Football season – or at least the very early stages of it – is here for LSU. And with a season of top-shelf potential that is shrouded in mystery just getting revved up for the Tigers, it’s time to look at some of the players and themes that will take center stage in Baton Rouge in 2015.
Today: five things on defense that have to be better.
1) Stabilize earlier
As the season got into October last year, the LSU defense really emerged as one of the best in the SEC, but that was after embarrassing performances against Mississippi State and Auburn when the Tigers got gashed for 17 plays of 20 yards or more, six of those for 30-plus. A lot of those struggles had to do with a work-in-progress defensive line that finally stabilized.
With several new faces up front as this season begins, LSU has to find a consistent rotation up there as soon as possible – State and quarterback Dak Prescott are the Week 2 opponent – to avoid the early-season growing pains from 2014.
2) Take it away
In eight conference games, LSU managed only 10 takeaways – six fumbles and four interceptions – which was the 10th-lowest total among SEC defenses, many of which weren’t as stingy otherwise as the Tigers. With a talent-laden secondary loaded and big-play, game-turning potential, collecting turnovers like souvenirs is a must, especially with an offense that doesn’t exactly promise to piece together long drive after long drive.
Jamal Adams, Tre’Davious White, Jalen Mills and Rickey Jefferson have to emerge as very familiar names in SEC circles.
3) Disrupt drives
Just as damaging as the low turnover propensity was the Tigers’ anemic sack total. Only 11 times did LSU get to the opponent QB in SEC play, which allowed most pass-oriented teams to pick the Tigers apart. And not only sacks, but pressure on the passer has to get better. In the three losses that defined LSU’s season – Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama – all three teams topped 200 yards through the air and tossed two TD passes each.
A large reason why was because the QBs had time to make decisions and find the best option. That young d-line will have to provide its share of pressure, but look for the linebacker corps – Kendell Beckwith in particular – to make an impact.
4) Get off the field
1-2-3 all blended together to make third-down defense an ongoing struggle for LSU. The Tigers led the conference in opponent first downs allowed (132 or only 16.5 per game), but were mediocre on third down, allowing the foe to convert 37.5 percent of the time. As the defense congealed later in the season, three-and-outs became common place in the first three quarters and that fueled the Tigers’ ability to carve a niche as a solid defense.
5) Eliminate late-game collapses
Losses to Alabama and Notre Dame typified LSU’s struggles in the fourth quarter as much as any. The Crimson Tide surged down the field for a game-tying field goal after falling behind with a minute to go and then won in overtime, while the Irish shrugged off a second-half offensive malaise to piece together a game-winning drive that yielded the game-winning points as time expired.
In addition to those two games, the Tigers flirted with disaster against Florida and Texas A&M – allowing 10 points to each in the final period before holding on and/or rescuing wins. The easy criticism was directed at former defensive coordinator John Chavis for going conservative late in games, but not creating turnovers, not disrupting drives with sacks and not getting off the field are all factors that players can play a major part in improving.