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Evaluating Tennessee’s potential two additional opponents for 2020

Least favorable matchup: LSU Tigers

Yes, the defending National Champions are losing a lot of production off of last year’s team. They’re also dealing with key departures from the coaching staff. But don’t be fooled, LSU is going to be a very good football team once again.

LSU’s 2020 squad will be led by the defense. At least while the offense adjusts to a new starting quarterback, running back, tight end and four new starting offensive linemen. Even though the defense has quite a bit of adjusting to do as well, they’ll still be stout.

Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini takes over as defensive coordinator following Dave Aranda’s departure to Baylor. LSU is switching from a 3-4 defense, to a 4-3 under Pelini. This will allow Pelini to get more defensive linemen on the field from a group that is viewed as the most talented and deepest on the defensive side of the ball.

Tyler Shelvin and Glen Logan are two of the best defensive tackles in the country. It doesn’t stop there at tackle for LSU. Apu Ika is a sophomore who split time with Shelvin and has massive upside, while Neil Farrell at times looked like he should have been a starter in 2019. There’s also top signees Jaquelin Roy and Jacobian Guillory who could have an impact. That’s six names for just two tackle spots.

Defensive end will be strong as well with junior TK McLendon, junior Justin Thomas, senior Andre Anthony and freshman BJ Ojulari.

LSU’s linebackers were hit the hardest from departures on the defensive side of the ball. Two of its top three tacklers left early for the NFL in Jacob Phillips (113 tackles) and Patrick Queen (85). The Tigers also lost key edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson who had a team-high 6.5 sacks last year. LSU went out and added FCS All-American Jabril Cox, a graduate transfer from North Dakota State, to replace Chaisson. Cox had 92 tackles and 5.5 sacks at NDSU in 2019.

In the secondary, Pelini has the best cornerback in all of college football at his disposal in sophomore Derek Stingley Jr. He picked off six passes and broke up 15 more as a true freshman last season. LSU will have to replace the corner opposite of Stingley following the departure of Stingley. Cordale Flott is expected to fill the void, though freshman Elias Ricks will be breathing down his neck.

LSU is also tasked with replacing starting safety Grant Delpit despite senior JaCoby Stevens returning to lead the defense. Stevens is a big-hitting safety who racked up 92 tackles last year. His nine tackles for loss placed him third on the team, while his five sacks was good for second-most. He’ll be moving around more this season; playing in the box, covering the slot, playing on the back end and everywhere in between.

Ed Orgeron will have a new starting quarterback following the departure of Joe Burrow, last year’s Heisman winner. Myles Brennan is expected to be the starter. Brennan is viewed as someone who has the potential of being a good starter for the Tigers. He’s just got to go out and prove it.

Brennan will have the best wide receiver in college football to throw to in Ja’Marr Chase. Chase, last year’s Biletnikoff award winner, finished 2019 as the NCAA’s leader in receiving touchdowns with 20. His 127.1 yards per game ranked second nationally as he finished out the year with 84 catches for 1,780 yards in 15 games played.

Terrace Marshall, Racey McMath, Trey Palmer and Kayshon Boutte are also expected to have big years at wide receiver alongside Chase. There’s also a lot of buzz about incoming freshman Arik Gilbert at tight end.

Offensive line is certainly a question mark. LSU must replace four starters and five rotation players. It does bring back starting right tackle Austin Deculus and co-starter left guard Ed Ingram, however, and adds Harvard grad transfer Liam Callahan who can play tackle, guard or center.

All indications are LSU’s running back room will be by committee. Running backs coach Kevin Faulk even said so multiple times this offseason. The room is deep and has several solid options for Faulk. It’s just a matter of who steps up between sophomore John Emery, redshirt-sophomore Chris Curry, sophomore Tyrion Davis-Price and freshman Tre Bradford.

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