LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda came into the 2017 season needing to earn his money — and boy, did he.
The Tigers were tasked with replacing five players — Tre’Davious White, Jamal Adams, Kendell Beckwith, Davon Godchaux and Duke Riley — who are seeing significant playing time as NFL rookies. Another, Lewis Neal, recently worked his way onto the Dallas Cowboys active roster from the practice squad.
In all, that’s six players capable of NFL careers ranging from solid to spectacular. White potentially could be the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Adams should be a perpetual Pro Bowl player. None of them should be easy to replace.
Yet Aranda found a way to do so. LSU’s first game was spectacular as the Tigers didn’t allow BYU to cross midfield in a 27-0 shutout. We soon learned that said more about BYU’s incompetent offense as a lack of depth caught up to LSU’s defense. But by season’s end, Aranda has his unit looking dominant again.
Here’s how the defense compares to last season’s squad:
|Points per game||18.8||15.8|
|Yards per play||5.0||4.8|
|Opposing QB rating||108.40||111.11|
|Tackles for loss||70||78|
Now that you’ve seen the numbers, here is how we’ve graded the Tigers at each position.
Defensive line: C+
Pre-Frank Herron: D; Post-Frank Herron: B+
Grading the LSU defensive line’s performance is an exercise in unfairness. Early in the season, the Tigers were dealt multiple blows that challenged their depth.
Senior Frank Herron was suspended for the first six games. Defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, the top-rated recruit in Louisiana, partially qualified academically and could not play this season. Nose tackle Ed Alexander missed 2½ games due to injury. Rashard Lawrence missed three games to an ankle injury, two of which the Tigers lost.
Defensive end Christian LaCouture had to play every snap against Syracuse. Syracuse runs an uptempo offense, so that was a whopping 82 plays — the most LSU had seen since the 2015 Texas Bowl against Texas Tech.
These guys were gassed, and it showed. After allowing one team to rush for more than 200 yards last season, LSU let it happen twice in the first five games, including to Troy.
When Herron returned for the Auburn game, the defensive line started to jell again. Alabama was limited to 116 yards on the ground. Tennessee (38 yards) and Texas A&M (55 yards) went nowhere fast. It wasn’t because of Herron’s performance, but his presence. Other players were able to give 100 percent at all times because he could give them a breather.
Had this group been intact all season, it might have been among the best in college football.
Devin White is so good that he can make you forget that it was supposed to be impossible to replace Beckwith. He was a 4-time SEC Defensive Player of the Week. In a league that prides itself on defense, that’s no small feat.
Arden Key started off slowly because he literally was slow. After missing two games recovering from shoulder surgery, he came back with a Pillsbury Doughboy physique. But Key soon turned back into an Adonis, playing brilliant football against Auburn, Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas before hurting his right knee. His 8 quarterback hurries are more than double that of any teammate, despite missing four games.
Donnie Alexander was shaky early in the season. Freshman Tyler Taylor seemed destined for the starting lineup. But Alexander’s play elevated in November, and he dominated in a 12-tackle performance against Arkansas.
LSU played more base 3-4 defense this season than last, and senior Corey Thompson was a big reason why they were able to. Thompson is second on the team with 6 sacks and fourth with 7 tackles for loss.
Dave Aranda deserves every bit of praise that he earns, but let’s not forget about defensive backs coach Corey Raymond. The fact that this secondary lost Adams and White in the first round of the NFL draft and proceeded to put up better numbers is nothing short of extraordinary.
And yes, it is the secondary that led the way. LSU had similar numbers pressuring the quarterback this season as last year, but improved in yards allowed, interceptions and opposing quarterback rating. The Tigers had the eighth-lowest opposing passer rating in the country.
Redshirt freshman Greedy Williams is a star in the making with 5 interceptions already to his credit. If Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver both return as seniors in 2018, this could be a legendary unit next season. It turns out LSU is called DBU for a reason.
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