LSU mailbag: Takeaways from BYU game, Zakoby McClain’s decision, Key-Chaisson packages

Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly mailbag, a question-and-answer forum between readers and LSU team and recruiting reporter Sam Spiegelman.  In this edition, we touch on takeaways from LSU’s season-opening victory against BYU, an upcoming decision for a 4-star linebacker and some potential position battles lingering into the season.

To submit a question for Spiegelman, send a message to  @SamSpiegs on Twitter or email it to  sam.spiegelman@coxinc.com.

There was a ton of hype leading into LSU’s season opener against BYU, especially as it pertains to what this team would look like on offense with a new scheme being installed.

In terms of play-calling,  Matt Canada relied heavily on  Derrius Guice and the running game, which he had been open about all summer long when discussing the offensive identity. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 57 rushing attempts (out of 75 total offensive plays), good for 76 percent.
  • 8 different players carried the ball.
  • 296 rushing yards and 41:54 time of possession.

After the 27-0 victory, LSU coach  Ed Orgeron revealed that Canada only used 10 percent of the playbook. It’s hard to fault him. Why show some of the gadget plays and the entire passing arsenal if it’s not necessary? Despite showing only 10 percent, LSU dominated the time of possession, ran the ball with ease and still showed signs of a new-look attack.

lsu-Tigers-BYU-Derrius-Guice
LSU running back Derrius Guice rushed for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns against BYU (Sam Spiegelman/SEC Country)

What stood out to me was the way they stuck to the running game, but disguised it. Every single play, there was a player in motion, running across the formation or changing up positions before the snap. Now I understand why so many players said they needed to be in better shape during the spring.  DJ Chark, Russell Gage, Derrick Dillon, Darrel Williams, J.D. Moore or Guice were moving around the formation before every single play. Even the offensive linemen were moving to different positions to try to force some confusion on the BYU defense.

What also was important to know was the way Canada balanced the hurry-up tempo and the clock-killing drives. After big plays, the LSU offense would rush to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball immediately, keeping BYU’s defense off-balance and picking up easy yardage on first down after they were beaten downfield. Then, there were times when multiple LSU players would go in motion pre-snap to drain clock before the play. When you’re up 27 and the defense knows you’re going to be running the ball and you can still do so effectively, that’s a positive.

Canada’s offense didn’t strike me as completely transformative or so completely different than what we’ve seen at LSU over the past few years, but I am convinced that Orgeron is telling the truth, that we only saw a piece of the pie on Saturday night in New Orleans. I expect some more wrinkles to be unveiled this weekend in Tiger Stadium, but the bulk of it to be used in a competitive game against better opponents.

Saahdiq Charles got the nod ahead of  Ed Ingram in LSU’s season opener on Saturday. Charles played the first quarter before Ingram took over in the second. There was some sort of rotation between the two freshmen at right guard, though I couldn’t identify what it was.

Ingram saw a lot of action in the red zone and close to the goal line. That was something I picked up on.

Based on what I saw out of the two freshmen on the field, both are deserving of the job. Charles and Ingram were impressive against BYU’s defensive line and neither appeared to be so much better than the other that this is an easy call to make. That’s why Charles and Ingram are splitting reps and a part of the offensive line rotation. That works to their benefit considering all the plays that Canada is running.

I expect Charles to continue to start because he didn’t do anything that should cost him his job. During LSU’s “Tell the Truth” Monday practice, Charles, again, was taking reps with the first-team line and seemingly is on track to again get the nod at right guard when the Tigers host Chattanooga on Saturday night.

I was impressed with the offensive line, although I believe that unit’s biggest tests are way ahead — when it has to line up against SEC defensive fronts such as Florida, Auburn and Alabama later on this fall. BYU is certainly solid and fundamentally sound, and there are definitely really good players among that front seven, but the Tigers have an edge in that department between their experience at the two tackle spots and center, as well as the overall talent up front.

LSU-Tigers-football-DBU-Greedy-Williams-Donte-Jackson
Greedy Williams (29), Donte Jackson (1), Todd Harris (33), Jontre Kirklin (13) and Cam Lewis (31) were among the LSU defensive backs to have big performances against BYU (Sam Spiegelman/SEC Country)

The secondary is what truly grabbed my attention. Besides  Donte Jackson and  John Battle, there were multiple players making their debuts in LSU uniforms.  Greedy Williams got the nod at corner over a suspended  Kevin Toliver. Freshmen  Grant Delpit and  Kary Vincent Jr. got the start at safety and nickel, respectively.

Williams was perhaps more consistent than Toliver was a year ago in the same role. The first time he was challenged by BYU’s quarterback, the redshirt freshmen made an uber-athletic play for the ball and wound up with his first career interception.

Delpit was physical as LSU’s starting safety and made a handful of plays in coverage as well. The same goes for Vincent, taking over for Tre’Davious White as the nickel and making a handful of pass breakups in coverage throughout the night.

Not to be discounted,  Ed Paris had arguably his best game as a Tiger on Saturday. Paris was a force in the running game and unbeaten in coverage. While Delpit beat him out for the starting job, it appears that the senior has warranted playing time and will have opportunities throughout the season to make plays as he did in the opener.

The big question is what this secondary will look like once some of the suspended players return.  Xavier Lewis drew rave reviews in the spring and summer and was listed as a co-starter at the nickel spot along with Vincent. The same goes for Toliver, who was bracing for a bounce-back year and had enjoyed his best offseason in some time. It’s hard to not imagine Toliver working his way back into the cornerback rotation, but Williams made a huge splash in his first career start over the weekend.

I’ve always contended that  Dave Aranda is eager to load up on B-LBs in order to create a special blitz package for the 2017 season. The fact that  K’Lavon Chaisson got the start over  Ray Thornton showed that LSU’s defensive coordinator already has a good deal of faith in the freshman and he has a role to be played on this defense for the foreseeable future.

Chaisson saw action as a stand-up B-LB, but also lined up at defensive end in the three-man front and took a couple of snaps in a pass-rushing situation as a wide-9 defensive end. Basically, that’s a mirror image of what Aranda does with  Arden Key.

Key traveled with the team to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome but did not dress. He’s still recovering from his shoulder injury and there’s no sort of indication whether No. 49 will suit up this week against Chattanooga or will be kept out for a few weeks. Orgeron has not offered a timetable for the B-LB’s return to date.

However, when he’s ready, Key will regain his starting spot. With Chaisson already performing very well in his absence, it’s unlikely Aranda would merely push him to the pine. In the second half against BYU, Aranda trotted out both Key and F-LB  Corey Thompson at the same time.

That was our first glimpse of what Orgeron has deemed the “Cheetah” package. There are two down linemen on the field and added middle linebackers and edge rushers. On Saturday against BYU, it was Tyler Taylor, Chaisson and Thompson, but in due time Key will eventually be added to that puzzle.

Thompson was exceptional as a blitzer, but I can’t help but speculate that Chaisson would take Thompson’s place on the field as Key and Chaisson got after opposing quarterbacks from each side of the defense. Additionally, considering the positions that Key has previously lined up at and where Chaisson was lined up on Saturday, they could get after the passer from the same side of the formation as defensive ends and B-LBs.

Zakoby McClain is scheduled to announce his decision on Saturday. If you haven’t read my detailed prediction piece on the 4-star Georgia linebacker, I implore you to do so immediately.

LSU is among the four finalists for the top-250 prospect along with Auburn, Tennessee and West Virginia. Earlier this year, Auburn was deemed the favorite for the linebacker. Momentum has since shifted to LSU’s corner, as Aranda has quietly been pushing very hard to the Peach State product, who is expected to make an unofficial visit to campus this weekend.

It’s worth noting that LSU has two commitments from linebackers already in this class: 4-star  Damone Clark and 3-star  Micah Baskerville. Both are very solid in their verbal pledges and both are expected to sign and enroll early at LSU.

A third linebacker may not fit the blueprint for the 2018 recruiting class, but a look at the Tigers’ depth at middle and F-OLB reminds us of what Aranda told Orgeron last January, that this team is in need of scholarship linebackers.

LSU reeled in a talented trio of  Patrick Queen,  Jacob Phillips and Taylor last February. Taylor and Phillips both saw action last weekend during the season opener. Devin White is a sophomore and probably a year away from his final season as a Tiger. The other starter at middle backer, Donnie Alexander, is a senior.

LSU needs to pad its depth at the position. McClain is an explosive defender that plays outside linebacker but shows a lot of the traits desired in the middle by Aranda. His film also shows a lot of rushing off the edge, which reminds me a lot of how Thompson was used on Saturday against BYU.

Remember, McClain said LSU is one of the teams recruiting him the hardest. He’s planning a visit there this weekend when he also hopes to announce his commitment. That’s easy math.

Miss a previous edition? Find every post of SEC Country’s weekly LSU mailbag  right here .

The post LSU mailbag: Takeaways from BYU game, Zakoby McClain’s decision, Key-Chaisson packages appeared first on SEC Country.

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