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The Lesson of the 2013 Defense

Have we seen this movie before?

Texas A&M v LSU
Well, they could always beat up on A&M
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

LSU’s offense cannot be stopped. The LSU defense can’t stop anyone.

2019? Or maybe the not so distant past? In 2013, LSU boasted a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers, and a 1,000-yard rusher. LSU’s offense could seemingly score at will, and all of that firepower resulted in… a 10-3 season.

Hey, a 10-3 season is nothing to sneeze at. 10 wins and a trip to a January 1 bowl ain’t a bad day at the office, but when it seemed you had finally cast off years of conservatism, it felt like a disappointment. So much so, that the standard line has become that the one time Les Miles had a great offense at LSU, it was the one year he had a lousy defense.

So, are we in for 2013 redux?

First off, let’s relive some of the horror of 2013. The ATVS archives are a treasure trove of pain.

LSU lost to Georgia 44-41, and I spared no punches,

“LSU’s defense passed terrible somewhere in the third quarter and landed squarely on incompetent in the fourth. LSU’s secondary simply couldn’t cover anyone all day long. Some of that is that Georgia is a pretty darn good offense, but some of those breakdowns in coverage were just painful to watch. It’s one thing for the other team to make a great play, it’s another thing when your defense just flat out blows the coverage repeatedly. Georgia made plays, but some of those plays were way too easy to make.

The big surprise of the game was that LSU could not generate any sort of pass rush all game, and Georgia could.”

Billy got in the act after the Ole Miss game,

“Long drive back to my sister’s in Memphis. Fairly silent the whole way. I mean other people talked, but not me. Part of me kept even thinking “God...I don’t want to rewatch that crap...”

And that’s what it was. Crap. One of the worst games of the Les Miles era. I would say the worst, but Miracle on Markham 2 was to a 5-win Arkansas squad. This Ole Miss team will at least make it to a bowl game. But it was certainly one of the worst efforts I’ve seen since that 2008 team spent the last three weeks of the season playing out the string.”

Paul delivered a knockout blow post-mortem of the Bama game,

“As for what’s left. Well, LSU plays a Texas A&M team that is explosive on offense. It’s a potentially scary match-up for a defense that pales in comparison to the standards we hold. We conclude against a hapless Arkansas team, but it’s reasonable to be concerned about the mental standing of this team. By LSU standards, the season is over. There is nothing left to play for. No SEC Title. No National Title. Nothing of any meaning. Let’s sure hope Les can get this squad motivated for the final two games, so this season doesn’t turn into an albatross.”

You get the point. It was bad. We thought it was bad at the time, and the commenters thought it was even worse. It was so bad that the Blogfather, Richard Pittman himself, descended down from his retirement on Mt. Olympus to write an article which, in its entirety, is reprinted here:

Please try to enjoy your memories of this year’s LSU football team for what they were, and don’t worry about what they weren’t.

Man, that’s grim. And remember, LSU won 10 games. Our postseason roundtable stressed how fun the offense was and how bitterly disappointing the defense was. 2013 was the year it flipped. LSU suddenly couldn’t play defense, and we were struggling for answers.

Okay, here’s the thing… the defense wasn’t that bad in 2013 and the offense wasn’t that great. As much as we want to talk about the worries of 2013 redux, there’s no 2013 to really redux.

LSU ranked third in the SEC at 6.94 yards per play, primarily due to a passing offense that average 10.0 yards/attempt, first in the SEC. That’s pretty darn good, though nowhere near the universe of 2019’s offense, averaging 7.99 yards per play and 11.6 yards/pass attempt, both first in the SEC.

The much maligned defense? It ranked third in the SEC in yards/play at 5.08 allowed and was even second in pass defense at 6.4 yards/attempt. The 2019 defense allows the same pass average of 6.4, which ranks sixth this year.

The 2013 team is remembered as a failure, and we’ll always have letting up 44 points to Georgia, but with the benefit of hindsight, the defense wasn’t that bad. It lacked playmakers, as LSU only had 11 interceptions and was middle of the pack in sacks.

The team’s two leading tacklers were Lamin Barrow and DJ Welter. There were some underclassmen stars first asserting themselves like Kwon Alexander and Danielle Hunter, but the marquee defensive player in 2013 was likely Craig Loston, a solid player, but hardly a generational talent.

As it stands now, the 2019 defense is not as good as the 2013 edition, yet it has more star power. Jacob Philips is the team’s leading tackler, who may not be Devin White, but likely will hold a larger place in LSU history than Lamin Barrow. K’Lavon Chaisson is still a sophomore and freshman Derek Stingley is already a household name in the deep south.

And there’s Grant Delpit, who needs to pull out of his funk, but is a contender for the greatest safety in school history, and that’s a fairly stout competition.

Re-reading the 2013 season in our archives, the one thing that did strike me was how often we talked about effort and consistency. The 2013 team never seemed to put together a full 60-minute effort until it blew the doors off of Texas A&M.

That’s the lesson this 2019 defense can draw from 2013. You cannot rely on an offense all season because, eventually, they are going to have an off night. It could be because they play disinterested like 2013 did against Ole Miss, or they could run into a loaded roster that steamrolls you on both sides of the ball, like Alabama did.

But ultimately, there are no lessons to be learned from the statistical record. The 2013 defense was actually pretty good. It was near the top of the SEC in the rate yards allowed for total defense, rushing, and passing. Yet they are remembered as a failure because of their lapses.

That is the lesson 2013 offers to 2019. Lapses are fine in September. You can bounce back from allowing Georgia to march up and down the field to finish near the top of the leader board by season’s end. But if you don’t win the games, no one will remember, they will only remember the September struggles.

Th 2019 defense will not be defined by the Vanderbilt game, or even Texas. It will be defined by what it does going forward, now that we are in the meat of the SEC schedule.