When you look at the 2023 LSU football team, what do you see?
Do you see a team that exceeded expectations for a first-year head coach? A team that played their best football against some of their toughest opponents? Maybe you saw a team that refused to give up when things got a little rocky.
No matter what lens you look at the Tigers through, there are only positives to bring out of last season.
With plenty of returning talent on both sides of the football, I think it’s best to break it down by group.
The Fighting Tigers finished 28th in the nation in total offense a year ago, averaging 453 yards of offense per game. LSU was able to put those numbers together with new starters at multiple positions, including two true freshman tackles on the line and a quarterback that had never played in the SEC before 2022. Not to mention a whole new coaching staff as well.
So heading into 2023 with all five starters on the offensive line, your starting quarterback, top running back and top wide receiver plus transfers all returning has to give a level of confidence to this staff they didn’t have a year ago.
“Last year, you go through the camp and you go through year one, you kind of start to define yourself a little bit,” said offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock. “We’re in that process for a year or two, and it’s gonna take a minute, it’s not immediate, and we’re nowhere near where we want to be, but I am pleased with the effort that we’ve gotten to start out camp.”
Denbrock also spoke about trying to create more explosiveness this season with a more experienced offense.
“I thought we caught a lot of footballs with our backs turned to where we were trying to score last year,” Denbrock said. “So we ran a lot of stops and comebacks and different things like that, and we’re good at it. So it’s easy to call as the play caller the things that you’re obviously good at.”
“But I think what we looked at was trying to create more catch-and-run opportunities for the great athletes that we have and allow those guys to be what they are, which is a pretty dangerous football player with the ball in their hands. So I’ve seen some real positive progress where that’s concerned.”
This may be the biggest question mark for LSU.
Don’t get me wrong, the front seven for the Tigers will be incredible to watch with studs like Maason Smith and Harold Perkins making life miserable for the opposition, but the inexperience and fresh faces in the secondary gives me pause in 2023.
However, one new player in the secondary that should make a lot of noise is Duce Chesnutt.
Chesnutt transferred to LSU after playing two seasons at Syracuse where he started in all 24 games he was on the roster. That experience will pay dividends for the Tigers.
“Duce is a guy that played a lot of power five football,” Kelly said. “He’s competitive, smart. and you’re getting a veteran player there. You know, he had the surgery, so we didn’t see a lot of them in the spring. But, you know, the things that really stood out for us in our evaluation was that he was a smart player, savvy, short tackler, and was always around the ball.”
When you look at the experience and growth of this group, it starts with Harold Perkins. A true freshman season for the ages, the New Orleans native had 72 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. His best game of the year was a three-sack performance while suffering from food poisoning on the road at Arkansas.
Also, Maason Smith returns after missing the entire season with an injury suffered on the first drive of the season opener against Florida State in the Superdome. Now, Smith will be healthy and well-rested to make a key contribution in the middle of the defensive line.
Matt House has this defense ready to make a big statement in 2023 and once the questions in the back four are answered, the Tigers could have a top-five defense in America.
The special teams unit for LSU struggled in 2022 to say the least. From missed PATs to fumbled kickoffs, the group had issues all the way around. However, now they bring a level of experience with Jay Bramblett and Damian Ramos both having a season in Baton Rouge under their belt. Then, you add on the fact that they got better at kick returns with Malik Nabers, Aaron Anderson, and others taking cracks at that role in camp.
After what you saw last year, it can only go up. The question will become how far does it go up for the LSU Tigers under new special teams coordinator John Jancek.
I’m not writing this to say that I think LSU will win a national championship in 2023, but I am saying that they will compete for one if the obvious things of staying healthy and playing well end up happening.