.2 yards per game, including a league-high 35 rushing touchdowns. Against SEC opponents, LSU was even better, leading the conference with 220.4 rushing yards per contest. Sophomore Michael Ford led LSU with 755 yards and seven touchdowns. Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue added another 1,559 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. Passing was another story for LSU. The Tigers started by losing offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, who became quarterbacks coach after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. LSU then lost starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson for the first four games to a suspension that stemmed from a bar fight. But Jarrett Lee stepped right in and led this team. He was never flashy, but he was incredibly efficient. He lost his starting job after the Alabama game, but finished the year with 1,306 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. Jefferson took his job back late, and while he looked completely overwhelmed at times, he threw just one interception and six touchdowns. He also didn't lose a game. Despite an average passing game, LSU led the SEC in scoring (38.5) and was fifth in total offense (375.3).
LSU might have entered the season with a handful of defensive youngsters, but the Tigers never let it become an issue. LSU was fantastic on defense, finishing the regular season second nationally in total defense, allowing 252.1 yards per game and giving up just 3.96 yards per play and 14 offensive touchdowns. Defensive coordinator John Chavis really earned his pay check down in Baton Rouge. LSU was not only fierce but the Tigers were disciplined. Up front, LSU caused major headaches by overpowering offensive lines. With players like Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan owning the trenches, LSU finished the regular season with 98 tackles for loss, including a league-high 37 sacks. Opponents also rushed for 85.5 yards per game. LSU led the SEC with 30 takeaways, including getting 18 interceptions. That was helped by arguably the nation's best secondary. First, you had do-everything cornerback -- and Chuck Bednarik winner -- in Tyrann Mathieu, who grabbed seven takeaways and forced six fumbles. Then there was Jim Thrope Award winner Morris Claiborne, who was the nation's best cover corner and snatched six interceptions and defended 12 passes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Not only did LSU lead the SEC in net punting average (41.6) and allow just six return yards but Mathieu led the league with 420 punt return yards. He also had two touchdowns, both coming in the last two weeks, and tied for first in the SEC averaging 16.2 yards per return. Punter Brad Wing might have been the league's most accurate punter, planting 23 inside the 20-yard line and launching 18 that went for more than 50 yards, including that 73-yard beauty against Alabama. He also had a touchdown run called back for taunting. LSU also got a kickoff returned for a touchdown by Claiborne, who averaged 26.1 yards per return. LSU led the SEC in field goal percentage (.889) after hitting 16-of-18. In kickoff coverage, the Tigers struggled at times, ranking seventh in the league with a net average of 44.1 yards.
If not for the passing issues against better defenses, LSU probably would have gotten an A+ here. Coach Les Miles had to deal with a handful of issues before and throughout this special season. The Associated Press' coach of the year saw his offensive coordinator step down and had to deal with a handful of off-the-field issues that led to suspensions. Still, he was able to lead LSU to its first 13-0 season, with 12 coming by double digits and seven by 30 or more points. The Tigers also beat eight ranked opponents, with seven of them coming by double digits. He kept order when Jefferson returned and is a win away from his second national title at LSU. Then you have Chavis, who did a masterful job with LSU's young defense. It was hard to find a faster, more athletic defense around, as LSU allowed 20-plus points just twice during the regular season.