At LSU, a quarterback quandary and a power in flux

Les Miles and LSU whooped it up after beating a third-ranked South Carolina team in 2012, their last meeting with the Gamecocks. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

COLUMBIA — This was supposed to be Everett Golson’s landing place, at least if reports immediately following the quarterback’s final game at Notre Dame were to be believed. But the Myrtle Beach native instead wound up at Florida State, and LSU remains saddled with a dicey situation behind center despite plenty of talent elsewhere on the field.

There’s no denying the Tigers have an absolute game-changer in tailback Leonard Fournette, he of the strike-a-Heisman pose last season. But it was the headaches at quarterback which hamstrung LSU in an uncharacteristic 8-5 campaign of a year ago, and may leave head coach Les Miles chomping down with exasperation on grass blades once again.

First of all, this game promises to be something of an event. It’s only the fourth time USC has hosted LSU since the Gamecocks joined the SEC, and it’s the Tigers’ first trip to Williams-Brice Stadium since 2008. The aura of the LSU program and the idiosyncrasies of its head coach make it a big deal anytime the Tigers roll into your town. But this might be a good time for the Gamecocks to catch LSU in the opposite-division rotation, given that there remain no clear answers to the QB issues which hampered the Tigers a season ago.

LSU’s two-quarterback system of Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris generated just 17 passing touchdowns last season, placing way too much pressure (and defensive focus) on the explosive Fournette. Both QBs are back, and with no graduate transfer changing the picture, they’ll probably end up sharing time once again, barring the emergence of freshman Justin McMillan.

The QB situation obscures the fact that LSU also lost a few pieces off a very good defense, and is searching a bit right now. In any case, this is an elite program trying to get back to an elite level, and suffering some growing pains in the process.

Head coach: Les Miles (103-29 in 10 seasons at LSU, 131-50 in 14 seasons overall)

Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, eight defense)

2014 record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC, fifth in Western Division)

Scoring offense: 27.2 points scored per game (74th nationally)

Scoring defense: 17.5 points allowed per game (fifth nationally)

Series: LSU leads 17-2-1

Opposing beat writer: Scott Rabalais, Baton Rouge Advocate (@RabalaisAdv)

Last meeting: LSU 23, South Carolina 21 on Oct. 13, 2012 in Baton Rouge. Jeremy Hill ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns as the ninth-ranked Tigers dealt the third-ranked Gamecocks their first loss of the 2012 season. USC quarterback Connor Shaw cut the deficit to two on a late TD pass to Bruce Ellington, but the LSU defense held firm after that.

1. Miles has new faces on his defensive staff. The QB issues overshadowed one of the nation’s better defenses, which led Texas A&M to lure coordinator John Chavis away from Baton Rouge. Miles replaced one Palmetto State native with another, bringing in Kevin Steele, and adding Ed Orgeron as defensive line coach, Coach O is a Louisiana native who’s taken to his new surroundings like it’s a big bowl of gumbo.

2. The new coaches have some players to work with. LSU allowed just 17.5 points per game last season, and ranked ninth nationally in total defense. Half the defensive line and half the secondary return, and the Tigers’ roster is often stocked with enough talent to make up the difference.

3. Miles has his share of critics. There’s always pressure to win at LSU. But it’s not lost on the locals that over the past four years, the Tigers have slid from unbeaten SEC champs to fifth in the division and out of the final national ranking for the first time since 2009. No, the Hat isn’t in trouble. But this is a rabid fan base that’s easily agitated, and another mediocre season will surely rile them up.

Week before: At Missouri

Next week: Vanderbilt

On the horizon: An off week before Halloween in Aggieland