LSU football: Was season's best defensive game sign of things to come?
The obvious question is, “Where has this LSU defense been all year?”
The performance in a 50-7 victory against Texas A&M in the regular-season finale Saturday night in Tiger Stadium seemed to come out of nowhere.
From the opening kickoff to the expiration of the clock it was the best that the inconsistent, much-maligned LSU defense had performed against an SEC opponent.
It was very good. For 60 minutes. Against a good offense.
The Tigers had allowed fewer yards, fewer first downs and fewer points, but that was against Georgia Southern and Utah State.
They had taken the ball away as many times, but that was against Utah State and Mississippi State.
The fewest yards the Tigers had allowed against an SEC opponent was 287 (Auburn), but they allowed the Aggies just 169.
The fewest first downs the Tigers had allowed against an SEC opponent was 16 (Auburn), but they allowed the Aggies just 12.
The most takeaways the Tigers had against an SEC opponent was 3 Mississippi State) and they matched that against the Aggies.
The fewest points the Tigers had allowed to an SEC opponent was 13 (Mississippi State), but they allowed the Aggies just 7 and that touchdown came after the game was well in hand.
LSU stuffed the run, pressured the quarterback, broke up passes and intercepted passes. It got into the backfield even when it wasn’t getting sacks, it made sure-handed tackles. This defense looked like LSU defenses usually look like but haven’t looked like a whole lot this season.
It was dramatic improvement, but it shouldn’t have been shocking.
We have seen this – in bits and pieces – this season. And when we haven’t seen it there have been factors in – not excuses for – not seeing it.
There have been injuries, especially among the linemen especially early in the season, so the most disruptive guys haven’t always been in there together and been healthy enough to be really disruptive.
All-America safety Grant Delpit, the best player on the defense, has been slowed by injury too, but he’s getting healthier.
Against A&M, pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson looked like the disruptive player he was before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Miami last season. After Saturday’s game, Chaisson said defensive coordinator Dave Aranda turned him loose on the quarterback the most he has this season.
Chaisson was a big reason the Tigers had a season-high 6 sacks and incessant pressure.
The point isn’t that injuries are responsible for the times that the defense has played badly because they aren’t.
The point isn’t that the return to health of a few key players has suddenly transformed this into a dominant defense because it hasn’t.
The point is that the defense hasn’t been as bad as critics have sometimes suggested. It has been bad from time to time. It has been very good on occasion. It has been adequate overall – see record, undefeated.
All along we have seen glimpses of a very good defense. On Saturday we got a longer look.
“We know personally that we weren’t producing where we liked to,” Chaisson said. “But just the consistent disrespect throughout season, we make sure personally to prove people wrong and prove to ourselves that we’re the dominant defense that we need to be.”
Dominant? Not yet.
Periodically very good? Sure.
Perhaps the LSU defense is finding itself at the most important time of the season. Perhaps getting the injured players healthy at the right time will lead to that dominance Chaisson mentioned.
Perhaps the recovered players will be fresher than their counterparts and perhaps their younger replacements will be more mature than they otherwise would have been for the stretch run.
Perhaps the performance against Texas A&M was the new norm, maybe even a launching point for an even higher level of performance in the SEC Championship Game and beyond.