LSU heads into the offseason looking a lot more stable
and competitive than it did a little more than a month ago.
As coach Les Miles looks toward what will be his 12th
season with the Tigers, he'll be able to plan around the return of star running
back Leonard Fournette and a host of other key players.
He might even get more production from quarterback
Brandon Harris, if the Tigers' 56-27 Texas Bowl victory over Texas Tech on
Tuesday night was any indication.
"He took a stride, certainly," Miles said
about Harris' performance. "That is what we needed to have him to
However, Miles will have to find his third defensive
coordinator in three years after Kevin Steele agreed to take a similar job at
The good news for Miles is that a lot of talent is
coming back on that side of the ball as well — from safety Jamal Adams to
defensive end Arden Key and cornerback Kevin Toliver — so the Tigers' new
coordinator vacancy should be an attractive one.
Not to mention the Tigers are coming off a 9-3 season
that likely would have finished 10-3 if not for a game against heavy underdog
McNeese State of the second-tier Football Championship subdivision being called
off by persistent lightning.
In late November, the vibe surrounding LSU was a lot
less positive. Speculation that Miles could lose his job at LSU was so rampant
that well-wishing fans chanted his name before and after the Tigers' final home
game — a victory over Texas A&M. The result snapped a three-game losing
streak — all by double digits — which derailed a season that had begun 7-0 and
caused all the unrest in Baton Rouge.
It took an announcement by athletic director Joe
Alleva after the victory over A&M to solidify Miles' status.
Now the bowl victory has given LSU some momentum
heading into the offseason, which the Tigers can only hope will strengthen
recruits' confidence in the program.
"When you start the offseason with a victory,
what happens is, No. 1, we will recruit well," Miles said. "What will
happen in spring ball and in our offseason, it will start pointing toward that
College Playoffs, which is really where we want to be.
"This is the right turn," Miles added.
"Certainly you can see the program itself is being manned by real quality
young men and that they're looking for the kind of success they had tonight in
a bountiful way and by numbers."
Certainly, LSU will have among the most formidable
running games in the country next season, led by Fournette, who finished with
1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns rushing after his 212-yard, four-TD performance
on the ground in the bowl game. Fournette also added a receiving TD against
Texas Tech, his first of the season.
Asked about his goals for next season, Fournette
avoided discussing individual goals.
"Win a championship with the team,"
Fournette said. "I haven't won a championship since my 'park ball' days. I
was 7 or 8 years old."
Fournette's backup, Derrius Guice, looks capable of
piling up yards as well.
The passing game will have top receiver Malachi Dupre
back. Second-leading receiver Travin Dural, who missed LSU's last two games
with a torn hamstring, also is expected to return.
The big question is at quarterback. Harris was
inconsistent and struggled with accuracy, particularly during LSU's losses, but
accounted for a lot of offense in the bowl game.
Harris passed for 254 yards and a TD and also rushed
for 41 yards and a score. He came through with several clutch completions of
more than 20 yards, with a long of 46.
One key change Miles made — at Harris' request — was
to bring offensive coordinator Cam Cameron from the booth to the sideline so he
could provide immediate feedback, even while the offense was on the field. That
could continue to be the case if Cameron's contract is extended.
"Cam being down was exactly the right
thing," Miles said. "The synergy and the things he did on the
sideline were very probably the difference."
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights
reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or
Posted on Thu, December 31, 2015
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer