We've reached the midway point of the 2021 LSU football season and as the Tigers enter the bye week before Alabama, many players have shown flashes of greatness during a lost season.
Despite a 4-4 record here are a few midseason awards that have been earned:
Most Valuable Player: Kayshon Boutte
The second year wideout was far and away the most impressive player on the field when healthy. In just six games, Boutte caught 38 passes for 509 yards and nine touchdowns, becoming pretty much the only consistent source of offense the first six weeks of the season.
His nine touchdowns were at the very top of college football before his season-ending ankle injury as he accounted for nearly 25% of the Tigers' offense through the air during that six game stretch. Boutte will be out the rest of the season which will dash any All-American hopes the sophomore had been making a strong case for.
The passing game has suffered over the last two weeks since Boutte's injury as Max Johnson hasn't found that one or two players he can count on to make a play. If anything that adds to Boutte's value on this offense and this roster.
There's no doubt how important he'll be to this program getting back on track next season as the No. 1 option on a team that should be very deep at receiver.
Most Improved Player: Damone Clark (LB)
Clark has been the feel good story of this LSU team has his improved play from 2020 to 2021 has rocketed his value to NFL teams. He leads all of college football with 11.4 tackles per game and has 100 on the season after flying around against Ole Miss and combining for 20 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss with a forced fumble.
He's making a strong case for not only All-SEC recognition but All-American nods and a Butkus Award finalist nomination as well.
"I'm so proud of Damone, he's all over the field, making tackles, he's a tremendous leader. We're very proud of him," Orgeron said Saturday after the Ole Miss game. "His hard work, dedication. He identified some things he needed to get better at, one was open field tackling, he's got a lot better at that. Two was his pass coverage and he's gotten a lot better at that."
Clark's leadership has been another key area to not letting this locker room implode as he's earned the respect from coaches and teammates that makes him a great No. 18 to lead this program. With the Tigers at .500 and the season all but lost, watching Clark will continue to be a bright spot on Saturdays.
Most Valuable Freshman: Maason Smith (DE)
There could've been a few names to consider as tight end Jack Bech and a number of the freshmen receivers have shown flashes of immense potential in a rocky offense this season. But the freshman Smith has been the most versatile of the group on a defensive line that has struggled to stay healthy this season.
Smith started out as part of the defensive tackle rotation, rotating with Neil Farrell and Jaquelin Roy to open the season with Glen Logan still out. But as the Tigers became thin at defensive end, by first losing Andre Anthony and most recently Ali Gaye for the season, Smith's role had to change accordingly.
Smith has been tasked with a very difficult back and forth but it's one he's embraced and showed why he's such an important part of this program's future. He's racked up 19 tackles, five tackles for a loss and four sacks in six career games.
While most of that production came against McNeese in week two of the season, coach Ed Orgeron has like what he's seen from Smith this season.
"Maason has a chance if you look at a prototypical left defensive end in the NFL, he's a left defensive end," Orgeron said in September. "That's where most of the runs go to and you want a big defensive end to play over the tight end. He's very athletic to play in space so I think he has a chance to be a dominant football player there. He showed some things, he's a great inside rusher, he's learning how to play outside. I think he's just scratching the surface."
It's been slow going in recent weeks for Smith but don't be surprised to see a second half resurgence from the freshman defensive end.