The biggest story on the Ponderosa this season has been LSU’s struggling defense and the word “struggling” is the biggest understatement of the year.
LSU allowed 706 yards of total offense in a 55-49 loss to Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi last weekend.
The Tigers are 114th nationally in total defense, 108th in passing defense, last in the SEC in rush defense and 118th nationally in third-down situations. In no exaggeration whatsoever, this LSU defense might be the worst of all time at the rate they are going.
I understand that there are some things that the defense can’t control such as J.K. Johnson’s injury and Greg Brooks’ battle with cancer. However, that doesn’t excuse the missed tackles, missed assignments and the refusal to play some of the younger players such as Dashawn Womack.
Here are four questions surrounding LSU’s defense.
What kind of impact will Pete Jenkins have?
In my opinion, the defensive line has been the most disappointing position group on the defensive line because of who they were bringing back and landed in the transfer portal. Because of its struggles, some big news was announced the day after LSU’s 55-49 loss to Ole Miss where the Rebels gashed the Tiger defense for 317 rushing yards.
On Oct. 1, WGNO sports director Ed Daniels announced that Pete Jenkins was hired by LSU to be a consultant on the defensive line. For anybody wondering who he is, Jenkins is considered to be the greatest defensive line coach of all time. Kelly confirmed the news in his press conference on Monday.
Kelly’s reasoning for bringing Jenkins out of retirement was due to John Jancek’s inexperience with the position and the fact that the staff doesn’t have a true defensive line specialist on the staff. Jancek was thrust into the role before fall camp because of Jimmy Lindsey’s health scare. It also doesn’t help that Gerald Chatman, who was a defensive analyst on the staff and the interim defensive line coach during the spring, bolted to Tulane to become its defensive line coach in May.
Jenkins has had three different stints at LSU as he was in Baton Rouge from 1980-1990, 2000-2001 throughout the first two years of Nick Saban’s tenure at LSU and from 2016 to 2017 under Ed Orgeron.
He also has had stops at South Carolina, Southern Miss, Oklahoma State, Florida, Mississippi State, Auburn and the Philadelphia Eagles.
I don’t know if Jenkins is the solution, but his expertise will help LSU’s struggling but talented defensive line.
Will the secondary figure it out?
To answer this question, no.
There are so many holes within the defensive backfield, which is something that LSU has never really had to experience. A lot of it has to do with coaching and a lot of it has to do with stuff that is outside of the team’s control.
The holes were pretty clear during fall camp when the defensive backs struggled early. However, the unit kept improving throughout fall camp and they were not discussed again until after the Florida State game when Keon Coleman cooked the LSU defense.
If they were not glaring then, the Tigers have allowed over 700 yards of passing yards the last three games and are one of the worst defenses on third and long. The defensive backfield issues are not as simple as the other positions on defense because the front seven just needs to fix its tackling and technique issues. If you have a bad pass defense, you have a bad pass defense.
If they do not continue to improve, there will be changes after the season.
Who does LSU turn to if Kelly does pull the plug on Matt House?
Let’s speak hypothetically here. What happens if LSU and Kelly pull the plug on defensive coordinator Matt House in the middle of the season?
Both interim defensive line coach John Jancek and outside linebackers coach Bob Diaco are longtime defensive coordinators.
Jancek has held the position of defensive coordinator at seven different places for more than half of his career, so he’s not in an unfamiliar territory if he has to be the defensive playcaller. Jancek also coached under Kelly as the defensive coordinator from 1999-2002 at Grand Valley State where he helped lead the Lakers to the 2002 Division II national championship.
Diaco also served as the defensive coordinator under Kelly at Central Michigan in 2005, at Cincinnati in 2009 where the Bearcats had an undefeated season and were Big East champions with a Sugar Bowl berth and at Notre Dame from 2010-2013. While with the Irish, he coached a Top 10 defense that included linebacker and Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o and a 2013 BCS National Championship berth.
Although these are hypotheticals, they are possible.