As the South Carolina Gamecocks prepare for their matchup against the LSU Tigers, we had questions about how things have been going in Baton Rouge, and our friend Zachary Junda of And The Valley Shook had answers.
LSU is having a tough and weird go of it so far this year, having dropped games to Mississippi State and Missouri and then seeing its matchup against Florida postponed thanks to COVID. Aside from the obvious lack of Joe Burrow, what are the missing ingredients here?
The biggest thing lacking from this team is a lack of identity. The 2020 LSU team had to replace its quarterback, running back, three offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, literally all their linebackers, and three quarters of the secondary. It’s a whole host of things but the biggest thing that screams “we don’t know who we are” is how LSU is handling the running back situation. Coach O spent all summer saying he’s got three starting running backs, and that’s all well and good. But through three games, sophomore John Emery has shown he is clearly a cut above the other running backs on the roster but he’s second on the team in carries and wasn’t on the field during LSU’s failure to score at the end of the game against Missouri. Again the issues on this team are bigger than not running the dang ball with the right guy enough, but it’s representative of a team that doesn’t know who they are.
With quarterback Myles Brennan likely on the shelf with a torn abdomen (ouch??), what can you tell us about the backup(s) the Tigers will turn to in his place?
TJ Finley was named the starter Thursday night, but expect fellow freshman Max Johnson to play as well. Finley apparently has an amazingly strong arm, like...some around the program compare his arm strength to JaMarcus Russell. He’s also built along the same lines as Russell funny enough. Johnson is the better athlete though, and if LSU wants to keep the read-option elements it started using with Joe Burrow, he’s more suited for that. Johnson is the son of former Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson and is left-handed which is just delightful, especially considering I too am left-handed.
Although LSU historically sports a strong defense, that unit seems all kinds of out of sorts this season. What’s the story there?
Seems out of sorts, they ARE out of sorts. This LSU defense has allowed 96 points through three games, the most in program history and defensive coordinator has felt the brunt of LSU fan’s wrath. But Coach O deserves his share of the blame too, as he was the one that hired Pelini. O raised eyebrows prior to the season when he said something along the lines of “defensively we’re so much better now than we were at any point last year.” It was brash to say then, and it’s looking downright stupid to say now. I mean just think about all the players LSU lost on defense: Patrick Queen, K’Lavon Chaisson, Jacob Phillips, Rahsard Lawrence, Tyler Shelvin, Grant Delpit, Kristian Fulton and Kary Vincent. Six of those guys are in the NFL, and the other two, Shelvin and Vincent, are getting ready to hear their names called in next year’s draft. You just can’t lose that much talent and claim you’re better. You certainly can’t lose all that talent, claim you’re better and then field literally the worst defense in school history. O and Pelini say it’s all down to communication and just simplifying the scheme; I hope that’s the case because I cannot find a single way this unit improves, it looks broken and Pelini has to be let go at the rate things are going.
What would you say are the current strengths of this team? More specifically, where do you think the Tigers can get the better of the Gamecocks?
The skill position players, especially junior wide receiver Terrace Marshall and freshman tight end Arik Gilbert. Marshall has been every bit as good as Ja’Marr Chase was (21 catches, 424 yards, 7 touchdowns) while Gilbert was flashing his best tight end recruit ever hype against Missouri (6 catches, 97 yards and a score) before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the game. So of course in typical 2020 fashion, LSU has a surplus of gifted wide receivers and will now have a pair of true freshmen trying to throw them the ball. Gosh darn it.
Finally, care to make a prediction?
This should have been a layup for LSU but no one could have foreseen how bad the defense would be, or the freak injury that would keep Myles Brennan out of the game. LSU has given me absolutely no reason to believe it can beat good teams, let alone average ones. So what the hell I’ll take South Carolina because again LSU’s giving me no reason to think it can win, especially with a true freshman playing quarterback.