BATON ROUGE, La. — Devin White is having himself a sophomore season to remember — one against which any other LSU linebacker season can be compared.
With a bowl game remaining, the Tigers linebacker has tallied 127 tackles this season. That mark is good for the sixth-best single season in LSU history. With just 4 tackles in the bowl game, White will pass Kevin Minter for fourth on the list. With 17 tackles — which would be a career high for White — he could climb as high as third.
LSU history aside, White is blowing past his peers in 2017. Just this week, White became the first player to be named SEC Defensive Player of the Week four times in the same season. White amassed 55 tackles in those four games. Other than White, LSU has only two defenders who have made 55 total tackles this season.
It probably goes without saying, but White leads the SEC in tackles. His total of 127 is a full 12 tackles ahead of Arkansas’ De’Jon Harris. If you expand the criteria to the entire FBS, White’s 127 tackles rank fifth, behind only San Jose State’s Frank Ginda, Buffalo’s Khalil Hodge, Kansas’ Joe Dineen Jr. and Virginia’s Micah Kiser.
But there’s one facet of White’s game that separates him from every other linebacker in the country. A dirty secret about White’s season that reflects as much on LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda as it does on White. A fact rooted not in White’s ability as a playmaker, but in his ability as a collaborator.
Solos vs. assists
The NCAA keeps stats on two types of tackles: solo tackles and assisted tackles. Solo tackles are takedowns made by one defender. Assisted tackles come when two or more defenders collaborate to bring down a ball carrier.
By solo tackles, White’s season hasn’t been spectacular. He finished tied for 33rd in the SEC with 33 solo stops. That mark didn’t even lead LSU defenders; safety John Battle held that distinction with 36 solos.
But when it comes to assists, no one is White’s equal. White led all FBS defenders with 94 assisted tackles in 2017. Buffalo’s Hodge was the next with 88. Virginia’s Kiser was the only Power 5 defender within 10 assisted tackles of White.
When looking at assisted tackles, it’s easy to assume players are just jumping on piles. One defender makes the “real play” by standing up a ball carrier and another comes in and knocks him down. They both get credit for the tackle, but one person did far less work than the other.
While that’s a convenient assumption to make, it’s actually not true. Especially not when you’re looking at what LSU’s defense does under Aranda.
NCAA Team Leaders in Assisted Tackles (Power 5 conferences)
Only two Power 5 schools logged at least 500 assisted tackles in 2017. One was Rutgers, a team that dealt with the unfortunate distinction of playing Washington, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State on the way to a 4-7 season. The other was LSU, whose 522 assisted tackles led the SEC by almost 50.
LSU’s defense is built around the swarm. Players flow to the ball and everyone collaborates to make tackles. When cornerbacks are almost exclusively locked in man coverage and safeties are covering deep swaths of field, the six or seven defenders left in the box have to work as one to bring down ball carriers. That’s how someone like Christian LaCouture, who ranks second on LSU with 63 tackles, can average more than 5 tackles per game but only have 9 solo tackles for the season.
Let’s be clear: This isn’t a fluke. LSU recorded 516 assisted tackles in 2016. Kendell Beckwith led the team with an average of 9.1 tackles per game but, just like White, finished with 33 solo tackles for the season.
White is filling the exact role Aranda is calling for from his inside linebacker position. There’s virtue in sizing up a player and bringing him down one-on-one. But whether it takes one man to bring down a running back or 11, it all still counts as one tackle.
There’s a skill to being around the ball and helping your teammates bring down opponents. And no one in the country has done this better this season than Devin White.
The post The trait that separated Devin White from every linebacker in the nation in 2017 appeared first on SEC Country.