LSU preview: After 8-win season, Tigers looking for better results in 2015

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Terri Eddington/Legacy Photography

Schedule

9/5 McNeese St. 6:30
9/12 @ Miss. St. 8:15
9/19 Auburn 2:30
9/26 @ Syracuse TBA
10/3 E. Mich. TBA
10/10 @ S. Carolina TBA
10/17 Florida TBA
10/24 W. Ky. TBA
11/7 @ Alabama TBA
11/14 Arkansas TBA
11/21 @ Ole Miss TBA
11/28 Texas A&M TBA

Bossier Parish players
QB Brandon Harris, So.

An eight-win season would be a reason to rejoice for fans of many college football programs.
That’s simply not the case at LSU. Of course, LSU isn’t just any program. The Tigers have won two national championships and finished runner-up once since 2003.
But LSU’s streak of 10 straight winning seasons came to abrupt halt last season. Thanks in part to the departure of several outstanding juniors to the NFL and inconsistent quarterback play, the Tigers went 8-5 and tied for fourth in the SEC West at 4-4.
The season ended with a 31-28 loss to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl.
Naturally, expectations are high again this season although possibly tempered some by last season’s showing.
The Tigers begin the season ranked No. 14 in the AP 25 and No. 13 in the Coaches’ Poll. At the SEC Media Days in July, LSU was picked to finish third in the SEC West and fourth overall.
“We played some really good ball clubs in that eighth-win season and played them very close, but our goal is the playoffs,” LSU head coach Les Miles said during his Media Days press conference. “Our goal is the SEC championship. We’re shy of our goals, and we want more.”
Middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, a second-team coaches preseason All-SEC selection, echoed Miles statement during LSU’s Media Day last month.
“Well, we had an 8-5 record last season,” he said. “That alone gives us something to work toward and build off of. We have to do a better job as a team of playing LSU’s style on offense and defense.”
Miles enters his 11th season at LSU with a record of 103-29, the best in a 10-year span in school history. LSU’s last SEC championship came in 2011.
The Tigers have eight starters on offense and six on defense.
Miles has been upfront about the need for better play at the quarterback position this season. On Monday, he named sophomore Brandon Harris, a former Parkway star, the starter over Anthony Jennings, who started all but one game last season.
Harris was impressive off the bench in a loss to Mississippi State and a victory over New Mexico State. After the New Mexico State game, he started against at Auburn and played poorly in a 41-7 loss. He played sparingly the rest of the season.
Miles expects the passing game to be better this season.
“We think we’re mature there,” he said. “We think we’re stronger and faster. We feel like we will throw the football better. We’ve always been able to run it pretty good.”
Harris said all the Tigers are on the same page this season.
“We just know everybody around here has the same goal, and we know in order for us to get there we’ve all got to get to common ground, and they responded very well,” he said.
Sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, a Heisman Trophy candidate, is coming off a season in which he gained 1,034 yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns.
“He’s one of those guys that’s a hard worker,” Miles said. “He’s quiet. He does not speak much. He truly is a leader of our team. He’s a guy that does the work in the classroom, does the work in the weight room. And when we talk about what our team goals and the direction of this team, he’s the guy that’s integral to those thoughts.”
Sophomore Darrel Williams, who gained 307 yards last season, and freshman Derrius Guice are expected to provide backup for Fournette.
LSU returns three of its top four receivers — Travin Dural, Trey Quinn and John Diarse. Dural, a third-team preseason coaches All-SEC selection, led the Tigers last season with 37 catches for 758 yards and seven touchdowns.
Right tackle Vadal Alexander, left tackle Jerald Hawkins, guard/center Ethan Pocic and tight end Dillon Gordon return on the offensive line.
LSU has a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Steele, who replaces John Chavis, now at Texas A&M. The Tigers also added Ed Orgeron as a defensive assistant in the offseason.
Beckwith, tackles Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux, cornerback Tre’Davious White, outside linebacker Lamar Louis and safety Jalen Mills are returning starters.
Mills, a first-team coaches preseason All-SEC pick, is expected to miss much of the first half of the season after underdoing leg surgery, according to media reports.
Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal are among the players that will give LSU speed on the defensive perimeter, Miles said. The Tigers will also have a strong linebacking corps.
“Our linebackers may be the biggest, fastest that I’ve been around,” Miles said. “Kendell Beckwith is a great student, a great person, a very, bright, bright football player. He kind of emerged last year to really become a leader and a big-time player for us in the middle our our defense.”
Miles is also high on Louis, Duke Riley and Deion Jones.
Former Green Oaks star White, who has been given the honor of wearing No. 18, leads the secondary.
“We’ll have Kevin Toliver and Ed Paris and may have a look at a young freshman in Donte Jackson,” Miles said at Media Days.

— Russell Hedges, rhedges@bossierpress.com