For LSU, the 2009 season was kind of like a rerun of 2008, but with a far less happier ending.
The Tigers finished September unbeaten again, and they lost to Florida, Alabama, and Ole Miss again.
They won all of their non-conference games -- again.
They did beat Georgia, reversing one of the losses from the year before, and they hung on to beat Arkansas in overtime in the regular-season finale, avenging the loss to the Razorbacks in 2008.
That was good.
But unlike in 2008, when they wiped out Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, they lost their Capital One Bowl duel to Penn State when the Nittany Lions kicked a late field goal for a 19-17 win.
That wasn't so good.
The overall result was a 9-4 record, a one-game improvement over 2008 and at least win short of the desired goal of double-digit victories.
In their favor, however, the Tigers also improved to 5-3 in the conference after finishing only 3-5 in the SEC last season.
That could be considered a step up, albeit a small one.
It's the next step that's the hard one.
The Tigers will return Jordan Jefferson at quarterback but will have to replace 10 starters from the lineup that took the field for the bowl game. With Arkansas on the rise, Alabama being Alabama, and others improving, the Western Division will be a tougher challenge in 2010 than it has been the last couple of years.
One thing that the Tigers must work on between now and September is clock management.
Just as in the loss at Ole Miss, when they squandered at least 17 seconds at the end of the game before calling a timeout, leaving them with no time to take advantage of a late completion, they wasted seconds before getting off a play near the end of the loss to Penn State. That and a questionable play call denied them at least one more shot.
It wasn't as crucial as the earlier incident against the Rebels. But it's an issue that most assuredly needs to be addressed.
GAME OF THE YEAR: LSU 33, Arkansas 30 OT -- The Tigers came into the game with losses in two of their previous three outings but seemed to have things under control after building a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter. They were still up 24-13 midway through the third quarter when things started to go sour. Arkansas came back and took a 30-27 lead with just over a minute left in regulation. But with everything seemingly against them, the Tigers drove from their own 36-yard line to the Arkansas 23, and PK Josh Jasper came on to kick a tying 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. Jasper added a 36-yard field goal in overtime and when the Razorbacks missed from the same distance, the Tigers had the victory that propelled them to the Capital One Bowl.
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR:
LT Ciron Black -- Black finished his career by winning the Jacobs Blocking Trophy that goes to the top offensive lineman in the SEC as voted by the league's coaches. He started 53 consecutive games over his four-year tour -- every game since the beginning of the 2006 season when he was named to the all-freshman team for the SEC. He was a first-team all-SEC selection for 2009 after earning second team honors in each of the previous two years.
FS Chad Jones -- Jones started every game in the secondary for the Tigers and led them in interceptions with three. He made two big plays that saved the win over Mississippi State in September or the Tigers' might have gone south right away. He returned a punt 93 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the game and batted down a pass in the end zone to keep the Bulldogs from taking the lead in the final minute. He was the leading tackler in the bowl game with eight tackles against Penn State.
FAST FORWARD: The Tigers have some key spots to fill for next season, including wide receiver and running back on offense and up front on defense. Jordan Jefferson returns at quarterback, however, and LB Kelvin Sheppard, CB Patrick Peterson, and FS Chad Jones form a nucleus to build around defensively. The Tigers had one of the top recruiting classes in the country a year ago and have another solid class coming in.
RECRUITING TRAIL: The Tigers are sitting on a list of two dozen commitments that both Scout.com and Rivals.com rate in the Top 10 as a class. More than half are rated four-star prospects. RB Jakhari, cousin of former Miami RB Frank Gore, committed to the Tigers in December.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a lot of talented guys coming back, and that's exciting, because Jordan is going to be better and Stevan is going to be better and I can be better. I think we're going to be a lot better on offense." -- WR Terrance Toliver, in the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, looking to a 2010 season that will feature QB Jordan Jefferson and RB Stevan Ridley.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2010:
QB/RB Russell Shepard -- Rated one of the nation's top quarterback prospects when he was signed last February, Shepard was more of a factor in the running game for the Tigers, giving them a breakaway threat and providing a change of pace. He didn't throw a pass but had five receptions. He didn't play in the bowl loss, the poor field conditions probably negating his skills. Will he continue in a similar role in 2010 or be more involved?
WR Rueben Randle -- Another heralded freshman, Randle figures to play a bigger part in the passing game with the departure of Brandon LaFell. He had three starts in 2009 and caught 10 passes, seven of them coming over the last half of the regular season, and added one reception in the bowl game.
WR Terrance Toliver -- Toliver was the second-leading receiver in 2009 and was a major threat down close to the end zone with his 6-5 height. His 53 catches were 21 more than he had in his first two years combined.
LB Kelvin Sheppard -- Sheppard was LSU's leading tackler and was third in tackles in the SEC with 103 stops in the regular season. He was considered the emotional leader of the defense.
CB Patrick Peterson -- Considered one of the top cover corners in the country, Peterson drew the assignment of covering the opponent's top receiver. He held Georgia's A.J. Green to four catches and Alabama's Julio Jones to just three. He was credited with 15 passes defended, third-best in the SEC in the regular season, with one interception returned for a touchdown.
WR Brandon LaFell -- He's big (6-3, 206) and has been an outstanding receiver for the Tigers who could have been a high pick had he come out after his junior season. He also is a good downfield blocker and could be the first wide receiver to go in the draft.
LT Ciron Black -- A four-year starter, Black (6-5, 322) could give the Tigers a second first-round pick, though a spot in the second or third rounds seems more likely.
LB Harry Coleman -- Coleman likely will move back into his old position at strong safety as he advances to the NFL. At 6-2, 205, he doesn't have the size at linebacker, but he's a hard hitter.
DE Rahim Alem -- He didn't have the numbers he did as a junior, but is still considered a strong pass rusher. He looks to go in the middle rounds.
RB Charles Scott -- A shoulder injury cut short his senior season, but his rushing numbers were down before then to begin with as the Tigers struggled gaining consistency in their running game. He's a strong inside runner who can break away for the big gain on occasion.
LB Perry Riley -- Riley (6-1, 245) was a key performer for a pretty good LSU defense. He likely will be a second-day draft pick.
CB Chris Hawkins -- He didn't have the reputation of sophomore Patrick Peterson but still was one of the leaders in a solid secondary. Like Riley, he could be a late-round pick.
TE Richard Dickson -- Injuries limited him over the second half of the season and he will have to have a strong Combine to sneak into the later rounds of the draft.
-- RB Richard Murphy, who missed all but two games in 2009 after sustaining a knee injury, is expected to be ready for spring practice. He looks to compete for the No. 1 role in the backfield in 2010.
-- QB Jordan Jefferson threw a touchdown pass against Penn State, giving him 17 for the season. That's the eighth most in school history.
-- WR Brandon LaFell ended his career with 25 touchdown receptions, one short of the school record held by Dwayne Bowe (2003-06).
Previous Report: 12/30/2009