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The Failed LSU Defense?

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You don’t give up 400 yards passing and get to call yourself DBU

LSU v Texas
Not very caged, is he?
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Prior to last weekend’s showdown with Texas, K’Lavon Chiasson confidently stated that Sam Ehlinger wasn’t much of a threat with his arm:

”I don’t really find him too much as a threat. Not taking a shot at him, but he uses his legs more than his arms. So, just like in high school, he has a decent arm, but it’s more about his legs.”

Given a chance to retract his statement, he doubled down, ”I mean what I say, and I say what I mean.”

It wasn’t just the idle boasting of a cocky pass rusher. LSU’s defensive game plan was predicated on the same belief. Orgeron and Aranda came out with the plan to use a “cage rush,” which would keep Ehlinger in the pocket but would also give him more time to make decisions, as the rushers weren’t truly trying to get sacks.

And how did that plan work out? Texas gained 530 yards, 409 of them through the air. The Longhorn offense averaged 6.24 yards per play, and did not fail to score points on a single drive of the second half.

As great as it was to see Joe Burrow leading the LSU offense up and down the field, this is one of the worst defensive performances against a team other than the Bama of Orgeron’s tenure. Let’s put it in perspective.

Forget 400 yards passing, LSU hadn’t allowed 300 yards to any team last year save Louisiana Tech, which sort of spun the meter late in a blowout. LSU only allowed 300 yards passing once in 2017, when they allowed 308 yards to Syracuse. Prior to that, the last time LSU allowed 300+ pass yards is when Patrick Mahomes threw for 370 in the bowl game in 2015 for Texas Tech.

Allowing 500 total yards is even more rare. Texas gained 530, 9 more than A&M gained with the benefit of 7 overtimes. Bama also cleared 500 last year, gaining 576. Before that? The last time LSU allowed 500+ yards of total offense was the 41-7 shellacking LSU took in Auburn… in 2014. LSU went three full seasons without giving up a 500+ yard game.

Allowing over 6 yards a play is also a fairly alien experience for an LSU defense. Only Bama cleared it last year, and they went for 7.29. The only time someone went over 6 YPP in 2017 was Mississippi St, back when it looked like Orgeron’s regime would be short-lived.

Simply put, LSU does not have defensive performances like this, and they certainly don’t give up bunches of yards because of its pass defense. LSU put its money where its mouth was, and the bank came to collect.

So the big question is whether this was a one game aberration or whether this defense has serious issues. To be on the safe side, Orgeron is chucking the cage rush into the dustbin, which is probably a good idea.

Bill Belichick is a fan of the cage rush, but let’s be honest, college quarterbacks are not NFL quarterbacks. You pressure an NFL QB, they likely can exploit where the rush is coming from. You rush a college QB, well, most can’t make the read quick enough to kill you. Trevor Lawrence probably can, but if Aranda ever has to worry about that, then that would be one of them good problems.

However, I honestly do not believe the problems were tactical or structural. I think basing decisions about your defense based on their performance on the road, in September, against a top ten team, in the heat is probably an overreaction.

Texas’ 19-play drive took the wind out of the LSU defense, almost literally. The unit physically broke down, and never truly recovered. They were gasping for air for the rest of the night, and then Texas added a 10-play drive which last a second shy of six minutes of game clock in the fourth.

We tend to scoff at Time of Possession, but it matters in extreme cases. Saturday night was an extreme case. Texas held the ball for 20:38 of the second half. As big as that 19-play drive to start the third quarter was, Texas had even more ball control in the fourth, keeping the ball for 10:47.

LSU now enters the softest part of its schedule before things ramp up again in October. The defense will almost certainly put up much better numbers simply due to quality of competition. We likely won’t know if there is actual progress until the Florida game.

The good news for LSU is that they likely won’t need a strategy like the cage rush until the Bama game. This just in, Sam Ehlinger is a really good quarterback, and sometimes great players make great plays. The other team is trying, too. Luckily, we most probably don’t have to play Ehlinger again until next year.

Let the defensive line loose.