BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - One of my pet peeves is people being complete wimps about the heat. These are the kinds of folks who believe they’ll melt or perhaps be turned into ash by Thanos if they spend five minutes outside.
My late grandfather JB Holley (“Pap,” as we called him) perhaps said it best when he heard some teenagers complaining about their summertime chores.
“Nobody ever says it’s too hot at the beach, only when it’s time to cut the grass," he quipped.
And with that, let me speak out of both sides of my mouth. The scorching sauna that consumes south Louisiana this time of year is basically unbearable. I went for an 8 a.m. jog a couple of days ago and the temperature had already climbed to 85 degrees, with a heat index of 95.
If Steve Harvey came to Baton Rouge and surveyed a hundred people on their favorite month of the year, I would say zero would vote for August. Kids are ornery, as they’re sent back to school entirely too early, and with that, their parents’ summertime vacations are now a distant memory. Wasps are the Antichrist, aggressively multiplying in some hidden corner outside of your home, planning to ruin your day and transform your hand into a red, throbbing catcher’s mitt. And, you’ve binge-watched “Stranger Things” on Netflix long ago, now frustrated that “Ozark” isn’t on its way until 2020.
And, by the way, it’s too darn hot!
Every day is a gift, but many people in Baton Rouge would rather just hit the fast forward button on the next two weeks of the calendar. College football is on everyone’s minds and LSU’s season opener against Georgia Southern on August 31 in Tiger Stadium can’t get here soon enough. After scoring the program’s biggest bowl win since whipping Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, expectations are extremely high for the Tigers in 2019.
LSU has already checked in at No. 6 in the Coaches’ Preseason Poll and with Joe Burrow back at quarterback for his senior season, anything less than a 10-2 regular season record will be viewed as a disappointment. Burrow torched UCF for 394 yards passing and four touchdowns in that 40-32 Fiesta Bowl win last season, making many LSU fans wonder if he can break Rohan Davey’s program record for most yards passing in a single season (3,347 yards in 2001). And the guy can run a little bit, too.
Burrow was held out of LSU’s first scrimmage of fall camp last Saturday as a precaution after suffering a very minor injury. He’s been back at practice this week, firing the football down the field and showing no signs anything happened at all. Burrow’s wide receiving corps is deep, starting with last year’s leading target, junior Justin Jefferson. Highly-heralded wide outs Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. fought through their share of freshman growing pains and are ready to thrive in year two of collegiate football. There were few plays bigger than Derrick Dillon’s long touchdown grab at Auburn last season. And now, Dillon returns for his senior season, although he’s been banged up a lot this camp.
Former Catholic High running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is suddenly a junior, thought to be a perfect fit in new assistant coach Joe Brady’s spread attack. During interviews, Edwards-Helaire reminded us he played in a spread offense during his prep days as a Bear. He added he’s ready to run any pass route necessary and catch the football in space. Lanard Fournette is beginning to establish his own legacy more than two years after the departure of his superstar older brother, Leonard, by ripping off a 46-yard run and catching two passes for 28 yards during last year’s season finale at Texas A&M. Freshman John Emery Jr. may give LSU the home run rushing threat that was often missing last season, while former Southern Lab star Tyrion Davis-Price is a bowling ball of power. That’s not to forget about sophomore Chris Curry, who was spoon-fed some playing time last season and returns a year wiser.
We can also do some August daydreaming about the LSU defense, which certainly features plenty of young men destined for the NFL. Junior safety Grant Delpit is said to be the best defensive player returning in college football this year. During a recent radio interview, LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette said Delpit could and perhaps should receive Heisman Trophy consideration before the season is over. If Kristian Fulton’s foot is indeed OK, the senior should be one stellar cornerback. And, True freshman Derek Stingley Jr. from the Dunham School is ready to lock down the opposite side. Sophomore K’Lavon Chaisson is poised to be a quarterback crusher rushing off the edge from his outside linebacker spot, while senior Michael Divinity has been bumped inside after a breakout year that saw him register five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
It all sounds great. But as usual, there are always preseason concerns, besides getting stung by a wasp.
Whether it was at SEC Media Days, The Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, or throughout his fall camp news conferences, head coach Ed Orgeron has made it abundantly clear LSU must get tougher in the trenches. The numbers don’t lie and clearly back up Orgeron’s claim. In last season’s three losses, which came to Florida, Alabama, and Texas A&M, the Tigers surrendered a total of 16 quarterback sacks, totaling 90 yards of losses. LSU’s defensive line didn’t exactly punch back in those defeats, as the Tigers tallied a measly two QB sacks for just 12 yards in losses.
Nobody wants to relive the crushing 29-0 Alabama defeat, but with great pain can perhaps come progress.
The Crimson Tide outgained LSU 576-196 in Tiger Stadium, while out rushing the Tigers by a staggering 281-12. Those statistics clearly speak to a mauling at the line of scrimmage and the need for the Tigers to close a huge gap. Perhaps scheme, a year of growth, and maturity can help do that. However, it’s important to point out many of the LSU offensive linemen (Saahdiq Charles, Lloyd Cushenberry, Damien Lewis, Austin Deculus) and defensive linemen (Breiden Fehoko, Rashard Lawrence, Neil Farrell, Glen Logan) that played big roles in last year’s Crimson Tide defeat, will be called upon again when LSU travels to Tuscaloosa on November 9.
Will they be ready this time around? Or will it be more Crimson Tide torture?
I just clearly broke my own rule, but let’s try not to talk much about Nick Saban’s crew much until November. There is MUCH to navigate before then. We spent much of last summer talking about how incredibly important LSU’s season opener was against Miami in Arlington, Texas, and how the Tigers could then start the year 1-2 with a loss at Auburn. Instead, Coach O and company began a very surprising 3-0 but later dropped two games we DIDN’T spend much time discussing in August - at Florida and at Texas A&M.
Predicting wins and losses this time of year is fun. But it’s also dangerous. We have an idea what teams are good and which are not. But there will always be teams that live up to expectations and those that don’t. Indeed, cliches are often boring but likewise often true - take it one game at a time folks.
So yes, mid-August is a drag. Most of the LSU storylines have been written about and discussed ad nauseam since spring ball. It’s like The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” How many versions of the same song can be recorded?
But we're almost there folks. We'll all find out together if this new LSU offense is legit or if Lucy has pulled the football away from Charlie Brown again. Can the Tigers compete for a College Football Playoff spot or is LSU destined for a postseason trip to Tampa or Orlando again?
The uncertainty and anxiety is great, ain’t it?
In the meantime, get outside and sweat a little. You’ll feel better.