The season was somewhat of a disappointment overall, if only because of the considerable step down from national champion, but LSU salvaged some pride with a dominating victory over Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl that should give the Tigers a good feeling heading into the spring.
More important, in the process of routing the Yellow Jackets 38-3, the Tigers likely found the answer to their quarterback problem.
Freshman Jordan Jefferson, who played sparingly for most of the season until injuries cast him in the starting role for the regular-season finale against Arkansas, firmly took a grip on the job for 2009 with his MVP performance against the Yellow Jackets.
The job would seem to be his to lose as the Tigers look to spring practice even with both Jarrett Lee (eight starts) and Andrew Hatch (three starts) returning. Neither Lee nor Hatch played in the last two games.
The poise and control Jefferson showed in shredding Tech's defense for 142 yards passing and another 25 on the ground raised the question of why he wasn't given more opportunity earlier in the season, especially with Hatch going out after three games with a leg injury and Lee saddled with interception problems.
Had the Tigers gotten the kind of play out of the position they did in the bowl game, they likely wouldn't have have finished under .500 (3-5) in SEC play and may even have given Alabama a challenge in the Western Division race.
Coach Les Miles wasn't second-guessing himself afterward, however.
"You can ask Jordan, but he might not have been ready early on," Miles said. "But he certainly prepared and has improved tremendously."
The troubles the Tigers had on offense throughout the season also likely carried over to the defense, which was dominant early but stung in early losses to Florida and Georgia and lethargic in a late loss to Arkansas.
Even with those problems, however, the Tigers managed to win eight games for a ninth consecutive season and register the 700th victory in school history. They also are 4-0 in bowls under coach Les Miles, outscoring their opponents 157-44 in that postseason stretch.NOTES, QUOTES
GAME OF THE YEAR: Alabama 27, LSU 21 -- The overtime defeat to the Crimson Tide was the final confirmation that the Tigers had fallen far from the perch they occupied a year earlier when they won the national championship. Despite earlier losses to Florida and Georgia, the Tigers still retained mathematical hopes of getting a berth in the SEC championship game as they took on Bama. But the Tide clinched the Western Division by picking off three LSU passes, including one in overtime. The Tigers got to overtime when Ricky Jean-Francois blocked Bama's 29-yard field goal attempt as time expired, but the Tide made up for that when, after stopping LSU on its series in OT, it scored on a 24-yard pass play.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: TB Charles Scott -- Despite being hobbled by a sore ankle over the second half of the season, Scott finished the regular season as the SEC's fourth leading rusher with an average of 92.4 yards a game on the ground and topped the 100-yard mark in six games. He opened his season with a 56-yard run on his first carry and scored on an eight-yard run on his second. After rushing for three scores in the bowl win over Georgia Tech, he finished with 18 rushing touchdown, second most in school history (LaBrandon Toefield, 19 in 2001).
FAST FORWARD: The Tigers face some key losses defensively with all four starters up front and LB Darry Beckwith departing along with Curtis Taylor in the secondary. Some changes also are in store philosophically with the departure of co-defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto to assume the head coaching job at Northwestern State. The quarterback situation, a potential problem, looks to have been solved after freshman Jefferson Jordan's performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Georgia Tech. He had taken over the starting job at the end of the year after both Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee had injury issues. If Scott and WR Brandon LaFell return for their senior seasons, the Tigers will have their top rusher and pass catcher back.
RECRUITING TRAIL: LSU is on the verge of having possibly the top incoming recruiting class in the country if the commitments all sign letters-of-intent in February. Among the prospects is Russell Shepard, one of the top quarterback and overall prospects in the country. Out of Houston, he committed last spring. The state of Louisiana is considered deep in high school talent, which always bodes well for the Tigers. Despite the tumble this season, LSU is still feeling the impact of the 2007 national championship, which got the Tigers in early on a lot of the prospects.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think our team kind of caught speed here at the back end. I wish there were some more games to play." -- Coach Les Miles, after the rout of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2009:
WR Brandon LaFell -- The junior led LSU in receiving with his 63 catches good for 929 yards and eight touchdowns to give him 118 catches and 12 TDs receiving over his last two seasons. He's tall (6-3) and has good speed and also is willing to block downfield. He could opt for the NFL draft, where he probably could go as high as the second round.
QB Jordan Jefferson -- Jefferson was the starter as a true freshman by the end of the season when injuries put Andrew Hatch on the bench and Jarrett Lee had problems with interceptions. Given his play in the last two games (16-of-25 passing for 142 yards a touchdown in the bowl win over Georgia Tech), he likely will go into the fall as the No. 1 guy ahead of both Lee and Hatch.
RB Trindon Holliday -- A major threat in the return game, the 5-5, 160-pound Holliday is one of the fastest players in the conference and the country. He competed in the Olympic Trials in the 100-meter dash after finishing third in the event in the NCAA Outdoor championships, and ran the anchor leg on LSU's national champion 4X100-meter relay team. He also caught a couple of passes and had a couple of rushes in 2008. Getting him more touches could add life to the offense.
DE Rahim Alem -- He started only one game for the Tigers but had eight sacks in 12 games to finish third in the SEC. He also finished with 11.5 tackles for losses to lead the Tigers in that category. He could be an early candidate for the NFL draft.
--DE Tyson Jackson had 8.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2007 but has had only 8.0 in his last two years combined. He is considered a strong defender against the run, however, and at 6-5, 290, he at times slid over to a tackle spot. He is rated a second-round pick in the NFL draft.
--WR Demetrius Byrd played only two seasons for LSU after transferring from Pearl River (Miss.) Community College and had an immediate impact with seven touchdown catches as a junior. His production tailed off as a senior, which likely was a result of the inconsistent quarterback play the Tigers got. He banged up his knee in the bowl game but should be OK by the combine.
--OG Herman Johnson was a key member of the offensive front that helped LSU average 167 yards a game rushing. He's huge at 6-7, 375, and has played tackle as well as earning all-SEC honors at guard. He is rated a second-round choice.
--LB Darry Beckwith was a finalist for the Butkus Award that goes to the nation's top linebacker. He has 34 career starts for the Tigers but missed two games because of a leg injury. He could go as high as the second round.
--DE Kirston Pittman, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility because of medical reasons (foot Achilles' tendon), has been part of two national championship teams for the Tigers. Listed as 6-4, 254, he's a steady performer who has 24 starts over the last two years. He's a possible second-day pick in the draft.
--DT Marlon Favorite (6-1, 295) is another second-day draft candidate after starting seven games during the regular season in the rotation in the defensive front.
--Former Tennessee assistant John Chavis was named as LSU's new defensive coordinator. The Tigers had two assistants in the position in 2008. Co-defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto, however, was named head coach at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La. Doug Mallory, named with Peveto to take over the responsibility when Bo Pelini's departure for Nebraska, may remain on the staff in another position, but he appears headed for a job on Mike Locksley's staff at New Mexico.
--DT Charles Alexander left the bowl game in the first half with a leg injury and did not return. The senior had knee problems in 2007 that limited him to only three games.
--TE Richard Dickson will go into 2009 needing one more touchdown reception to become the all-time leader for touchdown receptions by a tight end. He has 10 through his first three seasons.
Previous Report: 12/14/2008