New Mexico Football: First Look At The LSU Tigers




 

New Mexico Football: First Look At The LSU Tigers

The Lobos will head to Death Valley for a non-conference clash with the Tigers in late September.

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Will the Tigers rebound?

New Mexico Football: First Look At 2022 Non-conference Opponents

Maine | UTEP | LSU | New Mexico State

The New Mexico Lobos will head to Death Valley this season for a non-conference clash with the LSU Tigers in Week 4.

After winning the national title in 2019, the Bayou Bengals crashed and burned over the following two years and decided to turn the page on the Ed Orgeron era, causing a seismic shift across the college football landscape in turn to bring in Brian Kelly from Notre Dame. While it remains to be seen just how good the Tigers will be in 2022, playing on the road in SEC country is never an easy ask.

Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Conference: SEC

Series History: This will be the first meeting between New Mexico and LSU.

2021 Record: 6-7 (3-5 SEC)

Head Coach: Brian Kelly (first year at LSU; 166-62 in FBS, 275-97-2 overall). Kelly's hiring in late November of last year caused a shockwave of chain reactions that touched nearly every corner of the college football landscape, but you can understand why the program forked over $95 million to turn things around: Notre Dame made two College Football Playoff appearances under his watch and finished in the top 12 for five straight years, which is the kind of consistency you don't often find in the SEC outside of Tuscaloosa.

Key Players

Kayshon Boutte, WR

Boutte has the potential to be one of the best wide receivers in the country if he can stay healthy. Injuries limited him to six games in 2021, but he dominated in that time to the tune of 38 catches, 508 yards, and nine touchdowns, and he underwent ankle surgery in the off-season to rectify that ailment.

Jayden Daniels, QB

Daniels left Arizona State for LSU through the transfer portal after three seasons of tantalizing Sun Devils fans with a strong arm and good wheels. Last year, in particular, was an inconsistent one where he completed 65.4% of his passes and averaged a solid 7 9 yards per attempt, but he only had ten touchdowns against ten interceptions.

That he also added 719 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns speaks to the fact that he still may not have reached his ceiling. He's one of the most important players anywhere in the SEC this season.

BJ Ojulari, DE

Ojulari's first year as a defensive starter put the rest of the conference on notice, as he broke out with 55 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks. It isn't hard to imagine the Marietta, Georgia native following his older brother Azeez into the NFL ranks with another top-notch campaign like the one he just posted.

Jarrick Bernard-Converse, CB

Like Daniels, Bernard-Converse is another of LSU's transfer portal pickups after spending four years and starting 47 straight games at Oklahoma State. He was a big reasons why the Cowboys landed its Fiesta Bowl bid in 2022 with 51 tackles, 11 pass breakups, and 1.5 sacks and could give the Tigers a lockdown corner they really need.

Ali Gaye, DE

Ojulari isn't the only one who can get things done on the defensive line, but Gaye only played in four games last season due to injury. In that time, he had 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks, so a return to form from the 2020 second-team all-SEC performer will go a long way.

Overview:

Offense

The Tigers offense was a far cry from its high-flying championship iteration, finishing 90th among FBS teams with 5.39 yards per play, 82nd in available yards percentage earned, and 77th in points per drive. New offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock will be under pressure to engineer some kind of turnaround as soon as possible.

Resolving the quarterback situation is one task. Daniels could be the starter, but he still has to compete with Myles Brennan and others to secure the QB1 role for good. Re-establishing a reliable running game is another after the Tigers lost their top two rushers from 2021. John Emery Jr. is one candidate who's back after being academically ineligible last season, while Penn State transfer Noah Cain made eight starts for the Nittany Lions and ran for 790 yards across three seasons.

The offensive line underperformed last year and now returns just one starter in Cameron Wire, so it remains to be seen whether the turnover is a good or bad thing. Young prospects like true freshman Will Campbell and sophomore Charles Turner could end up playing just as big a role in the new unit as transfers like Miles Frazier (Florida Atlantic) and Tremond Shorts (East Tennessee State).

The pass catching group, at least, is in much better shape since LSU brings back five of the six receivers who had at least 25 receptions a year ago. Boutte could be a superstar, but others like Jaray Jenkins (34 catches, 502 yards, six TDs) and Brian Thomas Jr. (28-359-2) provide a wealth of complementary talent to take the pressure off. Junior tight end Kole Taylor, listed at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, is another name to watch.

Defense

All in all, the LSU defense was just okay in 2021, allowing 5.51 yards per play while finishing 79th in points per drive allowed and 64th in available yards percentage allowed. Okay doesn't cut it in the Southeastern Conference, though, so new coordinator Matt House has a big task on his hands, as well.

The good news is that there's plenty of talent ready to be deployed in the front seven beyond Gaye and Ojulari. Defensive tackle Maason Smith had four sacks in nine games as a true freshman while Jacqueline Roy chipped in with six tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in part-time duty last year; both could be major players in the Tigers' revival.

Behind that bunch, fifth-year senior linebacker Micah Baskerville provides both much-needed leadership in the locker room and the production to back that up: He led all returning LSU defenders with 83 tackles while posting nine TFLs and two sacks. Replacing Damone Clark won't be easy, however, though former Clemson transfer Mike Jones, Virginia transfer West Weeks, and others will give it their best shot.

The secondary also utilized the transfer portal to restock its personnel, not just Bernard-Converse but Mekhi Gardner (Louisiana), Joe Foucha (Arkansas), Greg Brooks (Arkansas), and Sevyn Banks (Oklahoma State). Together, they'll look to shore up what might have been the defense's biggest weakness in 2021, when LSU allowed opponents to complete 64.2% of passes and allowed 29 passing touchdowns.

Early Predictions

LSU has a long road back to respectability in the SEC West, but the obvious talent advantage the Tigers will have over the Lobos mean that it will probably be a long day at the office for Danny Gonzales's men.

LSU 41, New Mexico 10

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Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire

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