Tell The Truth Monday: Bo Pelini’s LSU defense deserved better
The LSU defense deserved better.
Bo Pelini deserved better.
Pelini’s defense played well enough – plenty well enough – to defeat No. 5 Texas A&M on the road Saturday night.
The Tigers gave up a 52-yard touchdown run to Isaiah Spiller, and that was pretty much it. The Aggies kicked a couple of field goals and TJ Finley made things much harder with a pick-6 that turned a 13-0 deficit into a 20-0 deficit and ended Finley’s night in the 3rd quarter.
LSU lost 20-7. Holding A&M’s offense to 13 points should have been good enough to win. Holding the entire Aggies team to 20 points should have been good enough to win.
But neither was good enough to win.
The Tigers didn’t score until the game had become un-winnable for them.
The defense deserved better. Its coordinator deserved better.
The offense’s shortcomings – terrible blocking, no running game to speak of, erratic quarterback play – were thoroughly documented in the immediate aftermath of the game.
Now it’s Tell The Truth Monday.
Sometimes that requires picking nits, identifying minor imperfections that might get glossed over amid the satisfaction of a really good performance that produced a victory.
But other times Tell The Truth Monday is different. It requires not allowing the disappointment of a loss or the obvious causes of the loss to prevent recognition of good stuff that happened in defeat.
There’s no such thing as a moral victory – at least not for programs such as LSU. Rarely, though, is there a loss totally devoid of some silver lining.
The silver lining in this loss was the play of Pelini’s defense.
Spiller got loose a few times but got bottled up some too. Overall his production shouldn’t have prevented an LSU win and it doesn’t taint the defensive performance.
The Tigers contained, pressured and unnerved Kellen Mond, essentially turning A&M into a one-dimensional offense.
The LSU defense was well prepared. Aggies ball carriers consistently were greeted by a defender almost immediately, sometimes by more than one, sometimes by a bunch.
The LSU defense swarmed like an LSU defense is supposed to swarm. It was confident and accurate in diagnosing what A&M was trying to. It was efficient in its tackling. It allowed a mere 267 yards — 1 yard more than it allowed Vanderbilt and nearly 200 yards below its season average coming in.
Head coach Ed Orgeron, Pelini and the defensive staff had the players ready, and the players transferred that preparation into performance.
Pelini isn’t going to suddenly become a candidate for the Broyles Award for the best assistant coach in college football.
But when the defensive coordinator is consistently and almost exclusively assigned blame for every defensive short-coming – as Pelini has been by his most severe critics –fairness (not to mention Tell The Truth Monday) requires acknowledgment of the coordinator’s role in improvement.
The Tigers played really bad defense in September and October, and Pelini was ultimately responsible for that.
The Tigers played just 2 games in November, but the defense was appreciably better. It was good, though not great, in a win against an outmanned Arkansas team.
It was really good against an A&M team that was a 2-touchdown favorite.
Pelini is ultimately responsible for that too.
LSU had 2 weeks off in early October to assess a lot of stuff, primarily its poor defensive play.
Pelini simplified what the defense was doing, trying to zero in on what the players did best and felt most comfortable doing. The Tigers tweaked how they used their personnel.
They had a lot of time for reps though they did lose some due to COVID absences.
They got better against Arkansas and even better against Texas A&M.
What that means going forward remains to be seen. Next up is No. 1 Alabama, followed by No. 6 Florida.
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones and Florida quarterback Kyle Trask are presumably the top candidates to win the Heisman Trophy.
LSU concludes the season against Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin’s highly productive offense.
The defense has significant challenges the rest of the way.
Pelini is in his first season as the defensive coordinator. Most of his starters are in their first season in that role.
There figured to be a transition period.
It was longer and more trying than most expected.
Perhaps the LSU defense is finally headed to respectability.
That will be determined by a series of performances – not just one.
But the performance against the Aggies was praise-worthy