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Delusional Optimism Takes Naps in the Second Half

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Is the Ole Miss defensive performance a trend or an outlier?

LSU v Alabama
Not my Grant Delpit
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

LSU jumped out to a 28-point lead against Ole Miss and somehow hung on to win by 21, and the college football world is collectively losing their mind over it.

If you were concerned by LSU’s defensive performance on Saturday, well, you weren’t alone. LSU hasn’t shown much weakness this season, and there’s nothing the media likes more than a different story than the one they’ve been telling, so they all jumped over this one: the LSU defense is in crisis.

Is it? I mean, let’s not mince words, the Ole Miss game was a terrible defensive performance. LSU gave up over 600 yards of offense and 400 of it on the ground. The defense surrendered two touchdowns of 50 yards or more, not to mention two more from 46 and 35 yards, respectively.

But the question is whether this is the sign of a terrible defense exposed or just, you know, one terrible game? I won’t pretend I can break down the film like Seth can, so let’s just defer to his analysis:

Grant Delpit played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen from him. It hurt my soul watching him play football against Ole Miss because I know in my heart that’s not the player he is. He was slow and most likely still very injured. Besides almost getting an interception on one of the few times Ole Miss threw the ball outside, Delpit was bad. It wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t see him until Atlanta if the injury is really bugging him.

You can’t find a lot of big Ole Miss plays without also finding Delpit whiffing on a tackle.

Ouch. That’s actually good news because it suggests LSU’s problems weren’t really schematic but because LSU decided to play the game with one arm tied behind its back. Grant Delpit wasn’t bad for Delpit, he was bad for anyone. That was as close as you get to playing with 10 men, and Ole Miss took full advantage.

But it is important to note just how extreme of an outlier this game was. Prior to the Ole Miss game, LSU had allowed 906 yards and 6 TD on 293 carries for a 3.1 average. In that game alone, Ole Miss gained 402 yards and scored 4 TD while averaging NINE POINT ONE yards per carry.

It was a game so disastrous that LSU’s rushing average on the season allowed jumped nearly a full yard, from 3.1 to 3.9. LSU’s rushing touchdowns allowed jumped 66% in just one game.

What didn’t change was LSU’s usual stingy passing defense. It was below their season averages, but not significantly so. LSU came into the game allowing 6.79 YPA, and Ole Miss averaged 7.9 per attempt. Not great, but hardly a disaster. Ole Miss managed a passer rating of 126.33, right on the LSU defense season average of 122.46.

So if there was a defensive collapse, it was entirely a function of the run defense. And honestly, the run defense has been great all year. This strikes me as “just one of those games”, likely due to the Delpit injury. It’s hard to look at the season numbers and think there’s a systemic problem with the run defense.

So home free? Print the t-shirts, right? Well, not yet.

The perceived problem is that LSU’s defense goes into the tank in the second half? Ole Miss scored 30 second half points, Bama scored 28, 21 of those in the fourth quarter, and who could forget the Texas game?

These are valid concerns, but there’s also some recency bias going on there. LSU’s defense stepped up big against Florida and Auburn in the second half, and State’s offense never got off the ground. We tend to think the last game is everything, and now we’ve had two straight poor second halves.

But the season numbers simply don’t bear this narrative out.

LSU allows 587 rushing yards on a 3.54 average in the first half. In the second? 721 on a 4.22 average. Sure, that’s more, but nothing unexpected.

The passing defense is the same story. LSU allowed 1,117 yards in the first half on 54.0% completion rate and 6.35 YPA. Second half? 1,253 yards on 53.8% and 7.41. Again, it goes up, but not disastrously so.

Big plays of 20+ yards? 17 in the first half. 20 in the second.

I’m not here to tell you this is a dominant LSU defense of the past. It’s not. We know what great defense looks like, and this ain’t it. That said, this is also not what a bad defense looks like, nor one that collapses in the second half.

The Ole Miss game was terrible. There’s no excuse for the defense to play that poorly. But it was one game, and completely outside what we’ve seen from the LSU defense this season. Chill out.

...

Unless they screw up against Arkansas. Then forget I said anything.