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Bouncing back: What to expect from LSU in 2021

Most of 2020 was rough—in a lot a ways. And the LSU football team wasn’t spared.

The Tigers followed up their historic national championship season in 2019 with an underwhelming 5-5 showing last year, plagued by poor defense, large personnel turnover and a multitude of injuries and opt-outs.

But the 2021 campaign looks to be brighter already with an influx of young talent combining with a good mix of veteran leadership and a slew of new faces on the coaching staff.

There’s a lot to be excited about this fall, so we thought we’d compile a list of names to keep an eye on as you head back into a full capacity Tiger Stadium for the first time in two years.


Max Johnson, quarterback, #14: LSU was fully prepared to have its quarterback battle between Johnson and Myles Brennan come down to the wire this fall. That is, until Brennan suffered a left arm injury in early August that will require surgery and likely hold him out at least half of the season and possibly even more. With the senior signal caller out for the foreseeable future, the job is now in Johnson’s hands. The sophomore made a name for himself late last season, leading LSU to two big victories against No. 6 Florida and division-rival Ole Miss to close out the year. He’s a left-handed, dual-threat athlete who is also the son of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson. He provides a lot of upside and plenty of reason to get Tiger fans excited.


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Kayshon Boutte, wide receiver, #1: Boutte broke onto the scene late in 2020, combining with Johnson to set the SEC single-game record with 308 receiving yards in LSU’s season-ending win over Ole Miss. He’s safely snagged the top spot among the Tigers’ deep group of receivers, and we already know he’s built up a great rapport with Johnson. He’s quick and shifty and should have a huge season this fall. Boutte Boutte Boutte Boutte rockin’ everywhere!


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Jake Peetz, offensive coordinator: I know, I know. You can’t really watch an offensive coordinator. But the offense as a whole will be something to keep your eye on. Former OC Steve Ensminger decided to retire at age 62, and he’s been replaced by the 38-year-old Peetz. By the same token, passing game coordinator D.J. Mangas (31) has filled the void left by his predecessor Scott Linehan (57). The younger, more modern offense should mirror LSU’s approach from 2019 under Joe Brady, who both Peetz and Mangas coached under last season with the Carolina Panthers.

Daronte Jones, defensive coordinator: It’s a similar situation for Jones. The 42-year-old defensive coordinator was brought on board after the firing of Bo Pelini (53), who led the Tigers to one of the worst defensive seasons in their history. Jones doesn’t boast a ton of experience calling defenses, but has spent the past five seasons coaching in the NFL. The defense can only go up from here, but can Jones turn LSU back into the dominant force it was just a few years ago?

Ali Gaye, defensive end, #11: Gaye was one of the few pleasant surprises on last year’s defensive unit. After transferring in from Garden City Community College, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end didn’t need much time to adjust to the SEC, playing in all 10 games while racking up 32 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. He’s not only a star in the making, but he’s easy to root for having coming from The Gambia, an underprivileged country in Africa, before eventually finding football in high school.


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Derek Stingley Jr, cornerback, #7: Stingley has made this list three seasons in a row, and rightfully so. He’s widely considered one of—if not the—best player in college football, and 2021 will almost certainly be the last time Tiger fans will get to see him in purple and gold. He’s once again the anchor of LSU’s secondary and will likely be a top 5 to 10 draft pick in next year’s NFL draft. Stingley also fittingly earned the prestigious No. 7 jersey, given each year to the Tigers’ biggest playmaker on the team.


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Elias Ricks, cornerback, #1: Stingley might steal most of the headlines, but Ricks proved last season that he more than deserves his own praise. Most opposing quarterbacks do their best to avoid throwing to Stingley’s side of the field, meaning Ricks got plenty of action last year. And he took full advantage. As a true freshman, Ricks snagged four interceptions in 10 games, which put him second best in the SEC on the year. The Stingley-Ricks tandem will be one of the best duos in the country.


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On offense: Remember what the offense looked like in 2019? Joe Burrow slinging passes to Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. Clyde Edwards-Helaire doing a little bit of everything out of the backfield. Points, points and more points. That’s the goal for this fall. Now, I wouldn’t expect record-breaking numbers like we saw from the national championship winners, but the general look, feel and flow of the offense should be similar. There will inevitably be a few hiccups here or there with all the new, young faces both on the field and in the coaching booth, but it’s not unreasonable to have high expectations for the group as a whole. Even during last year’s 5-5 season, the offense was rarely the issue. Finding a running back or two to carry the load and shoring up the offensive line will be the key to the Tigers’ success.

On defense: It truthfully can’t get much worse than last year defensively. LSU ranked last or close to it in nearly every statistical category, causing Ed Orgeron to make some sweeping changes on the defensive staff. Along with the aforementioned Jones, the Tigers are bringing in a new defensive line coach in Andre Carter and new linebackers coach in Blake Baker. The defensive line is as deep and talented a group as LSU has had in a while, and the secondary should be one of the strongest in the country, led by Stingley and Ricks. Ironing out the group of linebackers is the only question mark along the defense, then it’s just up to Jones to get his guys in the right position to make plays.

On the season: LSU should be back. I know we hear that every offseason, but objectively, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Tigers’ outlook. An 8-win season should be nearly expected, and adding a 9th wouldn’t be an overachievement. The real challenge will be pushing up to or even past that 10-win threshold. As usual, the Alabama game will be the big one circled on everyone’s schedules, but tough matchups at UCLA in the home opener in California and against Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M in Baton Rouge are also ones to watch. The talent is there for the Tigers to crack back into the top 10 and push for a playoff spot. They’ll just need to put it all together in order to make some magic.