Q&A: LSU football writer talks coaching changes, players to watch

In a conversation with The Maneater, Joshua Thornton previews the SEC clash between Missouri and LSU.

Missouri heads to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to play LSU at 6:30 p.m. Saturday as the Missouri Tigers look to pull off an upset. Joshua Thornton, who covers football for The Daily Reveille, LSU’s student newspaper, spoke with The Maneater’s Nick Kelly about what to expect Saturday.

The Maneater: With all that has changed (LSU fired its head coach and offensive coordinator earlier this week), what can fans expect from this LSU team?

Joshua Thornton: It is hard to put together a brand new offense and/or just a new scheme in so short amount of time and short amount of days. But that is one thing [interim head coach] Ed Orgeron talked about at his press conferences. He doesn’t have a lot of time to do all of the things he wants, but he said he wants to change certain philosophies and change what they’re doing to make it more simple for the offense to run better.

The biggest thing you see with this team is they seem a little more energized with the hiring of Ed Orgeron. Their practices are a little bit shorter, so they won’t be as tired come game time. They spend a lot more time in the film room, and from the practice we went to [on Monday], they were a little bit more loose with a lot more music. A lot of players were telling us that before, there was no music and one guy who mainly played music before practice and before games. But now, the whole team is playing music and dancing.

ME: From your perspective, do you think this change is for the better?

JT: For the most part, yes, just because Les Miles, for whatever reason, was not willing to change the offense or adapt to college football and the new offensive style of college football. He was very loyal to Cam Cameron, and that is why LSU’s offense continued to sputter. They promised to change a few things in the offseason to make a few things better, but it didn’t. The first game, essentially, was LSU of 2015 when they went on that three-game losing streak. But now, with Ed Orgeron and Steve Ensminger calling plays, the offense is going to get a new look. Les Miles was a really, really respected man around here. He was a part of a lot of people's childhoods, but it was just a change that had to be done. No one likes change, and it wasn’t an easy decision. Going forward for the LSU program, it is going to be hard to find someone to replace him, but it unfortunately had to be done.

ME: What can people expect from running back Leonard Fournette against the Tigers, and is he going to be full-go? (Fournette missed practice on Monday and Tuesday nursing an ankle injury).

JT: Leonard Fournette actually hasn’t been 100 percent since fall camp when there was a freak accident when one of his teammates rolled up on his ankle. He was in a walking boot and missed a few practices then. In all three games he’s played in, he’s gone for over 100 yards. He isn’t putting up the Heisman numbers he put up last year, but teams are a little more on-alert for Leonard Fournette this year. He’s had to fight for just about every yard.

This weekend, the LSU offensive line has struggled a little bit this year, and they have gone through a lot of re-shuffling. This could be a breakout game for Leonard just because what Ed Orgeron and Steve Ensminger, they want to get him in and they know how important and vital it is for the LSU offense to get Leonard Fournette touches. Last week against Auburn, he touched the ball somewhere around 20 times, which is not a lot when you’ve got a guy who has as much talent as Leonard Fournette. I think you’ll see a lot of Leonard Fournette, whether it be in the running game or the passing game. That’s been something they’ve been doing a lot this season. They’ve been throwing the ball to him a lot out of the backfield, or trying to set up screens. I could see Leonard Fournette having a decent game this Saturday.

ME: What would you say is LSU’s biggest weakness and biggest strength?

JT: Right now, [the biggest weakness] used to be quarterback, but Danny Etling has proven he’s somewhat capable and he can make defenses respect him. But that offensive line, I’m not sure what is wrong with it, but they just haven’t been able to get much of a push and their pass protection at times has kind of been lacking. They’ve got a few guys who are banged up. Toby Weathersby, the starting right tackle, missed last week’s game at Auburn. He had an ankle issue. Maea Teuhema, who started in place of him, missed a few days of fall camp, and he had an ankle injury. He hasn’t necessarily been the same. Then you have William Clap, the left guard. He also had an ankle injury. Will Clap said he actually played 90 percent in the Wisconsin game, so he just got back up to 100 percent. Also the center, Ethan Pocic — he hasn’t practiced the last few days. The offensive line hasn’t been able to get in any type of groove, rhythm or chemistry just because there’s been so much re-shuffling in these first four games. The only mainstay has been at the left guard position in Will Clap, and he’s hurt. That’s the weakest position.

As far as the strongest, I have to say their defensive line. Guys like Arden Key and Lewis Neal, that’s a pretty nasty combination at defensive end. Arden Key has already surpassed how many sacks he had last season. He has 6.5 right now and leads the SEC in sacks. He has just been killing guys at left tackle all season, but they line him up in different spots. To go along with that, the nose guards, Travonte Valentine and Greg Gilmore they’ve been doing a pretty decent job of stopping the run. So, that would probably be the strongest position for LSU right now.

ME: What is your prediction for the game?

JT: This game is actually going to be the first real test for the LSU defense in terms of a really good passing attack. Wisconsin, those guys, their quarterback wasn’t as good as what Drew Lock can be. LSU’s defensive backs are really going to get tested this weekend. Missouri’s offense so far has been able to score a lot of points and put a lot of yards up. This game could turn into a shootout, which is crazy with LSU’s offense not being built for shoot outs. Just because the scoring capabilities Missouri has on offense. Ultimately, I see LSU winning 28-14. I see LSU being a little too big and strong up front for Missouri. Of course, playing in that crowd environment in Death Valley, it is never fun for a sophomore quarterback.

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