If you’ve noticed, we try and do Q&As with every ‘Bama opponent site. There are two notable exceptions: Tennessee, which I refuse to have any dealings with; Auburn, which everyone else refuses to deal with; and this year Ole Miss didn’t return our calls. LOL. I can’t imagine why. (I even had Brent ask, since they hate me.) Fortunately, the good folks at ATVS still like us enough to play nice. Here follows RBR’s Q&A with Valley Shook’s Manager, Billy Gomila, who was very gracious on a short deadline and more than abundant with his time. You know their site by now, and you can follow him on twitter at @valleyshook or @ATVS_ChefBilly
1. The first few weeks LSU didn't look like LSU, particularly up front. In losses to Troy and Mississippi State, the front seven collapsed. However, the last three weeks it seems as though the team is playing a bit better, particularly in the wins against Florida and Ole Miss. What has changed?
Getting healthier, and getting deeper has helped. LSU had multiple players in the defensive front seven suspended for various reasons over the first few games, and other players, particularly nose tackle Ed Alexander and defensive end Rashard Lawrence, battled injuries -- Lawrence was back for the last three, and it's made a big difference. On offense, I think it's a matter of freshmen improving. LSU has three playing major roles, with Ed Ingram starting at right guard and Saahdiq Charles starting at left tackle. Both were relatively highly recruited, but neither was expected to start this early. I think some of the transition to Canada's offense has played a role as well. You can see some players struggling with assignments on plays where there's a lot of shifting and movement.
Getting Derrius Guice healthy is big as well.
2. It looks like the LSU staff is using Myles Brennan the same way that Alabama uses Tua Tagovailoa: Meaningful reps but no real quarterback competition. What does Danny Etling bring to the table that Brennan does not? And, what have you seen from Brennan that's encouraging if the Tigers need to go to him?
Etling understands the system, how to manage the shifts and motions and then check plays based on how the defense reacts, etc... Brennan is probably the more talented passer overall, but without the former LSU doesn't have the surrounding cast to make up the difference, to be honest. This program has gotten locked in a constant cycle of having to throw young quarterbacks out there with savior expectations, and if that can miss Brennan, or his classmate Lowell Narcisse, that'd be great. Need them to come along on their own time, at least for this year.
3. We need to talk about that offensive line...again. It seems that when the Tigers struggle in meaningful games, the chief concerns are attributable to the big nasties. This season has particularly been trying at times. Have the general struggles in 2017 been a roster issue or a Jeff Grimes issue?
Little bit of both. LSU had a ton of attrition up front his offseason, and then lost the one player it really couldn't afford to lose in guard/tackle swing guy Maea Teuhema in training camp. So there's only about eight linemen that the staff are really comfortable playing right now, one is hurt in left tackle K.J. Malone and right tackle Toby Weathersby has missed time as well with injury.
As far as Grimes, opinions are mixed. He's done a really good job on the recruiting trail and brought in a lot of big-time prospects -- and also filled in well when others have decommitted. But, the massive attrition level over the last two years is on him as well. Some of the players in question weren't ready to contribute, and didn't exactly move up when they moved out. But others would be playing right now if they stuck around. I know this: Orgeron had a chance to move on from Grimes, and chose to keep him around, so he clearly feels there's something he brings to the table. And the improvement we've seen from this group is something he gets credit for as well, especially if LSU can finish the year strong. But he has to continue to build this group.
4. Derrius Guice we know. But, given his injury situation this season, who else have the Tigers turned to in the backfield?
Senior Darrel Williams has become a nice player that can fill a lot of roles. He's a big back that runs hard, so he can help in between the tackles, but he can als catch the ball well and block, too, so Matt Canada has been comfortable lining him up in the slot and in the F-back role a lot as well. And of course, the jet-sweep has involved the receivers in the running game as well.
5. Matt Canda's offense incorporates a lot of motion, probably the most pre-snap movement of any team in the SEC. But, as far as the scheme, what has really changed? What does this team do better now than under Cam Cameron? Are there any areas where improvement needs to occur (from a scheme perspective.)
On a basic level, I've used the metaphor of a different dialect, as opposed to a different language. Still a lot of zone, power and counter running -- and even the jet sweep was something that LSU used the last two years, although not to this degree. Based on my own observations and discussions with folks close to the program, it's much easier to digest than Cam Cameron's playbook, especially for younger players.
As far as improvement, getting healthy is a big deal. Derrius Guice has been gimpy all year, although we've seen him look at 90 percent over the last two weeks or so. And from then, LSU just needs to keep getting in better offensive linemen, and receivers as well. Both of those positions have been a little limited in terms of numbers and players the current staff trusts. But for now, we're seeing them make it work in a way that's been encouraging, at least to me.
6. It looks like there are going to be a ton of jobs opening up this year, including some high profile ones we didn't quite expect. Are we hearing anything about Dave Aranda being on any ADs' up-and-comer lists a la Scott Frost and Mike Norvell?
Nothing yet, but I'm sure they're out there. Aranda has the luxury to be choosy, and I think he will be. He may wait on a Power Five opening, or at least a prime-level G5 spot. That's certainly my hope, although I know he'll move on eventually.
7. Coach Orgeron has received a lot of criticism this year, but, in comparison to 2016, hasn't LSU already outperformed last year? The Tigers have knocked off three of their four most important rivals and can play for a sweep this Saturday. If that's not enough, then what are the expectations down the stretch for this season to be considered successful?
I don't know about out-performing, but I think this team has a good chance to hit the 9-10 win level I picked for it over the summer. I had no illusions about competing for championships, nor do I think that's a fair expectation for what we had coming in. But after Bama the next three games are incredibly winnable, and that would leave LSU at 6-2 in the SEC. Yes, Troy is a big stain on the record, but almost every LSU fan would have taken that SEC record before the season. A decent amount expected much worse, although I do expect that crowd to move the goalposts for Orgeron in the same way they moved them for Les Miles.
8. Alabama has a consistent kicker now. Whooo! If it comes down to a field goal game, as it very well may, what is LSU's kicking situation like?
Connor Culp has really emerged in recent weeks, kicking the game-winners versus Auburn and going a perfect four-for-four last week at Ole Miss. After a few weeks of spotty work out of Culp and Jack Gonsoulin, he's really stepped up to grab the job, which has been sorely needed.
9. Guice gets a lot of press, the secondary is always bedrock solid, and QB play is always heavily scrutinized, but is it fair to say, in terms of play-making and versatility, that .DJ Chark is the single most important player on this team?
There's no question it's still No. 5. I think he may be as close to 100 percent as he's ever going to get right now, and I think in the last two games we've seen how much that can help this team. Chark has been as good as we've hoped, but if LSU's offense is going to have any chance of getting going this week, it's going to be with Guice carrying the football.
10. Admit it, this is secretly the game you look forward to all season, right?
Honestly? Not anymore, no. It's become an albatross for LSU, and losing it has just become a ridiculous weight. Les Miles' had his problems as a head coach, but one that few LSU fans want to talk about -- because they are as much to blame as anybody else -- is that everything became so centered around Alabama that the program lost track of the internal factors and focus that it takes just to be a top-shelf program. It reached the point that Alabama, essentially, beat LSU several times in 2014 and 2015. It's my hope that Ed Orgeron will continue to understand that this game isn't won on Saturday, it's won the rest of the year. Once we start making those strides and can get this game back to where it was in terms of national relevancy, then it'll be game on. But for now? If we can ruin your season, that's awesome. But we have to keep looking beyond this particular Saturday.
Again, our thanks to Billy Gomila. Chime in below and drop them some traffic sometime. They’re good people...I promise.