2010 AU FOOTBALL PREVIEWS: Miles, LSU have some holes to fill in 2010

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series previewing Auburn’s 2010 football opponents. This week: LSU (Oct. 23). The series will run weekly.

Les Miles has won more games (51) in the past five years than any other coach in LSU history over the same amount of time.

He has a national championship ring on his finger and LSU boasts one of the best records against ranked opponents (13-11) among SEC schools since he took over for Nick Saban in 2005.

Despite all the accolades, which include a 51-14 record and four bowl victories in his first five seasons at LSU, Miles sits on the hottest seat in the SEC.

That means every game in 2010 carries added importance for the embattled head coach, whose $3.751 million salary will come under the crosshairs of frustrated Tiger fans after every LSU mistake that can be traced back to Miles.

It won’t just be about if LSU wins, it will be about how the Bengal Tigers win against a tough SEC West.

“It doesn’t take much (to fall off in the SEC),” Miles said in an ESPN.com article in March. “You have to hit on all cylinders and continue to hit on all cylinders in this league.”

Miles need not look far to figure out how to impress his moody fan base when LSU travels to Jordan-Hare Stadium in October. In a series that’s been filled with instant classics, Miles and the Bengal Tigers pounded Auburn, 31-10, in one of the more dominant victories by an SEC team over a conference foe all season.

“They have a lot of great players,” defensive end Antonio Coleman said after Auburn was held to 193 yards of offense, 42 of which came in the first half. “We couldn’t stop them.”

After an uninspiring finish to 2009 that included Miles’ first bowl loss with the Tigers, LSU lost a bevy of those players to the NFL Draft and will have to replace a number of key contributors on both sides of the ball.

The one thing LSU fans can’t hold against Miles, though, is his ability to recruit. It’s allowed him to have plenty of talent ready for another run in 2010.

At quarterback, LSU returns Jordan Jefferson, who certainly looked brilliant against Auburn (21-31, 242 yards, two touchdowns), but was largely unimpressive during his sophomore season. He’s the starter heading into the fall, but after a subpar spring, which included an 84-yard, one-interception effort in LSU’s spring game, he’ll have Jarrett Lee in his rearview mirror.

Bruising tailback Charles Scott is gone, but there are plenty of options, which may take some strain off Jefferson. Redshirt freshman Mike Ford will get a strong look, while Stevan Ridley and Richard Murphy bring experience to the position.

Star wide receiver Brandon LaFell is gone to the NFL, but Terrence Toliver could be poised for a breakout senior season. Toliver hauled in 53 catches for 735 yards and three touchdowns in 2009, and is ranked the No. 1 senior wide receiver in the country by ESPN’s Mel Kiper.

Former quarterback Russell Shepard has been moved to receiver on a full-time basis, which will likely make him a weapon all over the field one year after serving exclusively as a Wildcat quarterback.

The offensive line was a disappointing mess last year, allowing an SEC-worst 30 sacks in eight conference games and guiding the 11th-best rushing offense. That’s probably the biggest area of concern for the Tigers, as Jefferson proved ineffective when he was forced to throw on the run.

LSU loses seven defensive starters and currently has nine defensive players from last year’s team in NFL camps. That aforementioned strong recruiting, however, has defensive coordinator John Chavis in good hands.

LSU has two bona fide leaders in senior linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and cornerback Patrick Peterson. Sheppard was one of the SEC’s best in 2009 as a junior, ranking third in the SEC with 103 tackles, and Peterson will continue his roll as the Bengal Tigers’ quarterback of the secondary, an area that shouldn’t miss departed safety Chad Jones.

There are question marks up front, as Chavis will have to replace three of his four defensive linemen. Lazarius Levingston, the lone returnee, has moved from end to tackle, opening up spaces for seasoned reserve Drake Nevis and up-and-comers Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.

“I think we’re in step,” Miles said to ESPN. “There’s a want to re-focus and be excellent. I think it’s in the coaching staff and the players, certainly. I think we should compete for the title, but I always think we should compete for the title.”

agribble@oanow.com | 737-2561

LSU at Auburn
When: Oct. 23
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium
2009 Record: 9-4
Final Ranking: BCS No. 17
Bowl: Capital One Bowl (19-17 loss to Penn State)
All-Time Record vs. AU: 24-19-1
Last Meeting: Oct. 24, 2009 (LSU won 31-10 in Baton Rouge)

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