Throughout 2012 LSU once again relied on defense to keep it in games, as the Tigers have done in years past. With an offense that struggled with consistency throughout the season, the defense had to step up.
The Tiger defense was loaded with playmakers at most defensive positions this season. That will become apparent when it is determined who will return next season or forego their remaining eligibility to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Here are the grades at the end of the season for the LSU defense.
Special teams' grades are coming next.
Defensive Line: B
The LSU defensive line was the anchor of a pretty stout defense. While ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo lacked consistency at times, they still had very productive years, combining for 12.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. Senior Lavar Edwards also had a solid season as a rotational player, collecting 4.5 sacks and 26 tackles in 2012.
As a whole the LSU line was very effective this season, ranking in the top-15 of most defensive categories in 2012. Heading into the Clemson matchup, the LSU defense was ranked in the top-10 in rushing defense, allowing just over 100 yards per game on the ground. The biggest thing for the LSU defensive line was that they got a few younger players, like Jermauria Rasco and Anthony Johnson, valuable playing time this year in order to prepare for them to step up next year when they will be relied upon more heavily. Time will tell how seasoned those players are come spring football and fall camp.
At defensive tackle, LSU certainly had more contributors. The Tigers routinely rotated four tackles every game, and most of them were very productive. Junior Bennie Logan is one player that LSU will have to worry about losing heading into next season. Logan finished the season with 45 tackles and two sacks for the Tigers. LSU finished the season ranked 12th in the country for total defense, allowing 17.5 points per game.
For the LSU defense the linebacker position was a very important one. LSU had two players eclipse 100 tackles in 2012, with Lamin Barrow collecting 103 and Kevin Minter finishing with 130 tackles and four sacks. The performance by Minter this season vaulted him to enter April's draft. One thing that can definitely be said about the LSU linebackers is that they played consistent all season.
If fans are curious just how important the starting linebackers are for the LSU defense, then they should take a look at the Florida game. On the same drive Kevin Minter and freshman Kwon Alexander went out with injuries, Florida marched downfield to essentially put the game away.
LSU had a chance to get a lot of young linebackers exposure to the SEC in 2012. Players like Debo Jones, Kwon Alexander, Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist will be relied on heavily in 2013, and they received significant playing this season for the Tigers. The future looks bright for the linebacking corps.
While the LSU secondary forced several turnovers in 2012 (15 interceptions), they were also the main targets of many teams that faced off against the Tigers. Having lost veteran Tyrann Mathieu before the season began, the Tigers were forced to thrust a couple of freshmen into the mix, and for one player, into a starting role as a true freshman.
Freshman Jalen Mills had a productive season for the Tigers, given that it was his first on a college field. He finished the season with two interceptions and showed some improvement. The other freshman corner, Jalen Collins, struggled with consistency. While he looked great at times, Collins gave up several big passing plays in 2012 (not unlike junior corner Tharold Simon). Collins was almost always in good position on passing plays, at times he just struggled to get his head around and find the football. This issue is a very fixable one and it will be interesting to see how he progresses this spring.
In the past, the LSU secondary has been known for its dominance. Heading into the Clemson matchup the 2012 LSU defense was ranked ninth in pass efficiency. That ranking is sure to drop as LSU allowed Clemson to throw for 346 yards and two touchdowns.
Safety Craig Loston had a nice junior season for the Tigers. He struggled at times with consistency, but he still managed to collect three interceptions, including one he returned 100 yards for a touchdown, a new school record.
The other LSU safety, Eric Reid, finished the season as an All-American. While he had a nice season, Reid was caught out of position at times and allowed several big plays to occur that, at times, resulted in points for the opponents of LSU. He finished 2012 with 91 tackles and two interceptions. Overall, the LSU secondary has to become more consistent and get top the point where they don't give up the big play.
Season Report Card: Defense
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