Analysis: Handing out the hardware for LSU football

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) pulls in the touchdown pass in front of Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Otha Peters (5) during the first half.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) pulls in the touchdown pass in front of Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Otha Peters (5) during the first half.

The Advocate’s season awards for LSU football

LSU returns to practice Thursday to begin preparations for a New Year’s Eve Chick-fil-A Bowl clash with Clemson.

On Sunday night, the team gathers for its annual banquet and to hand out its in-house awards.

Meanwhile, The Advocate staff has had time to reflect on LSU’s season and come up with our own totally subjective, in-no-particular order acknowledgements from the season.

Best play: What else could it be? Jarvis Landry’s one-handed touchdown catch against Arkansas was one of the most spectacular plays in the country this season. He leaped in the back of the end zone, snared in the ball with his right hand as he was nearly parallel to the ground and maintained possession as he fell to the turf just inside the end line. The play was rerun countless times on highlight shows, but the Tigers were pretty ho-hum about it, saying Landry does stuff like that all the time in practice.

Best coaching adjustment: For the first quarter and a half of LSU’s game at Texas A&M, Johnny Football ran circles around the Tigers’ defense, showing off the virtuosity that would make him the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. But by late in the second quarter, defensive coordinator John Chavis, his assistants and the players turned the Texas A&M quarterback into plain old Johnny Manziel. He had three interceptions among the five turnovers that keyed LSU’s come-from-behind 24-19 victory. The Tigers held Manziel without a TD and limited the Southeastern Conference’s leading rusher to a season-low 27 yards.

Best Howard Dean impersonation: Les Miles’ postgame screed after beating Ole Miss. The combination of the emotional, come-from-behind victory, the last home game for the senior class and a perceived slight of one of those seniors — wide receiver Russell Shepard — seemed to trigger Miles’ roller coaster of emotions.

Most reliable interview subject: Josh Dworaczyk. The sixth-year senior always has been one of the more insightful players when it comes to answering questions, and he seemed to be available at virtually every player interview session. That may have been because he, like kicker Drew Alleman, was doing an internship in the LSU Sports Information Department. Or maybe he just likes talking. But if you ever wondered why reporters would choose to use so many quotes and sound bites from someone with a name so hard to spell and pronounce, it was because he was as dependable as an interview subject as he was as a starting lineman.

Most dignified interview subject: Russell Shepard. Miles’ apparent dissatisfaction with stories of Shepard’s career statistics falling short of outsiders’ projections was never shared publicly by Shepard himself. In good times and bad, Shepard was polite, respectful, articulate and forthcoming.

Most improved player: LSU has been called DB-U for its history of producing elite defensive backs, and its defensive line has been noted for its share of NFL prospects. The linebackers, though, generally have been ignored, except to be singled out as not being as good as the secondary or line. But Kevin Minter changed a lot of that as he emerged as a first-team All-SEC pick as a junior. He might not be as highly rated an NFL prospect as ends Barkevious Mingo or Sam Montgomery or safety Eric Reid, but no one contributed more to LSU’s success.

Biggest surprise: Vadal Alexander. At his size (6-foot-6 and 350 pounds), he could be just about the biggest anything, but the true freshman stepped up at right tackle to help turn an offensive line that eventually lost three preseason starters from a weakness to a strength.

Most overlooked performance: The Tigers won so many games by huge margins last season that even a 41-3 victory didn’t seem like that big of a deal in early September. Plus, understandable skepticism about how good the Pac-12 and Washington would be led to little chest-thumping after the blowout of the Huskies in Week 2. But given how close most of LSU’s games were and that the Huskies wound up being a pretty good 7-5 team, this game stands out more in December than it did in September.

Biggest head-scratcher: On the other hand, the 38-22 victory against Towson looks the same in December as it did in September. The visiting Tigers are a solid FCS program and deserve credit for playing LSU as competitively as they did. But the home-standing Tigers’ performance is still puzzling.

Best tandem performance: Defensive backs Jalen Collins and Ronald Martin twice teamed up for interceptions against Idaho. Both times Collins tipped the ball, and both times Martin caught it, returning the second one 45 yards for a touchdown.

R.A. Dickey ‘Where Did That Guy Come From?’ Award: Tight end Travis Dickson didn’t catch a pass in the first 10 games, then caught five for 69 yards in the 11th game against Ole Miss.

Best nickname: Zachy Football, supplied by an anonymous tweeter. No, Zach Mettenberger does not play quarterback like Manziel does, but Mettenberger did resemble Johnny Football a bit by turning a disappointing start into a positive finish, much like Manziel turns plays that start out looking bad into good ones.