While the LSU offense was continuously praised throughout the season, and rightfully so, it was their defense that most were unsure about. After surrendering 38 points to Texas in the season opener, not much was said. Remember, the narrative early was that Texas was back (again) after they’d knocked off Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to end last season, so having success against this LSU team wasn’t very alarming.
Then in week three, their defense once again gave up 38, this time though, to lowly Vanderbilt. With 21 of those points coming after being down 38-17 at the half, much of it was chalked up to the Commodores doing damage in garbage time, but it was actually a sign of things to come.
Two weeks later, a struggling Florida offense had 28 points in a 14 point loss. Like Vandy, the Gators totaled more than 400 yards of offense, with 146 coming on the ground. People were now starting to have legitimate concerns about the LSU defense.
After solid outings the next two weeks against Miss State and Auburn, LSU headed to Tuscaloosa. After jumping out to a 33-13 lead in the first half, the Tide came back in the second half to make a game out of it, before falling 46-41. However, Bama racked up 541 yards of offense, with Tua Tagovailoa shredding the Tigers secondary to the tune of 418 yards through the air.
The next week, the Ole Miss offense hung 37 on them, with 30 coming in the second half. Unlike what the Tide had done a week earlier though, the Rebels did their damage on the ground, rushing for over 400 yards. This is when the whispers about the LSU defense from the college football world turned into full fledged yells.
Ole Miss ran 71 plays in the game, averaged 8.6 yards per play, and over 9 yards per carry. LSU won the game 58-37, but questions about whether this was a national title caliber defense started to kick into high gear.
Since that game, something has started to click for them. The most points they’ve surrendered since then were the 28 that Oklahoma scored in the Peach Bowl last weekend. In the season finale against Texas A&M, they allowed just seven points. The Aggies managed just 169 yards of offense and only 12 first downs.
In the SEC Championship Game they only gave up ten to Georgia. The Dawgs had just 286 yards of offense, and their vaunted rushing attack was held to just 61 yards and 2.5 yards per carry. To be fair, Georgia was without starting tailback D’Andre Swift for most of that one, but the backups are pretty talented.
Suddenly, this LSU defense doesn’t look as porous as it had through the first two thirds of the season. Defensive coordinator credits the improvement to having developed some depth on the back end.
“The emergence of Cordale Flott and Maurice Hampton has freed up other defenders to do different things, so I think earlier in the year when we did not have that depth I thought a lot of our DBs were covering guys, when we added more DB depth, we added the ability for DBs to blitz and do other things.”
If this LSU team wants to knock off defending national champion Clemson, that improved play will need to continue. The only offense they’ve seen even remotely as explosive is Alabama’s, and Tua was hobbled going into that game. Trevor Lawrence won’t be.
If there’s an offense that is capable of winning a track meet type game against LSU, it’s Clemson. To come out victorious, the Bayou Bengals may need one their best efforts of the season on the defensive side of the ball.