The debate: Did the LSU defense actually turn a corner on Saturday?
TSD's Ben Love and Hunter Paniagua will argue both sides of the fence on this one, with each sharing his take (devil's advocate style) on why the Tiger ‘D' is or may not be heading in a different – and better – direction following the improved effort versus Florida.
After reading the TSD staff's thoughts, chime in with your opinion by clicking the link at the bottom of this article.
HUNTER'S STANCE: CORNER TURNED
There's one thing this LSU defense has shown in the last six quarters that it hasn't all season — confidence. That trait alone is reason enough to see that the Tigers have turned the corner toward a successful defense.
It all starts with the players' attitudes. During the golden years of recently dominant LSU defenses, this team was known for its "swagger," that borderline cocky arrogance that came from success. For most of this season, players spent time between plays with their heads down or barking at their own teammates for missed assignments. Against Florida, we saw that swag return because LSU was proud of what they were producing.
When a team tastes success, they want it more. When the coaches recognize that, they have more trust in the individual units to execute.
We've now seen two games with this mostly revamped secondary. Guys like Tre'Davious White, Corey Thompson and Rashard Robinson have all been upgrades from their predecessors. The even better news is that these players' talent is just the foundation. As they get more comfortable with being on the field, their play can only get better from here, a very promising sign.
When the DBs can be trusted in coverage, that allows Chief to do what he does best — blitz. It's no coincidence that the defensive line turned in its best performance of the season against Florida. LSU stuck the Gators in obvious passing situations on third downs. When LSU can pin its ears back, it's hard for teams to pick up those big gains. As this unit continues to mature, we should see even more pressure, something that was absolutely absent against Georgia.
Now I won't argue that Florida's offense was any good. But LSU did what it was supposed to do against an inferior opponent. These players needed that gratification to verify what they've known they're capable of. Now it's just a matter of maintaining that same success against tougher offenses.
BEN'S STANCE: NOT SO SURE
First things first, any time a defense holds a ranked SEC opponent to only six points, there was a lot that went right for that team defensively on that day. So this side of the coin isn't meant to disparage what LSU's ‘D' brought to the table on Saturday, more that it's questioning how much (and in how many ways) the Tigers were actually tested by Florida and if the results really mean anything with more potent, and spread-based, offenses on the horizon of LSU's schedule.
When Florida punter Kyle Christy connected on a 14-yard pass on the Gators' fourth-quarter fake punt, it tied the longest completion of the day at that point for UF. That should say a lot. In virtually no way did Tyler Murphy challenge the LSU defense with a downfield passing attack, one of the Tigers' main problem areas heading into the game. So it is at least some concern that a secondary now featuring two true freshmen (cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson) to go along with a relatively green sophomore now thrust into a starting role (safety Corey Thompson) has basically only seen the passing likes of Murphy and Dak Prescott. Those names don't exactly inspire a lot of fear through the air and, while the defensive backfield has been able to re-establish some confidence, it's not getting a look anywhere near what Aaron Murray gave (when a lot of different personnel featured in the back).
Given Florida's lack of success passing, LSU was really able to pin its ears back to combat the Gators' ground game, which, giving credit, the Tigers did, holding UF to a scant 111 yards rushing on 40 carries (2.8 ypc). It's no secret, however, that the style of Florida's offense played right into what John Chavis & Co. would prefer to see – namely, a traditional pro-style offense that predominantly lines its QB up under center and runs from power sets. Two of LSU's upcoming SEC opponents, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, approach offense in a vastly different way, one more similar to TCU (which rushed for 114 yards and 2 TDs on the Tigers), Auburn (213 yards, 3 TDs rushing), Mississippi State (216 yards, 1 TD rushing) and even UAB (160 yards, 1 TD rushing). The gap discipline of Chavis' crew in run defense will be put to the test in a way that frankly just didn't happen very often against Florida.
At the end of the day, all you can do is line up and play whoever's in front of you. The big point here, though, on this side of the fence, is that the scheduling gods kind of put one on a tee for an LSU defense that needed a boost. With questions still remaining about defensive line depth, sure tackling in the linebacking corps and consistent safety play, some of the next offenses the LSU defense lines up against may poke and prod the Tigers in ways Florida never could or even tried to. The jury's still out.
How do you feel about the defense's direction?