BATON ROUGE – LSU football enters Brian Kelly’s first season with fewer questions than when he was hired in November.
Its first coaching staff has been filled, its first squad has been created and its first starting line-up has begun to take shape.
But as the season opener approaches in New Orleans against Florida State on Saturday (6:30 pm CT, ABC), not all questions have been answered. Here are three unanswered questions we still have about the Tigers:
How aggressive will defensive coordinator Matt House’s plan be to pressure the quarterback?
In House’s final season as Kentucky’s defensive coordinator in 2018, he had the ultimate cheat code for getting to quarterback: defensive end Josh Allen.
Allen, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, generated more than 28% of the Wildcats’ pressure that season, according to Pro Football Focus. He had nearly half the team’s sacks and led the team in a hurry with 28.
With a one-man wrecking crew on the edge, House didn’t need to be as creative in generating a pass rush. And with BJ Ojulari, Maason Smith, Jaquelin Roy and Ali Gaye in his defensive line at LSU, his approach may be similar this season.
But House spent the last three years as linebackers coach for the Kansas City Chiefs and worked with one of the most creative blitz plotters in the NFL in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
The Chiefs finished in the top 10 in the NFL in throwback blitzes the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Reference, despite having defensive lineman Chris Jones, a second-team All-Pro selection both years.
And his aggression paid off. After finishing 12th in the league in quarterback pressures in 2020, they finished fifth in that category last season.
Will Spagnuolo’s approach affect House? Or will House keep LSU’s pressure plan simple and allow LSU talent to take over? Whichever path House chooses will help shape the Tigers’ defensive scheme in 2022.
How long will it take for the offense to gel as a unit?
Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock have been juggling a lot of pieces with the offense this month.
The quarterback battle is the most prominent example, but the offensive line has also changed since the spring. Tight end is another position, where the top spot has been on the line.
Strong chemistry is critical to the success of an offense. Quarterbacks must be in sync with receivers and each offensive lineman must know the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of the man next to him.
LSU is lacking in each of those departments and more. Most of their projected starters on offense have never played in a game together, let alone played in Denbrock’s multifaceted scheme.
With so many starting spots not solidifying until a week or two before the start of the season, will the lack of familiarity LSU has with each other affect performance?
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Is the rise of Colby Richardson fact or fiction?
There wasn’t much buzz on LSU Twitter when Colby Richardson transferred to Baton Rouge this offseason. But since the former McNeese State cornerback joined the program this summer, he has been the biggest surprise.
Richardson gained more than 20 pounds over the summer to turn his body into SEC shape. And even though LSU added the likes of Ohio State transfer Sevyn Banks and UL transfer Mekhi Garner, Richardson has worked with the first team at least as often as they have.
“He’s obviously a very talented athlete, but then by building that strength and taking our nutrition program (he took it) to a new level, one that he’s probably never had before,” Kelly said Tuesday. “And he has elite speed. He’s a veteran player and all those things have come together. He’s extremely committed. The players really enjoy him. He’s a really good teammate. It’s good to see him have great success.” .
But the jump in competition from the FCS to the SEC is abrupt. And even if Richardson is better equipped physically to handle the rigors of college football’s toughest conference, can he mentally keep up with the speed of the game?
Richardson’s performance against his teammates in the preseason is a remarkable achievement. But whether that translates into success is anyone’s guess.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.