TAMPA, Fla. – Starting defensive tackle Ego Ferguson did not travel with the team to Florida and will not play in the Outback Bowl against Iowa, a source said.
The source said Ferguson was not suspended. A school spokesman would not confirm the news when reached Tuesday. LSU is withholding comment until the noon kickoff against the Hawkeyes.
Ferguson, a junior and honorable mention AP All-SEC selection, was fifth on the team with 58 tackles this season. Sophomore Quentin Thomas is listed as Ferguson’s backup, but Christian LaCouture, Anthony Johnson’s No. 2, is likely to replace Ferguson.
Ferguson, some scouts say, is LSU’s best shot of landing a first-round NFL draft selection in May. Ferguson, Johnson, receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and running back Jeremy Hill and La’el Collins all could leave early. Those six players are projected to be selected between the second and fourth rounds of the draft.
Underclassmen must declare by Jan. 15.
Ferguson’s departure is a blow for a defense that’s struggled at times and faces an Iowa offense built on running the football at the heart of its opponent. The Hawkeyes average more than 180 yards rushing a game and have run for more than 200 in six outings. The ground attack is led by fullback-to-running back convert Mark Weisman, a sturdy 6-foot, 240-pound junior.
Ferguson, a Mims, Fla., native, was seen by many as LSU’s best defensive players after out-playing Johnson for much of the year. His season was highlighted by a blocked field goal in the loss to Ole Miss. In what might be Ferguson’s last LSU game, he had a career-high 8 tackles in the regular season finale against Arkansas.
His absence will likely give LaCouture and Thomas time to shine.
LaCouture, of Lincoln, Neb., has made 10 tackles this season in a reserve role. A four-star rated prospect by Scout.com and 24/7 Sports, LaCouture has been used as the third tackle, rotating in with Ferguson and Johnson.
“This could be breakout time for Christian,” said Mark King, LaCouture’s coach at Lincoln Southwest High in Nebraska.
LaCouture has progressed throughout the season and has gained his most playing time over the last two or three games, King said.
“His motor and his physical skills are unbelievable,” King said. “He really needed to get better at technique stuff. When you watched him play earlier, he was playing fine but you could see he was thinking when he was playing. Last couple of games, he’s starting to get it.
“It might be time for him to start anyway,” King said.