BATON ROUGE, La. — Lost in all the hubbub and pageantry of senior night and LSU’s overall offensive dominance Saturday versus Texas A&M was one simple fact: LSU forced four turnovers.
In case you aren’t aware of how rare a feat this is, here’s some context: The last time LSU forced four turnovers in an SEC game was Nov. 11, 2012. Dating back to 2008, Saturday was only the fourth time this decade an LSU defense created four takeaways against an SEC opponent in a single game. Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid and Jalen Mills and Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams have come and gone, rarely with more than one of these types of game apiece. If any.
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But thanks to some characteristically impressive game planning from defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, LSU answered coach Ed Orgeron’s challenge and took the ball away Saturday at a notable rate. So this week in LSU film study, instead of focusing again on Danny Etling and the offense, we’re going to take a look at how these turnovers were possible, and why all four of them changed the game for LSU.
Turnover 1: Greedy Williams INT
After LSU fullback J.D. Moore fumbled on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage, Texas A&M took over with great field position, looking to seize an early lead. Freshman cornerback Greedy Williams had other plans.
Williams’ nose for the football is well publicized. He’s the only defender in the SEC with five interceptions this year, and one of eight Power 5 defenders overall. This play, his fifth of the year, was a clinic in play recognition.
After the game, Williams explained that he’d seen this route on film before. He understood A&M’s tendencies to quick throw to a slant route off play action. Compounding this, the Aggies tipped their hand. Listen back to color analyst Jordan Rodgers on the broadcast and you’ll hear him talking about how Aranda told him this was a play they expected.
The recognition comes down to who Texas A&M lined up in the slot. Inside of the receiver quarterback Nick Starkel targeted stood wide receiver Christian Kirk, A&M’s best pass catcher and potentially the premier wide receiver in the SEC. LSU recognized this formation, matching its best cover corner Donte Jackson against Kirk with off coverage, expecting Kirk to run off upfield and try to create space for teammate Damion Ratley underneath.
This isolated Williams in man coverage and Williams jumped the route. Perfect blend of recognition and execution.
Nine plays later, LSU had its first points of the game.
Turnover 2: Donnie Alexander fumble recovery
If there were such a thing as an assist on a forced fumble, sophomore linebacker Devin White would deserve one for this play.
Let’s be clear: cornerback Kevin Toliver made one heckuva play forcing this fumble. It’s hard to react downhill that quickly and pop a ball out of a runner’s hands with your helmet. That’s textbook tackling from the cornerback spot.
But one of the only reasons Toliver was in position to make that play was because of the stuff White made in the hole. White engaged A&M’s pulling lineman in the hole, pushing him back into running back Keith Ford. This forced Ford to bounce the carry outside toward the sideline, putting him 1-on-1 with Toliver.
Toliver made his play, Donnie Alexander scooped and, if not for a shoe-string shove, would’ve scored.
Six plays later, LSU’s offense scored again, extending the Tigers’ lead to 6-0.
Turnover 3: Donte Jackson INT
Of LSU’s four turnovers Saturday, this one was the most pivotal. And also its most visually attractive.
First, some context: Texas A&M got the ball after the half and stormed down the field, cutting LSU’s lead to six points. The LSU offense took the ball back and promptly went 3-and-out. If ever there was a time for the Aggies to take control of the game, it was here.
So what did LSU do on A&M’s first play of its next possession? It took the ball away.
Jackson has caught some flack this season for being a “PBU” guy. He’s gotten his hands on the ball plenty of times, but never brought it in. Here, Jackson flashed his catching ability, but that all hinged on his knowledge that he had help.
John Battle lined up as LSU’s only deep safety on this play. Knowing A&M’s tendency to throw deep to Kirk, the Tigers had high and low coverage on him. Jackson was in man underneath, with Battle helping over the top. So when Jackson saw the ball in the air, he undercut Kirk’s route and went for the ball, knowing if he whiffed Battle would be there to clean up for him.
Of course, Jackson didn’t miss. He made about as pretty of an interception as you’ll see in the open field. And seven plays later, LSU scored a touchdown to extend its lead back to 13 points.
Turnover 4: Devin White INT
It might’ve come in garbage time, but LSU’s final turnover from Saturday night was a clinic in all three phases of a defense working together.
Before we start, let’s consider White’s path on this play. He began by crashing through the middle of the offensive line on a blitz, forcing Starkel deeper in his dropback. Of course, White fell down after a running back blocked him low. Still, White got up and found his wits well enough to catch a ball deflected 7 yards downfield off the bounce. Then he reversed his course and ran about 35 yards laterally before turning upfield to gain about 5 yards on the return.
That’s a ton of effort for an All-SEC performer who was inexplicably still in the game with his team winning by 24 points with less than two minutes remaining.
But outside of White, let’s give credit where its due. Freshman defensive end Glen Logan rushed about as well as he has all season on this play, forcing Starkel out of the pocket. Freshman edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson read Starkel’s movement and crashed into his throwing lane, forcing an errant throw. And Toliver pressured the route well, earning his third pass breakup of the evening.
From the defensive line to the linebackers to the defensive backs, every phase contributed to this turnover. And two plays later, LSU won the football game.
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